The Edmonton Oilers spring Top 20 list sees some major changes from the fall list, mostly due to the graduation of players like Brandon Davidson, Leon Draisaitl and Iiro Pakarinen. Darnell Nurse sits on the cusp of prospect status with regards to number of games played, but is the second name on the list for the time being. Despite his collarbone injury in November, Connor McDavid hasn’t missed a beat in his return and is a prospect in name only. He displays on a consistent basis that he is not only the top prospect in the Oilers system, but on his way to becoming the best player in the NHL.
Defensive prospect Griffin Reinhart remains with Nurse near the top of the list as they show every indication of becoming legitimate NHL defenders. Both suffer from bouts of inconsistency and are victims of their own inexperience, but the elite-level skill is still evident. Ethan Bear has made his mark as one of the top junior prospects in the Oilers’ system, earning his first appearance in the Top 20, as does Russian standout Ziyat Paygin, who put up impressive numbers in the KHL. The rest of the list continues below.
20. (13) Mitch Moroz, LW, 6.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2012
Rounding out this spring’s top 20 is Mitch Moroz, who is in his second professional season with the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL. After an underwhelming professional debut in 2014-15, Moroz was looking to improve upon his offensive numbers and prove his worth as a potential bottom-six winger for the Oilers organization.
His tenacity and physicality are unquestionable – he plays a mean, tough game and is quick to push his opponents off the puck. The issue lies mainly with his skating and offensive production. As pro hockey continues to evolve, the need for a strict enforcer has diminished, and prospects auditioning for such a role need to have a more balanced skillset along with being able to deal punches. Moroz still has some time to prove his worth – he has found the back of the net more easily this season with increased ice time – but he will need to continue to stand out among his peers in Bakersfield to remain on the Oilers’ radar.
19. (15) David Musil, D, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 31st overall, 2011
Defensive prospect David Musil made his NHL debut with the Oilers on April 11, 2015. He has yet to appear in an NHL game in 2015-16, but continues to put in big minutes at the AHL level for the Bakersfield Condors. Another case of the quintessential stay-at-home defenseman, Musil is at risk of being overlooked in favor of a rearguard who comes with a bit of an added offensive bonus. Plus, his skating has been his biggest point of criticism for a number of seasons, which can be the death knell for the prospective blueliner once reaching NHL-level speed and competition. With the Oilers out of a playoff spot, the brass would benefit from seeing this player in an NHL game or two. Unfortunately, the team used up its last call-up on Jordan Oesterle on March 9, mostly as a result of untimely injuries.
18. (9) Bogdan Yakimov, C, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 83rd overall, 2013
When Russian centerman Bogdan Yakimov departed from the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL to join Neftekhimik of the KHL, his future as an Edmonton Oiler seemed uncertain. Not many prospects make the trek across the pond and back, only to return to North America again, but such was the case with Yakimov when he returned to the Condors on March 3. Yakimov had a strong KHL season, and was an integral part of his team’s playoff push, before being eliminated by the top-seeded team in the division in four straight games. Yakimov has long been touted as one of Edmonton’s most promising prospects down the middle, and his size at 6’5, 232 pounds is a nice bonus as well. He will likely finish out the season in Bakersfield as the team makes the final push to secure a playoff berth and if circumstances allow, he may even see a game at the NHL level.
17. (NR) Ziyat Paygin, D, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 209th overall 2015
Russian defenseman Ziyat Paygin was a low-risk selection, who will likely remain in the KHL at least one more season to continue to develop. At first glance, he has size, mobility and good hockey sense on his side, but isn’t always willing to go to the dirty areas of the ice and use his size to his advantage. In Paygin’s 2014-15 KHL season, he was largely a non-factor with two points in 33 appearances.
This season however, he found a new gear after being traded to HK Sochi, logging 27 points in 37 games. He earned himself a berth in the KHL all-star game, and the attention of North American scouts and hockey fans alike. Paygin could stand to add some muscle to his 6’4 frame, which may help him play a little harder on the puck, but he seems to be trending in the right direction for a prospect who was purely a draft-and-follow project.
16. (NR) William Lagesson, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 91st overall 2014
William Lagesson was a member of Sweden’s 2016 U20 World Junior Championship squad, where he put up three points in seven games as a crucial part of Sweden’s shutdown defensive system. He played the bulk of the season for UMass-Amherst of the NCAA, a collegiate squad that was a bit light in the numbers, scoring only 84 goals over 36 games. Lagesson is a defensive defenseman with a tough, physical nature who makes himself tough to play against. He breaks up the cycle well and plays a positionally sound game. Lagesson will likely spend at least one more season with UMass-Amherst to continue his development.
15. (NR) Caleb Jones, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 117th overall 2015
Caleb Jones wrapped up his first WHL season with the Portland Winterhawks and now looks toward the playoffs. The 18-year-old surpassed expectations, amassing 55 points in 72 games and playing heavy minutes on a decent Portland team. Jones eats up minutes on the penalty kill, and jumps up into the rush. Jones has some time ahead of him to continue to develop at the WHL level, but it’s clear that the Oilers have an intriguing player with some offensive firepower. He will be an interesting one to keep an eye on as he progresses.
14. (NR) Eetu Laurikainen, G, 6.5C
Signed as free agent, May 2015
After Laurent Brossoit, Eetu Laurikainen is the Oilers’ next-most promising goaltending prospect. The Finnish netminder was signed by Edmonton in May 2015 and played his first professional season with the Bakersfield Condors, logging a .904 save percentage and 3.32 goals-against average in 13 games. He needs more games under his belt at the minor professional level before the Oilers should make any big moves with this prospect.
13. (16) Joey LaLeggia, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall 2012
LaLeggia is another prospect the Oilers probably would have liked to see in an NHL game at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season. The former Denver University star had a strong season in the AHL, logging seven goals and 16 assists through 52 games. His main selling feature is his ability to remain consistent on a nightly basis, especially with the revolving door that has been the Bakersfield blueline. LaLeggia is slightly undersized, but makes up for it well with his impressive mobility and puck movement. He sees the ice exceptionally well and quarterbacks the play on a regular basis. He has continued to show promise and positive development in his time on the Oilers’ radar, so he will likely have another opportunity to prove his worth for the club at the top level, even if it’s not in 2015-16.
12. (14) Greg Chase, C/RW, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 188th overall 2013
Greg Chase has been riding the shuttle bus between the AHL and ECHL this season, playing 19 games in Bakersfield and 35 with the Norfolk Admirals thus far. Spending the majority of a season in the ECHL was likely not plan A for Greg Chase, but he has made the most of his time in the lower-tier league, taking advantage of the increased ice time. He earned 31 points in 35 games for the Admirals, including a hat trick on January 29. Chase currently finds himself on the outside looking in, and he will need to secure a full-time spot on the Condors’ roster in 2016-17 to remain in the conversation.
11. (7) Dillon Simpson, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 92nd overall, 2011
Dillon Simpson’s 2015-16 season began with an unfortunate injury and seemed to leave the former NCAA star playing catch-up for the majority of the year. While free from bouts of inconsistency or glaring holes in his skillset, Simpson unfortunately didn’t do much to impress or set himself apart in a big pool of defensive prospects, which resulted in him being passed over in favor of some of his peers.
His style of play in itself is not overly impressive, but it is one of high value to an NHL team in need of a blueline boost. He plays a solid, stay-at-home defensive game, making up for his lack of size and physicality with sound positioning and a strong first pass out of the zone. With Davidson and others ahead of him for that spot, Simpson has work to do to set himself apart and earn a chance to suit up with the big club.