Oilers Top 20 prospects, Fall 2009

By Andrew SR Cowie

First-round pick Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson has pushed Jordan Eberle out of the No. 1 slot on the top Oiler prospects list. Other new entries include Anton Lander, Toni Rajala, Olivier Roy, Troy Hesketh and Milan Kytnar.

Teemu Hartikainen continues to push up the rankings and Alex Plante had a huge rebound year, contrasted with Rob Schremp and Taylor Chorney, who had tough years.

The list is based primarily on the player’s potential, and not their proximity to making the NHL roster.

Top 20 at a glance

1.(NR) Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson 8.0 C
2.(1) Jordan Eberle 7.5 B
3.(2) Riley Nash 7.5 C
4.(7) Linus Omark 8.0 D
5.(4) Theo Peckham 7.0 B
6.(3) Jeff Petry 7.0 C
7.(12) Alex Plante 7.0 C
8.(11) Teemu Hartikainen 6.5 B
9.(9) Devan Dubnyk 7.0 C
10.(NR) Anton Lander 7.0 C
11.(NR) Toni Rajala 7.5 D
12. (8) Chris Vande Velde 6.5 C
13. (5) Taylor Chorney 6.5 C
14. (6) Rob Schremp 7.0 D
15. (NR) Milan Kytnar 6.0 B
16.(NR) Olivier Roy 6.5 C
17. (15) Philippe Cornet 6.5 C
18. (9) Cody Wild 6.5 D
19. (NR) Troy Hesketh 6.5 D
20. (17) Johan Motin 6.0 C

1 (NR). Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, LW, 18
Acquired: 2009 draft, 10th overall

Predicted to go as high as fourth in the draft by some scouting services, the swift playmaker was picked by Oilers management as the kind of top-end talent they needed.

Paajarvi has both the body, size and skating to play in the NHL. He was one of the best skaters to come out of the draft, with average size. He’s slick, crafty and creative and he was very good in the U20 World Juniors, racking up seven points in six games.

The knock on Paajarvi is his finishing abilities. So far, he hasn’t been able to match high expectations in his 2008-09 season with Timra after only scoring seven goals in 50 games.

The skill is there, the size is there and the speed is there, and Paajarvi is still young, but these pieces have to fall together.

2 (1). Jordan Eberle, RW, 19
Acquired: 2008 draft, 22nd overall

While Eberle’s 2008-09 season will always be known for his dramatic goal at the World Juniors, his play in two other leagues is more of a testament of where Eberle is at this point of his career.

On a poor Regina team, he managed 35 goals and 74 points in 61 games and showed improved skating ability.

The most impressive part of his year though was his nine-game stint in the AHL with the Springfield Falcons, another sub-par team. At just 19, he put up nine points. While the sample size is small, excelling in the best minor league available as a teenager is very positive.

Next year will see Eberle in the WHL again as age constraints will keep him out of the AHL

3. (2) Riley Nash, C, 20
Acquired: 2007 draft, 21st overall

The red-haired British Columbia native is dependable in his own end. And since being drafted, Nash has slowly revealed he might have a bit more offensive game than the Oilers thought when they took him in the first round in 2007. He was second in team scoring in 2007-08, and led Cornell in points in 2008-09 as a 19-year-old.

The one knock on Nash right now is while he’s got height, he doesn’t have the weight. He’ll need to bulk up before hitting the professional ranks.

Nash will be back in Cornell for another year.

4. (7) Linus Omark, LW, 21
Acquired: 2007 draft, 97th overall

The slick 22-year-old Swede, despite his 5’9, is known to be strong on his skates and hard to knock off the puck. He’ll push his way into the high-traffic areas and muck it up when he has to. He used this to tear apart the Swedish Elite League, finishing third in league scoring with 55 points in 53 games and put up 10 points in nine games with Sweden at the World Championships.

If he comes over to the NHL, he may struggle against big defensemen, but Omark has dominated a professional league against grown men instead of teenagers. He’s signed with Moscow Dynamo in the KHL, but may get an NHL offer for the 2010-11 season.

5. (4) Theo Peckham, D, 21
Acquired: 2006 draft, 75th overall

Peckham is the closest Oiler prospect to making the roster because he brings what few other players on the team can: toughness. At 6’2 and near 220 pounds, he’s hard to handle in the corners, uses his weight all over the ice and will not cower from the fisticuffs.

He was used heavily on the farm, and was successful there. Next season should see Peckham making time back and forth between the minors and the Oilers, but no one should be surprised to see him take the seventh defenseman position either out of training camp, or later in the year.

6 (3). Jeff Petry, D, 21
Acquired: 2006 draft, 45th overall

Petry had a bad year statistically. In his sophomore year with Michigan State, Petry put up only two goals and 12 assists in 38 games, down from three goals and 21 assists in 42 games as a freshman. Michigan State’s offense was particularly weak last year, however.

Nothing has changed with Petry though. He still has that hard slap shot from the blue-line, and has a big body at 6’3 and over 200 lbs which is able to really separate players well from the puck on the transition and he’s quick to turn off forwards on the fly. He has the skills for the NHL level, but these things have to come together on a higher level and at a more constant level.

7. (12) Alex Plante, D, 20
Acquired: 2007 draft, 15th overall

The biggest turnaround season award goes to Plante. After a season that saw injury after injury in 2007-08, Plante rebounded with a great season with the Calgary Hitmen in 2008-09, putting up 45 points in 68 games and another 15 points in 18 playoff games.

The 6’3, 225-pounder did something he lacked the season prior by getting nastier, getting dirtier and he had the penalty minutes to show for it. His skating is awkward, however, normal for men his size at this age.

Plante is signed on with the Oilers now and will spend the season with the Falcons.

8. (11) Teemu Hartikainen, C, 19
Acquired: 2008 draft, 163rd overall

Already it’s getting hard to see how Hartikainen fell as far as the sixth round in 2008. He had a superb year in the SM-Liiga, netting the rookie of the year and ended up 26th in league goal scoring with 17 goals in 51 games, a very impressive total considering he was 18 at the time.

A few more eyes caught on to the 6’1 200-pound Finn at the U20 World Junior tournament where he led the Finnish team in points with nine in six games and ended up tied for eighth in points.

Hartikainen has size, has shown flashes of high-level skill but his foot speed is not there at this point and that’s one the thing keeping him from being a star.

9. (8) Devan Dubnyk, G, 23
Acquired: 2004 draft, 14th overall

It’s been five years since the Oilers took Dubnyk with their first pick in 2004, and the signs of growth for the 6’5 goalie are continuing, if slowly. The stats from his first year as starter in Springfield in 2007-08 going into his second season in 2008-09 didn’t improve by much, but it’s another example of stats not giving the full picture.

Dubynk played on one of the worst Oilers farm clubs in recent memory. He faced a ton of shots, many of them difficult, behind a young defense. He held his own and was one of the best players on the team, but again, didn’t show quite the next step.

Dubynk will start gain for the Falcons, and this year should be a huge testament to his skill. The farm is getting some help and his stats should show the result.

10. (NR) Anton Lander, LW, 18
Acquired: 2009 draft, 40th overall

Lander has a strong head, great leadership qualities, and underrated offensive upside.

The Swedish center has played the last two seasons at Timra IK in Sweden along with Paajarvi-Svensson and put up modest numbers with 10 points in 47 games, so already at the age of 18, he’s played 79 games playing against grown men.

Lander captained the Swedish U18 World Championship team this year, and would have been talked about more widely if not for the many great players on that team. His playmaking skills, particularly off the half wall, are very good, and his patience with the puck is outstanding for his age.

If Lander can develop another gear, he’s not hard to picture in the NHL. He would be useful as either a scorer or a checker with his good defensive play.

11. (NR). Toni Rajala, RW, 18
Acquired: 2009 draft, 101st overall

Only a player with such size disadvantages could have fallen as low as Rajala considering he dismantled the under-18 tournament this past spring, putting up 19 points in six games.

The Oilers grabbed the small Finnish player in the fourth round of the 2009 draft, and there wasn’t much disagreement on why he fell that far. He measured 5’10 at the NHL combine and is underdeveloped muscularly.

Rajala is fast, skilled and his shot is quick in tight areas, elements that led Central Scouting to rate him as the 11th European skater going into the draft.

He kept up a point-per-game pace on the Ilves U20 team and got some time up with the men’s team in the SM-Liiga, putting up five points in 21 games.

But his highest success so far has been against teenagers. Getting to the next level with his skill is going to take a huge jump against men in the NHL, most 50 pounds heavier than him.

Rajala will play for the WHL Brandon Wheat Kings this year, but that will be postponed after a knee injury in Finland‘s World Junior camp put him out four to six weeks.

12 (8) Chris Vande Velde, C, 22
Acquired: 2005 draft, 97th overall

Some players crumble under the pressure of newfound accountability. With North Dakota, Vande Velde was used as a bigger and bigger part of the team offense and season after season has fulfilled the larger demands.

A meager start of three goals in 38 games his freshman year has metamorphosed into an 18-goal, 35-point season in 2008-09.

He’s another good-sized player, at 6’2 and 205 pounds. While Vande Velde isn’t a high-level skill player, but he’s got a good combination of size, work ethic, good faceoff numbers, and a decent skill level.

13. (5) Taylor Chorney, D, 22
Acquired: 2005 draft, 36th overall

Chorney found out very quickly the difference in skill level between the NCAA and the AHL. The league is faster, it’s bigger and for a young defenseman, that can translate to a ghastly period of adjustment, and it showed in his plus/minus. He had a glaring -29 in 2008-09, with the next lowest defenseman a -20. Chorney needs to learn to match the pace and use the body better against the bigger players. He’s always been known for his great work getting his stick between the puck and players, but that can only go so far.

Chorney is an intelligent player, and improved his game over the course of the year. He got a brief call-up and he’s still in the plans for the Oilers, but more defensemen are going to be coming through the system soon. He’ll spend his second season with the Falcons and should be looking to poke his head in the door as soon as 2010-11.

14. (6) Rob Schremp, C/LW, 23
Acquired: 2004 draft, 25th overall

Things have changed for Schremp since his stellar 2007-08 minor-league season, but it’s been in the wrong direction. After showing up in the top 10 for AHL scoring in 2007-08, Schremp took a step back in 2008-09.

After a respectable four games up with the big club, Schremp was sent back down, only to implode down the stretch for the minor club and he ended the season with a paltry seven goals in 69 games. The problems remain the same for the skilled forward — poor to average skating (which has improved) and a reported lack of drive.

Even with comments from management in regards to a clean slate, there doesn’t to seem to be a spot for Schremp unless he takes a job from a roster player from last year. It’s most likely time for a new team for him to see if they can use his offensive talents.

15. (NR) Milan Kytnar, C, 20
Acquired: 2007 draft, 127th overall

Kytnar took his chance to play first line minutes with the Saskatoon Blades and excelled, putting up 64 points in 65 games and getting rewarded with a contract with the Oilers.

Kytnar has no glaring weakness. While he’s not going to be blowing hats off with his shot, his speed or his overall skill level, he’s solid in almost every level of play. He’s hard on the play, he’s steady in the defensive end, quick on the player with the puck and good at breaking up transition plays going back into his own end.

This jack of all trades will be spending time in the minors after signing an entry-level deal, but a player like Kytnar will find a place somewhere on a professional team, it just depends what role will match the team’s needs.

16 (NR) Olivier Roy, G, 18
Acquired: 2009 draft, 133rd overall

The Oilers helped fix their goaltending depth issues by picking this Quebec native late in the draft. With the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, he put up a .905 save percentage and 2.84 GAA in 54 games.

He’s a quick butterfly goalie with good side to side speed, but size will be an issue going into professional hockey. He’s listed at around 5’11, which makes it hard to cover all of the net. He’s got the athleticism and the speed and recently saw an invite to the under-20 camp for Team Canada.

17. (15) Philippe Cornet, LW, 18
Acquired: 2008 draft, 133rd overall

Cornet has seen steady improvement over every year of his junior career. He’s improved his point totals by a far margin every year, and led the Rimouski Oceanic in scoring with 77 points in 63 games in 2008-09. He’s known for his sandpaper play, and getting his smaller frame into the fray, even though he’s 170 pounds soaking wet.

The question for Cornet will be if his lack of size will clash with his average skating. He’s not butter legs when he hits the ice, but Pavel Bure he is not. He’s been great at escalating his game year after year in junior, but he’ll need to take his skating to another level to be a future NHL player. The number of great junior players with sand bag feet are countless.

His work ethic though is not in question, and if his progression through the junior ranks is any sign, then improving his skating is completely in the realm of possibility.

18. (9) Cody Wild, D, 22
Acquired: 2006, 140th overall

What started out as a promising season with 10 points in his first 33 games turned into a demotion to the ECHL and healthy scratches before the season was over.

In his time in the minors, Wild showed what made him stand out in college with his quick jump into the rush and his above average shot, and he did face some tough opposition at times over the year and held his own.

For years, the problem with Wild has never been his offensive game, it was his ability to  be defensive dependable, and most likely was one of the reasons for his demotion to AA play.

Wild will fight for time in the AHL in 2009-10, and will realistically take a few years of seasoning.

19. (NR) Troy Hesketh, D, 18
Acquired: 2009 draft, 71st overall

Hesketh, picked in the third round of the 2009 draft, was a lesser-known player. He has good size at 6’2, but is lanky. In his high school career, he’s shown good speed, a healthy shot and quick adaptation to the play.

Hesketh has some offensive tools, but he’s not an offensive defenseman and he’s good on the back end, but you wouldn’t call him a stay-at-homer. He’s well-rounded at this point.

It might take years to see if Hesketh pans out, but he’ll start at the University of Wisconsin in 2011-12 so the real meter of his growth will start to be seen at that point.

20. (17) Johan Motin, D, 19
Acquired: 2008 draft, 103rd overall

Motin is not known for his offense. The 2008 draftee has failed to register a goal in 102 games with Farjestads BK Karlstad in Sweden over the course of three seasons.

But he has grown a steady reputation with his sound defensive and dependable play and he’s done so in a men’s league. And he has a streak of nastiness.

Motin will fight for time in Springfield after signing an entry-level deal, and might see some time in the ECHL as well if he needs more ice-time.