Oilers Top 20 prospects, Fall 2007

By Guy Flaming

The following Top 20 list is a snapshot in time of the prospect pool currently held by the Edmonton Oilers. Comments from Edmonton scouts and management as well as various sources from around the leagues were collected over the last few months and while they may appear in this project, they were not necessarily given for it at the time.

The player ranking is property of Hockey’s Future and should not be considered the official opinion of the Oilers or anyone associated with the organization. While the list certainly could not be constructed as accurately without the feedback and insight of their management and scouting staff, the seeding of players is strictly the work of the writer. 

Top 20 at a Glance 

1. Sam Gagner, C – 18
2. Andrew Cogliano, C – 20
3. Robert Nilsson, LW/C – 22
4. Taylor Chorney, D – 20
5. Rob Schremp, C – 21
6. Marc-Antoine Pouliot, C – 22
7. Jeff Petry, D – 19
8. Slava Trukhno, LW/C – 20
9. Ryan O’Marra, C – 20
10. Alex Plante, D – 18
11. Denis Grebeshkov, D – 23
12. Tom Gilbert, D – 24
13. Devan Dubnyk, G – 21
14. Riley Nash, C – 18
15. Jean-Francois Jacques, LW – 22
16. Kyle Brodziak, C – 23
17. Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, G – 23
18. Colin McDonald, RW – 22
19. Theo Peckham, D – 19
20. Cody Wild, D – 20 

The Top 20 is based on peak potential and projected long-term impact on the organization and is not a reflection of who is closest to making the NHL. Players are assigned an individual grade (HF Prospect Rating) based on comments from both inside and outside the organization. Other factors that help determine ranking order to varying degrees include: player age, draft position, current league and team quality, location (North America or Europe) and foreseeable opportunity. Players are removed from the prospect list according to the HF Prospect Criteria

The Oilers graduated Matt Greene, Patrick Thoresen and Ladislav Smid last season, which opened up positions on the top 20 list.  NHL trade deadline deals saw Edmonton add three former first-round draft prospects from the New York Islanders and the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, which have more than filled those holes.   

Here is a look at the new top 20 list for the Oilers.  

Key: Current Rank, (previous rank), Name, position, age
Grade (previous grade)

1. (NR) Sam Gagner, C – 18
Grade: 8.5C (NR) Projection: 1st line playmaker

OHL players who score in excess of 100 points in a season are normally in their final year of eligibility, not just wrapping up their rookie campaign.  Above all else, the ability to put up numbers is what made Sam Gagner of the London Knights the prize of the 2007 draft for the Oilers.  One hundred eighteen points in just 53 games as a 17-year-old is a remarkable achievement not often matched although former teammate John Tavares (2009) surpassed that mark last season.

Gagner is still expanding on his already impressive resume having won gold at the 2007 World Junior Championships as the youngest member of team Canada.  Since being drafted sixth overall in June, the Ontario native turned 18 and then represented his country again this time during the eight-game Super Series against Russia where he was dominant and was a tournament scoring leader.

“Sam’s an outstanding hockey player and he’s played very well in this tournament,” praised Kevin Prendergast. “Hockey sense wise he’s not far away from being in the National Hockey League.”

Expected to rejoin the Knights for 2007-08, Gagner won’t head back to London without doing everything he can to convince Edmonton that they should keep him around camp for as long as possible.

“I’m looking forward to the experience,” he said, “I’m going to try and come to camp in the best shape I can and hopefully get a long look.  I’m just looking forward to the entire process.”

Should he not stick with the Oilers, Gagner can take solace in knowing that London will once again be an OHL power especially should linemate Patrick Kane (CHI) return to the club as well.  His ‘pass first, shoot second’ mantra has served Gagner well and when he reaches the pro level he believes that feeding scorers will be the key to his success.

Gagner is a self-described playmaker but is quite capable of filling the net himself.  Skating and strength are the two areas that the forward has dedicated himself to improving in the offseason but really, there are not a lot of blemishes on Gagner’s past record or in his projection as a future NHL player.      
 
2. (1) Andrew Cogliano, C – 20
Grade: 8C (8C) Projection: 1st line scorer

Two years and out, Andrew Cogliano’s NCAA hockey career ended as quickly as one might expect from the whirlwind skater.  Cogliano’s sophomore season with Michigan went about as well as anyone could have reasonably hoped; his offensive production nearly doubled right along with his workload.  Fifty points in 38 games with the Wolverines including 24 goals, twice as many as his freshman tally. 

“It was a tough decision [to leave school], I worked a lot of years to go to Michigan having committed to there when I was 15 years old,” Cogliano explained during the prospect camp in June. “I just figured that it was time for me to go.  I had a good season last year, I’ve won two World Juniors so I thought it was right for me and the time to step up.”

Although he didn’t fill up the score sheets in Sweden during the WJCs, Cogliano did play a key role on the team, much like he did, albeit with more statistical success, with the Wolverines.

On the ice the speedster is known for his ability to handle the puck with skill in full flight, not needing to take his foot off the pedal in order to make plays.  Off the ice, it’s common knowledge that Cogliano’s conditioning is second to none and his preparation for training camp will allow the 20-year-old the opportunity to truly show what he can do once the sessions in Edmonton begin.

“I feel great this year,” he told HF this summer. “I’ve been out of school since April 15th and I’ve been working really hard. Even though college has made me ready for [pro competition] that’s the biggest adjustment I’m going to have to make and I’m going to have to prepare myself physically.”

“His hockey sense,” Prendergast said when asked about Cogliano’s best attribute next to his skating. “He’s got all the ability to play in the NHL.”

3. (2) Robert Nilsson, LW/C – 22
Grade: 8C (8C) Projection: 1st line playmaker

The skater getting the most votes for Player Most Likely To Succeed out of training camp this year is undoubtedly Robert Nilsson.  The old adage of ‘buy low’ rings very true in the case of Nilsson who was plucked from the New York Islanders after being banished to the AHL by new head coach Ted Nolan despite a rookie season that saw the Swede score 20 points in 53 games. 

Last season the immensely skilled forward lead both Bridgeport and then Wilkes-Barre in scoring with 66 combined points, the second year in a row he’d produced at a point per game clip in the minors.  Truly, Nilsson needs to take the next step and will get the opportunity to do so this year in Edmonton.

With a hole at right wing on the second line next to Jarret Stoll and Raffi Torres, Nilsson is the odds-on favorite to receive the first audition at the job. 

The undeniable talent Nilsson possesses has made the rounds on Youtube.com but what surprises most is that unlike his father, the son does not shy away from physical play and is not a stranger to throwing hits of his own. 

Nilsson’s four-game tour of duty in Edmonton last spring pushed his NHL game total to 57 meaning this will most likely be his final time appearing on the top 20 list.       

4. (4) Taylor Chorney, D – 20
Grade: 7.5C (7C) Projection: 1st/2nd-pairing offensive defenseman

The Oilers have continued to add to their pool of blue line prospects through trade and the draft but still leading the list of the talented group is North Dakota’s Taylor Chorney.  The Canadian-born Chorney has few flaws; skating, passing, vision, defensive awareness, patience, leadership and character are all areas that scouts lists as exceptional parts of his game. 

Chorney’s sophomore numbers were nearly double that of his freshman year, increasing his point total from 18 to 31 including bumping his goal scoring from 3 to 8. Reports suggest that over the course of the season, Chorney established himself as the Fighting Sioux’s go-to blueliner, a role he took to heart.  At the WJCs he was alongside Erik Johnson (STL) on the club’s top pairing and had a solid tournament notching six points behind only Johnson and Pat Kane.

Edmonton thought Chorney was ready to turn pro this past summer but after taking his father’s advice, he and several UND teammates decided to head back to school “to take care of some unfinished business.”

“I had a little bit of an opportunity to maybe come and play [pro] but I thought that I’d be better served if I played one more year in school and had a chance to get a little bit stronger and a little bit bigger,” Chorney said during the June prospect camp. “There’s still a lot I could prove at college.  I was only second team All-American and I think I can step up and maybe be one of the better defensemen in our league next year.”

“I’ve lost in the semis the last two years to Boston College and me and a couple of the other guys just decided as a group that we wanted to come back because we feel like we owe something, the school has been good to us and we think we can get a banner next year,” he added.

One Oiler source told HF that when it comes to inquiries from other teams, Taylor Chorney is one of the most asked about prospects Edmonton has, an indication of just how bright the 20-year-old’s future in projected to be.  WCHA sources have described Chorney as clearly the best defenseman in the conference and quite possibly in the entire NCAA.  

5. (3) Rob Schremp, C – 21
Grade: 8D (8D) Projection: wild card; 1st line scorer or bust

If 2005-06 was his year to dominate the OHL, 2006-07 was his year to become a better player.  It’s hard to believe that Rob Schremp could go from a 145-point campaign with the London Knights to one in the AHL where he was a healthy scratch at times, managed just 53 points and ended the year prematurely due to injury — and yet somehow he’s a better player?

Admittedly, Schremp knew little about defensive hockey before turning pro last year as the offensive juggernaut that was the London Knights of the OHL spent most of their time on the attack.  Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was an eye-opening experience for the now more mature and humble forward.

“You have to prove yourself every night and I did have some hard times at the beginning of the year but that was the coach trying to get the best out of my game and maybe it took me a bit to understand that, but once we were on the same page we definitely had a great stretch,” said Schremp.

He’s unlikely to ever become known as a two-way player, but if Schremp can keep from being a defensive liability at the NHL level, he could carve out a lengthy career for himself.  At this point, ‘one-dimensional’ is the most popular description of Schremp’s skill set. 

Training this summer began late due to recovery from knee surgery and a minor, but much publicized, thigh strain in July however Schremp insists that he’ll be 100 percent when camp opens on Sept. 13.  How much of an honest look he’ll be given remains a question as the prominent thought at the moment is that Edmonton intends to send him to new AHL affiliate Springfield, assuming that he’ll require further conditioning because of the lay off.     

6. (5) Marc-Antoine Pouliot, C – 22
Grade: 7.5C (7.5C) Projection: 2nd line playmaker

Is it culture, a language barrier or an indication of something more?  Marc Pouliot’s tenure as a pro in Edmonton’s system thus far has earned him the tag of a player who just ‘doesn’t seem to get it’.

Questions about him being injury prone went away once he graduated from junior to the minors but now as a pro some have begun to question his desire.  Pouliot has appeared in 54 NHL games thus far and has his name penciled in on the opening night roster but by no means can the Quebec City product be considered a lock.  It was much the same story a year ago and in fact Pouliot did lose his roster spot to Norwegian Patrick Thoresen.

The 22-year-old has loads of talent and ability, he can set up or finish plays, has size that lets him battle for pucks or fight off checks and he can skate relatively well.  However, something has prevented Pouliot from fitting in and he’s still trying to prove that he belongs. 

Pouliot went to California this past July to train with Oiler fitness master Chad Moreau but only stayed for a week*, which doesn’t sound like someone who has addressed his coach’s concerns in regards to conditioning.  If he can bring some semblance of consistency to his game this season, then a steady NHL job should be his but once again, it’s his to lose at camp if he comes unprepared. 

(*note – several sources have since informed me that Pouliot in fact made a second week-long trek to California in August for more training with Chad Moreau.  Also, regular training took place back in Quebec with other NHL players during August.) 

7. (10) Jeff Petry, D – 19
Grade 7.5C (7C) Projection: 1st/2nd pairing defenseman

The biggest rise up the list this time around comes on the blue line in the form of Michigan State freshman Jeff Petry.  One draft later and it’s hard to believe that the 19-year-old was still available in the middle of the second round in 2006 when the Oilers were sweating bullets hoping their target would be unclaimed.

It was a banner year for Petry who garnered a long list of achievements and accolades including the USA Hockey Junior Player of the Year award.   Petry, a native of Farmington Hills, Mich. was a member of the First Team All-USHL and was also chosen as the USHL Defenseman of the Year after finishing fourth in scoring among league rearguards with 45 points, three times his production from his rookie season. 

Along the way, Petry led league defensemen in goals with 18 and power-play goals with 15.  He appeared in the USHL All-Star Game and claimed the title of having the league’s hardest shot, clocked at 95 mph in the annual skills competition.

“It’s all come so quick,” Petry said this past June. “It’s hard to look back and see how I’ve progressed over the last year and a half.  I had a good summer going into my second year at Des Moines and everything just seemed to click.”

Petry has all the tools to be a major contributor for the Oilers in the future including skating, passing and his highly respected shot.  His goal this season at Michigan State is to prove that his meteoric rise up the development curve was not a fluke and that he is indeed a true blue-chipper while still maintaining his grades after taking a year off academically.

8. (7) Slava Trukhno, LW – 20
Grade: 7.5C (7.5C) Projection: 2nd Line Power Forward

Much was expected from Slava Trukhno last season after a move from the P.E.I. Rocket to the powerful Gatineau Olympiques.  The campaign started off extremely well for the Moscow-born, Denmark raised forward; named Player of the Month in October, Trukhno was firmly established as one of the QMJHL’s premier offensive talents.

However, a Christmas season visa problem left Trukhno temporarily stranded overseas and then a ‘mild’ concussion sidetracked the later half of the schedule.  In the end, although he posted career highs in points and assists, Trukhno’s numbers were only slightly higher than those of his 19-year-old season spent on the Island.

“He’s one of those kids in our organization that have flown under the radar,” said Prendergast. “He has great patience with the puck.  I think he’s going to be great on the power play for us because he’s able to create and make things happen.  He’s a player certainly feel is a blue chipper that has a chance to play for us in the next year or two years.”

A solid build, good acceleration and strength make Trukhno an imposing figure to play against.  Feisty and sometimes short tempered, Trukhno plays with some edge to his game when he is at his best. 

Last September, Trukhno was impressive during the exhibition games he appeared in but the coaching staff was not thrilled by his work ethic in practice.  With a blue-collar coach like Kelly Buchberger running the show in Springfield, Trukhno will definitely have a tougher practice regiment than he is used to but that should make him an even better player.  Definitely one prospect the Oilers have that is being overshadowed by bigger names on the list but one who could still eventually out produce many of those slotted ahead of him.    

9. (8) Ryan O’Marra, C – 20
Grade 7B (7B) Projection: 2nd/3rd line two-way center

As confident as he is talented, as well spoken as he was injury plagued in 2006-07, Ryan O’Marra is pegged by most to have a lengthy NHL career. You will find those who feel that the ceiling on his potential is as an elite third line checker that can contribute offensively, but don’t tell that to O’Marra.  The Tokyo born, Ontario raised forward has his sights set much higher than the third line.

O’Marra has the size and the work ethic to make it happen but does he have the natural ability to do it?  In his last three seasons in the OHL, ‘Omar’ was a point per game player but was never the statistical leader of his squad.  Injuries definitely factored into that last year but it remains to be seen if he can contribute enough offense to justify a top 6 roster spot as a pro.

“He can be a shutdown player, he’s a big strong kid, a very good faceoff player,” listed Prendergast. “He’s a first-round pick and we feel that down the road he can be anywhere from a first to a third liner because he can do all of those things.”

With two WJC gold medals to his credit, O’Marra can boast being a contributor to his national team’s entries in the premier tournament. The fact that O’Marra is very good friends with fellow Oiler prospects Cogliano, Theo Peckham and Gagner should not be discounted as the leadership qualities of the forward are well documented.  He is a person that is well liked by those who play with or coach him.

Concerns about his health and the status of his knee injury are unnecessary according to O’Marra, who insists that he has been 100 percent for nearly two months now.  He has been able to train sufficiently enough over the summer that his conditioning won’t be a problem once camp gets underway.  Likely headed to the AHL, don’t be surprised if he receives opportunities to play on the right wing where he successfully made the transition to last year with Saginaw.      

10. (NR) Alex Plante, D – 18
Grade: 7C (NR) Projection: Top 4 two-way defenseman

He’s already one of the biggest players in the organization despite his young age, but that advantage could help propel Alex Plante to the next level sooner than others in his draft class.  The 6’5, 220 lb rearguard was somewhat overshadowed by his Calgary defensive partner Karl Alzner (WSH) last season but many scouts told HF that it was Plante they came away remembering from Hitmen games.

Strength and providing a physical presence are obviously two key traits that Plante brings to the table but he’s a better skater and offensive contributor than most expect him to be at first glance.  A howitzer of a shot from the point makes the Brandon product a fixture on the Calgary power play.

Plante’s 38 regular season points were sixth best on his team although he’d only appeared in 58 games due to injury.  More impressively is that upon his return to action, Plante immediately stepped into playoff action and didn’t miss a beat.  Eleven points in 13 post-season games after a five-week layoff is definitely noteworthy.

The knock on Plante is in his mobility but that is something the 18-year-old is aware of and is training to address.  Kyle McLaren was mentioned by ISS as a NHL comparable player for Plante and another might be new Oiler Sheldon Souray who also carries a powerful shot with questionable skating ability.  If Plante can develop into a player resembling either of the above, Edmonton will be happy.

11. (6) Denis Grebeshkov, D – 23
Grade: 7C (7.5C) Projection: 2nd pairing offensive defenseman

Without a doubt, the biggest wildcard on the current edition of the top 20 is Russian defenseman Denis Grebeshkov.  Despite the glowing scouting reports coming from the organization, Grebeshkov is nearly 24 years old, now a part of his third NHL franchise and has played just 33 games in the league.  There are those who would say he’s been a victim of circumstance in both Los Angeles and Long Island but it at least has to be considered that he simply might be getting too much hype from the Oilers.

Certainly a quality rearguard in terms of puck movement and vision, Grebeshkov was likely destined for a large role with Edmonton this year until the acquisitions of Souray and Joni Pitkanen.  Now sitting somewhere between sixth and ninth on the depth chart, Grebeshkov will have to take advantage of his one-way contract that gives him an edge over others at training camp. 

Grebeshkov has matured physically and mentally over the last couple of seasons, earning a job with the Russian national team at last April’s World Hockey Championships.  He was played on the third pairing in the tournament and reports of his performance range from average to pretty good.

Not a player who throws the body around, Grebeshkov will still ‘get in the way’ of opposing forwards.  The two-way defenseman could carve out a career in Edmonton or could easily be one of the expendable rearguards Kevin Lowe uses to address other organizational shortcomings.       

12. (9) Tom Gilbert, D – 24
Grade: 7C (6.5B) Projection: 2nd pairing defenseman

Lowe recently stated publicly that he feels the club has nine blueliners who are legitimately good enough to play in the NHL.  One from that list is Tom Gilbert, who impressed anyone in or around the organization last year during his time with the Oilers.  Recalled due to injuries to the big club, Gilbert stepped in and accomplished what other young offensive minded blueliners had previously failed to do — contribute offensively. Not only did he compile 30 points in 48 AHL games but he added 6 more in 12 contests with the Oilers.

Gilbert is a student of the game who Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Todd Richards described as someone who “always comes to the rink prepared whether it’s for a game or for a practice.”  His effort in improving himself is evident and he definitely has his supporters in the organization and very few detractors. 

Working against Gilbert this year is the blue line depth in Edmonton and the fact that he is still working on his two-way entry-level contract.  Unless he is far and away better in camp than players like Mathieu Roy and Grebeshkov, Gilbert will start the year in Springfield and await injuries or trades to clear his path back to the NHL.  

13. (11) Devan Dubnyk, G – 21
Grade: 7C (7C) Projection: starting goalie

The top rated goaltender on the list is a solid one despite being 13th.  The fact that Devan Dubnyk is not in the top ten should not be viewed as a slight on his ability or projection but rather accepted merely on the overall depth of the organization.  By all accounts, Dubnyk is still considered poised to be the eventual NHL starter for the Oilers but at the age of 21, it’s still some time away.

With his pro rookie season now behind him Dubnyk can look ahead to spending the entire 2007-08 campaign in Springfield, battling for the starter’s job with the Falcons.  An appearance at the ECHL All-Star game and seeing action during the Spengler Cup in Switzerland were two of the highlights of 2006-07 for Dubnyk who gained confidence as a pro.  Also during the year he dressed for four AHL games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coming away with a 2-1 record including a shootout victory.

Dubnyk’s enormous frame obviously is his biggest advantage in that he naturally fills most of the holes shooters look for.  Still guilty of allowing ‘soft goals’, Dubnyk’s biggest weakness might be in his ability to regain his positioning after making the first or second save.  He’s also not known as an adept puckhandler.

Competition for ice time in Springfield is bound to be fierce, as Dubnyk will compete with Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers for head coach Kelly Buchberger’s favor. 

14. (NR) Riley Nash, C – 18
Grade: 6.5B (NR) Projection: 2nd/3rd line center

The choice of Nash by Edmonton’s scouting staff drew favorable reviews from most pundits across the hockey map.  

“I’m a two-way player,” he told listeners of The Pipeline Show after the draft. “I play pretty good defensive hockey but I can also do it in the offensive zone.  I put up pretty good numbers scoring 38 goals and 46 assists so I think I can do it at both ends of the ice.”

Chosen as the BCHL Rookie of the Year, Nash will spend at least the coming season, and probably more, as a member of the Big Red Machine of Cornell University.  At college he’ll likely play a large role and he’ll also get plenty of time in the gym where he can add muscle to his fairly underdeveloped 6’1 frame. 

Nash is another Oiler prospect who has piles of accolades in regards to his character and leadership qualities.  Citing Steve Yzerman as his hockey idol, Nash hopes to also be a respected player in the dressing room because of his dedication to the game and his accountability to his teammates. 

“What I liked about him is that he came in as a pure goal scorer and then he changed his game for the team and then he ended up winning championships,” Nash explained. “That’s what I want to do for my team.”

15. (12) Jean-Francois Jacques, LW – 22
Grade: 6.5B (6.5B) Projection: 3rd-4th line energy player

No one on this list underachieved last year as much as J.F. Jacques did.  Granted a spot with the big club out of camp despite a very average performance, Jacques failed to reach NHL expectations even though he was stellar at the AHL level.  He has the size, strength and speed to be no less than an impact fourth line NHL player.

Sources have told HF that Jacques’ harshest critic is himself.  In junior he was accustomed to basically being able to do whatever he wanted to on the ice and as a minor leaguer he’s also had a lot of success offensively.  Thus far he has yet to record a point in the NHL and has found it difficult to accept that the team isn’t expecting him to score but, for now, only to bang and crash. 

It’s almost a case of Jacques needing to lower his expectations of himself, concentrate on everything but scoring and then the points will just naturally come.  Until he does that he’ll be trying to do too much and will not only fail to score but to do the job the team expects of him right now.

One team source agreed that Edmonton’s addition of Dustin Penner likely makes Jacques expendable in the big picture but obviously the organization wants the power forward to find his game to either keep him as a contributor to the club or else to increase his value on the trade market.   

16. (13) Kyle Brodziak, C – 23
Grade: 6B (6B) Projection: 3rd-4th line two-way center

The more things change the more they stay the same; it’s a saying that holds true in the case of Kyle Brodziak.  This time last year, Brodziak was in a similar position as he seemingly has a terrific opportunity to win a roster spot with an inspired performance at training camp.  After a strong year in the AHL where he showed a dormant offensive side, Brodziak helped raise his stock and renew some hope that he can be more than just a NHL-AHL ‘tweener’.

A solid and versatile utility man, Brodziak has become a force in the faceoff circle but can also play on the wing as he may have to if he hopes to stick in the NHL out of camp.  In 2003-04 Brodziak totaled 93 points in the WHL, a number which would had topped the league last year.  His AHL total of 56 points in 62 games is encouraging, especially considering it took him a while before he was used as in an offensive role.

“I was pretty fortunate,” Brodziak said. “I scored in my first game and I think I had three points in my first three games and I started getting more confident.  I think that was the key and then I started to play more and in different situations.  It was a pretty good feeling after that first couple of weeks.”

The 23-year-old recently signed a new two-year contract that has a two-way agreement in Year 1 but improves to a one-way deal next season, something Brodziak takes as a compliment from the Oilers. 

“I think with Fernando [Pisani’s] unfortunate situation at this point, that Kyle has an opportunity to win that job because of the way he plays,” said Prendergast. “He thinks the game so well and is able to play in his own end which is something that Craig MacTavish has emphasized on his third and fourth line.”

Should Brodziak not make the Oilers out of camp he surely will be near the top of the list of potential recall candidates from the farm just as he was last year. 

17. (14) Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, G – 23
Grade: 6.5C (6.5C) Projection: NHL goalie

Finally having a year where he had opportunity to play and develop, Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers gave reason to have hope that he could still regain his position as a legitimate NHL prospect.  His performances in Wilkes-Barre were often impressive, especially in the first half of the year, and overall his 2006-07 campaign was, not great, but still pretty good.

JDD’s 2.47 goals against average were 12th best in the AHL last year while he placed 21st for save percentage (9.08), 14th for wins (22) and sixth in shutouts (4).  In several of those categories, Drouin-Deslauriers placed better than some notable prospects like Jimmy Howard (DET) and former Hamilton teammate Yann Danis (MTL) as well as rookies Justin Pogge (TOR) and Marek Schwarz (STL) whom he beat in all four categories. 

The 23-year-old has been a pro since 2004-05 but last season was his first real good kick at the can and he didn’t fail.  This will be a pivotal year for JDD, one where he can build off of the previous season or else be knocked down the depth chart further by rival Dubnyk.

Drouin-Deslauriers is big, quick, technically sound and has matured over the last couple of seasons to the point where his confidence level has become a strength rather than a weakness.    

18. (15) Colin McDonald, RW – 22
Grade: 7D (7D) Projection: 2-3rd line forward

After four years mired in the offensive black hole that is the Providence Friars, Colin McDonald will finally get the chance to prove that he’s not the bust that his statistics suggest to the casual fan.  Having broken the 20-point plateau only once in those four years McDonald has a lot of doubters to convince that Edmonton’s decision to use the 51st overall pick on him in 2003 was in fact, solid drafting.

McDonald is a shooter who is tough to knock off the puck thanks to his solid frame.  The power forward has a pro mentality that will give him an upper hand on some younger and perhaps flashier prospects in the system.  The fact that he is 22 should also be seen as a benefit because, although he is a pro rookie, he’s had more experience than most entering the next level of the playing careers.

As long as he doesn’t get pigeonholed as some sort of two-way, third line player, McDonald has a strong chance to succeed.  If the Oilers put him on a line with players who have offensive abilities, it may very well bring out the best in the one-time scoring dynamo that set him apart in the New England Junior Hockey League.

19. (NR) Theo Peckham, D – 19
Grade: 6B (NR) Projection: 5th-7th defenseman

The only non-2007 draftee making his debut on the top 20 is powerful blueliner Theo Peckham of the Owen Sound Attack.  Peckham came to the June prospect camp shortly after signing his entry-level contract and quickly showed watchers why Edmonton made his deal a priority. 

The 6’2, 220 lb native of Richmond Hill, Ontario was arguably the player at camp who appeared the most likely to make an easy transition to the minors.  Peckham was quite simply a man among boys, a standout in many ways but especially in the strength and physical presence departments.  In the OHL he was respected as one of the toughest players in the league and although there were no fights at the prospect camp, one could definitely get an appreciation for how tough he could be.

Perhaps the most underrated or unappreciated aspect of what Peckham has to offer the Oilers is his skating and his speed.  Unlike big prospects who scouts describe as having ‘good speed for his size’, Peckham simply has terrific skating ability.  Anyone who sees the 19-year-old simply as an enforcer is definitely selling him short.

20. (19) Cody Wild, D – 20
Grade: 6.5C (6.5C) Projection: 4th-6th defenseman

There are people who claim that players that have undergone surgery to repair a torn labrum often return stronger than before the procedure.  Should that be the case for Cody Wild, 2007-08 could be a very interesting campaign.

Providence College defensemen have been led offensively for the past two years by the product of Rhode Island even though Wild missed four games last season because of the injury.  Already the 2006 draftee is looking ahead to the coming year.

“I love to jump into the rush and get the offense going,” Wild’s self analysis went. “It’s so much fun for me to get in there, it sort of drives the forwards on the other team crazy because they don’t know where I’m going so it’s really fun.”

Thirty-five points through two seasons at Providence has expectations of Wild growing each year and many now consider him to be one of the most dangerous offensive players left on the team.  Known for his skating, passing and power play contributions, Wild has the skills that all NHL teams are now coveting.         

Missing the Cut

NR (20) Bryan Young, D – 21
Grade: 6B (6B) Projection: 5th-7th defenseman

It was an incredible year for Bryan Young as the former Peterborough Pete dressed for four different teams in three different leagues, all in the span of a couple of months.  He made his ECHL, AHL and NHL debut all last season and scored positive reviews at every stop along the way.  Deceptively strong, quietly aggressive and absolutely punishing when it comes to body contact, Young left a positive impression with Craig MacTavish during his 15-game trial by fire in Edmonton last March.

NR (NR) Tyler Spurgeon, C – 21
Grade: 5.5B  (5.5B) Projection: 4th line energy player

Speaking of players who became favorites of coaches, teammates and fans wherever he played last year, Edmonton born Tyler Spurgeon definitely fits that bill as well.  He began the year on the bubble and almost went back to the WHL where he would have played with the Chilliwack Bruins.  However, the Oilers decided to ship him to Stockton and he never looked back.  Shortly after getting his ticket to the AHL, Spurgeon had solidified his spot in Wilkes-Barre and didn’t return to California.  Twenty-nine points in 39 ECHL games and 15 points in 34 AHL appearances later and Spurgeon is closer than ever to breaking onto the Top 20 for the first time.

NR (NR) Chris Vande Velde, C – 20
Grade: 6.5C (7D) Projection: 2nd/3rd line forward

He ended last year on such a high note that many prospect watchers are choosing Vande Velde as their early must-watch Oiler prospect to follow this year.  Vande Velde had to bide his time during much of North Dakota’s schedule in 2006-07, his freshman year, until injuries catapulted him onto the second line.  Fortunately for him, he didn’t look a bit out of place and went on to score seven of his nine points during March.  Although the Fighting Sioux aren’t expected to lose many of their impact players from a year ago, outside of Jonathan Toews (CHI), don’t be surprised to see the 6’1, 211 lbs. Vande Velde getting a bigger role than he had last season. 

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