As the Edmonton Oilers begin the club’s most highly-anticipated season in recent memory, Hockey’s Future has a few new names to introduce in this year’s preliminary Top 20. Without needing any preamble, the most notable is Connor McDavid, who has managed to drum up world-wide attention. His addition to the club helped sell out the annual preseason rookie tournament in Penticton, British Columbia featuring the Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames.
McDavid even had Tampa Bay Lightning star and fellow first overall pick Steven Stamkos declaring that McDavid was a better player than he is at present. Whether that’s to be believed or not, it’s clear that the Oilers have something special in McDavid. His general manager and others may be tempering expectations for good reason, but the potential in this young player has created a giddy atmosphere in Alberta and beyond.
Other notable prospects include Darnell Nurse, who continues to improve by leaps and bounds. Griffin Reinhart also cracks the top five after he was acquired in the summer in exchange for two draft selections. And adding to the wealth at the top of the list is Leon Draisaitl, the third overall pick of the 2014 draft, and a player of immense talent who may have to adapt his role just to find regular NHL time in this upcoming season. With new management in place and a generational talent to build around, the future is less secure for many of these players.
20. (NR) Jordan Oesterle, D, 6.5C
Signed as Free Agent, March 2014
Former Western Michigan Bronco and free agent acquisition Jordan Oesterle joined the Oilers without any particularly lofty expectations for the prospect. In 2014-15, he played his first professional season with the Oklahoma City Barons, and surprised a few with his quick adaptation to the increased speed and skill level of the AHL game. He even managed a six game call-up with the struggling Oilers at the NHL level, where he again received positive feedback from coaches and Oilers brass. He ultimately finished out the season with the Barons and although he’s likely to spend another year in the AHL, he certainly was able to make more of a name for himself than he had when he arrived.
19. (NR) Andrew Miller, 6.5C
Signed as Free Agent, April 2013
Undrafted, slightly undersized for the NHL and a bit older than the average NHL prospect at 26, Yale product Andrew Miller continues to defy stereotypes. He led the Oklahoma City Barons in points in 2014-15 and hung on to grab a one-year contract extension in late June when a number of his comrades were not so lucky. 2015-16 will be Miller’s do-or-die season with the Oilers organization – his last chance to show the squad that there is an NHL role for the former NCAA star. His strongest trait may be his hockey sense as he is a great playmaker who thinks the game at an above-average level. He fared well during an NHL call-up in late 2014-15, as well.
18. (17) Martin Gernat, D, 7.0D
Drafted 5th Round, 122nd Overall, 2011
After a disappointing 2014-15 season, Martin Gernat has much to prove to the new Oilers brass if he would like to remain a factor. He earned a mere nine points in 54 games with the Oklahoma City Barons this past season, and was largely a non-factor on a nightly basis. He is, however, a very naturally talented player who has shown streaks of brilliance. When he’s on, he plays a very simple, yet effective game in his own end, using his 6’5 frame to his advantage. That said, even with his countryman Martin Marincin sent off to Toronto, the list of defensive talent ahead of him is long. Darnell Nurse and Gernat’s former Edmonton Oil Kings teammate Griffin Reinhart head the prospect list. The Oilers may yet add another veteran defenseman and there are others in this top 20 ahead at this point as well. While Gernat looks like a long shot to earn a spot on the Oilers roster at this point, it’s still early to discount him entirely.
17. (16) Brandon Davidson, D, 6.5C
Drafted 6th Round, 162nd Overall, 2010
Perennial dark horse Brandon Davidson has continued to quietly hone his craft in the minors, impressing Oilers brass on more than one occasion and earning some time with the big club in 2014-15. He stepped up and filled a role with a struggling club, and looks to be on the brink of becoming a legitimate contender at the NHL level. Whether or not the Oilers have room for him in their future plans is the more immediate question, but the defensive-minded rearguard seems poised to at least stand a chance to carve out a career somewhere, even if it’s with one of the other 29 teams.
16. (15) Joey LaLeggia, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th Round, 123rd Overall, 2012
At 5’10 and 185 pounds, Joey LaLeggia isn’t exactly a dominating physical presence on the blueline. Thankfully, though, that’s not his calling card. The product of the University of Denver is a talented offensive defenseman with strong playmaking abilities. He often jumps into the rush and contributes to his team’s offensive efforts. He makes a strong first pass out of the zone and is extremely mobile.
LaLeggia made his professional debut with the Oklahoma City Barons in 2014-15 and after a bit of a slow start, really found his stride and seemed to fit in well with the club. LaLeggia is still a bit of a long-shot for NHL success, but is an interesting prospect to follow as he continues to improve along his two-year entry-level deal with the Oilers.
15. (14) David Musil, D, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd Round, 31st Overall, 2011
Former Edmonton Oil King David Musil continues to plug away in the minors. He spent all of 2014-15 with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL, often flying under the radar. He’s not particularly known for footspeed or offense, but his work in his own zone is consistent and commendable. He battles hard on every shift, willing to go into the dirty areas of the ice, but seems to lack the upper-end skillset that separates other other prospects like Musil from the truly NHL-caliber rearguards.
The list of younger, more naturally talented defensemen ahead of Musil continues to grow, and it looks like he’s poised to spend another year in the AHL, save for a drastic improvement to his speed and offensive upside.
14. (12) Greg Chase, C/RW, 6.5C
Drafted 7th Round, 188th Overall, 2013
Greg Chase will be looking to build upon the preview of professional hockey he received at the end of 2014-15, where he joined the Oklahoma City Barons for four games during their playoff run. Chase has been somewhat of a diamond in the rough for the Edmonton Oilers, who selected him in the seventh round of the 2013 NHL entry draft. The 6’0, 188-pound forward will likely gain some more attention if he’s able to translate his success thus far to the AHL level with the Bakersfield Condors. He is a pest and tough to play against, but the young forward also has some skill with the puck and strong footspeed to match. If he can put it all together, he should be able to continue to climb the ranks from his late draft position.
13. (11) Mitch Moroz, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd Round, 32nd Overall, 2012
With the organizational changes that occurred over the summer, left-winger Mitch Moroz continues to slide down the depth chart. After a lackluster professional debut, some have called into question where Moroz’s future with the Oilers organization lies. While it’s clear that he excels in a power-forward-type role, there are names ahead of him on the list that bring something else to the table as well. Whether it is better offensive upside, improved footspeed, or a stronger hockey IQ, Moroz will need to find a higher gear in 2015-16 to continue to remain a legitimate option as the Oilers look toward the future.
12. (10) Kyle Platzer, C, 6.5C
Drafted 4th Round, 96th Overall, 2013
Kyle Platzer was perhaps the Oilers’ most improved prospect of 2014-15. He blew his previous boxcar numbers out of the water, scoring at a more than point-per-game pace for his junior club, and debuting on Hockey’s Future’s spring Top 20 list at number 10, after previously being unrated. Platzer is somewhat undersized, but has good footspeed, puck-movement skills, and a clean slate as he enters his first professional season with the Oilers’ squad under new management. 2015-16 is likely to be a purely developmental year for the young prospect, who will look to make a seamless transition and show the Oilers’ brass what they’ve got in the center from Waterloo, Ontario.
11. (9) Iiro Pakarinen, RW, 6.5C
Signed as Free Agent, June 2014
The Edmonton Oilers acquired former Florida Panthers seventh-rounder Iiro Pakarinen as a free agent in 2014, and since then he has been making a strong case for himself to become a legitimate NHLer. He’s a strong, explosive skater who brings energy to every shift, and manages to put the puck on net consistently. His skillset hasn’t yet translated to high offensive production, but the Finnish winger is an intriguing talent with a non-stop work ethic. He will be in close to contend for a bottom-six role with the big club.