For the better part of two decades, the Edmonton Oilers have talked about the future and how the next season would be better. It appears that they have prospects nearly NHL-ready who could make that a reality.
With three extremely talented forwards close to beginning their NHL careers and a handful of solid defensemen awaiting an opening to step in and prove they belong, the Oilers system appears to be close to bearing fruit.
The prospect pool is definitely thin in goal and there doesn’t appear to be many blue-chippers at center, but on the wings and the blue line the Oilers look strong for the future.
The Oilers have eight prospects at center, but only Jordan Eberle is close to NHL-ready.
Coach Pat Quinn acknowledged that Eberle had a great training camp in 2009 and although he didn’t light the lamp during preseason, Eberle looked every bit as dangerous around the net as any Oiler regular. Although Eberle was good enough to make the Oilers, Quinn felt it best he hone his skills for another year with the Regina Pats as a 19-year-old and help Team Canada win another gold medal at the World Junior Championships. Eberle has had a good start to this WHL season with 16 points in his first seven games.
Twenty-year-old Riley Nash continues his development at Cornell University. Nash followed up his ECAC freshman of the year season by earning a spot on the ECAC first team and honorable mention for the all-Ivy League team as a sophomore. Nash put up 35 points in 36 games with the Big Red in 2008-09, but needs to fill out his 6’1” frame as he tips the scales at just 179 pounds.
Teemu Hartikainen is a 19-year-old 6’1” center who isn’t afraid to go into the high-traffic areas to score a goal. His skating has been questioned, but he has enough touch around the net to have scored 17 goals for KalPa in Finland’s SM-Liiga as an 18-year-old last season.
Chris Vande Velde has progressed in each season of his NCAA career with the UND Fighting Sioux. Vande Velde has an offensive game (35 points in 43 games last season) as well as a physical game (69 PIM) and plays well at both ends of the ice. In four games so far this season, this 22-year-old already has a game winning goal and three assists.
Slovakian Milan Kyntar plays a solid two-way game and is currently the No. 1 center with the Saskatoon Blades. Kyntar came to North America in 2007 to hone his skills and after a season of being a defensive specialist with the Kelowna Rockets has taken a more prominent role with Lorne Molleken’s Blades. Kyntar also had a very solid World Junior Championships in 2009, helping Slovakia to a fourth-place finish as the club’s second leading scorer with six assists in seven games. Kyntar plays this season as a 20-year-old overager in the WHL.
Twenty-two-year-old Ryan O’Marra hasn’t developed into an NHL talent yet and is finding the AHL a challenge in itself. O’Marra, best suited as a checker, put up 10 points in 62 games with the Falcons last season.
Geoff Paukovich has size – 6’4”, 215 lbs – and has split his time in the Oilers system between the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL and the Springfield Falcons of the AHL. He begins 2009-10 with the Falcons and had 10 points, 55 PIM in 52 games divided between Springfield and Stockton last season. At 23, it is unlikely that Paukovich will develop much more of an offensive flair.
The quantity of Oiler prospects on the right hand side is small. It’s likely that some center prospects may need to move to the right side in the future.
The Oilers fourth round pick in 2009, Toni Rajala is another highly-skilled but small European forward that has the potential to be a sniper in professional hockey. Rajala is spending the 2009-10 season in North America with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL. Only 18, if Rajala’s quick release and Brayden Schenn’s deft playmaking ability find chemistry together on the Wheat Kings’ first line, Rajala could put up some impressive numbers and make a serious case for a job at the NHL level.
At 18, 6’4” Cameron Abney is entering his second full season with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips. Abney recorded four points and 103 PIM in 48 games with Everett last season.
Colin McDonald is in his third year pro with Springfield. The 25-year-old’s window is closing at this point.
The Oilers are in good shape on the left wing with a couple of extremely talented European prospects who might find their way to the NHL sooner rather than later.
Picked 10th at the 2009 NHL entry draft, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson is a veteran of two World Junior Championships and two seasons in the Swedish Elite League with Timra IK. When he debuted with Timra IK in 2007, Paajarvi-Svensson became the fourth youngest player in the history of the SEL and the previous spring he became the youngest Swede to ever compete at the World Championships at the age of 16. Paajarvi-Svensson did not attend Oilers camp this year as he’s staying in Sweden this season. The Oilers are looking ahead to the day he brings his tremendous speed and deft playmaking abilities to North America.
Linus Omark may be the most gifted offensive player currently in the Oilers system and has become a YouTube sensation with his stickhandling wizardry. At 22, Omark is already in his fifth season of professional hockey. After finishing third in the SEL in scoring last season, Omark has signed with Dynamo Moscow of the KHL and has put up nine points in his first 16 games.
Teammate of Paajarvi-Svensson with Timra IK, Anton Lander was the Oilers second-round selection in 2009. Lauded for his defensive play and faceoff ability, Lander struggled somewhat as an 18-year-old to produce offense in the SEL with a meager 10 points in 47 games. But he has good playmaking skills as well.
Philippe Cornet is in his fourth QMJHL season and, as a 19-year-old he is dominating the league. Cornet leads the Q in points per game and sits in a tie for second in league scoring with 18 points in 10 games. Dominating major junior hockey as 19-year-old is very different from dominating major junior hockey as a 17-year-old so although it is possible for Cornet to make the jump to the NHL as an offensive standout, it is a long shot.
Liam Reddox has great speed and put up 12 points in 46 games with the Oilers last year, but with the Oilers depth at forward will find himself in Springfield this year as a 23-year-old.
Slava Trukhno, 22, has had two solid but unspectacular seasons in Springfield and hasn’t distinguished himself as a potential NHL forward at this point. Trukhno had 26 points in 56 games with the Falcons last season.
After four seasons in the NCAA with Michigan State, Bryan Lerg is working on making the adjustment to pro hockey at the AHL level as a 23-year-old. Last year Lerg had 27 points in 49 games split between Stockton and Springfield.
Twenty-year-old William Quist put up six points in 43 games last season with the Nybro Vikings in the Swedish 1st Division.
Alexander Bumagin, a sixth-round 2006 draft pick is beginning his fifth season in the KHL/Russian Super League this season. The 22-year-old recorded 11 points in 40 games last season.
The Oilers strongest, though not deepest, position is defense. Three NHL-ready prospects need to bide their time in Springfield for another season. A fourth legitimate NHL prospect, Alex Plante, is spending his first year in professional hockey with the Falcons this season, but will likely get a taste of the NHL before long.
Theo Peckham provides some of the elements that the Edmonton Oilers have been accused of lacking over the past few seasons. Physicality and toughness is what the Oilers got from the rugged blue liner in his 15-game look last year and, if not for an injury, he might have been a candidate for the Oilers 23-man roster out of camp. Peckham will turn 22 in November.
Jeff Petry developed his defensive game in his sophomore season at Michigan State, but took a bit of a step backwards in offensive production. His performance at Oilers camp this fall indicated that he may be ready very soon to step into the NHL as a sixth or seventh defenseman. Petry will turn 22 in December.
One of three Oilers first-round picks in 2007, Plante established himself as one of the WHL’s premier defensemen in 2008-09 by putting up 45 points and established his physical presence with 157 PIM. The Oilers could use 20-year-old Plante’s size on the blue line, but he needs to adjust to the much quicker NHL game before he’ll crack the line-up.
Twenty-two-year-old Taylor Chorney has made the transition to professional hockey quite well after spending three seasons with the University of North Dakota. A Minnesota native, Chorney is skilled offensively and has no hesitation to jump into the play when the opportunity presents itself. With Sheldon Souray officially placed on the IR, Chorney has received the call to Edmonton after a good start in Springfield.
Cody Wild has shown during his time with the Providence Friars that he plays a good all-around game at the NCAA level. He has an offensive flair, but is still adjusting to the pro game with Springfield of the AHL. His decision-making has been questioned in regards to the transition game on when to make the change from being on the defensive to moving up the ice. Wild is 22.
Only 18, Troy Hesketh is a long-term project for the Oilers as he is in his senior year of high school at Minnetonka. The 6’2” defender has committed to the University of Wisconsin for the 2011-12 season.
Johan Motin is a solid stay-at-home defenseman who has played parts of three seasons in the Swedish Elite League. The Oilers will get a better feel for where Motin, 20, is in his development this season as he will be suiting up with the Springfield Falcons.
Twenty-one-year-old Jordan Bendfeld a former WHL tough guy, spent the 2008-09 season with the Stockton Thunder and will begin this season with the Thunder as well. Bendfeld had three points and 25 PIM with Stockton last year.
Kyle Bigos is a 6’5”, 230 lb 20-year-old who will play the 2009-10 season with Merrimack of the NCAA after spending the past two seasons with the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers. Bigos had 33 points and 126 PIM in 58 games with Vernon last year.
The weakest position in the Oilers organization is in goal. With Nikolai Khabibulin as the only goaltender in the system with more than 10 games experience at the NHL level, this is an area the Oilers need to address soon.
A 6’5” goaltender, Devan Dubnyk graduated from the WHL as a promising professional in 2007. Entering his third season in Springfield with the Falcons, thus far Dubnyk has not been able to find his game at the NHL level and remains as the No. 1 man in Springfield as a 23-year-old.
Olivier Roy of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles was selected in the fifth round of the 2009 draft. Only 18, Roy is one of four goaltenders auditioning for a spot with Team Canada at the 2010 WJCs but has struggled out of the gate somewhat this season.
Bryan Pitton is a 21-year-old who will be splitting duties with Andrew Perugini in the Stockton nets in 2009-10 as he did last season. Pitton had a 3.39 GAA and a .886 save percentage in 34 games with the Thunder last season.
There is good reason for optimism in Edmonton with several skilled prospects in the system who appear ready to make the jump to the NHL in the very near future.
Goaltending still lacks depth and this will likely be addressed via draft or trade.
At forward, the Oilers are very deep with the club being forced to send Liam Reddox back to Springfield and Robbie Schremp being waived. Eberle should make the jump to the NHL next season and if Omark or Paajarvi-Svensson make the decision to come to North America, the Oilers could be in a difficult but enviable position with too many quality forwards in the mix.