Blue line depth the strength of Edmonton Oilers minor league system

By Kady Hobbins

Martin Marincin - Edmonton Oilers

Photo: A consistent contributor at both ends for AHL Oklahoma City, defenseman Martin Marincin debuted with the Oilers in a two-game NHL stint in early December (courtesy of Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Oilers’ minor league prospect pool is an interesting mix of elite-caliber defensemen, a few mid-level picks that are hanging on to the last fringes of their professional career (at least as an Oilers prospect) and a few that could go either direction, depending if they are able to take that next step.

This Edmonton Oilers minor league has continued to go through changes as goaltender Olivier Roy was traded to Calgary in the Ladislav Smid deal that saw the Oilers acquire ex-Oil Kings goaltender Laurent Brossoit, who is in his first year as a professional. He joins Kale Kessy, Brad Hunt, and Andrew Miller as the new acquisitions at the minor league level in 2013-14.

Long-shot-turned-success story Mark Arcobello continues to get minutes and dominate the dot on a nightly basis with the Oilers’ big club. At one point, he was actually leading the league in rookie points. The organization has many other prospects competing for a similar chance, particularly on the blue line.

Laurent Brossoit, G, 20

Laurent Brossoit spent his junior career as a Flames prospect and was the starting netminder for the Edmonton Oil Kings for three seasons from 2010-11 until 2012-13. After playing a big role in his team’s WHL championship in 2012-13 and deep Memorial Cup run, Brossoit graduated to Calgary’s minor league system, splitting five appearances between the Alaska Aces of the ECHL and the Abbotsford Heat of the AHL.

Brossoit’s performances on both teams were not particularly strong, but the small sample size makes a true evaluation of his professional debut difficult to make. Since his trade to the Edmonton Oilers in late November, he has logged two wins, four losses for a .885 save percentage and a 3.53 goals against average in Oklahoma City as he backs up Richard Bachman. While not particularly impressive stats, Brossoit is likely still adjusting to a new system as well as the change of pace at the professional level. In his two victories thus far, Brossoit has shown streaks of brilliance from his Oil Kings days, logging 30 and 36 saves in his two wins. He has also shown well in his ECHL stints, shutting out Bakersfield for 126 consecutive minutes in early November while he was still with Alaska. Assigned to Bakersfield on December 17th, Brossoit earned another shutout in his first start in a Condors sweater.

Tyler Bunz, G, 21

Tyler Bunz is in the midst of his second professional season with the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL. The struggling team currently sits at a 9-15-1 record and among the bottom five teams in the entire league. Bunz has three wins and one loss in a Condors sweater with a .873 save percentage and a 3.41 goals against average. At first blush, those stats seem relatively dismal for a goalie that was once touted as having elite potential now playing in the ECHL, but the poor results as a team are likely skewing the numbers.

Bunz has earned a handful of call-ups to the Oklahoma City Barons as the Oilers spent some time shuffling goaltenders early in the season. He picked up his first AHL win in a game on November 12th and remained with the Barons until November 25th when he returned to the Bakersfield Condors. He still appears to have some struggles with consistency (he was pulled after the first period during the Condors’ teddy bear toss game on December 11th) and while spending the majority of his time in the ECHL is likely not what Bunz had in mind for his second professional year, he has a good opportunity to get some ice time.

The addition of Laurent Brossoit, who was drafted one year after Bunz, undoubtedly puts the pressure on Bunz to elevate his game. At this point, Brossoit is the clear frontrunner for top goaltending prospect status with the Edmonton Oilers club.

Tyler Pitlick, C, 22

By the time Pitlick made a late-season return from a knee injury this past spring, many had all but written off the struggling centerman. Rather surprisingly, Pitlick came out stronger than he had been since his junior years and was a key component in a deep playoff run for the Oklahoma City Barons.

As he began the final year of his entry-level contract, Pitlick had some impressive moments at training camp and caught the attention of Dallas Eakins with his willingness to play a tough, physical game against some heavy hitters in the NHL. While he was ultimately sent down to Oklahoma City, he earned a call-up in late October and quickly slotted himself into a lower-line role with the Oilers. He is a big forward that can bang bodies and his shot is deadly from the high slot, which was a welcome addition to a struggling Edmonton club. Unfortunately, Pitlick went down with a knee injury in his third appearance and was sidelined for more than a month.

Pitlick has since returned to practice and was returned on loan to the Barons on December 9th to regain some strength and find his footing again. If he can manage to stay healthy, it is entirely likely that he will see minutes at the NHL level some time again this season.

Cameron Abney, RW, 22

Cameron Abney continues to hang on to the fringes of prospect status after eluding the first round of demotions in this year’s Oilers training camp. He appeared in one pre-season game against the Jets and while was not horrendous, did not contribute anything particularly noteworthy.

Abney is a big body on the ice and his physical presence is his main, if not his only strength. Abney is in his third and final year of his entry-level contract and has yet to appear in a single AHL game this year. Instead, he has spent his time yet again in the ECHL, where he has contributed exactly one assist through 13 games with 44 penalty minutes.

At this point, it is likely that there is not much in Abney’s future beyond the ECHL or AHL level.

Curtis Hamilton, LW, 22

Hamilton continues to fill a bottom-line role on an AHL team that, other than Linus Omark, does not have a great deal of offense up front. The door is wide open for Hamilton to take that next step, one that he needs to take if he has any hope of injecting life into his fizzling development curve. Unless things turn around quickly for Hamilton, it is unlikely that the Oilers will opt to re-sign the left winger.

Kale Kessy, LW, 21

Acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for Tobias Rieder, Kale Kessy is a fourth-round draft pick that continues to be a bit of a project. Kessy is a token power forward, with good size, good physical instinct and a knack for winning fights. However, his offense is not of the caliber that one generally expects from a left winger with an NHL ceiling.

Kessy definitely has branded himself as a bit of a pest and while he may be a bit behind the curve in terms of offensive production, he has made himself a tough guy to play against night in and night out. As it stands, he does not look poised to finish out in an NHL role, but certainly should not be written off just yet. Kessy is currently shuttling between the ECHL and the AHL, where he has managed five points in 28 combined games.

Andrew Miller, C, 25

Andrew Miller is a Yale grad currently playing for Oklahoma City after being signed by Edmonton to a one-year deal as a free agent in 2013. The undrafted centerman is an interesting case – he is not the big body that the Oilers need but his obvious talent at such a bargain-basement price was worth the gamble.

Miller is currently tied for the team lead with 11 assists and has added five goals through 30 games this season. He is a stellar playmaker, sees the ice incredibly well and is one of the only Barons to tally a three-assist night at this point in the season, which is particularly impressive for a guy that is new to professional hockey and likely still making some adjustments from his time in the NCAA. His future with the Oilers is uncertain at this point, but it certainly appears that he has been well worth the nominal price of his free-agent signing and the experiment has been a relative success.

Ryan Martindale, C, 22

Also entering his third professional season is Ryan Martindale, who for the past two years has split time between the ECHL and the AHL, demonstrating little to no signs of taking that next step and showing that he may in fact have any potential for an NHL ceiling. 

After some momentary pre-season brilliance where he scored the game winner in both of his NHL appearances, Martindale has regressed to the same pace maintained throughout his professional career with six points in 15 games. While he has managed to keep himself out of the ECHL basement this season, he has yet to find a way to make a truly valuable contribution to the Barons that would set him apart from the likes of Miller and even Pitlick (who occasionally shifts into the center spot) who are both vying for contract renewals at this point.

Travis Ewanyk, C, 20

One of a number of Oil Kings graduates in the Edmonton Oilers prospect system, Travis Ewanyk is in his first year of professional hockey with the Oklahoma City Barons. Traditionally a solid, third-line checking centerman, Ewanyk is fitting in nicely in a lower line role with the Barons thus far this season.

Ewanyk is not exactly lighting things up, but big offense was never his calling card, even in his time with the Oil Kings. With 23 points in 58 games in his final season with the dominating Oil Kings in 2012-13, it was his numbers in the penalty minutes column that were more intriguing. It is not likely that Ewanyk will graduate from the AHL any time soon and at this point, it is not clear whether he has enough high-level skill to carve out an NHL career, but should he remain consistent with the Barons, he will be sure to stay on the radar for at least a few years.

Oscar Klefbom, D, 20

Klefbom has unfortunately not had the breakout year that many hoped for in his first professional season. He has logged a mere three assists and zero goals in 25 games, ranking among the bottom players in plus/minus at minus-10. He shows all the signs of a defenseman new to the North American game, and it is clear that he has not yet shaken the rust off following his shoulder injury that sidelined him for the majority of the 2012-13 season.

There is a strong possibility that Klefbom may need another year at the AHL level before he is ready to make the jump and if so, it is likely roster moves will be made elsewhere to accommodate the slight bend in the highly touted Swedish rearguard’s development curve. The last thing Klefbom needs at this point is too much pressure, and he should be given the time he requires to find his game at the professional level and run with it.

Martin Marincin, D, 21

Arguably the most promising defensive prospect among those in Oklahoma City, Martin Marincin is on track for continued success with the Barons. During the Oilers pre-season, there were talks swirling about Marincin perhaps earning a spot with the big club.

Such was not the case and the big blueliner was returned to Oklahoma City after two pre-season appearances. In those games, he showed flashes of brilliance, coupled with some greenness, which is to be expected of a young defenseman with exactly zero NHL experience under his belt. His pure skill, however, is always evident. He is smart with the puck, skates well and had some great moments on the ice with the big club. Marincin has scored three goals and four assists through 24 games, maintaining a team-best plus-five rating.

Upon returning to the AHL, he kept his nose to the ground and continued to work hard and was rewarded with a calll-up on December 5th, which turned out to be a landslide 8-2 victory for Edmonton over the Colorado Avalanche – a feat that seems to be a rare occurrence for the struggling hockey club early in the 2013-14 season. Marincin appears to be knocking on the door this year. Expect him to make the jump as soon as the 2014-15 season.

Martin Gernat, D, 20

Edmonton Oil Kings graduate Martin Gernat is in his first professional season with the Oklahoma City Barons. At 6’3, Gernat is a tall body on the ice, but his lanky frame makes him more suited to the role of offensive defenseman rather than a blueliner that can bang bodies and play a shutdown game. He is agile and quick on his feet with great hands and a massive wingspan. His physical game is nonexistent and his weight is often brought up in discussions of areas of improvement, but Gernat acknowledges the deficit and is taking steps to put more weight on his frame.

Through 19 games with the Barons this season, Gernat has eight points, all of which are assists. While Gernat is undoubtedly looking to add a bit more finish to his game, overall he seems to have made a fairly solid transition to the professional ranks.

David Musil, D, 20

Also fresh off a strong WHL career with the Edmonton Oil Kings is big, rangy stay-at-home rearguard David Musil. Musil’s offensive numbers are not much to look at, but brings a lot of valuable skill to the ice in other areas. He plays a great shutdown game, is a big physical presence night in and night out, and has great positional awareness. He is not overly crafty with the puck and his game is purely defensive.

Unfortunately for Musil, he is in contention for a limited number of spots with a pretty deep mix of defensive prospects (Marincin, Darnell Nurse, Klefbom) that can play a sound defensive game and bring a little bit of offensive upside to the table. Musil is going to need to find some aspect to his game that can set him apart from his fellow Oilers prospects; while the Oilers are desperate for some real depth on their blue line at the top level, there are a lot of qualified candidates for the job coming down the pipe.

Brandon Davidson, D, 22

Brandon Davidson’s hockey career has been on the upward climb since his recovery from testicular cancer earlier this year. Davidson first returned to the ECHL without many expectations, but in his first game back, he scored two goals and continued on to put up 12 points in 11 games for the Stockton Thunder. He was then called up to the Oklahoma City Barons, where he remains for what is truly his first full professional season in 2013-14. His offense has leveled off some, logging only two points in 25 games thus far, but Davidson’s style has always been more of a stay-at-home, conservative game.

He managed to catch the eye of the Oilers coaching staff at training camp this year and was later rewarded with a call-up to the big club in early October. While he did not get the chance to play in the game against the Devils due to some lineup shuffles and game-time decisions, Davidson is showing us that cancer is no match for him and we certainly have not seen the last of the 22-year-old blueliner.

Taylor Fedun, D, 25

Taylor Fedun currently sits at a plus-two with three goals and 11 assists with the Oklahoma City Barons, although it was his performance in his first appearance with the Edmonton Oilers this November that was truly impressive. In what was a long-awaited opportunity for the 25-year-old defenseman, he made his mark by netting his first NHL goal in his debut game.

His on-ice vision was that of a seasoned NHL veteran. His skating post-recovery is a non-issue. Although understandably a bit tentative in his first stint with the big club, Fedun is smart with the puck and is seldom caught out of position. Coach Dallas Eakins was very complimentary of his playing style and Fedun spent four games with the Oilers before returning to Oklahoma City. Fedun continues to put up consistent performances in the American Hockey League, and depending on a number of factors, he could possibly receive another call up to the Edmonton Oilers.

Brad Hunt, D, 25

An ‘88 birthday like Fedun, Brad Hunt is another older prospect in the Oilers draft system. Undrafted out of the NCAA, Hunt was signed to a two-year entry-level contract in the summer of 2013. As an offensive defenseman, Hunt brings a heavy shot and not a lot of size. Listed at 5’9 and 174 pounds, Hunt will be in tough for NHL success without a strong element to another part of his game.

He skates well, is a good puck mover and has an explosive energy, managing to produce 14 points in 24 games for the Oklahoma City Barons, 11 of which are assists. Interestingly, he sits at just behind Marincin at a plus-four rating, second-highest on the team, which suggests that he may have made some improvements to his play in his own end – something that was often an area of question for Hunt.

He could possibly finish out in a lower-line role at the NHL level, but the Oilers have a lot of depth in their defensive prospect pool. He will likely continue to play with the Barons for the remainder of his two-year deal, at which point he will need to make a strong case for himself to win a job over one of his teammates who, at least on paper, appear to be more qualified.