Edmonton Oilers’ farm squad is competing despite turmoil in the NHL

By Kady Hobbins
Photo: Edmonton Oilers prospect Jujhar Khaira has worked hard to develop a complete game in his rookie season with Oklahoma City (courtesy of John Rivera/Icon Sportswire)

Photo: Edmonton Oilers prospect Jujhar Khaira has worked hard to develop a complete game in his rookie season with Oklahoma City (courtesy of John Rivera/Icon Sportswire)

 

Changes are afoot within the Edmonton Oilers organization – most notably with the firing of head coach Dallas Eakins and the promotion of former Oklahoma City Barons head coach Todd Nelson to interim head coach of the Oilers. Also important to note in this year’s minor league update is the dissolution of the relationship between the Edmonton Oilers and the Oklahoma City Barons, effective at the end of the 2014-15 season. It has been reported that in 2015-16, the Oilers’ farm team will be relocating to Bakersfield, California, where the Oilers-owned ECHL team, the Bakersfield Condors, currently play.

This year’s crop of minor league prospects is an intriguing mix of former collegiate talent and major junior stars who are now finding their stride in the American Hockey League. The majority of prospects have managed to stay out of the ECHL for much of the 2014-15 season thus far, which is a promising development. Especially for goaltender Laurent Brossoit whose success in the ECHL in 2013-14 seems to have translated well to his play in Oklahoma City this season. Other successful prospects of note are Tyler Pitlick, Oscar Klefbom and Brad Hunt, all of whom have spent time with the big club this season.

Laurent Brossoit, G, 21

After an impressive 2013-14 season with the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL where Laurent Brossoit finished the year with a .923 save-percentage and 2.14 goals-against average, the 21-year old goaltender is off to a similar start in the American Hockey League in 2014-15. Battling with Richard Bachman for the top spot, Brossoit has managed a .924 save percentage through 19 games with the Barons and a win-loss record of 12-5-0. Bachman suffered a strained muscle in mid-December, and Brossoit has risen to the challenge of filling the number one role, at least momentarily. He has been charged with a loss just twice since mid-November. At this point, Brossoit is far and away the most promising goaltending prospect in the Oilers’ pool.

Tyler Bunz, G, 22

After an underwhelming professional debut, combined with an injury to his throat late in the 2013-14 season, Tyler Bunz slipped down the ranks of goaltending talent under Edmonton’s umbrella, eventually landing with the Wichita Thunder of the ECHL on loan. While there, Bunz maintained a respectable record with a 2.39 goals against average and a .901 save percentage. With Richard Bachman’s aforementioned injury, Bunz has been recently recalled to the Oklahoma City Barons to backstop Laurent Brossoit.

Tyler Pitlick, RW, 23

23-year-old Tyler Pitlick made his NHL debut with the Oilers in 2013-14, appearing in 10 games before being sidelined by injury. After starting the 2014-15 season in Oklahoma City, Pitlick earned another ticket to the NHL as the Oilers dealt with injury issues and roster shuffles. In 14 games thus far, Pitlick hasn’t contributed much in the way of points, but has been a solid presence on the ice, spending time everywhere from the fourth to the first line. Pitlick seems to have adjusted well to the pace of the NHL, and is consistently one of the toughest players on the ice every shift, banging bodies and battling hard into the corners and tough areas of the ice. A workhorse by nature, Pitlick does seem to have a knack to get into injury trouble. He is currently out with a lacerated spleen that restricts him from all workout activities.

Mitch Moroz, LW, 20

20-year-old Mitch Moroz is coming off a fairytale junior career, capped off by two Western Hockey League championships, as well as a Memorial Cup victory with the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2014. Moroz has spent his first professional season with the Oklahoma City Barons. Thus far, he has played relatively sheltered minutes, and currently sits at zero goals and two assists through 28 games. Though an obvious change from his point-per-game numbers with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, it’s much too early to sound any alarm bells. Moroz’s junior career began much the same way, with a steep upward climb in point production as he gained more ice time and experience.

Jujhar Khaira, LW, 20

Fellow Oklahoma City Baron Jujhar Khaira is also in his first professional season, often sharing time on a line with Mitch Moroz. While Khaira began his career predominantly as a left-winger, he has shifted over to center as of late, and seems to be doing relatively well with the transition. Thus far, Khaira has managed 1 goal and 2 assists in 30 games. Though his numbers are certainly not impressive at first blush, Khaira is a talent that needs to be seen to be believed. His on-ice vision and puck possession numbers are above average amongst his peers, making him an intriguing project. His size and aggressive style of play make him a standout on the ice, and he appears to have the makings of a strong two-way center, even if he hasn’t quite found a way to put all the pieces together yet.

Curtis Hamilton, LW, 23

2010 second round selection Curtis Hamilton is in his fourth season with the Oklahoma City Barons and is currently on pace to have what looks to be far and away his best season with the AHL club. Previously, he managed 11 points in 41 games in 2011-12, nine points in 61 games in 2012-13, and sixteen points in 43 games in 2013-14. This year, Hamilton already has six goals and 10 assists in 29 games – a vast improvement for a highly-touted prospect who has been dinged by critics for his lack of offense through his professional career. Remaining healthy in 2014-15 has also been paramount for Hamilton, who has had terrible luck with injury since his pro debut. Additionally, Hamilton earned a spot on the roster for Canada at the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland in December 2014. Hamilton earned another contract from the Oilers at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season, indicating that the organization obviously has an continued interest in the quick, two-way winger.

Kale Kessy, LW, 22

While overshadowed by the fact that Tobias Rieder, the player that the Oilers traded to acquire Kale Kessy, scored two goals in a matter of minutes for the Arizona Coyotes in a recent game against the Oilers, Kessy has made improvements to his game this season with the Oklahoma City Barons. Earning only six points in 54 games throughout the 2013-14 season, Kessy has three goals and three assists for six points in only 17 games in 2014-15. Though he is certainly not achieving the same level of success as Rieder, Kessy is working to carve out a niche as a nasty, physical force, making himself tough to play against and a pest on the ice.

Bogdan Yakimov, C, 20

Russian prospect Bogdan Yakimov earned himself a spot on many people’s radar after a strong fall training camp with the Oilers. While originally thought by many to be an easy decision to send to Oklahoma City for further development, Yakimov instead earned a look -albeit a short one- at some NHL ice. He appeared in one game for the Oilers early in the season, earning zero points before being returned to the Barons. Yakimov had a quiet start to his career in Oklahoma, but found his stride near the end of November, earning three of his 13 total points in the span of three games. Yakimov has the size and skill to carve out a career at the NHL level but it remains to be seen if he will be able to take that next step in his game and continue to produce at the minor level.

Travis Ewanyk, C, 21

In his second professional season, Ewanyk has really cemented himself as a third or fourth-line grinder who is not afraid to drop the gloves and set the tone. Ewanyk managed 12 points (with a notable 100 penalty minutes) in his first professional season in 2013-14, and looks to be on pace to do about the same in 2014-15. His offense is not and has never been his calling card. An NHL career for Ewanyk will depend on his ability to fill the role of agitator, while managing to keep up with the NHL pace.

Andrew Miller, C, 26

Former collegiate player Andrew Miller is in his second professional season with the Oklahoma City Barons, and is looking to follow up an impressive rookie season in which he earned 34 points in 52 games. Thus far, he’s on pace to do just that, racking up ten goals and 15 assists for 25 points in 33 games. At age 26, Miller is approaching do-or-die time when it comes to either carving out an NHL career or remaining a perennial AHLer who is never quite able to attain success at the next level. Miller has yet to earn a call-up with the Oilers. While he has an impressive offensive upside, slightly undersized offensive specialists with not a lot of physicality to their game are not in high demand in Edmonton.

Kellan Lain, C/LW, 25

25-year-old Kellan Lain was acquired in late November in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Will Acton. At 6’6 and 210 pounds, Lain is a hulking presence at center, previously appearing in nine NHL games for Vancouver. Despite his size, Lain moves the puck and sees the ice well, and he plays with an edge. Unfortunately, Lain has been sidelined by a wrist injury with no set return date as of yet.

Martin Marincin, D, 22

Martin Marincin surprised many in 2013-14 after earning a call-up to Edmonton, then subsequently performing better than anyone expected. He remained with the team for the rest of the season. Unfortunately for Marincin, he wasn’t able to secure his NHL job at the conclusion of training camp, with Oscar Klefbom, Brad Hunt, and Darnell Nurse earning berths early in the season. Marincin has since been on the shuttle bus between Edmonton and Oklahoma City, performing well in the AHL, but suffering from bouts of inconsistency with the big club. The Oilers still see Marincin as a very valuable asset, and are likely hoping that a quick reset will help the Slovakian defenseman get back on track and eventually become an NHL regular.

Oscar Klefbom, D, 21

After an impressive fall camp with the Edmonton Oilers, Klefbom ended up starting the season in Oklahoma City. He has joined the Oilers on a consistent basis since a call-up in the end of November. Despite team struggles, Klefbom has looked very solid in the majority of his NHL appearances in 2014-15, whereas in 2013-14 he often looked a bit behind the pace and often got caught making errors of inexperience. Klefbom has since cleaned up his game and looks much more defensively responsible, even jumping up into the rush from time to time. He still is not a lock to remain with the big club, but considering the sub-par performances of some of his teammates, Klefbom should be able to remain in the lineup in Edmonton as long as he is able to remain consistent and avoid making major errors.

Dillon Simpson, D, 21

Dillon Simpson is in his first professional season after an impressive collegiate career in North Dakota. The young defenseman seems to be adjusting reasonably well to the American Hockey League, notching two goals and seven assists through 32 games. Simpson has definitely been playing sheltered minutes, focusing on defense first, as he normally does. Simpson was a valuable asset on North Dakota’s special teams, and while he hasn’t had the opportunity to fill that role to the same extent in Oklahoma City yet, it will be interesting to note whether or not his success translates to his professional career.

Martin Gernat, D, 21

In his second professional season, former Edmonton Oil King Martin Gernat seems to have taken a step in every direction but forward. The Slovak rearguard earned 21 points in 57 appearances in 2013-14, but has mustered zero goals and only three assists through 28 in 2014-15. Gernat is often dinged for his lack of strength and willingness to battle in the gritty areas of the ice, most notably by former head coach Dallas Eakins during an interview earlier in the 2014-15 season. A healthy scratch on a couple of occasions, Gernat has yet to emerge from the logjam of defensive prospects in Oklahoma City, making him a long-shot for NHL success at this point.

David Musil, D, 21

David Musil looked impressive during the Oilers’ fall training camp, earning an extended stay before eventually being assigned to the Oklahoma City Barons. Since then, Musil has looked like a legitimate NHL prospect at times. but other times looks a bit behind the pace, raising questions again about his footspeed. Thus far, he has earned two points in 29 games, both from assists.

Brandon Davidson, D, 23

From the sixth round of the NHL entry draft to a cancer diagnosis to his NHL debut with the Oilers in December 2014 was the journey of a lifetime for defenseman Brandon Davidson. A long shot simply by draft order, Davidson appeared to be all but out of the picture after undergoing treatment for testicular cancer, but miraculously, was able to battle back all the way to being considered as a legitimate NHL prospect. While perhaps not as impressive on paper as his peers Dillon Simpson, Brad Hunt or Jordan Oesterle, Davidson is a workhorse who gives 100% effort on every shift, and makes up for a lack of pure skill or offensive flair by being defensively responsible and outstandingly smart with the puck. Davidson was returned to Oklahoma City, but received a valuable look at what may lie ahead for him if he is able to continue to hone his craft in the AHL.

Kellen Jones, LW, 24

After four years of NCAA hockey at Quinnipiac University, Kellen Jones made his professional debut in 2014-15, beginning his year with the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL. Jones was a dominating presence for the Condors, racking up 25 points in 27 games and earning a few call-ups to Oklahoma City. He has played three games at the AHL level, earning a goal and an assist for two points.

Other notable prospects and Prospect of the Month

Outside of the AHL and ECHL, defensive prospect Darnell Nurse played at the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championships as a member of gold medal winners Team Canada. Nurse was named player of the game in the gold medal match.

After a rough departure from the Calgary Hitmen, WHL star Greg Chase has found his stride with the Victoria Royals, appearing in 15 games thus far and contributing 18 points.

Edmonton Oilers HeadshotsKyle Platzer continues to dominate the OHL with the Owen Sound Attack, currently sitting at 47 points in 36 games. For that reason, Platzer earns December’s title as Prospect of the Month.

Follow Kady Hobbins on Twitter via @kadydh