Yakupov, Schultz headline prospects to watch for Edmonton Oilers in 2012-13

By Jordan Walsh

Mitchell Moroz - Edmonton Oil Kings

Photo: Oilers 2012 second-round pick Mitchell Moroz is among the team's junior prospects to track in 2012-13 as he tries to help his club get back to the Memorial Cup. (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

Over the course of the past three seasons one of the few bright spots within the Edmonton Oilers organization has undoubtedly been the teams prospect pipeline. Having won the NHL draft lottery and selected first overall in every season since 2010 the Oilers have had marvelous opportunity in terms of stacking up their assets for the future.

Led by Nail Yakupov and newly-acquired defenseman Justin Schultz, the Oilers quite arguably have the best prospect pool throughout the entire NHL. Listed below are some of the Oilers’ prospects to watch at various levels of play in the 2012-13 season.

Pro

Top Pro Prospect
Justin Schultz, D, Oklahoma City Barons (AHL)

While 2012 first overall draft pick Nail Yakupov, who is currently playing in the KHL with the Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik and averaging just below a point-per-game, could have easily been the choice here if not for the NHL lockout, Justin Schultz is currently having a whale of a season with the Oklahoma City Barons and deserves some recognition. Over the course of 18 games Schultz leads the entire AHL in scoring with an impressive 28 points, including 10 goals and 18 assists, and also leads the league with a plus-14 rating. The 6’2, 185-pound defenseman has wasted no time in impressing Oilers brass and continuing to prove to the rest of the hockey world that he is the real deal.

With the lack of talent currently on the Oilers blue line it is safe to say that expectations for Schultz are extremely high as he is arguably the most important piece of the puzzle going forward.

ECHL-Bound Prospect
Tyler Bunz, G, Stockton Thunder (ECHL)

When fans hear that a prospect of their favorite NHL team has been assigned to play in the ECHL, more often then not they are quick to rate them off as a bust. While that may be true in some cases it certainly does not apply here. Bunz, who was named the WHL’s goaltender of the year for the 2011-12 season, shows great potential and remains a part of the plan for the Oilers moving forward. In going to the ECHL, the 6’1, 198-pound Alberta native follows the footsteps of current Edmonton netminder Devan Dubnyk, who played in 43 games with the Stockton Thunder right after his WHL career came to an end. To date, Bunz has played well for the Thunder. His 8-3-1 record is in the top five in the league while he has earned a 0.891 save percentage and 2.85 goals against average.

Junior

Top Junior Prospect
Mitchell Moroz, LW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

High-end prospects at the junior level are something that the Oilers currently do not have a ton of. However, that is not saying that there are no players currently in major junior that have great upside and the potential to one day turn out as solid NHL players.  Mitchell Moroz is an example of just that. Already 6'2 and 208 pounds at just 18 years of age, the Oil Kings' forward has tallied four goals and 11 points in 22 games to date. Having tremendous size combined with an ability to get under the skin of the opposition, Moroz has drawn comparison to Milan Lucic. Before we get to carried away, nobody is suggesting that Moroz is as good as Lucic. Instead, some are simply suggesting that there are similarities and comparisons between the styles of play offered by both players.

Bounce Back Prospect
Travis Ewanyk, C, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

Aside from winning a WHL championship, the 2011-12 season is one that Travis Ewanyk likely wishes that he could just forget. After suffering an upper-body injury prior to the season, Ewanyk went on to play in just 11 games over the course of the regular season and mustered a mere four points in that time. While this year started off much better for the pesky center, he recently suffered yet another injury in the Subway Super Series. When healthy, the St. Albert, Alberta native brings leadership qualities and an ability to agitate his opponents to the table on a nightly basis along with mediocre offensive capabilities.

New Team in 2012
David Musil, D, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

After playing with the Vancouver Giants from the 2009-10 season up until just recently, there is no better fit to this category then defenseman David Musil. Musil, 19, was traded from Vancouver to Edmonton on October 31st. When you consider that the Giants currently sit dead last in the entire WHL, getting traded to the defending champions is nothing short of a blessing for the marquee, shutdown style defenseman. While logging a great amount of ice time and facing off against opposing teams top lines on a nightly basis will be Musil’s primary responsibility, he is no stranger to the score sheet. So far, he has tallied 11 points in 24 total games. Not to shabby for a shut down defenseman.

Amateur

Top Amateur Prospect
Joey Laleggia, D, University of Denver Pioneers (WCHA)

Despite being only 5’10 and 180 pounds Joey Laleggia is having a solid impact with his DU club so far this season. Through 12 games the undersized Burnaby, B.C. native has totaled five goals and 12 points, making him the highest scoring defenseman in the WCHA. Growing up, Laleggia was a good friend of fellow-Oiler Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. As a result, Nugent-Hopkins put in a word with Oilers’ management who then proceeded to draft the defenseman in the fifth round, 123rd overall. 

Freshman To Watch
Jujhar Khaira, LW, Michigan Tech Huskies (WCHA)

While he may not come from traditional hockey genetics (his dad is from India), Jujhar Khaira could be a well-known name in the years to come. Having played junior hockey in Prince George of the BCHL many believe that the Surrey, B.C. native received little-to-no exposure, thus flying under the radar of several NHL clubs. To date, Khaira has put up respectable numbers in the WCHA, netting two goals and six assists for a total of eight points in 10 games played. The freshman is tied for third in scoring on Michigan Tech and leads the club with 23 penalty minutes.

Offensive Breakout
John McCarron, RW, Cornell Big Red (ECAC)

Being left off of the final Central Scouting North American player rankings ended up being a non-issue for John McCarron. Despite the ranking, the 6’2, 225-pound right winger was picked in the sixth round, 153rd overall by the Oilers.

Playing on a line with fellow freshman Joel Lowry (LAK) and senior Sean Collins last season, McCarron scored five of his six goals after January, including a goal against Michigan in the Big Red's NCAA tournament win, and also racked up 13 assists. He finished with a plus-one rating and 61 penalty minutes in his freshman season.

While it is unlikely that he will ever be a huge offensive force, continuing to improve on his offensive capabilities and being put in more scoring situations may provide McCarron with the tools he needs for a noticeable spike in terms of offense as a sophomore this season.

Europe

Top European Prospect
Oscar Klefbom, D, Farjestads BK Karlstad (SEL)

First off, before 80 percent of our readers jump out of their office chair and scream at the computer screen, wondering how Nail Yakupov was not mentioned in this category, sit tight. Yakupov likely is the best candidate for several of the aforementioned topics, but why take the obvious route?

As for Klefbom, the kid is a stud. Every member of the Oilers franchise is convinced that he undoubtedly will be in the NHL sooner rather then later. Among all defensive prospects within the Oilers’ system, Klefbom offers the best combination of size, skill, and defensive acumen. The 6’3, 201-pound Swede worked his way into the lineup with Farfestads in Sweden's Elitserien as an 18-year-old and was named to the all-tournament team while playing for gold medal-winning Sweden at the 2012 U20 World Junior Championship. The Oilers signed him to a three year entry-level contract in June, 2012.

First Year Pro to Watch Overseas
Nail Yakupov, F, Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik (KHL)

It is about time we looked at the first-overall pick of the 2012 NHL entry draft. Scoring 31 goals and 69 points in what would be his final year of junior with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL, Nail Yakupov is the most hyped up Oilers prospect for good reason. This season, Yakupov has taken his talents back to his native country of Russia while the NHL and NHLPA try to hammer out a new CBA agreement. So far, the 19-year-old left-handed right winger is just shy of a point per game average, putting up 10 goals and 14 points in 15 games. His 10 goals are better then several already established NHL players who are playing in the KHL as well. Yakupov also took part in the Subway Super Series, scoring two goals and adding a pair of assists in six games. There is zero doubt throughout he entire NHL that Yakupov will indeed be a top-end player for at least the next decade.