Next wave of talented junior prospects for Edmonton Oilers on their way

By Lawrence Bailey
Photo: Curtis Hamilton had a breakout 2010-11 season, posting 26 goals and 82 points in only 62 games. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

As bad as it’s been for the NHL club, the Edmonton Oilers prospects have given fans a lot to be happy and hopeful about. With a dozen prospects playing at the junior level only one (arguably two) performed below expectations this year, with many exceeding preseason predictions. Not only is that good news for the organization and the fans, but it is great news for the players listed below, as they are part of a rebuilding process and will have every chance in the coming years to impress and grab a spot in the big leagues.

WHL

Tyler Pitlick, C, Medicine Hat Tigers
Acquired: 2nd round. 31st overall, 2010


Despite suffering a broken ankle late in the season, Pitlick had a quality WHL rookie campaign, posting 62 points in 56 games for the Tigers. There are reports he could be ready for the third round of the WHL playoffs should Medicine Hat make it, so this chapter may not yet be completely written. Thus far it’s been a solid but unspectacular year for the 31st overall pick, and considering he transitioned from the NCAA to the WHL, it’s fair to say the Oilers are pleased with his progress.

A quality two-way forward with pro size, Pitlick recently signed an entry-level contract with the Oilers and is certainly in the mix for a spot in the AHL with Oklahoma City next season, depending on what other moves are made by the NHL club this summer and how he shows in camp.

Martin Marincin, D, Prince George Cougars
Acquired: 2nd round, 46th overall, 2010

After taking the WHL by storm (and surprise) in the first half of the season, Marincin cooled off considerably before closing strong and having a quality, albeit brief, postseason appearance. His 56 points in 67 games as a WHL rookie defenseman were still very impressive, however he was open and candid about the rigors of the long and grinding WHL schedule taking their toll. Marincin is currently skating with the AHL‘s Oklahoma City Barons as they prepare for the postseason, and while it remains to be seen how much game action he’ll get, if any, the experience should serve him well.

There is some debate as to where he will play next season-the AHL or another year in the WHL-however it is clear that he needs to continue to adjust to the length and travel of the North American season, to add more mass to his lanky frame, and to continue to refine the defensive side of his game. Regardless, the Oilers have high hopes for the towering Slovak and he is a key piece of their future moving forward.


Curtis Hamilton, LW, Saskatoon Blades
Acquired: 2nd round, 48th overall, 2010

A bit of a draft day slider due to health concerns, Hamilton showed what he can do when healthy and it was impressive to say the least. With 82 points in 62 games and a plus-48 rating (good for fifth in the WHL), Hamilton was one of the league’s best wingers this season and his tools-size, grit, skill, excellent defensive play-make him a perfect fit of the pro ranks. The lone major question mark going forward for him is, and will continue to be, his health.

Looking to next year, Hamilton is a very good bet to be playing in the AHL. He had a dominant season in his post draft year, has excellent size and strength, and the natural next step is to learn the speed and physicality of the pro game first hand.

Tyler Bunz, G, Medicine Hat Tigers
Acquired: 5th round, 121st overall, 2010

Expectations for a fifth round pick are understandably muted, however the season that Tyler Bunz is enjoying has really raised the bar for him going forward. Second to only Red Deer’s Darcy Kuemper in goals against average (2.47) and save percentage (.919) among clear cut WHL starters, his consistent high quality performance earned him rave reviews all year long. The Tigers are still very much alive in the postseason and looking forward to a long run. Win or lose, they are almost certain to have Bunz back between the pipes next season, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he’s in the mix for Canada’s World Junior entry as well.


Brandon Davidson, D, Regina Pats
Acquired: 6th round, 162nd overall, 2010

One of the best stories of the season has to be Brandon Davidson. He turned in an excellent campaign for a poor Regina Pats team, posting 51 points in 72 games, playing a ton of minutes in every situation, and excelling as a leader both on and off the ice. He is a well rounded rearguard who seems to do everything well without excelling in any particular area, and of great importance to the Oilers he’s a high character guy. There’s a good chance he goes back to Regina for his overage year, due in large part to the organizational depth on the blue line, however that could change if some bodies head out of town in the offseason.


Drew Czerwonka, LW, Kootenay Ice
Acquired: 6th round, 166th overall, 2010

Drafted as a gritty winger with some unpolished potential, Czerwonka emerged as a quality junior player this season, bringing the same grit and physicality he had before but also more than tripling his point total from 13 to 43 points. He is a key contributor for the upstart Ice who are on the verge of a WHL Eastern Conference Championship berth, and has exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations this season. He’s a late birthday relative to his draft year, and will be back in a frontline role for Kootenay again next season, hoping to elevate his game further before making the leap to the pro ranks.


Kristians Pelss, RW, Edmonton Oil Kings
Acquired: 7th round, 181st overall, 2010

After a glacially slow start to his first season in North America, Pelss found his stride and delivered a quality season relative to his draft position. The diminutive Latvian put up 33 points in 63 games, showed some soft hands and a high motor while carving out a role for the Oil Kings. He’ll be back in the WHL with Edmonton next year, eyeing a more offensive role and bigger minutes.

Cameron Abney, RW, Edmonton Oil Kings
Acquired: 3rd round, 82nd overall, 2009

There wasn’t a ton of progress in the way of counting numbers for Abney this season (from 13 points in 68 games to 20 points in 60 games), though he did manage to add an inch and about 25 pounds which are both far more relevant to the role he will be expected to play in the pros. Drafted to provide the organization with muscle and intimidation, Abney could well turn pro (likely to start in Stockton of the ECHL next season) though the smart money is on him returning for another tour with the Oil Kings.


OHL

Ryan Martindale, C, Ottawa 67s
Acquired: 3rd round, 61st overall, 2010

Martindale is an enigma. He is clearly and offensive gifted player, posting 83 points in 65 games, however he lagged behind his linemates in that regard leaving many to wonder who was driving the results. He has impressive size for a center, however there are persistent criticisms that he doesn’t use it to his advantage and that all too often he coasts and doesn’t give maximum effort. His draft day scouting report framed him as one-dimensional, however reports throughout the season have been positive about his defensive game and his work on the penalty kill. It almost seems like it is dependent on what night you happen to catch him playing.

What is certain is that he has a body, a skill-set, and a track record that guarantees he will get a long look at the pro level when the time comes. The big question is whether that will be in 2011-12 (he is AHL eligible and just turned in a very good OHL campaign) or the following season in 2012-13. Many feel that he would be better served by adjusting to the work ethic, maturity, and consistency required by of a professional, so it wouldn’t be a huge shock if his OHL career is already complete.


QMJHL

Jeremie Blain, D, Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Acquired: 4th round, 91st overall, 2010

It was an abbreviated year for Blain, but it was an impressive one nonetheless. He got a late start due to a broken foot early in the year, but when he was back at full health he hit the ground running. Posting 37 points in 40 games from the blue line is something that will always get you noticed, and much like Davidson in the WHL, Blain did so while also bringing a well-rounded, jack of all trades skill-set. He’s a 1992 born player, and will be back for another tour with the Titan next season, if he can put up similar point per game numbers over a full and healthy season, the Oilers brass and the Oilers faithful will surely continue to be excited about him.


Olivier Roy, G, Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Acquired: 5th round, 133rd overall, 2009

While his statistics on the year look very good, and a glance at his resume would impress anyone, there are still big question marks dogging Olivier Roy. His 2.79 goals against average and .911 save percentage are both very respectable, but his struggles with consistency and especially in big games and on the big stage are bordering on legendary. He opened the World Junior Championships as Canada’s starter but was benched by the end of the tournament. He opened the QMJHL‘s playoffs as Acadie-Bathurst’s starter but was benched before the end of the first round.

He’s signed his entry-level contract and will be turning pro next season, a level he has impressed at in small sample sizes so far. He’s likely to be in the mix in Oklahoma City, and has a real opportunity to establish himself as a potential goalie of the future, however he needs to be able to perform consistently night to night and when called upon when it matters most, he needs to make sure he rises to the occasion rather than wilt under the pressure.


USHL

Troy Hesketh, D, Sioux City Musketeers
Acquired: 3rd round, 71st overall, 2009

It’s hard to imagine having a worse year than Hesketh had this season. He battled injury, a trade in season, reports of a lack of commitment and attitude problems, and still managed to fall short of limited expectations. Termed a "project" when drafted, the Hesketh situation is becoming all too reminiscent of 2001 Oilers 2nd round pick Ed Caron. Caron ultimately quit hockey after a few years full of red flags, and while there is no official indication anything along those lines is imminent for Hesketh, he is no longer slated to go to the University of Wisconsin and there are some suggestions he may be brought in as an overager by the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings next year.