Year after year for the past decade, the Edmonton Oilers have added top talents via the draft. Rather than building an enviable prospect pool, the team has only succeeded in constructing unbalanced rosters that finish near the bottom of the league standings. Still, the 2015 Draft gifted the Oilers one of the world’s best players, and several other young men who have learned the NHL game the hard way are coming into the primes of their careers. Will the supporting cast be enough to change the script in 2016-17? Only time will tell, but the Hockey’s Future prospect awards for 2015-16 serve to highlight some of the more encouraging signs from a mostly disappointing campaign.
The Edmonton Oilers spring Top 20 list sees some major changes from the fall list, mostly due to the graduation of players like Brandon Davidson, Leon Draisaitl and Iiro Pakarinen. Darnell Nurse sits on the cusp of prospect status with regards to number of games played, but is the second name on the list for the time being. Despite his collarbone injury in November, Connor McDavid hasn’t missed a beat in his return and is a prospect in name only. He displays on a consistent basis that he is not only the top prospect in the Oilers system, but on his way to becoming the best player in the NHL.
In this week’s Prospect Faceoff, two OHL players who were traded for each other go one-on-one against their old teams for the first time . We’ll check in with Daniel Sprong and Mikko Rantanen, who both enjoyed valuable time in the NHL this year. The “Battle of Pennsylvania” gets a glimpse of the future when prospects of the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins go head-to-head, and two of the WHL’s finest defenders are heading in different directions.
When a team consistently finishes in the bottom quarter of the NHL standings, it translates to a high number of elite quality draft selections in a short window of time. Those players tend to appear ready for NHL duty, even if the prudent course might be for them to play out their junior eligibility. Of course, in the case of a player like Connor McDavid, the decision to get him on the NHL roster is less controversial. Couple the pro-ready players with a number of trades that dealt away a good chunk of Edmonton’s draft selections in 2015 and the team is left with a mere three prospects currently playing at the junior level.
As the 2015-16 season commences, one cannot help but notice the top-heaviness of the Edmonton Oilers’ prospect talent at the professional level. The team’s new farm club in Bakersfield, California is stacked with noteworthy names like Darnell Nurse, Leon Draisaitl, Tyler Pitlick and more, and the number of legitimate prospects fighting for an opportunity to earn a look at the NHL level is much higher than it has been in recent memory. The fact that the Oilers are now deep enough at the top level to afford to let prospects like the ones mentioned earlier spend some time in the minors developing is a sign of systemic improvement, which bodes well for a club that is trying to establish itself as a legitimate playoff contender after years of poor performance.