Edmonton Oilers see glimmers of hope in European and NCAA prospect pools

By Kady Hobbins
Tyler Vesel - Edmonton Oilers

Photo: Edmonton Oilers prospect Tyler Vesel was one of several freshmen for Nebraska-Omaha that helped the team to its first-ever Frozen Four appearance (courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

 

The Edmonton Oilers currently have an interesting mix of collegiate and European prospects in their development pipeline, ranging from college superstars like defenseman Joey LaLeggia to a pair of fringe players across the pond that appear to be one foot out of the door in Antti Tyrvainen and Daniil Zharkov. Other prospects of note include John McCarron, who is wrapping up his four years at Cornell University, as well as Tyler Vesel, who made a splash in his freshman season with University of Nebraska-Omaha.

NCAA

Zach Nagelvoort, G, University of Michigan (Big Ten)
Drafted 4th Round, 111th Overall, 2014

Recently concluding his sophomore year at the University of Michigan, 21-year-old goaltender Zach Nagelvoort had a disappointing follow-up season to his rookie year, after which he was selected in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL entry draft. The netminder earned accolades as a Big 10 star of the week on numerous occasions this season, appearing in 22 games for the Michigan Wolverines, but saw his save percentage plummet to .906 from last season’s mark of .929.

His offensively-oriented squad did reach the Big 10 Championship game before losing out to top-ranked Minnesota and failing to make the NCAA Tournament. Nagelvoort will likely continue to develop with Michigan for the next two years before the Edmonton Oilers have to make any major moves. Nagelvoort appears to be a promising young goaltending prospect despite the setback, especially considering his relatively deep draft selection.

John McCarron, RW, Cornell University (ECAC)
Drafted 6th Round, 153rd Overall, 2012

As his collegiate career comes to a close, Cornell Big Red senior captain John McCarron is somewhat in tough to secure a professional contract with the Edmonton Oilers. Unfortunately, his offensive production in his final season with the Big Red receded somewhat, logging only 12 points through 31 games, as compared to the 24 points in 32 appearances he posted in 2013-14 (he also logged 19 points in both his freshman and sophomore seasons). The 6’2, 225-pound right-winger plays a physical game and is a proven leader on and off the ice, but his lack of point production at the collegiate level could be a stumbling block when it comes to making the jump to professional hockey.

Evan Campbell, LW, UMass-Lowell (Hockey East)
Drafted 5th Round, 128th Overall, 2013

UMass-Lowell sophomore and 2013 draft selection Evan Campbell has had a promising follow-up to his rookie effort, improving his point totals from 11 in 33 games in 2013-14 to 27 in 34 games in 2014-15, good for fourth on a middling team. Drafted as an overager in 2013, Campbell is a bit of a longshot for NHL success but did have goals in six of his final nine games this season. A young River Hawks squad should be somewhat improved next season, and Campbell will be an important player once again.

Aidan Muir, LW, Western Michigan University (NCHC)
Drafted 4th Round, 113th Overall, 2013

2013 fourth-round draft selection Aidan Muir concluded his first collegiate season with Western Michigan University, where he recorded six goals and nine assists for 15 points in 26 appearances. The rangy left-winger is officially listed at 6’4, 212 pounds and appears to be figuring out how to use his size to his advantage. Muir will most likely continue his collegiate career with WMU for at least two more years before the Oilers make any major moves with this player.

Tyler Vesel, C/RW, University of Nebraska Omaha (NCHC)
Drafted 6th Round, 153rd Overall, 2014

University of Nebraska Omaha freshman Tyler Vesel had about as strong a first collegiate season as any, recording 23 points in 39 games for the Mavericks. Vesel also enjoyed a Frozen Four appearance, with the young Mavericks losing out to the eventual NCAA champions, the Providence Friars, in the semi-final 4-1. Vesel earned his ice time all year, playing a consistent game and providing strong secondary scoring for the Mavericks (he finished the year fourth in points amongst his teammates). Selected as an overager in 2014, the slightly undersized centerman will likely continue his development in the NCAA for the time being.

Joey LaLeggia, D, University of Denver (NCHC)
Drafted 5th Round, 123rd Overall, 2012

The front runner of all the Oilers’ collegiate prospects, Joey LaLeggia finished out his collegiate career with the University of Denver in 2014-15. Nearly doubling his point production, the 22-year-old defenseman make a strong case for himself to be considered for a professional contract at the conclusion of his season. He earned 40 points in 37 games, earning the NCHC Player of the Year designation and more notably, a two-year entry level contract with the Edmonton Oilers and an amateur tryout with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL. He picked up his first professional point, an assist, on April 11th against the Chicago Wolves and looks to be fitting in seamlessly in his new role. LaLeggia will remain with the Barons down the stretch as they begin their playoff run and will likely be a strong consideration to return to the AHL club in 2015-16.

Europe

Daniil Zharkov, LW, HK Sarov (VHL)
Drafted 3rd Round, 91st Overall, 2012

21-year-old Russian prospect and one-time Edmonton Oil King Daniil Zharkov continues to fall down the prospect ranks as he toils away in Europe. Zharkov only appeared in nine games for the Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo of the Kontinental Hockey League, registering four penalty minutes and no points. Zharkov has all but fallen off the radar playing in the lower-tiered VHL, earning nine points in 39 appearances for HK Sarov.

Anton Slepyshev, LW, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)
Drafted 3rd Round, 88th Overall, 2013

Anton Slepyshev has been garnering attention as of late. The Russian winger wrapped up a solid season with Salavat Yulaev in which he recorded 25 points in 58 games, despite receiving relatively sparse ice time (typically just over 12 minutes per night). Discussion swirled about the possibility of Slepyshev making the jump to North America as early as 2015-16, where he would presumably join the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL, but on April 13th, the Russian forward signed a two-year contract extension with Salavat Yulaev. Slepyshev will also skate for Russia at the 2015 World Hockey Championships.

Antti Tyrvainen, RW, Ilves (Liiga)
Signed as Free Agent, 2011

After two seasons with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL, winger Antti Tyrvainen departed for Europe, playing for Jokerit of the Liiga in 2013-14, followed by Ilves of the same league in 2014-15, where he recorded 20 points in 46 games. His physicality continues to be his calling card, playing a tough, aggressive style of hockey. While his production seems to have steadily improved while in Europe, it does not appear that the Finnish forward will be returning to North America in the near future.

Prospect of the Month

Brandon Davidson - Edmonton OilersAfter a strong month with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL, Brandon Davidson earned himself his second ticket of the season to see some NHL ice time on March 31st. He has flourished in a top defensive pairing with fellow Baron Brad Hunt, who is tied for third in scoring amongst the team. While offensive production has never been Davidson’s calling card, he plays a simple, defensively sound game that has earned him a +9 rating in Oklahoma and has translated well to success at the NHL level. As the Oilers’ season wound down, Davidson saw increased ice time and responsibility and he seemed to respond well. He will return to the Oklahoma City Barons for their playoff run, but look to see him make a strong bid for a roster spot in 2015-16.