Size and skill prevalent in Edmonton Oilers’ junior prospect pool

By Kady Hobbins

Daniil Zharkov - Belleville Bulls

Photo: Belleville’s Daniil Zharkov, a third-round selection by Edmonton in 2012, is tied for second on the Bulls with 14 goals this season. (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The Edmonton Oilers boast a number of highly skilled forwards on their front end that are generally touted as pure goal-scorers, and their young roster makes for a team with a high level of energy and emotion. However, they tend to lack depth at their center position and do not always have the size and strength that is needed when they come up against big physical teams. The Oilers scouting team has worked tirelessly to build up a strong group of character prospects to fill some of the gaps on the roster, many of whom are playing for junior clubs across Canada.

In total, the Oilers have six prospects at the junior level, all playing in the CHL. Their talent pool is diverse and well-rounded, despite the graduation of some top prospects to not only the AHL level, but also to the NHL, such as number-one draft pick Nail Yakupov. With a disproportionate number of their junior pool playing on the same team (four out of six of them are on the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings), it gives some of the Junior prospects a unique chance to grow together as teammates and, in some cases, linemates.

WHL

Mitchell Moroz, LW, Edmonton Oil Kings
Acquired: 2nd round (32nd overall) in 2012

Mitch Moroz quickly gained recognition after being drafted 32nd overall by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Prior to that, he was ranked 171st in Central Scouting's mid-season rankings and finished 72nd in their final rankings. He played his first season in the CHL with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League in 2011-12. He benefited greatly from playing his first full season with a team that went on to win the WHL Championship and earned a trip to the Memorial Cup.

Even with the added pressure of being a high-level draft pick, Moroz continues to put up consistent performances on the wing for the Oil Kings in his role as a power forward. In 53 games thus far, he has logged 11 goals and 17 assists. He is second on the team with 109 minutes spent in the box and when he goes toe to toe, he almost always comes out on top. He boasts an impressive plus-21 rating and continues to improve upon his skating and puck movement while maintaining his position as a third-line grinder for his Oil Kings club, who look poised to defend their league title.

Travis Ewanyk, C, Edmonton Oil Kings
Acquired: 3rd round (74th overall) in 2011

Also currently playing for the Oil Kings is third-round draft pick Travis Ewanyk. After sustaining a shoulder injury that required surgery, Ewanyk missed most of the 2011-12 season. He has since made his return in the 2012-13 season and despite another injury to his knee that sidelined him for a month, he is quickly finding his groove as a top centerman. His defensive play is top-notch and he is a great shutdown forward. Like Moroz, he brings grit and physicality that would complement the skilled forwards such as Eberle and Hall on the Oilers' front end.

While Ewanyk's offensive numbers are not outstanding at five goals and 13 assists in 42 games, his real worth comes from his work in the faceoff circle as well as on the Oil Kings' special teams. He has a strong sense of leadership and plays with a lot of heart and passion, which has contributed to the Oil Kings' winning ways as of late. If he can manage to keep himself off of the injured reserve list, he should be a strong force in what many hope to be a deep playoff run for the 2012-13 Oil Kings.

David Musil, D, Edmonton Oil Kings
Acquired: 2nd round (31st overall) in 2011

After signing a three year entry-level contract with the Oilers in July 2012, David Musil returned to the WHL's Vancouver Giants for his third and final junior season before joining the pro ranks. He has since been traded to the Edmonton Oil Kings where he has played 32 games thus far, logging five goals and 11 assists for 16 points and a plus-21 rating.

He plays a great defensive game and has great positioning. He uses his size well and usually comes out on top of battles against the boards. As the Oilers' current roster lacks some depth on the blue line, Musil's size combined with his sharp on-ice perspective makes him a great up-and-comer for the big club. His skating and puck-handling skills need to remain consistent, but he seems to show no signs of slowing down with his top-ranked Oil Kings club.

Martin Gernat, D, Edmonton Oil Kings
Acquired: 5th round (122nd overall) in 2011

Continuing on with the Oil Kings trend, the WHL club also has Oilers draft pick Martin Gernat on their blue line. A virtual unknown at the time of his draft, he was selected 122nd overall in 2011. He gained recognition in his 2011-12 debut season after chalking up nine goals and 46 assists with an astonishing plus-41 rating. Playing on a line with fourth overall Islanders draft pick and Oil Kings veteran Griffin Reinhart seems to have done wonders for his playing ability and has allowed him to hone his skills as an offensive defenseman.

He ran into injury trouble early in the 2012-13 season and had to undergo shoulder surgery, but has since made a return to the Oil Kings lineup and has played 15 games with them thus far, logging one goal and five assists. At 6'5, he towers over many of his opponents, but a few of his critics have noted that he lacks the bulk that is needed for survival as a defenseman in the NHL. A few more years of experience and some more weight on his tall frame should help him win the tough battles and keep him on the right track to success. 

OHL

Daniil Zharkov, LW, Belleville Bulls
Acquired: 3rd round (91st overall) in 2012

Currently playing for the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League, Daniil Zharkov is on a bit of a rollercoaster ride in terms of consistency. In his rookie season, he impressed many by scoring at a nearly goal-per-game rate, burying 15 goals in his first 17 outings. After that, his progress waned and his point tallies were much more infrequent. Consequently, his draft stock fell and he ended up as a bit of a wildcard pick for the Oilers in the 2012 NHL Draft.

When he is on his game, his natural ability and slick hands are evident and his previous stats show that he has what it takes skill-wise to be a top goal scorer. He has logged 14 goals and nine assists in 40 games this year and has made improvements on his plus/minus rating, from minus-5 in 2011-12 to plus-7 in 2012-13. He seems to have once again found his scoring stride as of late, scoring a hat trick against the Kingston Frontenacs and logging two points against the Sarnia Sting in games on January 30th and February 2nd, respectively. His NHL future relies on his ability to remain consistent and make sound plays, especially in his own zone.

Tobias Rieder, RW, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: 4th round (114th overall) in 2011

Despite being a deep-seated draft pick, Tobias Rieder continues to light up the OHL with the Kitchener Rangers. He racked up 42 goals and 43 assists in 60 games in the 2011-12 season and shows no signs of slowing in the 2012-13 season. He is in the midst of a 10-game point streak in which he has scored 11 goals and 15 points, highlighted by a hat trick in an 11-4 blowout against the Erie Otters on February 3rd. He was maintained a point-per-game average and has not suffered from any major slumps in his performance.

He is continuing to prove himself as a top point-getter for his OHL team and while he lacks the size that some of his peers possess, he shows a great deal of character and is not afraid to get into tough battles when necessary. As long as he avoids injury and keeps his numbers at the point they are at currently, he will be a key piece for what should be a long playoff run for the Rangers.