When a team consistently finishes in the bottom quarter of the NHL standings, it translates to a high number of elite quality draft selections in a short window of time. Those players tend to appear ready for NHL duty, even if the prudent course might be for them to play out their junior eligibility. Of course, in the case of a player like Connor McDavid, the decision to get him on the NHL roster is less controversial. Couple the pro-ready players with a number of trades that dealt away a good chunk of Edmonton’s draft selections in 2015 and the team is left with a mere three prospects currently playing at the junior level.
Keven Bouchard, G, Moncton Wildcats
Drafted 7th Round, 183rd Overall, 2014
1996-born Keven Bouchard is currently in his third Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season and his third team. After two years with the Val d’Or Foreurs, Bouchard was traded to the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the offseason. After getting off to a bit of a rough start with a pedestrian .871 save-percentage and 3.90 goals-against average, the Quebec native seemed to have turned things around as of late, posting two wins and a .971 save percentage (including an impressive 41-save effort against the Halifax Mooseheads) in his most recent outings, which earned him the CHL Goalie of the Week honor.
With the Drakkar not near to contending, Bouchard was traded again. This time around, he has landed on a team that gives him an excellent opportunity. The Moncton Wildcats have been one the QMJHL’s best teams, but have suffered a complicated goaltending situation all season. Bouchard’s experience and ability should help stabilize the team and give them a chance for a deep playoff run.
Bouchard is certainly talented between the pipes and has size on his side at 6’2 and 208 pounds, but like most goaltenders, still needs development time before any definitive claims can be made about his future as a major-league contender. Bouchard seems to battle a bit with consistency, so perhaps this recent string of success can help bolster his confidence and give him a much-needed boost to keep his save percentage at least in the .900 range when he joins a better team.
Ethan Bear, D, Seattle Thunderbirds
Drafted 5th Round, 124th overall in 2015
Arguably the top junior prospect in the Oilers’ pipeline at present, defenseman Ethan Bear is off to a running start in 2015-16. After putting up 38 points in 69 appearances in the 2014-15 season, he looks poised to double that number, with 11 goals and 25 assists in 33 outings thus far in 2015-16.
Bear is an impressive puck-mover, with a penchant for putting the puck on the net and generating chances for his linemates (just refer back to his number of assists for proof of this). He is currently a central component of Seattle’s defensive corps, playing in a top-pairing role nightly. The right-shooting Bear was overlooked for Team Canada’s World Juniors selection, which was unfortunate, but the young rearguard will undoubtedly continue to forge ahead and log valuable minutes with the Thunderbirds. While slightly undersized, he appears to be adding weight to his frame each season and the physical aspect of his game is improving steadily.
Caleb Jones, D, Portland Winterhawks
Drafted 4th Round, 117th overall in 2015
Often squaring up against aforementioned prospect Ethan Bear is Caleb Jones, selected just seven spots ahead at 117th in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The brother of Nashville Predator Seth Jones, the younger Jones is in his first WHL season after playing two years in the USHL. The rearguard doesn’t seem to have been blessed with quite the level of elite skill that Seth has, but he shows strong hockey sense and an impeccable work ethic. He is extremely hard on the puck, and plays a good north-south game, often making smart first passes out of the zone. He shoots fairly well and his defensive positioning is sound, often facing some tough matchups against his WHL opponents. Jones is not the smoothest skater, but has improved some in that regard. With 24 points in 33 games, Jones is also demonstrating an underrated offensive side to his game.
Jones has a long road before he will even be considered for NHL-readiness, but seems to be developing nicely within the Winterhawks organization.
Non-junior prospects of note
Elsewhere in the Oilers system, goaltender Laurent Brossoit continues to turn heads. The Bakersfield Condors (AHL) netminder has held down the starting position with his strong, consistent performances, beating out Ben Scrivens for the job after he was relegated to the minor leagues by the Edmonton Oilers at the beginning of the 2015-16 season. Playing on the right wing, Andrew Miller has continued to put up big numbers for the Condors, earning 16 points in 20 games.
In the NCAA, freshman William Lagesson has been impressive in his debut season, tallying two goals and six points in 18 contests for the UMass Minutemen. A player known for a steady defensive game, he will also join Team Sweden at the 2016 World Juniors.
Connor McDavid was sidelined by a collarbone injury in early November, but is scheduled to re-join the club in January, 2016 where he will undoubtedly continue to shine. It won’t be long before he reaches the 65-game threshold and graduates from prospect status as Hockey’s Future defines it.
Prospect of the month
Brandon Davidson has worked his way up from late-round long shot in 2010 (162nd overall) to cancer survivor to being now a regular component of the Edmonton Oilers’ defensive corps. After a strong training camp performance, Brandon managed to remain with the big club and avoid any development time with the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL, a move that was a pleasant surprise to many who have followed his development over the years.
At present, Davidson has played more than 20 games in the 2015-16 season and logs big minutes every night, including appearances on the Oilers’ special teams. Davidson is a big body and plays a simple, defense-first game, but does have a heavy, accurate shot that has translated to two goals and three assists thus far. Barring any drastic regression, Davidson appears to have beat out some tough competition for his spot on the roster and is quickly becoming a mainstay for the Oilers at the NHL level.