Defensemen make up majority of Edmonton Oilers NCAA and European prospect group

By Kady Hobbins

Oscar Klefbom - Team Sweden

Photo: Although limited by injury in 2012-13, Oscar Klefbom has ample experience playing professionally and on the international stage for Sweden (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Edmonton Oilers had four prospects playing in Europe for the 2012-13 season, the most notable being defensive prospect Oscar Klefbom who, despite being injured for the majority of the 2012-13 season, is one of the Oilers’ most anticipated defensive prospects. The Oilers also have defenseman Erik Gustafsson and a pair of goaltending prospects with Samu Perhonen and Frans Tuohimaa who are both showing signs of potential, although neither are quite blue chip prospects as of yet.

In the NCAA, the Oilers have three wingers and three defensive prospects, all at different stages in their development curves. A notable prospect from the college hockey pool is Jujhar Khaira, who has made his way from virtual unknown to a bit of an unlikely contender and is being mentioned more and more frequently by Oilers fans and prospect analysts alike. Also in this pool is Dillon Simpson who is continuing to improve his game and is looking to make a promising pro debut in a few years.

Europe

Oscar Klefbom, D, Farjestad (SEL)
Drafted 1st round, 19th overall, 2011

After playing two full seasons of professional hockey in Europe followed by a third that was cut short by an untimely shoulder injury, Klefbom is ready to play his first North American professional season. After undergoing surgery on his shoulder, Klefbom has been hitting the ice with the Oilers to get himself back into playing shape. The biggest question that now exists is whether or not Klefbom will be given a position on the Oilers’ struggling blue line next year or if he will see some time with the Oklahoma City Barons to develop his game and get him accustomed to the North American playing style. There are obviously arguments to support either side; with Ryan Whitney and Mark Fistric as potential unrestricted free agents this summer, the already-suffering Oilers defensive end may need some new blood. However, there is always the risk of over-facing and ultimately hindering a young talent that, with the proper development, could be a future franchise player.  

Erik Gustafsson, D, Djurgarden (Allsvenskan)
Drafted 4th round, 93rd overall, 2012

A 2012 fourth round draft pick, Erik Gustafsson finished his second season with the Swedish professional hockey club, Djurgarden. He logged seven goals and 16 assists for 23 points in 49 games, which is a vast improvement upon the underwhelming three goals and four assists that he totaled in 41 games in the 2011-12 season. The 21-year-old defenseman still has a long development curve ahead of him, but seems to be making great strides in his offensive production and overall hockey sense. Next season, Gustafsson is slated to make the jump to the highest level of professional hockey in Sweden with Frolunda HC. This should give him the competition he needs to continue to better his game and will give scouts and analysts a better measuring stick for his ability and skill level.

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

Finnish goaltender Samu Perhonen played the 2012-13 season with the JYP-Akatemia hockey club. Perhonen was a superstar goalie in his junior years but has had a mediocre start to his professional career in a second-tier Finnish league. Perhonen was drafted 62nd overall in 2011 and was touted as a bit of a project, boasting size and raw talent but lacking consistency and experience. He finished the 2012-13 season with a 3.29 goals against average and a .902 save percentage, which is an improvement upon his 3.81 goals against average and .887 save percentage that he logged in his professional debut in 2011-12. Perhonen still has at least two years left in his contract with his Finnish club and like with most goalies, it is hard to predict what Perhonen will look like by the time he is eligible to make the jump to North America.

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

Frans Tuohimaa is another Finnish goalie in the Oilers prospect system currently playing for the Jokerit club in the SM-liiga, the top level of hockey in Finland. The 2012-13 season was Tuohimaa’s second professional season and after putting up solid performances in his sophomore season, the Oilers signed Tuohimaa to a two-year entry level contract. He finished off the season with 13 SM-liiga games under his belt with a 2.29 goals against average and a .912 save percentage. He also appeared in 16 games on loan with Kiekko-Vantaa, earning a 2.47 goals against average and .915 save percentage.

NCAA

John McCarron, RW, Cornell Big Red (ECAC)
Drafted 6th round, 153rd overall, 2012

John McCarron was a bit of a wildcard pick for the Oilers in 2012 and has made the jump from a very average player on a below-average USHL team to a solid contributor at Cornell University. As a big physical forward, McCarron is a bit of a late bloomer who will likely benefit from four years at the NCAA level. He logged seven goals and 12 assists in the 2012-13 season through 33 games and should look to improve upon that in his junior and senior years with Cornell. McCarron is a longshot at best right now, but has ample opportunity ahead of him to continue to develop his game.

Jujhar Khaira, LW, Michigan Tech Huskies (WCHA)
Drafted 3rd round, 63rd overall, 2012

After going undrafted in the WHL bantam draft, Jujhar Khaira was signed by the BCHL’s Prince George Spruce Kings. Since then, he has been on an uphill development curve, culminating with his strong 2012-13 freshman year at Michigan Tech where he chalked up six goals and 19 assists in 37 games. Khaira is a solid power forward type and brings a tough physical presence to the ice. He will likely need to develop some high level skill to complement his physicality to make him more marketable beyond the AHL level.
        
Kellen Jones, LW, Quinnipiac Bobcats (ECAC)
Drafted 7th round, 202nd overall, 2010

Kellen Jones was a late pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, going 202nd overall. Like Khaira, he played junior hockey in the BCHL before making the jump to NCAA hockey, where he finished his third season with Quinnipiac University in the 2012-13 season. He had a very strong 2011-12 season with 36 points in 36 games, but faltered a bit this year, logging only 27 points in 43 games. Quinnipiac was one of the best teams in the NCAA this year and got all the way to the National Championship game before falling to Yale. Jones is a bit of a difficult read, considering he was a virtual unknown coming out of junior, but shows streaks of brilliance, such as his point-per-game offensive rate in his sophomore season. Jones’ fourth and final season with Quinnipiac should be a strong indicator of what is to come for the young winger and will give him the chance to prove what he is capable of with a strong hockey club.

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

Kyle Bigos finished his senior year at Merrimack College during the 2012-13 season, chalking up four goals, seven assists and 111 minutes in the box. Bigos is a tough stay-at-home defenseman who, at 6’5 and 240 pounds, is a force to be reckoned with on the blue line. However, it remains to be seen if Bigos will be able to find the puck movement and hockey sense that would make him a valuable addition to the Oilers’ club. As it stands right now, the Oilers are in need of some toughness and depth on their blue line, but not at the expense of having a defenseman that can move the puck and generate some offense. As it stands right now, Bigos is still unsigned by the Oilers club and could potentially become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
        
Dillon Simpson, D, University of North Dakota (WCHA)
Drafted 4th round, 92nd overall, 2011

Dillon Simpson finished his third season with the University of North Dakota in the 2012-13 season with five goals and 19 assists for 24 points across 42 games, which is an improvement upon his 18-point totals in the same amount of games in the 2011-12 season. He also took on some added responsibility as a member of both special teams and was a strong contributor in more of a leadership role than he had taken on previously. Despite being a bit on the small side, Simpson has good hockey sense and is gaining valuable ice time in the NCAA which should help him make a smooth transition to the professional ranks. In order to be considered beyond the AHL level, Simpson will need to continue to build upon his offensive production and will need to maintain the number of scoring chances that he is creating for his team on a regular basis. Simpson will play his last year with North Dakota in 2013-14 and will likely continue to move up the depth chart into a top-line role.

Joey LaLeggia, D, Denver Pioneers (WCHA)
Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall, 2012

LaLeggia finished his second season with the University of Denver Pioneers with 11 goals and 18 assists in 39 games, which was slightly below his point total from the 2011-12 season. As a 5’10, 181-pound defenseman, Laleggia is a bit of a project for the Oilers. His size makes him more of a liability than an asset against some of the bigger, tougher forwards. He is arguably more of a Justin Schultz-type defender, but because the Oilers roster currently has no shortage of small-ish skill players and LaLeggia’s offensive production is good but not outstanding, it may be difficult for him to carve out a career with the Oilers above the AHL level. On the upside, he does still have two more years in the NCAA and could find the offensive talent that he needs to increase his value.