Edmonton Oilers still lack NHL depth but prospect help is coming

By Kady Hobbins
Anton Slepyshev - Edmonton Oilers

Photo: Edmonton Oilers prospect Anton Slepyshev brought high-level puck skill to the Oilers’ bottom-six forwards but did not generate much in the way of offense (courtesy of Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

 

 

After years of disappointing finishes for the Edmonton Oilers, fans can find solace in the fact that the team has amassed a solid pool of prospects throughout their rebuilding years, most specifically over the last season as Peter Chiarelli took the reins as President of Hockey Operations and General Manager. Notably, Edmonton’s depth lies on defense, with the likes of Griffin Reinhart and Darnell Nurse (recent prospect graduate Oscar Klefbom continues to find success at the NHL level as well).

The additions of generational talent Connor McDavid and 2014 third ­overall draft selection Leon Draisaitl have also helped improve the Oilers at center, a position that the team has struggled to establish depth at for numerous seasons.

Goaltender Laurent Brossoit shows promise as the Oilers’ next top goaltender as he continues to put up strong performances in the minors. Russian prospects Anton Slepyshev and Bogdan Yakimov have made great strides towards NHL readiness and for the first time since the 2005-06 season, the Edmonton Oilers seem to be turning the corner and the team is establishing itself as a legitimate contender in the league. Of course, much work is still yet to be done, but the talent in the pipeline is a reassuring glimpse of the potential future of this team.

Left Wing

The Oilers continue to adequately develop and produce NHL-level contenders on the left side, most notably with the case of Anton Slepyshev, who has impressed since arriving from Russia to begin the 2015-16 season, his first year in North America. Slepyshev appeared in 11 games for the Oilers in September and October, and was just recently assigned to the Bakersfield Condors, the Oilers’ AHL affiliate. Slepyshev was playing sheltered minutes at the NHL level, sometimes seeming a bit left behind with the speed of the NHL game, but looks to have the toolkit and all the makings of a legitimate NHLer. Depending on how the season progresses, he will likely be up and down between Bakersfield and Edmonton, earning valuable experience in both venues.

At the AHL level, Jujhar Khaira and Mitch Moroz continue to plug along, both on track to improve upon their 2014-15 season performances and possessing the size at least to be in consideration for a role with the Oilers at some point. 2012 third-round pick Kale Kessy continues to bring energy to every shift for the Condors, not making many waves on the scoresheet, but nonetheless making his presence felt against his opponents. Braden Christoffer, signed to an entry-level contract as a free agent this fall, has not made much impact yet but offers a nice combination of toughness and skill.

Daniil Zharkov resurfaced from Europe, joining Bakersfield in the preseason on a professional tryout contract, but returned to Russia where he has spent most of his season with HK Sarov of the VHL.

Evan Campbell and Aidan Muir continue to develop at the NCAA level. Depth forward Campbell has logged four points in ten games for UMass-Lowell, while Muir has a lone goal in ten games for Western Michigan University thus far.

Center

Connor McDavid has been discussed and analyzed from every possible angle at this point, but it is worth mentioning that prior to breaking his clavicle on November 3, the 18-year-old was being discussed as not only the top rookie on the season, but perhaps one of the best players in the league, period. His speed is unmatched, and his hockey sense is off the charts. Of course, he had a bit of a learning curve (as any player would) as he adjusted to the pace and skill level of the NHL, but he adapted quickly and seemed increasingly more impressive with each shift under his belt. Edmonton certainly feels his absence – and the whole league is poorer for it – but barring any complications, the young centerman should be back with the team in early 2016.

Leon Draisaitl was disappointed when he learned that he had been assigned to the Oilers’ minor league affiliate to begin the 2015-16 season, but he seems to have found a way to channel his energy into point production since being recalled to the NHL. He hasn’t looked back since, amassing an impressive 13 points in only eight appearances, including a multi-point night against Montreal, fresh off a full day of travel. He seems to have secured himself a spot among the Oilers’ top-six, looking every bit NHL ready and a special talent worthy of his draft position.

Former NCAA prospect Andrew Miller impressed Oilers brass at the end of the 2014-15 season, earning himself a one-year contract extension. Miller also earned an opportunity at the NHL level to begin the 2015-16 season, but was reassigned to the Bakersfield Condors for the latter part of October. He was recently recalled on November 4 in a transaction that sent Anton Slepyshev back to California.

Russian prospect Bogdan Yakimov looked close to NHL readiness after a solid training camp, but ultimately, was assigned to the Bakersfield Condors. Playing primarily on the second line, Yakimov has been a consistent, reliable commodity at center, using his big body and heavy shot to his advantage before being sidelined with injury. Kyle Platzer is in his first full professional season with the Bakersfield Condors, and seems to be adjusting well to the change of pace. Currently playing in a bottom-six role, Platzer has found a way to contribute some secondary offense for the Condors, and has had some strong, consistent performances as of late.

Sophomore Tyler Vesel has struggled for playing time in the early going of the college season, as Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais runs with a hot top line, but his four assists in ten games will improve in time.

Right Wing

At present, Edmonton is quite light in the numbers in terms of true right wing prospects, with only Iiro Pakarinen and Tyler Pitlick listed as such. The Bakersfield Condors have been shuffling through a number of different players on the right side, including Kale Kessy and Anton Slepyshev.

Pakarinen was injured for the majority of preseason, and thus defaulted to making his start in the AHL. The right winger earned three points in four games, and in short order, a call-up to the NHL level where he’s remained since. Pakarinen is a great complementary player with a hard, accurate shot and has a knack for clearing a lane for his linemates. He has appeared mostly on the fourth line thus far, but his offensive upside and impressive speed makes him an intriguing piece in the Oilers’ puzzle.

After earning another one-year contract extension, Tyler Pitlick was likely hoping to have an injury-free season for the first time in a number of years. It is likely his last opportunity to prove himself a valuable enough commodity for the Oilers to keep around, so he will need to avoid spending long periods of time on the injured reserve list. Sadly, the 24-year-old has only appeared in three games for the Bakersfield Condors thus far, earning no points. He is recovering from a reported concussion but should return soon.

Defense

By the sheer length of the list of defensive prospects for the Edmonton Oilers, it’s clear that the blue line is where the organization’s strength lies, at least in its pipeline. Griffin Reinhart and Darnell Nurse head up the list as the team’s top defensive prospects, both earning time with the big club to head up the 2015-16 season. Nurse was originally assigned to Bakersfield at the conclusion of fall training camp, but returned to Edmonton in short order. Reinhart was acquired over the summer, and thus far has adequately filled a gap on the Oilers’ blueline as a reliable, stay-at-home defenseman with some puck skills. Brandon Davidson is also a notable case, making the team out of training camp and at times looking like one of the top defensemen on the ice for the Oilers. Of course, all are prone to green mistakes, but the future of the Oilers’ blueline looks promising.

Beyond the NHL level, David Musil, Martin Gernat, Joey LaLeggia and Jordan Oesterle continue to lead the charge in Bakersfield. Musil and LaLeggia have carved out a nice partnership as of late, with Musil playing a simple, shutdown game which is complemented by LaLeggia’s impressive speed and puck movement. Gernat still has not recaptured his promising form of two seasons ago, but has added some weight to his frame. Oesterle still has the excellent speed that makes him a possible contender for NHL duty. Dillon Simpson is just now returning to games after a training camp injury. Ben Betker is playing with the Norfolk Admirals, and though he has just three assists so far, has shown some skill in generating shots.

At the junior level, 2015 fifth-rounder Ethan Bear has been the standout, playing big minutes on a deep Seattle Thunderbirds WHL squad. He’s racked up four goals and an impressive 16 assists in 19 games for the Thunderbirds, leading the defensemen in points and sitting among the blueline scoring leaders league-wide. Caleb Jones, another 2015 pick, has an almost equally impressive four goals and 16 points for the Portland Winterhawks, and has improved his game already.

Swedish national William Lagesson is a freshman at UMass. The sturdy defender has four points, including a shorthanded goal to his credit and may be the only Oilers representative at the 2016 World Juniors.

Beyond them, John Marino, who will be a freshman at Harvard University next season, has put up a few points playing with Tri-City of the USHL but is obviously a longer-range project.

Goalies

The Oilers have an interesting logjam of talent in goal, with no clear bonafide starter, but a plethora of up-and-coming netminders who continue to fight to establish themselves as the Oilers’ number one goaltender. At current, Cam Talbot seems to have earned at least the 1A position, but newcomer Anders Nilsson is keeping up consistent pressure with a number of strong performances in the 2015-16 season.

Looking down the line, top prospect Laurent Brossoit continues to impress in Bakersfield, but has an interesting contender in veteran Ben Scrivens, who was beaten out for an NHL job and assigned to the minor leagues with the addition of both Talbot and Nilsson in the offseason. Brossoit has gotten the majority of the starts thus far and put up a .933 save percentage to Scrivens’s .826, but there is a long season ahead. Finnish goaltender Eetu Laurikainen was the odd man out in Bakersfield, so the Oilers arranged to loan him to the Finnish Liiga for the remainder of the season. He was one of that league’s best starters last season for Blues, but might have a challenge replicating those numbers with HPK this season.

Goaltending prospects drop off sharply after that, with Zach Nagelvoort putting up pedestrian numbers with the University of Michigan and now in a split-start situation. 20-year-old Miroslav Svoboda has been on loan to two teams in the Czech Extraliga’s second-tier in AZ Havirov and now HC Sumperk.  Keven Bouchard is also off to a slow start with Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL, saddled with an .849 save percentage for the three-win team.

As is usually the case with goaltending prospects, the development road can be long, so there’s no reason to write off any of the aforementioned talent. However, at this point, there’s a clear divide between the top two prospects and the other remaining netminders.