Edmonton Oilers system balances blue-chip prospects and role players

By Kady Hobbins
Teemu Hartikainen - Edmonton Oilers

Photo: Teemu Hartikainen may not be the most glamorous prospect in the Oilers' system, but the hard-nosed winger is once again skating with the big club in Edmonton. (courtesy of Vincent Muzik/Icon SMI)

 
As a team that has taken the number one draft selection in the league for the past three years, the Edmonton Oilers are in a unique position. Their last three number one picks have been an almost sure-bet to enter straight onto the Oilers roster at the beginning of the next season and were expected to make a big splash for a team that desperately needed some new blood, starting with Taylor Hall in 2010-11, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011-12, and Nail Yakupov in 2012-13. This leaves the potential for the remaining draft pool to be a bit sparse, but the Oilers have managed to maintain some depth in their pipeline.

As a team in the rebuilding stage, a few of the Oilers' top prospects have gotten the chance to see some ice time at the NHL level, which is something that prospects of a more well-developed team do not always have the luxury of experiencing. The 2011 and 2012 draft classes have given the team some much needed depth on the blue line as well as some promising young forwards. While goaltending still remains somewhat of an uncertainty with no true blue-chip prospects, the overall state of the Oilers’ prospect pool is very promising.

Left Wing

The Oilers boast a strong line-up of young, talented forwards in their left wing pool. A large number of their top prospects are at least six feet tall, bringing some much needed size to a relatively short front end on the Oilers’ current roster.

Despite being selected 163rd overall in 2008, Teemu Hartikainen has made a big splash on the prospect scene for the Oilers. The 2011-12 season saw him play 17 games with the Oilers after being called up twice in the year from the Oklahoma City Barons, the Oilers’ AHL farm team. His mental and physical toughness has shown on numerous occasions that he can step up and fill the role of a fourth line winger.

Curtis Hamilton is playing his second season with the OKC Barons after an impressive career in the WHL where he finished out the 2010-11 season with 26 goals and 56 assists in 62 games for the Saskatoon Blades. Right now, he sits in a third or fourth-line role for the Barons. The Oilers also have prospect Philippe Cornet who is coming off a solid 2011-12 season with the Barons, putting up 24 goals and 13 assists in 67 games. He will be looking to build on those numbers in the 2012-13 season.

Looking at the CHL prospect pool, Mitchell Moroz has all the makings of a great power forward and at only 18, he still has a few years ahead of him to hone his skills with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. In the 2012-13 season thus far, he has logged nine goals and 14 assists for a total of 23 points with 95 minutes spent in the box. While not a pure goal-scorer, at 6’2 and 208 pounds, Moroz is a big presence on the ice and is not afraid to drop the gloves when necessary. He has racked up seven fights in the 2012-13 season, on top of his 19 from the 2011-12 season. The Oilers also have Daniil Zharkov in the CHL, who is currently playing for the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League where he has logged 10 goals and seven assists in 37 games of the 2012-13 season thus far. He also represented Russia in the 2013 World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia.

On the NCAA front, the Oilers have left winger Kellen Jones playing with the Quinnipiac University Bobcats in his junior year. Jujhar Khaira is another NCAA prospect for the Oilers who is entering his freshman season with the Michigan Tech Huskies in 2012-13. Khaira seems to fly under the radar a bit, despite lighting up the with the BCHL Prince George Spruce Kings, logging 29 goals and 50 assists for 79 points in 54 games. He is off to a productive start in his freshman season with 17 points in 23 games for Michigan Tech.

Right Wing

As the number one pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, it was almost a sure bet that we would see Nail Yakupov on the Oilers’ roster at the beginning of the 2012-2013 season. As one of the highest rated prospects heading into the draft, he has the speed, hands, and scoring potential to be a top-line forward right out of the gate on a rebuilding team like the Oilers. His NHL debut has been strong thus far, with his first goal coming against the San Jose Sharks in the Oilers’ second game of the shortened 2012-13 season.

Toni Rajala is another skill forward in the Oilers’ pipeline that has spent the past two seasons playing in his native Finland for Ilves Tampere of the SM-liiga hockey league. Prior to that, Rajala spent the 2009-10 season with the Brandon Wheat Kings where he showed some good offensive strength with 30 goals and 40 assists in 75 games. He has been keeping up his solid numbers, having lead the Ilves Tampere in scoring in the 2011-12 season.

The Oilers currently have four right wing prospects playing for the Oklahoma City Barons. Antti Tyrvainen is coming off of a good rookie year with the Barons, logging six goals and 13 assists. Although he is on the small side at 5’10, he plays a tough physical game on the ice and brings a high level of intensity to every shift. His teammate Kristians Pelss is playing his first season with the Barons in 2012-13 where he will be looking to adjust to the pro level after signing a three-year entry-level contract with the Oilers in May 2012. Mark Arcobello, at 5’9 and 165 pounds, is one of the smallest Oilers prospects. He has a strong offensive skill game and makes up for what he lacks in size with his speed. As the leading point-scorer in the Barons’ 2011-12 playoff run, Arcobello has continued to demonstrate his offensive skill this season with 12 goals and 23 assists for 35 points in 41 games. Cameron Abney also made his pro debut 2011-12. He was called up from his ECHL team, the Stockton Thunder for two games at the beginning of the Oklahoma City Barons’ 2012-13 season but has returned to the ECHL for the majority of the year. At 6’4 and 192 lbs, Abney’s best quality is bringing physicality to the ice and filling the role of the enforcer.

Tobias Rieder had a phenomenal 2011-12 season with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, scoring 42 goals and chalking up 42 assists in 60 games. While not as large as some of his peers, he has great game sense and is a proven point-getter in the offensive zone. He has shown no signs of slowing in 2012-13 thus far, racking up 16 goals and 18 assists in 37 games.

At the NCAA level, John McCarron is entering his sophomore season at Cornell University. Undrafted until he went 153rd overall in his third year of eligibility, he will be looking to gain some ice time and put up some offensive numbers in the 2012-13 season. Prior to playing in the NCAA, he lead the USHL Lincoln Stars with 24 goals and 33 assists in 2010-11.

Center

The Oilers are a bit light in numbers when it comes to centermen. Drafted 31st overall by the Oilers in 2010, Tyler Pitlick has been playing for the Barons in the last two seasons, but he has yet to find his flair that he had in his only WHL season with the Medicine Hat Tigers. In his 2010-11 season with the Tigers he scored 27 goals with 35 assists for 62 points in 56 games. In the 2011-12 season with the Barons, he played 62 games and logged seven goals and 16 assists for 23 points. In the 2012-13 season thus far, he has posted one goal and four assists in 32 games with a minus-nine ranking.

Ryan Martindale made his AHL debut in the same season as Pitlick (2011-12) but was relegated to the ECHL Stockton Thunder for most of that season, putting up only six goals and nine assists over 34 games, which is a bit of an underwhelming record for a prospect that has been touted by some as a pure goal-scorer. In the 2012-13 season thus far, he has played 15 games with the Barons with three goals and six assists.

Anton Lander was drafted by Edmonton in 2009 and made his NHL debut playing 56 games for the Edmonton Oilers in the 2011-12 season before being sent to the AHL Barons for further development. So far in the 2012-13 season, he has logged three goals and seven assists in 39 AHL games. Although he is not lighting up the offensive numbers, Lander has great defensive sense and contributes to the Barons’ penalty killing efforts on a regular basis. The Oilers also have Tanner House, who has scored three goals and an assist in 28 AHL games this season, skating with the Barons.

After hitting a bit of an offensive slump in his AHL debut following his NCAA career, Chris Vande Velde has been working to improve his numbers, having been the leading goal-scorer for the Oklahoma City Barons throughout their 2011-12 playoff run. He is strong in the faceoff circle and brings a big presence to the ice at 6’2 and 204 pounds but needs to continue to improve offensively.

Travis Ewanyk is the only CHL centerman prospect in the Oilers’ system and is currently playing with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. After undergoing surgery for a shoulder injury in 2011-12, he only played in 11 games for the Oil Kings. He has since made a full recovery and has played in 37 games in the 2012-13 season with five goals, 12 assists, and an impressive plus-16 rating.

Defense

In recent years, Edmonton’s blue line roster at the NHL level has lacked depth and often ran into trouble with untimely injuries, but some recent acquisitions have substantially increased the numbers in the defensive prospect pool. Most notable was the signing of unrestricted free agent Justin Schultz to a two-year entry-level contract after three seasons with the University of Wisconsin. Schultz was originally drafted by the Anaheim Ducks but was never signed. He has already secured a position on the Oilers’ roster and scored his first NHL goal at their home-opener on January 22nd. He plays a strong offensive game and his experience in 2012-13 season in the AHL and NHL should help to develop his play in the defensive zone.

Across the pond in Europe, Oilers' blue-chip prospect Oscar Klefbom is entering his second full season with Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League. As a first-round pick, the Oilers have high hopes for Klefbom and will likely see him make the jump to North America in the 2013-14 season should his play remain consistent throughout the 2012-13 season. He has great natural talent, and at 6’3 and 201 pounds, he is a strong presence on the blue line, which is something that the Oilers desperately need. Also overseas is Erik Gustafsson. A fourth round pick in 2012, he is still playing in Europe for the 2012-13 season with the Djurgardens club to develop his skill-set before making the trip over to North America.

At the AHL level, the Oilers have three defensive prospects with the Oklahoma City Barons. Martin Marincin has bounced back and forth between the WHL Prince George Cougars and the Barons, logging 14 goals and 42 assists with the Cougars in his first WHL season in 2010-2011. His plus/minus was a bit worrisome at minus-12, but in the 2012-13 season, Marincin seems to have turned things around. As of January 30th, he sits at a plus-10 with four goals and 11 assists for 15 points on 38 games. Alex Plante has played with the Oklahoma City Barons since the 2010-11 season and has been called up on occasion to fill a spot on the blue line for the Oilers. At 6’5 and 220 pounds, Plante is a defensive wall, but he has yet to find the offensive skill that would make him a great two-way player and earn him a long-term spot in the NHL.

Acquired as part of a trade with the Los Angeles Kings for Dustin Penner, Colten Teubert has been playing with the Oklahoma City Barons since the 2010-11 season. His record has been a bit inconsistent and some untimely injuries have hindered his development, but he continues to play a solid defensive game and use his size to his advantage in his home zone. Rounding out the AHL defensive prospects is Taylor Fedun. After breaking his femur in the 2011-12 pre-season, Fedun missed the remainder of the regular season with the Barons, which delayed his pro debut. He is now back on the blue line for the Barons and has made great strides in his skating and positional play and is a solid contributor to the Barons’ scoring chances.

In the CHL, David Musil was recently traded to the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL at the beginning of the 2012-13 season, where he has logged three goals and nine assists in 27 games with an impressive plus-14 rating. He sees the ice well and combined with his physicality and size, he continues on a strong path to NHL readiness. Martin Gernat is also a member of the Oil Kings WHL club and is shaping up to be a great playmaker with nine goals and 46 assists in 60 games in the 2011-12 season. He suffered an untimely shoulder injury early in the 2012-13 season, but underwent surgery and is getting back on track to finish up the season with the Oil Kings.

Dillon Simpson is in his junior year with the University of North Dakota this year and has posted two goals and 12 assists for 14 points in 26 games. Simpson has remained consistent throughout his NCAA career thus far and will be looking to carry that consistency over into his AHL debut in the next few years while further developing his speed and high-level skill. At 6’5 and 230 pounds, Kyle Bigos is a monster on the ice, having led the Merrimack Warriors in penalty minutes in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Even though his size makes him well-suited to an enforcer role, he still manages to put up some respectable offensive numbers, logging four goals and seven assists for 11 points in 18 games thus far in the 2012-13 season. As a senior, he will be looking to have an impressive final NCAA year before making the jump to the pro leagues. Joey LaLeggia is in his sophomore year at the University of Denver after being named WCHA Rookie of the Year in his freshman season.

Brandon Davidson was selected 162nd overall in the 2010 NHL Draft and played for the Regina Pats until his pro debut with the Barons in the 2012-13 season. Unfortunately, Davidson was diagnosed with testicular cancer and is undergoing treatment. His hockey career hangs in a very delicate balance that could vary greatly depending on his health.

Goaltending

After signing a three-year entry-level deal with the Oilers, Tyler Bunz is playing his first pro season with the ECHL Stockton Thunder in 2012-13. He has had some ups and downs in his pro debut thus far but has gotten some much needed playing time in Stockton. Close on his heels is Olivier Roy who has also suffered from inconsistencies in his game over the last few years. With veteran Yann Danis being called up to back up Devan Dubnyk for the Oilers on a regular basis thus far in the 2012-13 season, Roy is getting some time in the Oklahoma City net to work on his game both mentally and physically.

At 6’7, Niko Hovinen is a massive presence in net. Claimed off of waivers in 2013 from the Philadelphia Flyers, the Oilers are looking to further increase their goaltending depth as Nikolai Khabibulin still remains on injury reserve. He will likely join Olivier Roy with the Oklahoma City Barons to fill the gap left by Danis. Finnish draft picks Samu Perhonen and Frans Tuohimaa remain in Europe this season to continue their development.