Talent on blue line leads CHL pool for Edmonton Oilers

By Lawrence Bailey
Photo: Tobias Rieder is currently among the top offensive prospects in the OHL. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The Edmonton Oilers have looked to the North American junior ranks (specifically the CHL) early and often in the four years since Stu MacGregor took over as Head Scout. As a result, there has been a tremendous amount of quality and quantity at the junior level for the exciting young club, players who will be pushing for roster spots at the pro level sooner than later. Many have graduated in recent years and are either pushing for a spot with the big club, or are established as NHL regulars already. There are still 10 junior level players in the Oilers system, many of whom are having very nice starts to their 2011-12 campaigns.

WHL

David Musil, D, Vancouver Giants
Acquired: 2nd round (31st overall) in 2011

The physical defensive defenseman was once thought of as a possible top 10 pick in 2011, however his offense didn't develop as many expected, leaving him for the Oilers to pluck atop the second round. His .6 points per game pace in the WHL isn't eye popping, though it is a nice improvement on his draft year, however it's his plus-10 rating and 53 penalty minutes through 25 games that speak more to his skill set.

Musil is a simple, no nonsense, physical defenseman who knows how to take care of business in his own end of the rink. He's got a pro ready frame and according to many reports, a pro ready game. Some people feel he could be pushing for a roster spot as early as next season, and consensus is he's not far off from being a useful NHL defender with the potential to be a solid top four shut down option.

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

Marincin turned all kinds of heads in his WHL rookie season last year. Scoring at close to a point per game, boasting size and mobility that made scouts drool, he was a shining star amongst Oiler prospects in the first half of the 2010-11 campaign. His play tailed off as the season went on and he admitted the schedule was tiring and wearing him down.

Back in the Dub for a second season, he was tasked with improving his size, strength, and conditioning to endure the rigors of a North American season. While he is well off his point-per-game pace from last year, he is doing so on a poor offensive team and has impressed with his all around play, including a nasty streak which saw him suspended earlier, and a plus-two rating (tops among Cougar defensemen and second on the team). Marincin continues to be a multi-tool prospect who boasts a tantalizing blend of skill, size, skating, and physicality.

Travis Ewanyk, C, Edmonton Oil Kings
Acquired: 3rd round (74th overall) in 2011

Not much to report when it comes to feisty checking center Travis Ewanyk, who has missed the entire season to this point due to injury. He's expected to be back around the beginning of the new year, and will be looking to close the year strong. Not known for his offense, but with a non-stop effort level, the ability to get under his opponent's skin, and a passion for the defensive side of the game, Ewanyk is a first rate agitator.

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

Bunz established himself as a top WHL starter last season with the Tigers and has continued to cement himself as one of the best amongst his peers this year. The third-year starter boasts an impressive .924 save percentage and is among the goalies in the mix for the starting job between the pipes for Canada's World Junior entry.

He plays with a consistency and a mental toughness that is necessary for netminders young and old, and seems to have gotten stronger every month since the Oilers plucked him in 2010's fifth round. He is almost certain to turn pro next season, and could be knocking on the NHL door before too long.

Martin Gernat, D, Edmonton Oil Kings
Acquired: 5th round (122nd overall) in 2011

The other towering blueliner named Martin from Slovakia is following in his good friend and countryman Martin Marincin's footsteps. He's burst out of the gate early, with 20 points through 24 games, and has been a revelation for the Oil Kings players, coaches, and fans alike. The fast start is even more impressive when you consider he was a fifth round selection, however the Oilers scouting staff insisted following the draft they had him graded as a second rounder.

His game isn't as complete or physical as Marincin, and he needs to work a great deal on the defensive side of things, but his offensive skill set and instincts have been on full display through the first third of the season, and are turning heads to say the least.

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

A late bloomer and a feel good story, Davidson is putting together an impressive all around season with the Pats this year. Back in the WHL despite being a 20-year-old, Davidson was asked to shoulder a major leadership role with Regina as well as playing a lot of minutes in all situations. He's risen to the challenge much like he always has in the past, and is performing at a high level, boasting a plus-10 and scoring at almost a point per game.

Sitting second on the Pats in scoring belies his wide range of skills. Davidson is an all around blueliner, the classic player who does everything well without any true exceptional abilities. He's put in a lot of work on his skating and it's starting to show, and if he can continue to make steady improvements to his game, a role as a quality depth defenseman in the NHL is not out of the question.

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

The physical winger and Kootenay captain is finally back for his fourth season with the Ice after missing a number of early games due to injury. He hasn't skipped a beat in his return either with 14 points in 14 games to open things up. The plus-11 through those 14 contests doesn't look too bad on him either.

Czerwonka has all the characteristics you look for in a depth forward, he plays hard and physical, shows excellent grit, character and leadership, and is willing to take on any role expected of him. As a player who will be looked to for more scoring this season, it will be interesting to see how he can produce, but he is likely to be a quintessential bottom six energy forward at the pro level.

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

Early in the year, Pelss has definitely shown a nose for the net, potting 11 goals through 24 games, just four short of his total through 63 contests last year. The undersized skill winger has been a quality player for the Oil Kings thus far, however he remains a long shot for pro employment with the Oilers, and there's a very good chance he isn't among the players of the 2010 draft class who are signed once the dust settles at the end of the season.

OHL

Tobias Rieder, RW, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: 4th round (114th overall) in 2011

Compared by some to fellow Oiler Linus Omark for his skilled and tenacious style of play despite being a smaller player, Rieder has gotten off to a wonderful start in Kitchener this season. His 31 points in 23 games have him sitting 15th in OHL scoring and first on the Rangers.

It will be interesting to watch if he's able to maintain the pace as the season wears on this year, as his production in his OHL rookie campaign last year definitely tailed off. Accustomed to the less strenuous European schedule, as well as being undersized, durability and staying power will be central to his ability to continue to excel at the next level.

QMJHL

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

After posting near point per game numbers and being a catalyst for his team offensively a season ago, despite missing much of the year with a foot injury, Blain is again showcasing an excellent offensive acumen with a number of quality secondary skills to boot. He's taken a veteran leadership role with the Titan and is performing well in nearly every facet of the game.

His 16 points lead the Titan in scoring from the blue line, his plus-six is second best on the club, while his physical play and improving defensive ability make him an indispensable part of the club's make up. They are no longer the top flight team they've been recently, so having a minute eating every situation rear guard like Blain on board has been that much more important.

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