Edmonton Oilers making constructive use of minor pro players

By Kady Hobbins
Anton Slepyshev - Edmonton Oilers

Photo: Edmonton Oilers prospect Anton Slepyshev showed off some slick puck skills while with the NHL club earlier this season, but has to prove consistency at the AHL level (courtesy of Terry Lee/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

Unlike the previous article, which detailed the Edmonton Oilers’ mere three junior prospects, the NHL team has a staggering 22 names in its professional pipeline. A number of these pro players are on the verge of graduating as they continue to log NHL minutes, such as Iiro Pakarinen, Darnell Nurse and Brandon Davidson, and for the sake of keeping things concise, this month’s article will focus on those players who have spent the majority of the 2015-16 season at the AHL or ECHL level.

Throughout the minor ranks, there is a deep well of elite, up-and-coming talent, giving the Oilers the luxury of a good list of names to choose from when in need of an emergency call-up. The revolving door has resulted in some growing pains for the Condors, who currently sit fifth in the Pacific Division with a 14-13-2-2 record.

Laurent Brossoit, G, 22

The Oilers’ top goaltending prospect has consistently been the best player on the ice for the Bakersfield Condors in 2015-16. On a team that has a relatively mediocre record thus far, Brossoit has found a way to steal games for his squad and maintain a respectable .927 save-percentage, 2.55 goals-against average and a 10-6-3 personal record.

Confident and consistent between the pipes, Brossoit is the best bet for the Oilers’ future in goal at this point. He possesses the high-level skill and talent to get the job done and his three shutouts are second-most in the league. His positioning and rebound control have steadily improved as he has made the climb through the pro ranks, and the team’s reliance on him made Ben Scrivens available for trade. With the Oilers’ top goaltending spot seemingly in a consistent state of flux, it shouldn’t be long before he gets another taste of NHL competition.

Anton Slepyshev, LW/RW, 21

After initially impressing with a strong training camp and making the Oilers squad for 11 games, Slepyshev has since been relegated to the Bakersfield Condors, where he has remained pretty quiet through 20 games. In fact, it took until late November for the Russian forward to even net a goal. He now sits at four goals and five points on the season, and must earn his way back to top-six opportunities. He’s certainly not down and out however – Slepyshev is still a legitimate prospect with a bright future ahead of him who looks like he just needs some time to recalibrate his game and get back on track.

Braden Christoffer, LW, 21

The Edmonton Oilers signed former Regina Pat Braden Christoffer to a three-year, entry-level deal in early October 2015 after a strong performance at the annual Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC. He’s an undersized forward, but he still brings a tough, physical presence to every shift that makes him tough to play against and has a knack for clearing a shooting lane for himself or his linemates. While likely a longshot for NHL success, the 21-year-old is holding his own in his first pro season, logging four points in 27 games thus far for the Bakersfield Condors.

Bogdan Yakimov, C, 21

Russian-born prospect Bogdan Yakimov was assigned to the Bakersfield Condors to begin the 2015-16 season, where he found reasonable success with a club that has been top-heavy with career AHL-ers, never mind a logjam of other talented forwards looking to find a route to the NHL. In December, it was announced that Yakimov would be returning to the KHL for the remainder of the year, rejoining his former squad, Neftekhimik. The news was slightly surprising, as despite a bit of a slow start to the year, Yakimov is a big body at 232 pounds and 6’3 and seemed to be on the fringe of NHL readiness.

The Edmonton Oilers seem to have a revolving door at center whether due to injuries or poor play, so it wouldn’t have been out of the question for Yakimov to potentially see some NHL ice in 2016. At this point, it is unclear whether or not this return to Russia is considered a loan – it was noted by a few sources that Yakimov may have had a clause in his contract that allowed him to return to his KHL team. Regardless, this move will likely place him a little lower on the radar than a few of his peers in the minors competing for the same job.

Tyler Pitlick, RW, 24

Tyler Pitlick is a well-known name in the Edmonton prospect system at this point, originally selected in the second round of the NHL entry draft in 2010. Since then, he’s had a roller coaster of a career, occasionally finding success at the NHL level, but constantly being set back by injury. He’s now securely in do-or-die territory, and has only just begun playing regularly after an injury kept him sidelined for the majority of the season thus far. He looks solid in his return – the 24-year-old still boasts elite foot speed and a good mix of physicality and scoring ability, but the clock is certainly ticking for him, at least with the Edmonton Oilers.

Mitchell Moroz, LW, 21

21-year-old winger Mitchell Moroz is likely looking to improve upon a lackluster rookie pro season with the Oklahoma City Barons in 2014-15, where he took nearly three months to find the back of the net. He got that out of the way much earlier this season, and currently sits with a modest two goals and four assists in 25 games. His ice time has been somewhat limited, mainly filling an energy/enforcer role in the bottom six. He has flashes of brilliance reminiscent of his junior days, but seems to lack both the foot speed and game sense to make a real impact at the professional level yet. He has time on his side for now and his size and willingness to play in the dirty areas of the ice definitely help, but he’ll need to carve out a niche that includes a bit more offensive production if he wants to win a fourth-line role with the big club.

Kale Kessy, LW, 23

Saskatchewan native Kale Kessy is in his third professional season with the Edmonton Oilers organization and is looking to bounce back from his 2014-15 season, in which he chalked up six points in 17 games, losing much of his year to injury. In 2015-16, he has mostly been filling an enforcer role with the Bakersfield Condors, dropping the mitts on frequent occasion but chipping in ten points in 29 games as well. When compared to Tobias Rieder, the prospect traded away in exchange for Kessy, it doesn’t appear that the Oilers are on the winning end of that deal, at least at this point. Kessy looks poised to remain an AHLer, barring a serious spike in his development curve but with toughness in higher demand with the organization, he stands a chance for some NHL time.

Kyle Platzer, C, 20

Kyle Platzer has been on the upward climb since turning up the heat on his offensive production and earning 81 points with the Owen Sound Attack in 2014-15. The 20-year-old is now in his first professional season with the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL and seems to be cruising along just fine when it comes to point production. He has been a force at both even strength and on the power play, earning five goals and seven assists for 12 points in 28 games.

Andrew Miller, C, 27

Andrew Miller is the oldest prospect in the Oilers system at 27 and it goes without saying that 2015-16 is do-or-die time for the former Yale captain, at least with Edmonton. He’s certainly making a strong case for himself, as he has done in prior years, earning time with the big club to fill gaps left by injury. Miller currently sits third on the team in scoring, behind only Matt Ford and Brad Hunt. He has managed 20 points through 23 appearances at the AHL level, and was pointless in six games at the NHL level this season. What Miller lacks in size and physicality he makes up for with consistency and extremely good hockey sense. He’s often relied upon in Bakersfield in crucial moments, and comes through often in tight games. While there’s likely not much more Miller can do to showcase his talent, it remains to be seen if he’s the type of player that fits Edmonton’s current needs.

Dillon Simpson, D, 22

Edmonton native Dillon Simpson is in his second professional season with the Bakersfield Condors after a respectable rookie effort in 2014-15 with the Oklahoma City Barons. Simpson has always been somewhat of a defensive dark horse, with not much offensive flair to speak of, but he fills his role well as a stay-at-home shutdown defender. His 2015-16 debut was late due to injury, playing in his first game in mid-November. He has slowly found his groove since then, netting 5 points in 21 games, all on assists. His physicality is certainly not his calling card, but his defensive positioning is sound and he uses his stick well. He has yet to turn heads or make major waves within the prospect pool, but it’s still relatively early for the son of former Oiler Craig Simpson. Time will tell if he has a legitimate NHL future ahead of him.

Martin Gernat, D, 22

Slovakian blueline prospect Martin Gernat is in the midst of his most important season yet as he plugs away in his third professional season with the Oilers organization. After a strong junior career, Gernat was largely unimpressive at the professional level. He suffered an untimely knee injury in late 2014-15, and was sidelined for the beginning of 2015-16 after having surgery in the summer. The lanky rearguard is finding his stride with the Condors, and seems to be playing more of a defense-first style, which may help improve the physical side of his game – something he’s been criticized for on numerous occasions. At this point, it seems unlikely that he will add much more bulk to his 6’5 frame, but he’s worked to become stronger, even weight training in the summer amidst his injury. There are a number of defensive prospects that are ahead of Gernat in the Oilers’ pipeline, including his former Edmonton Oil Kings teammate Griffin Reinhart. A call-up to the NHL doesn’t seem to be in Gernat’s immediate future, but he seems to have a renewed sense of urgency for his development.

David Musil, D, 22

Quintessential shutdown defenseman David Musil is in his third professional season, alongside the aforementioned Martin Gernat, who also played with Musil in his major junior days. Despite a mere six points in 30 games, Musil is arguably ahead of Gernat on the development curve and in the pool of defensive talent at the Oilers’ disposal. The majority of Musil’s work is done in his own zone, and he’s a hulking, physical defender who breaks up the cycle well and sees the ice at an above-average level. He’s often nicked for his skating ability, but his name has been mentioned recently as a potential call-up to get a taste of the NHL game. Musil has an interesting mix of skills and if he can put it all together, he may have the potential to carve out a niche. Right now, he still has work to do at the AHL level to continue to set himself apart, but he’s on the right track for a second contract this spring.

Joey LaLeggia, D, 23

Since his successful college career, defensive prospect Joey LaLeggia has continued to be on the upward climb, pleasantly surprising coaches, scouts and fans alike with his quick foot speed, good puck movement skills and ability to quarterback and generate scoring chances for his forwards. The 23-year-old has netted four goals and nine assists in 30 games. He has played some big, important minutes for the Condors on the back end and interestingly enough, was slotted in on the wing alongside Bogdan Yakimov and Anton Slepyshev in early December. The result was favourable, and makes LaLeggia all the more valuable as a versatile player that can fill in virtually anywhere on the ice. It wouldn’t be a stretch to expect to see the University of Denver alumnus in an Oilers jersey, dependent upon the big club’s playoff chances late in the season.

Jordan Oesterle, D, 23

Another former college defenseman, Jordan Oesterle is in his second professional season after a strong rookie year with the Oklahoma City Barons. He’s currently on track to have a similar season, logging 11 points in 23 games thus far, with two goals. Oesterle is a good puck mover with a strong first pass out of the zone, and his willingness to go to the dirty areas of the ice has made him a valuable commodity both for the Condors and in six appearances for the Edmonton Oilers in late 2014-15.

Greg Chase, C, 21

In his first true professional campaign, Greg Chase has shuttled between the Norfolk Admirals of the ECHL, where he has put up six points in 10 games, and the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL, where he has managed seven in 16. He’s an undersized, but undoubtedly skilled winger who plays an aggressive, north-south game and makes himself tough to play against for any opponent. He has great vision and often creates strong chances for his linemates. While his start to his professional career has not made headlines, it’s certainly not cause for concern as many of his peers have taken a bit of time to adjust to the change from junior to pro. There’s still much time left in the season for Chase to make a late push and bolster his numbers as he looks to make an impact for the Condors’ playoff campaign.

Ben Betker, D, 21

21-year-old Ben Betker is coming off three WHL seasons with the Everett Silvertips and joined the Norfolk Admirals of the ECHL to start his professional campaign. The British Columbia native has had a respectable showing thus far, earning 12 points in 34 games. At 6’6, he’s a hulking presence on the ice and never backs down from a battle in the corner. His skating is his biggest shortfall, and he’s still miles from NHL readiness, but some roster shuffles will give Betker a taste of the AHL before the end of 2015-16.

Prospect of the Month

Leon Draisaitl - Edmonton OilersThis month’s top prospect is 20-year-old Leon Draisaitl who has now officially graduated by Hockey’s Future criteria but continues to be lights-out for the Oilers ever since his call-up, with a staggering 34 points in as many games. There’s not much else the German centerman needs to do to solidify his permanent spot on the Oilers squad for 2015-16. In the previous season, Draisaitl was knocked for not being quick enough for the NHL game, both physically and mentally. All mentions of this shortcoming have ceased, and the young forward looks stronger each time out.