Oscar Klefbom headlines Edmonton’s group of European prospects

By Lawrence Bailey
Photo: After playing the 2009-10 season int he WHL, Toni Rajala returned to the SM-liiga where he has played since. In 2011-12, Rajala managed 16 goals and 13 assists with Ilves Tampere. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/CHL)

Outside of 2011 first round pick Oscar Klefbom, the picture in Europe and in the NCAA for the Oilers is one of depth prospects and long shots. This is in part due to a preference for CHL players in the Stu McGregor draft era, and in part due to some of the higher quality Europeans and college picks (like Tyler Pitlick, Martin Marincin, and Martin Gernat) making the move to the CHL after they were drafted. Beyond Klefbom, for whom the organization has high hopes, any of these players who become even a quality depth NHL player would be considered a bonus for the team.

Europe

Oscar Klefbom, D, Farjestads BK Karlstad (SEL)
Drafted 1st round, 19th overall, 2011

Klefbom's year was a bit of everything. He started slowly, struggling for ice time and being scratched early in the season. He also had some injury troubles to deal with which didn't help as he tried to establish himself on a fairly deep blue line. He shone at the World Junior Championships however, earning a spot on the tournament all star team, and as the SEL season wore on his role was solidified, his ice time increased, and he became a more consistent contributor. It's likely that he will spend at least one more year in Sweden next year, due in part to the number of Oiler blue line prospects turning pro and due to the fact that the SEL is a quality league where he can hone his craft. It may not have had the flashiness or big numbers some had hoped for, but Klefbom's season showed real progress and development, both excellent signs.

Samu Perhonen, G, JyP-Akatemia (Finland2)
Drafted 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2011

Drafted as a goalie with all the tools to be something special, but a project as he had yet to put them all together, the book remains the same. His results this season ranged from poor to average, with inconsistency being the order of the day. Goalies are a tricky breed to project, however given where he was taken in the draft his 2011-12 season has to be seen as a disappointment. He'll be given all kinds of time to put it all together, so there's no sense of urgency or panic, but so far, not so good.

Toni Rajala, RW, Ilves Tampere (SM-Liiga)
Drafted 4th round, 101st overall, 2009

In his second season back in Finland following one year with the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings, Rajala showed solid improvement, particularly in terms of his physical play and his goal scoring ability. He's still well off the pace offensively for an NHL prospect and lacks the size or physical presence to be a career bottom six forward, so it's unlikely he'll play a part in the Oilers' future plans. Barring any surprises, he's fully expected to be in Europe again next season and likely for the foreseeable future.

Johan Motin, D, Timra IK (SEL)
Drafted 4th round, 103rd overall, 2008

 

After two plus seasons primarily spent in the AHL, Johan Motin made the decision early in the 2011-12 campaign that his future was better served by heading back to Europe to continue his career. With him failing to get traction in the Oilers' organization and a glut of quality defensive prospects coming up behind him, it was probably the right call. He appeared in 33 games for Timra in the SEL, and as his entry level deal with the Oilers is up at the end of this season, he will likely continue playing in Europe for the foreseeable future.

Milan Kytnar, C, HPK Hameenlinna (SM-Liiga)
Drafted 5th round, 127th overall, 2007

After four seasons in the WHL and a year and a half of North American pro hockey split between the AHL and ECHL (with a one game NHL emergency appearance) Kytnar went back to Europe mid-season and it's unlikely he will be returning anytime soon. He lost his role with the Oklahoma City Barons and was being passed by other players in the system, so he opted to close out the year in Finland. His time as an Oiler is likely at its end.

Frans Tuohimaa, G, Jokerit Helsinki (SM-Liiga)
Drafted 7th round, 182nd overall, 2011

A late-round pick and an overager, expectations were tempered; however Tuohimaa has delivered a quality season. He's played at different levels and in different leagues over the year in Finland, spending half the time with Jokerit in the SM-liiga where he posted respectable numbers. Definitely a draft and follow prospect, Tuohimaa showed enough this year that he's one to keep an eye on going forward.

NCAA

Kyle Bigos, D, Merrimack Warriors (Hockey East)
Drafted 4th round, 99th overall, 2009

 

An overage selection in 2009, the hulking, physical blueliner has developed into a quality prospect over his three years at Merrimack College. With Merrimack's season over, there is the possibility he forgoes his senior year to turn pro, as many have pointed out his style of play is much better suited to the pro game than the college ranks. However with the Oilers graduating a large number of blue line prospects this season, there's a very good chance they send him back to Hockey East for one more year. It opens up a lot of options for Bigos as well, since he was drafted out of the BCHL he could become a UFA following his senior season if he doesn't like the opportunity the Oilers organization presents. Certainly one to watch.

Kellen Jones, LW, Quinnipiac Bobcats (ECAC)
Drafted 7th round, 202nd overall, 2010

The undersized skill forward had an excellent sophomore season for Quinnipiac, posting 36 points in 36 games. His twin brother Connor-the Jones brothers were widely discussed as a package deal on draft day-did a little better, putting up 41 points in 37 games en route to a third team all-ECAC nod. While neither Kellen nor Connor are good bets to make the NHL, both contributing at a high level in the ECAC and have two more years of college eligibility to improve their game. Considering he was a 202nd overall pick, Jones has been an improving and impressive prospect to this point.

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