Tyler Pitlick and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins among the standouts for Edmonton

By Lawrence Bailey
Photo: Slovak Martin Marincin is one of several defensemen in the Oilers prospect pool who can potentially develop into a solid top-four option. (Photo courtesy of Paul Hebert/Icon SMI)

Below is the inaugural edition of Hockey's Future's prospect awards. There is a particularly diverse group of recipients, a reflection on an Edmonton prospect pool that is amidst a full rebuild.

Prospect of the Year: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Edmonton Oilers (NHL)

Still a few games shy of graduating from prospect status due to injuries this season, the Calder Trophy finalist is the crown jewel of the Oilers prospect ranks. Putting up 52 points in 62 games as an 18-year-old rail thin rookie in the top league in the land is no small feat. Along with the likes of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and the 2012 top pick, RNH is a core piece of the Oilers future. The slick centerman was known for his offensive vision and acumen, however he impressed all year long with his smarts and intelligent play on the back check and in his own end as well. He's a special talent and a sublime player.

Most Improved Prospect: Tobias Rieder, RW, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)

After fading in the second half of his draft year raised concerns about his size and durability and saw him slide to the 4th round in 2011, Rieder came back and got better and better as the season (and now playoffs) have worn on. After notching 42 goals and 85 points in just 60 games in the regular season, he's put up an even more impressive 13 goals and 27 points through just 16 games on Kitchener's current post-season run to lead the OHL in playoff scoring.

Rieder shows good quickness and agility, isn't afraid to go to the dirty areas-though he's not a big initiator of contact-and is an absolute demon on the penalty kill, tallying seven shorthanded goals in the regular season and three so far in the playoffs including a pair on the same penalty. In nearly doubling his point total year-over-year (from 49 to 85) and then stepping his game up further in the playoffs, Rieder has many Oiler fans and in the organization excited about his potential.

Best Defensive Prospect: Martin Marincin, D, Regina Pats (WHL)

With a number of quality blueliners coming up there was plenty of competition for this crown, however Marincin takes it for a few reasons. First of all, he came into the year determined to improve his defensive game which was one of the biggest soft spots on his resume last year. Playing for a dismal team in Prince George, Marincin was relied upon to play big minutes and in every situation and he did so quite well. Secondly, his offense, which had fallen off on a poor Cougars club, showed well once he went to the Pats midseason, where he posted 23 points in 28 games. Operating within striking distance of a point-per-game in both WHL seasons is a strong indicator of future success.

Finally, on the biggest stage at the World Junior Championships, Marincin was a horse for Slovakia, logging big minutes, being relied upon heavily, and he looked good doing it. The Slovaks were not a strong team and Marincin was asked to do a lot, but it wasn't anything he couldn't handle.

Fastest Skater: Tyler Pitlick, C/RW, Oklahoma City Barons (AHL)

Without a mind-blowing speed demon in the prospect ranks for the Oilers, the fast and powerful Tyler Pitlick gets the nod. It took a while for the former NCAA and WHL player to adjust to the pro game, however in the second half of the 2011-12 AHL season and in the playoffs thus far he has shown he belongs at the AHL level and may be pushing for the NHL sooner than later. His crisp, powerful skating stride combined with excellent size mean that he's the kind of player who may have top six upside, but should be able to get the job done in a bottom six role as well.

Hardest Shot: Tyler Pitlick, C/RW, Oklahoma City Barons (AHL)

Much like his size and his skating, Pitlick possesses an NHL caliber shot. It is hard and accurate, and more importantly for his prospects as a goal scorer at the pro level, his wrister has some weight and zip to it. While unleashing a bomb from the point when you're given the time to wind up and let it rip is all well and good, it's not an opportunity that regularly presents itself. Being able to fire a fast, hard wrist shot from anywhere on the ice is one of Pitlick's greatest attributes and it will continue to serve him well.

Overachiever: Philippe Cornet, LW, Oklahoma City Barons (AHL)

Cornet was on fire out of the gate this season, sniping at an incredible rate. His goal scoring prowess even earned him some time with the NHL club, something no one would have expected last offseason. He cooled off in the second half of the AHL campaign, but still wound up with 24 goals. Considering his high-end is likely as a decent AHL player, that kind of a season was very impressive.

Underachiever: Ryan Martindale, C, Stockton Thunder (ECHL)

Other than RNH as Prospect of the Year, this was the easiest choice. Martindale had a phenomenal season in the OHL in 2010-11 and looked very good in Oilers camp, however due to a glut of forwards in the organization, particularly centers, he opened the year in Stockton. The knock on the 2010 third-rounder has always been a lack of work ethic and passion and that shone through this year. In 34 ECHL games, he only mustered 15 points and was an awful minus-13. At best he was a league average ECHL forward, which is not a performance a player of his skill level should be delivering.

Hardest Worker: Travis Ewanyk, C, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

Despite only appearing in 11 regular season games this year, Ewanyk demonstrated the passion, work ethic, and determination that were his calling cards at the 2011 draft in working his way back from significant offseason shoulder surgery. The Oil Kings have won all but one of the 24 games he's played this year (11 regular season and 13 playoff) and his compete level, his passion, and his breakneck, up tempo style of play are a big reason for that. He's a tireless worker and a top rate battler.

Highest Risk/Reward: Martin Gernat, D, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

Gernat has delivered an incredible season considering he was a 5th round pick in the 2011 draft. After being drafted out of Slovakia like Marincin before him, the equally lanky but rangy blueliner came over to the WHL and has been an excellent addition for the powerhouse Oil Kings. Putting up 55 points in 60 games to go with a gaudy plus-41, he's continued his strong play in the playoffs with seven points in 13 games and a plus-six rating. The risk piece comes from the fact that he is very raw on the defensive side of the puck. Playing on an incredibly talented blueline allows him to make mistakes and take risks offensively and it remains to be seen if he will be able to develop a well rounded enough game to be as effective above the junior hockey level.

Breakout Player for 2012-13: Oscar Klefbom, D, Farjestad (SEL)

It was a tough start to 2011-12 for the 19th overall pick in the 2011 draft as a combination of veteran depth on Farjestad's blue line and minor injuries kept his ice time very limited. As the season wore on however he was able to carve out a regular role, and showed incredibly well at the World Juniors, earning a spot on the all-tournament team.

Looking forward to 2012-13 he will be much more heavily relied upon by his SEL club as a number of their veteran defensemen are moving on and many believe that fellow youngster Jonas Brodin (MIN) has an excellent shot at making the jump to the NHL next year as well. This not only opens up more ice time for Klefbom, it should also yield better ice time, particularly on the power play. Watch for the talented Swede to put up much better numbers given the additional ice and opportunity, likely followed by him coming over to North America at the end of the upcoming season.

 

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