The Oiler’s dreadful performance over the last few seasons has been a definite boon for their prospect depth and quality, something which is on full display now at the AHL and NHL level. After a poor return on their picks in the early and mid part of the last decade, recent results show a turning of the tide at the draft table, a feather in the cap of head scout Stu MacGregor.
Due to the organizational focus on rebuilding, a number of the elite level talents are being fast tracked and plying their trade in the NHL already—a fact that makes organizational depth all the more important. While strides have been made, it is clear there is still a ways to go to make sure that depth has the right balance and diversity
The port side is definitely the strength of the Oilers depth chart. Boasting two of their three elite prospects in Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi, there is every reason to believe that the parent club will be just as strong on the left wing for years to come. Both Paajarvi and Hall have earned a spot on the Oilers and are holding their own early in the NHL campaign, expect the speedy and skilled duo to be fixtures there for years to come.
Linus Omark (who can play either wing) was among the final cuts at Oilers camp this year, finding himself in Oklahoma City of the AHL after stints in Russia and Sweden respectively in his last two seasons. The skilled 23-year-old winger boasts all world puck skills, a slick offensive game and a developing appreciation for the finer points of defense and play without the puck. Joining him as an AHL rookie is big Finn Teemu Hartikainen. Coming off back-to-back impressive seasons in Finland, Hartikainen has been compared in style to Tomas Holmstrom but needs to work on polishing his game, particularly his skating, before moving up the depth chart.
In junior, 2010 second round pick Curtis Hamilton is off to a lightning quick start with 12 points through nine games. The Saskatoon Blades winger brings a blend of size and skill that many feel will have him in the mix for a spot on Canada’s World Junior entry. Also in the WHL, Drew Czerwonka has posted solid numbers with four goals through nine games, while import Kristian Pelss seems to be struggling somewhat with the transition to North America with only two points through 10 games thus far.
Other less inspiring left wingers on the depth chart include the likes of Alexander Bumagin, Philippe Cornet, Kellen Jones, Matt Marquardt, and William Quist. None of whom are poised to make a major impact at the minor pro level anytime soon, let alone the NHL.
While there is no real elite talent among the ranks of Edmonton’s young centers, there are a number of quality players who would surprise no one should they carve out NHL careers.
At the AHL level, the trio of Chris VandeVelde, Ryan O’Marra, and Milan Kytnar are all working on their games and hoping to catch the eye of management and earn a call up to the show. VandeVelde is a big, two way pivot who is adjusting to life as a pro after a stellar career at the University of North Dakota. As a player who projects as a defensive forward, he has an opportunity to move up quickly if he can show an ability to handle that role at the minor league level. O’Marra continues his quest to resurrect a once promising career while Kytnar battles to carve out a bottom six role with the Barons.
Overseas in Sweden, 2009 second-rounder Anton Lander is back with Timra and is playing a third line, shut down role as well. The 19-year-old is wearing an “A” for the SEL club, and is relied upon to take big faceoffs and kill big penalties. He’s posted a respectable five points through 11 games thus far, and could figure into the Oilers NHL lineup in the next couple seasons.
A pair of 2010 selections are off to quick starts in CHL, as both Tyler Pitlick and Ryan Martindale are over a point per game. Pitlick, who left Minnesota State University, Mankato for the Medicine Hat Tigers in the offseason, has followed up an impressive performance at Oilers camp with a quick start in his new home, posting eight points in seven games. Similarly, Martindale is flying early with 11 points in nine games for the Ottawa 67s. Both players have the kind of offensive skill and upside lacking elsewhere on the Oilers C depth chart.
College center Robby Dee is a senior for the University of Maine, and is clicking at a 1.25 point per game clip early in the year. He’ll need an impressive campaign in order to earn a contract once the season is done, and he’s off to a great start.
Jordan Eberle is the cream of right wing crop in Edmonton, and after an outstanding junior career, he is already making an impact at the NHL level. Eberle has dominated every level he’s played thus far—CHL, WJC, AHL—and through four games in the NHL looks like he’s right at home. Along with Paajarvi and Hall on the left side, Eberle is a cornerstone of the Oilers future and every indication is that it will be a bright one in his case.
After Eberle, the drop off is immense. While Linus Omark is able to play on the right side, the only other North American pro level prospect on the right wing is Colin McDonald, who is currently under contract with Oklahoma City of the AHL. McDonald played well in camp and has opened the season strong, however he will be nothing more than a big body in a supporting role if he ever reaches the NHL level, which is far from certain.
The lone representative among the junior ranks is Edmonton Oil King Cameron Abney. While Abney has managed to pot three goals early in the WHL season, the reason he was drafted (and his ticket to the NHL, should he make it) are his fists. He’s a physical specimen and a willing combatant to be sure.
A bright spot on the right side can be found overseas in Finland. Toni Rajala, who returned to his homeland this season after a solid year with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings last season, is off to a hot start with six points in eight games for Ilves. He is a slick skater and a skilled forward, though his small stature will always be something he will have to overcome. Fortunately for him, there is a lot of daylight on the Oilers right wing depth chart and he’s in a great position to take advantage of it.
The Oilers blue line depth is an interesting place to examine, as the current assortment of rearguards on the big club leave a lot to be desired. It is almost certain a few spots will open up in the NHL in the next couple years—quite possibly as early as later this season—so a number of players currently in the AHL or elsewhere have a short path to a regular NHL gig.
One prospect who is already benefitting from the lack of NHL depth is Theo Peckham. The rough and tumble stay at home blueliner is taking a regular shift so far and has not looked out of place doing it. Peckham brings intensity, physicality and a willingness to block shots and do the dirty work that will likely see him spend the season with the big club, barring injury or a prolonged slump.
Nipping at his heels (as well as those of NHL veterans Jim Vandermeer and Jason Strudwick) are a trio of AHL defenders: Jeff Petry, Alex Plante, and Taylor Chorney. While veteran minor leaguers like Richard Petiot and Shawn Belle may get the call ahead of those three, Petry, Plante and Chorney are the more likely to emerge as long term options on the Oilers back end.
Petry in particular showed well in his first camp as a professional, and brings a blend of size, skill and skating that have many convinced he’ll be up before the end of the year. He’s definitely the most promising of the three, but is also an AHL rookie and likely to go through some growing pains. Plante played briefly in the NHL last season and looked steady and calm while he was up, and he brings much more of a physical and defensive element to the table. A very different player than Petry, Plante projects as a quality fourth or fifth defensemen and could contribute in the NHL later this year. Chorney on the other hand spent a great deal of time with the big club last season, though he struggled—mightily at times—and likely needs a year to get his feet back under him. He is a sublime skater, though he is undersized and his decision making has been suspect.
There are a trio of junior defenders in the Oilers stable, and one in particular has made a lot of noise early in the 2010-11 campaign. Martin Marincin, the smooth skating rearguard whom the Oilers dealt former first rounder Riley Nash for the opportunity to draft, came from his native Slovakia to play for the WHLs Prince George Cougars. Despite there usually being an adjustment period for European players as well as for rookie defensemen, the 6’4 185 pound Marincin hit the ground running and has posted 10 points in 10 games while showing incredible poise and maturity. Regina’s Brandon Davidson is also showing well thus far, generating a respectable seven points in 10 games, while Jeremie Blain of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan struggled with a foot injury and has been limited to just two games thus far.
A fourth AHL defender, Johan Motin, as well as ECHLer Jordan Bendfeld are buried on the depth chart currently, but continue to work on their game. Similarly, NCAA blueliner Kyle Bigos and Troy Hesketh of the USHL are very much developmental prospects at this time.
The Edmonton Oilers have a dreadful track record of drafting and developing goalies, so it should surprise no one that the men between the pipes don’t particularly represent the strength of the team’s prospect pool.
The most famous among the goalies would be current NHL co-back up Devan Dubnyk. The lanky, technically sound puck-stopper is on the Oilers roster currently along with Nikolai Khabibulin and Jeff Deslauriers, however it is likely one of he or Deslauriers will be sent down to the AHL in the near future. Regardless, he’s entering the make or break stage of his career and will need to solidify himself as an NHL caliber goalie soon.
The next great hope in net for the Oilers can be found in junior, in Acadie-Bathurst to be specific. Olivier Roy is seen by many as the likely starter for Canada’s WJC entry this year, and his superb early season numbers show he is doing his best to impress. A little undersized, Roy has struggled with consistency in the past though he closed last season well (including a brief and impressive AHL stint) and looks tremendous early on. Across the country in Medicine Hat, 2010 fifth round pick Tyler Bunz looks to continue his development and build on a quality campaign in his draft year.
Bryan Pitton is also among the Oilers prospects, though as Martin Gerber’s AHL backup and likely the starter in the ECHL once one of Dubnyk or Deslauriers is sent down, he’s well down the depth chart.
Article was written by Lawrence Bailey.