Defensive depth greatest strength of Edmonton Oilers prospect pool

By Kady Hobbins
San Jose Sharks v Edmonton Oilers

Photo: Laurent Brossoit has strengthened Edmonton’s goaltending depth in the prospect ranks, which was once an area of weakness for the team. (courtesy of Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

 

While the Edmonton Oilers continue to rebuild and retool their squad at the NHL level, their diverse group of prospects have been flourishing for the most part, with a number taking significant steps under the tutelage of Todd Nelson of the Oklahoma City Barons (AHL).

In the 2013-14 Hockey’s Future system audit, the Oilers’ goaltending was identified as the weakest area, both at the prospect and NHL level. The Oilers have since made significant changes, acquiring the tandem of Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth, as well as former Edmonton Oil King and elite prospect Laurent Brossoit from the Calgary Flames. Again, the defensive corps take top honours as the deepest part of the prospect pool, with a logjam of elite talent at the top of the list with the likes of Martin MarincinOscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse.

Departed from the Oilers pipeline since last update are Olivier Roy (traded), Justin Schultz (graduated from prospect status), Teemu Hartikainen (rights expired), Nail Yakupov (graduated from prospect status), Cameron Abney (traded), and Daniil Zharkov (rights expired).

A new addition this year (excluding draft selections) is Iiro Pakarinen (free agent signing).

Left Wing

Emerging on top of the left wing pool are two prospects that have recently graduated from the WHL to the pro ranks, making their debuts with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL in 2014-15. Both Mitch Moroz and Jujhar Khaira had strong performances in training camp this fall.

Moroz is coming off of a fairytale final junior season, capturing both the WHL Championship and the Memorial Cup with the Edmonton Oil Kings. Playing big minutes for the squad on a nightly basis, Moroz tallied 35 goals and 28 assists on top of 156 penalty minutes in 2013-14, far and away his best season to date. His footspeed and situational awareness have vastly improved, and he will look to make an impact in his first professional season. Khaira managed to hang on until the final round of cuts after impressing scouts and coaches during the Oilers’ preseason. Khaira will start the year in Oklahoma City, but may be on the short list look for a call-up, depending on both his and the Oilers’ performance this season.

In a somewhat surprising move, the Oilers re-signed left-winger Curtis Hamilton after the expiration of his entry-level contract at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. Hamilton cleared waivers after failing to earn a roster spot at the beginning of the 2014-15 season and is back with the Oklahoma City Barons, where he will battle for ice time with newcomers Moroz and Khaira.

Russian prospect Anton Slepyshev is entering his third season with Salavat Yulaev in the KHL and is looking to take the next step in his game. A victim of inconsistency at times, Slepyshev was seeing limited ice time in 2013-14. If a move to North America is in his future, he will need to find a way to capitalize on his superior puck-handling skills contribute on a nightly basis.

Drafted as an overager out of the BCHL in 2013, Evan Campbell was at the bottom of the depth chart for Oilers left wingers with a long development road ahead before . The 6’1, 185 pound UMass Lowell freshman combined nine goals and two assists for 11 points on the 60-game season. Campbell will join the River Hawks again for his sophomore year in 2014-15.

NCAA freshman Aidan Muir made his collegiate debut with Western Michigan University after a strong year in the USHL. At 6’4 and 212 pounds, Muir is a force on the ice for his NCHC conference team, logging two assists in four games thus far. While still considered a long-shot for NHL success, Kale Kessy has made great improvements to his skating and puck movement, as evidenced by his performance at Oilers training camp this fall. Most often noted for his skill that lies at the end of his fists, Kessy appears determined to play a more complete game and avoid a demotion to the ECHL as he rejoins the Oklahoma City Barons for his second season.

Right Wing

Aside from making a remarkable comeback from numerous injuries over the course of his development, Tyler Pitlick has now shifted over primarily to the right wing, where he has found a great deal of success with the Edmonton Oilers. He joined the big club for 10 games and looked up to speed with his NHL opponents until an untimely knee injury prematurely ended his stint. Although he was ultimately assigned to the Oklahoma City Barons at the conclusion of the 2014-15 Oilers training camp, it is likely that Pitlick will again see ice time with the Oilers this season.

Offseason acquisition Iiro Pakarinen has had an impressive start to his North American career, logging three points in three games with the Oklahoma City Barons. Former highly-touted NCAA prospect Kellen Jones makes his professional debut this season, joining the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL to start the 2014-15 season. Jackson Houck rejoins the Vancouver Giants of the WHL for his second season after an appearance at Oilers training camp. The 19-year-old prospect made some positive strides in his rookie season and appears to be building on his experience, recently notching a hat trick in a 9-1 win for the Giants over the Prince George Cougars.

Finnish prospect Antti Tyrvainen remains in Europe for another season, playing with Ilves of the SM-Liiga. NCAA prospect John McCarron will captain the Cornell Big Red for his fourth and final season as he looks to acquire a professional contract at the conclusion of 2014-15. 

Center

2014 third overall draft selection Leon Draisaitl heads off the list of centermen in the Oilers’ pipeline. The talented German player was a welcome addition to an Oilers squad with some serious deficiencies at center, thus securing a spot for Draisaitl with the big club. While he has fared well thus far as an individual, the Oilers have struggled out of the gate, raising questions about whether or not Draisaitl will be sent back to his junior squad to foster his development in a more positive environment.

Marco Roy’s 2013-14 season was relatively underwhelming, wrought with injury trouble and inconsistent performances. Determined to work hard and bounce back, Roy looked markedly improved in both performance and health during the Oilers pre-season, where he contributed a goal in an exhibition game against the Calgary Flames. Roy will join the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL for 2014-15.

Russian prospect Bogdan Yakimov was on the cusp of securing a roster spot at the conclusion of fall training camp and received a call-up in a recent game against the L.A. Kings before being returned to the Oklahoma City Barons. Dependent upon performance and injuries, it is likely that Yakimov will receive similar calls throughout the 2014-15 season and will gain some valuable ice time at the NHL level.

Junior prospect Greg Chase has continued to play far beyond his draft selection (188th overall in 2013), racking up 83 points in 70 games with the Calgary Hitmen in 2013-14. When the Hitmen were eliminated from playoff contention, Chase joined the Oklahoma City Barons’ playoff effort. Chase currently has five points in seven games in his fourth and likely final season with the Hitmen.

Kyle Platzer joins the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL for the second season, where he’s already logged 13 points in only 10 games – a marked improvement from his 2013-14 effort. Overage 2014 draft pick Tyler Vesel turned heads when he chalked up 71 points in 49 games for the Omaha Lancers of the USHL. The slightly undersized centerman will join the University of Nebraska-Omaha for his freshman season in 2014-15.

Travis Ewanyk joined the big club for his second training camp and preseason appearance in fall 2014 where he showed some big improvements from the year prior, particularly with his skating and puck movement skills. Ewanyk will play with the Oklahoma City Barons again in 2014-15, hoping to gain more ice time and continue to make strides with his game.

Former NCAA prospect Andrew Miller was re-signed by the Oilers in the summer prior to the 2014-15 season after a strong finish to his rookie professional campaign in 2013-14. Miller was assigned to the Oklahoma City Barons after clearing waivers.

2014 draft selection and overager Liam Coughlin was slated to join Boston University of the NCAA in 2014-15, but unfortunately was required to upgrade his schooling and remain with his BCHL team, the Vernon Vipers, instead. This does not bode well for the 20-year-old prospect, who has now lost a year of development and slips further down the depth chart.

Defense

With the graduation of Justin Schultz from prospect status, Darnell Nurse and Martin Marincin now head the list of defensive talent in the Oilers’ pipeline. Nurse continues to make meaningful progress in his development, looking markedly improved at 2014 fall training camp as compared to his showing in the previous year. Nurse earned a nine-game stint at the NHL level this season but appeared in only two games, where he played 18 and 15 minutes, respectively. He finished a minus-two before being returned to his junior squad, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

Martin Marincin looms close to graduating as well as he fills a roster spot on the blue line again after an impressive 44 games with the big club in 2013-14. Oscar Klefbom played in a handful of games for the Oilers in March and April 2014 and made a strong case to at least be considered for a roster spot at fall training camp, but was ultimately assigned to the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL. It’s likely that Klefbom will be used in a similar capacity this season and could be called up, depending on injuries and team performance in 2014-15.

A pleasant surprise at the conclusion of fall training camp was Brad Hunt, who remained on the roster with Edmonton at the start of the 2014-15 season. Hunt has appeared in three games thus far, at times looking a bit in over his head but managing to hold his own. He currently sits at a minus-three rating with one goal.

Also impressive at training camp was NCAA-turned-pro prospect Dillon Simpson, who will make his debut with the Oklahoma City Barons in 2014-15 after a highlight-reel senior year with the University of North Dakota, where he captained his team to a Frozen Four berth and earned a Hobey Baker nomination.

Former Edmonton Oil King Martin Gernat remains in the shadow of his aforementioned peers, with a lackluster training camp performance and an early demotion to Oklahoma City. A pleasant surprise was David Musil’s performance at training camp. The stay-at-home rearguard is often passed over in talks about viable defensive prospects in the system, but he continues to hone his craft and will return to Oklahoma City for a second season.

Brandon Davidson continues to develop at the pro level, logging a respectable first full season with the Oklahoma City Barons. He will look to increase his ice time and play a more key role with the Barons in 2014-15. It will be crucial that he stays out of the ECHL and can find consistency at the AHL level.

Joey LaLeggia continues to develop with his NCAA team, the University of Denver. LaLeggia joined fellow prospect Dillon Simpson on the NCHC’s All-Conference First Team in 2013-14 and will look to have a strong senior season as he vies for an NHL contract.

Selected in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, William Lagesson is in his first North American season with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL after three years with Frolunda HC in Sweden.

Ben Betker rounds out the defensive depth chart, working hard to earn time on the blue line for the Everett Silvertips of the WHL in his second major junior season.

Goaltending

In the trade that sent previous top goaltending prospect Olivier Roy to the Calgary Flames, the Oilers acquired former Edmonton Oil Kings netminder Laurent Brossoit, arguably a distinct upgrade from Roy in terms of skill level and recent success. Following a lights-out second half of the 2013-14 season with the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL, Laurent is now battling with Richard Bachman for the starting position with the Oklahoma City Barons. Tyler Bunz continues to fall down the goaltending ranks as he finds himself on loan to the Wichita Thunder (not to be confused with Oilers affiliate Bakersfield Condors) of the ECHL.

After a respectable season with Hameenlinnan Pallokerho of the SM-Liiga, Finnish goaltender Frans Tuohimaa made the jump to American hockey in 2014-15 and is currently shuttling between the ECHL and AHL, logging valuable minutes with both clubs as injuries at the NHL level require some shifting of responsibility. Other new 2014 draft acquisitions include University of Michigan goaltender Zach Nagelvoort and Keven Bouchard of the Val d’Or Foreurs. Finnish goaltender Niko Hovinen’s rights are still retained by the Oilers for 2014-15, but Hovinen is currently recovering from injury and is unsigned.

 Follow Kady Hobbins on Twitter at @KadyDH