Oilers Top 20 Prospects, Spring 2008

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 within the organization 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. Jeff Petry 7.5B
2. Taylor Chorney 7.5B
3. Rob Schremp 8D
4. Riley Nash 7B
5. Jeff Deslauriers 7C
6. Chris Vande Velde 7C
7. Theo Peckham 6.5B
8. Cody Wild 7C
9. Devan Dubnyk 7C
10. Ryan O’Marra 6.5B
11. Jean-Francois Jacques 6.5C
12. Alex Plante 7D
13. Alexei Mikhnov 7D
14. Colin McDonald 7D
15. Slava Trukhno 7D
16. Liam Reddox 5.5B
17. Linus Omark 7D
18. Sebastien Bisaillon 5.5B
19. Bryan Pitton 6C
20. Milan Kytnar 6C

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.

This season several players have moved from the prospect list to the graduated list for the Oilers.  In all, seven players are now on the graduated list beginning with Robert Nilsson and Denis Grebeshkov early in the season followed by Kyle Brodziak, Tom Gilbert, Zack Stortini and most recently Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner and Marc Pouliot.  With that much movement the resulting list sees plenty of new faces, some familiar and some names making a return to the list.

Key: Current rank, (previous rank), Name, position – team
Grade (previous grade) Projection

1. (7) Jeff Petry, D – Michigan State Spartans (NCAA)

Grade 7.5B (7.5C) Projection: 1st/2nd pairing defenseman

Jeff Petry made his NCAA debut with Michigan State this season and has been earning awards; he was recently named the CCHA Defensive Player of the Week after a four-point series against rival Michigan.

At the end of the regular season Petry has collected 3 goals and 17 assists for 20 points and is a plus-6.  These aren’t numbers that jump off the page, but expect Petry’s stats to improve as he matures physically and mentally.  

“He’s been used on the first power-play unit, he kills penalties, they rely on him greatly and it’s wonderful for his development,” said Bob Mancini, Edmonton’s Development Coach. “I think he has a huge impact on any game he plays because defensively he has such great stick positioning and I think he’s going to be more of an offensive force than he’s showing right now.”

Generously listed by the Spartans at 6’3 and 200 lbs, Petry plays physical, but it’s his other skills that make him a blue-chipper in the eyes of the Oilers.

“Petry’s future is unlimited at his size, his mobility and he’s such a good passer,” Mancini said. “He’s very poised with the puck and he breaks his team out very well.  He not only can make the 10-foot pass or the 20-foot pass coming around the back of his net but he can also look up ice and hit that guy who is 80 feet in front of him.”

2. (4) Taylor Chorney, D – North Dakota Fighting Sioux (NCAA)

Grade: 7.5B (7.5C) Projection: 1st/2nd-pairing offensive defenseman

Chorney dedicated his season to rounding out his game in preparation to play pro as early as next year.  That shift in focus may have come at the expense of statistical production but it’s for long-term gain. In points he’s managed just 20 this season compared to 31 last year.  Playoff games (which count in totals in the NCAA) still lay ahead for the Sioux, but even Chorney admitted that the year didn’t go as he’d anticipated.

“It’s a tough league and it’s hard to score and everybody’s numbers are a little bit down this year,” Chorney recently said. “For me personally it might have been a case where I need motivation and to get kicked in the butt by the coach a little bit.  That shouldn’t happen but I guess I’ve found my game and the team has too.”

Head coach Dave Hakstol’s assessment of Chorney was a ringing endorsement.

“He continues to grow on the ice and off the ice and that’s very important,” Hakstol said. “He’s got a bright future ahead of him.  He’s just a very good, solid two-way guy and he’s one of the guys who takes a lot of pride in being a part of the program here.”

Edmonton likes the way Chorney has improved his defensive positioning which in turn has led to far fewer penalty minutes, a drop from 48 last season to just 18 so far this year.

“How to use his feet and stick position,” Mancini explained as the difference. “What he’s learned to do is gain body position by using his skating and his feet now.”

3. (5) Rob Schremp, C – Springfield Falcons (AHL)

Grade: 8D (8D) Projection: Playmaking forward, power-play specialist

It’s quickly coming to crunch time for the Edmonton Oilers and Rob Schremp.  Now nearing the end of his second professional season, the former first-round selection has proved that he can produce offensively in the AHL.  His 58 points are ninth best and he’s hovered around the point-per-game mark for most of the season.

No one questions Schremp’s abilities with the puck; his vision and passing skills are renowned and although his goal scoring has taken a back seat to playmaking, the AHL All-Star can still snipe.

However, those who make the decisions on Schremp seek more.  His skating is still considered a weakness but apparently the bigger concern now is his “low compete level.”  One report described Schremp by saying “There are players who win battles in the corner and some who lose those battles.  Rob Schremp has absolutely no interest in the battle.” 

The organization recently alleviated some of his defensive responsibility by moving him to the wing, but according to the player, the move didn’t really change how he plays offensively and, in his estimation, wasn’t needed defensively. Since then, Schremp has moved back to the middle and has also appeared on the Falcons penalty kill, a request the prospect made.

The fall of 2008 will be a pivotal one in his career.  He will be given a legitimate opportunity to make the NHL club after the last two seasons spent in the “tear him down, build him back up” program.  Schremp is not a player who fits in on a checking line so until he can unseat someone on Edmonton’s scoring lines, he’s going to be stuck.  Schremp will have to come to camp in the best shape of his life; stronger and more willing to get his nose dirty if he wants to graduate to the NHL.  Springfield head coach Kelly Buchberger said Schremp is looking into different programs to get stronger and faster over the summer.

4. (14) Riley Nash, C – Cornell Big Red (NCAA)

Grade: 7B (6.5B) Projection: Two-way center

Nash’s successes at Cornell as a freshman this year have been well documented, but is he getting so much ice time because he’s a very talented player or because he’s playing on an average team in an average conference?

Nash ended the ECAC regular season atop his team’s scoring race with 25 points (.86 points per game) and was named to the All-Ivy League 2nd Team.  He led all conference freshmen in scoring and was named Rookie of the Year.  

“I’m not so sure that he’d be getting less ice time at [another program] because he’s that caliber of a player,” argued Mancini. “It’s interesting to see the difference in [Cornell’s] games from the beginning of the season to now.  Opposition teams are actually keying on a freshman in Riley Nash and that’s just fascinating.  This kid has the desire, the work ethic and the ability to make that school, or any school that he would have chosen, work for him.”

And does Cornell, with its limited schedule, play enough games for adequate player development?

“The positives are that he’s done the things that we knew he was capable of doing; he’s an offensive hockey player yet good two ways, he makes things happen with his work ethic and his hockey sense,” said Prendergast. “The negative is that he plays at a school that only plays 30 or 32 games.”

Nash would be a candidate for an early exit and fast track to the AHL but the Oilers don’t feel that would be in his best interest because he’s not yet strong enough.

“I’d much rather see him in junior than the AHL,” said Prendergast, citing strength.

The Oilers declined to comment on whether or not such a scenario was in the cards but one source has suggested to HF that should the Swift Current Broncos trade Nash’s rights to the ideal team, it might present a more beneficial and attractive environment for next season.  The source suggested the right fit could possibly be found close to Nash’s home with the Kelowna Rockets or with the Edmonton Oil Kings where he would perform at Rexall Place, the home of his NHL team.

5. (17) Jeff Deslauriers, G – Springfield Falcons (AHL)

Grade: 7C (6.5C) Projection: NHL goalie

Accurately labeled as more suspect than prospect coming into the season, Jeff Deslauriers has played his way back into his former standing as a legitimate potential NHL netminder.  In Springfield, Deslauriers had been a top 10 goalie for most of the season until a recent team slump cut into his previously impressive numbers.  Still, his .911 save percentage is the best of his pro career.

“He’s put himself in a position where the opportunity presents itself,” said Prendergast. “He’s eliminated a lot of the doubts in his mind as to whether he could carry a team at the pro level.” 

Coaches and teammates in Springfield suggest that Deslauriers has been the Falcons MVP this season.

“He gives us a chance to win every night,” stated head coach Kelly Buchberger. ”He works so hard on and off the ice, he has a great attitude about the game and he wants to get better and I think his days will come where he’ll play in the NHL, there’s no question.

“He still has a lot of work to do with handling the puck and in different areas of the game but he’s taken strides this year and he’s confident and we’re happy to have on our side,” continued Buchberger. “He’s not a cocky person, he’s very humble and he wants to do well.  He’s a good kid that you want to see do well.”

Recently Deslauriers’ performance has lagged and Devan Dubnyk has begun to play more.  The expected platoon system went out the window after training camp because of how well Deslauriers had played in the early portion of the season.  It would be fair to argue that JDD may have played too much and has fatigued as the year has gone on.  It’s fully expected that the 23-year-old will be the starter for Springfield should they hold on for the post season but certainly Dubnyk will play more frequently than he has been.

6. (NR) Chris Vande Velde, C – North Dakota Fighting Sioux (NCAA)

Grade: 7C (6.5C) Projection: Power forward

Chris Vande Velde makes the biggest jump on the list.  With the rise in status comes clarification of the pronunciation of his last name that it ends in a ‘dee’ sound (van-de-VEL-dee), a revelation that drew some quick wit from Mancini.

“Every time he makes an improvement in his game we’re just going to add a syllable to his name,” he joked.

The fourth-round pick made his college debut last season, which was pretty uneventful until the final stretch  when he picked up seven of his nine points after March 1.  That late breakout gave cause for optimism for this year with more opportunity.  This season Vande Velde is third on the team in scoring with 29 points.

From Vande Velde’s perspective, this season has just been a natural progression from the last few years as he’s climbed the ladder from high school, through the USHL and into the NCAA.

“I just gained confidence playing on the second line last year, playing good and making plays and I just carried it over [to this year] and I’m playing with confidence and that’s the big thing right now,” Vande Velde said.

Fighting Sioux bench boss Dave Hakstol wasn’t shy about praising the Minnesota native.
“Right from his first day here he’s continued to improve,” said Hakstol. “He paid his dues last year but he continued to improve throughout the entire season and at the end of the year an opportunity for him opened up for the last four or five weeks and he took full advantage of that.  He became a top 6 forward for us then, he came back this year and picked up right where he left off and just continues to grow and get better as a player.  He’s so strong on the puck and he makes very good and intelligent plays.  He’s a horse out there; when he has the puck is really tough to take it from him.”      

Vande Velde ended the WCHA regular schedule with 14 goals, second only on the team.

7. (19) Theo Peckham, D – Springfield Falcons (AHL)

Grade: 6.5B (6B) Projection: 4th–6th defenseman

To say that the Edmonton Oilers are pleased with the way Theo Peckham has progressed this year would be an understatement.

“The guy who’s come the furthest is Theo,” beamed Prendergast. “He’s brought every element of his game that we drafted him for; the toughness, the ability to clear the front of the net and he’s advanced his game in being able to carry the puck and jump in the play, his gap control is very good and he’s a team-orientated player.”

When the opposition takes liberties with a player, they are held accountable when Peckham is on the ice.

“Ready willing and able,” smiled Prendergast. “If anybody on his team gets hit, he’s the first guy in and he’s had some great fights and now he has a reputation in the league so he gets more room.”

But Peckham is not one-dimensional; the former Owen Sound blueliner can play the game and has shown a surprising offensive upside this year — one of the top shooting percentages among defensemen in the league, and six goals.

Due to injuries, Peckham recently made his Oilers debut but it’s a priority for the organization to have him in Springfield for the playoff stretch.

“You don’t want to rush guys but seeing how far he’s come this year and if he keeps going, going into training camp he’ll get a legitimate shot and if he’s not ready he’ll start in Springfield but he’s getting very close,” said Prendergast when asked if there were obvious holes in the bruising defender’s game. “We thought his ability to move and carry the puck was lacking but he seems to have rolled right into that.  He takes hits to make plays, makes the right play after being hit.” 

Like they did with Nash, in 2006 the Oilers traded up to draft Peckham using a third-round pick on the Ontario native.  Thus far he’s more than covered the risk of that move.

8. (20) Cody Wild, D – Providence College Friars (NCAA)

Grade: 6.5B (6.5C) Projection: 4th-6th defenseman

After a dismal 2006-07 season spent nursing a torn labrum, Wild is back to his freewheeling, offensive minded self which is both great news and potential trouble; at this point, he’s all offense and very little defense.

“I think that Tim Army is doing a good job in Providence with teaching Cody to be more defensively aware,” said Mancini, “[Wild’] probably never had to do that in his career and obviously he’s going to have to do it at the next level so it’s good for him to be learning the lessons on the defensive side of the puck that he’s learning right now.”

The Oilers clearly see the upside in Wild and liken his offensive style to a current Oiler.

“We feel he’s the type of player we need in our system because he’s a player who can go get the puck, lug it, skate it or jump into the play,” started Prendergast. “But, he’s a riverboat gambler; the same way you see [Joni] Pitkanen take off, he’s a lot like that and sometimes he’s ahead of the forwards.”

The Falcons are in the thick of the AHL playoff race and are desperately short of defensemen, especially ones who can move or carry the puck.  Wild stated in February that he fully planned on returning to the Friars for his senior year but sources tell Hockey’s Future that Edmonton is double-checking that stance.  It is quite conceivable that the 20-year-old will turn pro once the Friars are done this season, finish the year with Springfield and then sign for next season, giving the Oilers complete control over his defensive development.

“He’s a strong skater, he’s 206 lbs now and with some more teaching I think he’s got a chance to be a pretty good player down the road,” said Prendergast who refused to speculate on Wild’s pro aspirations.

Providence is on the bubble at the moment but could be one of the 16 teams involved in the year-end national tournament that begins later this month and wraps up at the Frozen Four April 12.

9. (13) Devan Dubnyk, G – Springfield Falcons (NCAA)

Grade: 7C (7C) Projection: Starting goalie

Netminder Devan Dubnyk was relegated to second fiddle very early this season because of the performances Jeff Deslauriers was providing but when he did play, the results weren’t there.  By the end of 2007 Dubnyk had only a pair of wins despite strong efforts where he’d not received any goal support from the rest of the team. 

His goals against average through October and November were 2.93 and 3.98 respectively but recently Dubnyk has strung together a stretch of games that has shown the organization that he needs to play more often.

“He started a streak of four in a row and that was a season high for Dubnyk,” said play-by-play voice Mike Kelly. “He won two of those games and looked superb in three of them and that’s why he was rewarded with the confidence from coach Buchberger.”

He’s been in Deslauriers’ shadow throughout the year but when the starter struggled recently, Dubnyk was able to step up and give the support that a quality backup is expected to be produce.

“It’s a new experience for Devan; both of those guys are used to carrying their teams and playing 60 games a year,” said Prendergast. “Every chance that Devan has had to step in he’s done an admirable job.  I would have liked to have seen him play more but with the way JD has been it’s very difficult to take him out.”

Dubnyk appeared in 10 games in February, the most in any month this season, and posted an attractive 2.50 goals against average and a .916 save percentage.  Overall his seasonal stats after 25 appearances still fall short of Deslauriers’ but the signs are there that with more opportunity, Dubnyk can still be depended upon.

10. (9) Ryan O’Marra, C – Springfield Falcons (AHL)

Grade 6.5B (7B) Projection: Two-way center

In a lot of ways, Ryan O’Marra is going through the same adjustments to the pro level that Rob Schremp experienced last year.  Both are first round picks, both played in the WJC for their respective countries and both have a strong sense of who they are which is read by some as cockiness.  Both appear enrolled in the “tear him down, build him back up” program that saw O’Marra spend time in the ECHL this year, a rarity for a player with his résumé.  Although the move created stress between player and organization, there are those who believe that his stay in Stockton was needed for long-term benefit.
“When we traded for him last year in Saginaw he wasn’t in very good shape to no fault of his own; because of his injuries he had missed so much hockey,” said Mancini, his former OHL GM. “Because he was always the best player everywhere he was, I don’t think he was held to do a lot of the little things that he did when he went to Team Canada.  I think that Ryan had to get to Stockton, find his game, hone those little things and now that he’s back in Springfield we can see his game really coming around.”

“He’s been rewarded for his play [in Stockton] and now he’s more confident with the puck and he just seems more comfortable, he’s played way better,” added Buchberger. “I think Ryan was one of the players that maybe took the [AHL] for granted.”

Since his return to Springfield, O’Marra put together a five-game point scoring streak and a stretch where he collected seven points in nine games.  Offense is not his top priority as the Oilers view him as a player who could develop into an elite shutdown player and are pleased that it appears O’Marra has now accepted that job.

“I’m very happy with the way he’s played; he’s settled into his role of checking the other team’s top line and killing some penalties and he’s showing a bit more respect for the quality of the [AHL],” complimented Prendergast, one of O’Marra’s harshest critics at times this year.

“I certainly think he’s going to be a third line center for us in the NHL because he’s a good faceoff guy, big strong and has really good hockey sense and he has good hands,” added Prendergast. “He just can’t be in a hurry to get there, he’s got to go through the process and learn the things he’s got to learn.”

O’Marra has not appeared in any games in March after suffering an unspecified head injury, but is not expected to be sidelined long.  

11. (15) Jean-Francois Jacques, LW – Springfield Falcons (AHL)

Grade: 6.5C (6.5B) Projection: 3rd-4th line energy player

In junior he was nicknamed “Crazy Train”.  As a pro he’s become known as “The Enigma”.  How is it possible for a player with the size, speed, physical play, toughness and skills to excel in the AHL yet fall completely flat in the NHL?  If anyone knows, call the Oilers.

J.F. Jacques has played 67 minor league games over the last two seasons and has accumulated 54 points.  Yet in the 53 NHL games played in that same time span the former second-round pick has yet to pick up a single point. 

Fortunately, it’s not points the Oilers are looking for.  Unfortunately, it’s the organization’s belief that Jacques’ inability to produce points has adversely affected the other areas of his game where they expected him to excel in the NHL.

“We had a long talk with [Jacques] about what’s expected of him when he comes back up to the NHL and you just need to look at Zack [Stortini] to figure that out,” said Prendergast. “If he’s going to play physical then he’s going to have to fight because of the way that he hits; he goes after guys to hurt them and he’s a big guy so obviously he’s going to be a target.”

In the meantime, Jacques has been playing on the farm to get his mojo back. A smattering of injuries this year have limited Jacques’ playing time.  He bears the scar from a skate to the chin, he suffered a hyper-extended elbow and now a herniated disc has him back in Edmonton.  Jacques says that his prognosis for the rest of this year is completely unknown.

“I’m not allowed to do anything; can’t ride the bike, can’t lift anything, no skating,” he said before adding with a smile. “I’m going to have to watch my diet.”

The Oilers seem genuinely convinced that they can make a NHL player out of Jacques.  They see the potential physical game that the 6’4 217 lbs forward can deliver and know that it’s an element that their NHL squad is lacking.  This is a contract year for Jacques so it will be interesting to see what happens over the summer.

12. (10) Alex Plante, D – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

Grade: 7D (7C) Projection: Top 4 two-way defenseman

Like Jacques, newly-drafted Alex Plante has also been fighting the injury bug all year.  The last 12 months have been nightmarish.

“Yeah, a terrible string of luck, I’d never been injured before my elbow last year.  Never,” said Plante in January. “That one I had some ligament damage that kept me in a brace for seven weeks, then this year it was my back and then my head.”

Plante says he doesn’t have concerns moving forward about being injury prone because none of the injuries were sustained in normal situations.  He hurt his back in training camp after getting hit and falling awkwardly into the boards and the concussion was a result of a hit from behind.  Plante’s maladies should not be recurring issues.

However, that doesn’t erase the fact that he’s lost a ton of development time since the draft.  In June the Oilers described Plante as a project, a player who they’ll be patient with as he hones his skating.  Now the concern is in getting playing time on a very talented Calgary Hitmen team.

“It’s been a disappointment, but no more for us that it has been for him.  He lost almost three months of conditioning and training with the injuries and getting back into the line-up on a very good team has been tough,” said Prendergast. “[Hitmen GM] Kelly Kisio is happy with the defensemen he’s got so it’s up to Alex to win the coach over and hopefully the possibility of playing all the way into May will give him the opportunity to play and get his confidence back.”

Plante is playing, but after 34 games he has just two points.

13. (NR) Alexei Mikhnov, LW – Yaroslavl Lokomotiv (RSL)

Grade: 7D (7D) Projection: Scoring winger

There might not be a more divisive prospect in Edmonton’s stable than Russian Alexei Mikhnov.  There are those who believe he came to North America too late, not in shape when he did and didn’t compete hard enough to earn an opportunity in the NHL.  Others say that the organization didn’t show enough patience with a talented skill player miles away from home before deciding he wasn’t good enough.

Mikhnov dressed for two NHL games for a combined total of 15 shifts.  His first appearance was at the end of October and the second didn’t occur until mid-December.  Those who feel Mikhnov was slighted see a 6’5 offensive winger who didn’t get the opportunities.

Mikhnov and the Oilers agreed midway through last season that he should return to Russia to finish out the year where he could pull in a better salary.  Some were left believing that he’d never liked Edmonton, felt isolated and ran back to Yaroslavl with his tail between his legs.  One of his Lokomotiv teammates, now an Oiler, says those rumors are completely off.   

“It wasn’t the language or anything like that because his wife was [in Edmonton] so he had someone around,” said Denis Grebeshkov. “The problem was that he didn’t feel like [the Oilers] wanted him, that was the biggest thing.”

Reading between the lines, Mikhnov couldn’t get out of coach Craig MacTavish’s doghouse.  Back in Russia he continued to play well and he picked up 5 goals in 11 games. Mikhnov, now 25 years old, has 34 points in 51 games, some of which were played while injured.  Prendergast recently returned from viewing Mikhnov and said it was a familiar story. 

“We saw the same type of player that we’ve seen for the last couple of years; a big strong guy with very good hands who goes to the net very well,” he said. “I saw him play three games in the tournament and he played one good game, one average game and one outstanding game which is basically Alexei’s background.

“The World Championship is in Canada so we’ll be able to go as a group and take another look at him there and see what he’s capable of doing in that environment,” said Prendergast. ”He has something that I think we’re going to be looking for with this team where we certainly need another offensive threat.”

14. (18) Colin McDonald, RW – Springfield Falcons (AHL)

Grade: 7D (7D) Projection: Offensive power forward

One of the most overlooked prospects in the system is former second-round selection Colin McDonald and based just on college stats sheets it’s easy to understand why.  Now as a 23-year-old rookie, McDonald is finding his place on the Falcons while being bounced around from line to line.  That speaks more to his adaptability than to poor performance.           

The New England native has 23 points this season including 11 goals, neither great nor horrible numbers until you get down to the minus-21, which McDonald admitted to being disappointed in, but not dwelling on.

“It’s a big learning curve coming out of college,” said Prendergast. “There are nights when he’s very good and nights when he’s ordinary and that’s the jump from college to pro; you go from playing 40 games to over 60 games and you hit that wall a bit.  He’s a great kid, he works very hard. He’s disappointed in his production but he knows what he needs to do and next year I personally expect a big year from him.”

McDonald believes the change in the schedule from college cannot be understated as a hurdle all NCAA players face when they turn pro.  And that the mental aspect of being ready is more important than the physical aspect.

Asked what he perceives to be his role with the Falcons, McDonald said it hasn’t changed much since college but that he has had to alter his playing style to carry out the job.

“At college and junior I could rely more on my skill but at this level in order to be successful I have to use my body every shift.”

“He’s got to get a bit more gutsy; some of the physical things he shies away from but Kelly’s been on him and he’s trying,” echoed Prendergast. “I still think he’s got a chance, we’ll have to be patient with him.  He’s got a bomb for a shot, he’s just got to get himself into a position to use it.”  

15. (8) Viatcheslav Trukhno, LW – Springfield Falcons (AHL)

Grade: 7D (7.5C) Projection: Offensive power forward

Former QMJHL standout Slava Trukhno has largely failed to live up to expectations this year as a rookie in the AHL.  Three consecutive over 25-goal campaigns in the Q, 100 points last year, and yet he’s found it very hard until recently to produce as a pro.

“Coming out of junior I think he got away with not being very good in his own end,” said Prendergast. “It’s been a bit of a battle between him and Kelly to get there but he’s working at it and the points are starting to come for him now.”

Until Christmas the Russian-born forward had only found the back of the net four times.

“He got off to a very slow start, a very disappointing start and it took a couple of games in the press box for him to clue in,” sighed Prendergast. “He had a very hard time adapting to living by himself after the billeting experience in the Quebec league and a new city and didn’t intermingle with the players as much as we’d like him to.  Over the last month and a half though he’s become one of the Falcons better forwards.”

Indeed Trukhno has put together a five-game point streak having scored seven points in that span.  Much more was expected but a late turnaround makes for a finish on a higher note.   

16. (NR) Liam Reddox, LW – Springfield Falcons (AHL)

Grade: 5.5B (7F) Projection: 4th line energy player, quality AHL player

A good hockey player has to recognize the need to change to succeed, and alter his style appropriately.  That sums up Liam Reddox in a nutshell.

This time last year, Reddox was just another face in the crowd in the ECHL.  He’d managed all of 8 goals and 26 points the entire season.  The once offensive-minded Peterborough Pete was quickly headed for the land of failed draft picks.

In 2007-08, Reddox has not only stayed out of the ECHL but he’s been one of the best players on Springfield’s roster since Day 1.  He’s even made a one-game appearance in the NHL.  He had 23 points in the 29 games prior to January but that production has fallen off in the second half as he’s dealt with injuries.  Still, it’s not the production that the Oilers are most excited about, it’s the new-look, new-attitude Reddox that has them grinning.

“Liam finally understood towards the end of [last] year that it wasn’t the points that were important but reliability,” said Prendergast. “If you’re reliable you get more ice time.  Even in his game with the Oilers he was reliable; he got the puck out and almost scored on the first shift of the game.”

Reddox has evolved from a OHL scorer to an AHL agitator with hands incredibly quickly and effectively.  Did anyone see this side of Reddox during his junior days?

“No.  The bell went off sometime and somewhere within him last year,” said Prendergast. “He’s aggressive; aggressive on the forecheck and aggressive when he kills penalties.  I knew he was a smart player and that he could pass but now he drives to the net, he’s going to tough areas, and creates problems.”

“There was no indication of this last year at any point,” Prendergast added. “He came into training camp this year in great shape and with confidence which really surprised me because last year he had no confidence.”

17. (NR) Linus Omark, LW – Luleå (SEL)

Grade: 7D (7F) Projection: Boom/bust offensive winger

The Oilers selected Linus Omark in the fourth round last June as a 20-year-old overage player from Sweden.  From a skills perspective there’s a lot to like about Omark and his 32 points in the SEL this year are evidence of that.

“He’s very similar player to Cogliano without the speed — great hockey sense, goes into tough areas and makes things happen,” compared Prendergast. “He’s got great creativity and he uses his speed to his advantage.”

There’s just one disadvantage — he’s 5’9. But in a league where Patrick Kane, Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano have not been hampered by their sub-6’ frame, Omark has to be given consideration and the Oilers agree wholeheartedly with that.

“He’s got one more year to go on his deal and he’d like to come over so hopefully when we have our prospect camp in May he’ll be able to come over for that,” said Prendergast. “I don’t think we’ll be able to get him over for training camp, but his goal is to play in the NHL.”

18. (NR) Sebastien Bisaillon, D – Springfield Falcons (AHL)

Grade: 5.5B (5.5B) Projection: Depth defenseman, power play triggerman

Another pleasant surprise this season has been defenseman Sebastien Bisaillon.  He began the year bouncing back and forth between the AHL and ECHL but soon forced his way onto the roster in Springfield and established himself on the power play by using his booming shot to his advantage.

Bisaillon made a very brief, two-game emergency stint with Edmonton last year and reminded many of former Oiler Marc Bergeron.  Both players went undrafted and were signed by Edmonton, are smallish yet stocky, possess heavy shots and are known for their offensive contributions.  However, according to Prendergast, Bisaillon is the better rounded of the two.

“I think the difference is that ‘Bergy’ had a tendency to try to do too much at times and got into trouble where as Sebastien has a better understanding of playing in his own end,” said Prendergast. “Kelly [Buchberger] is very happy with his progress so we feel like we really have something there.”

Bisaillon sustained an injury in January when colliding with an opposing player.  He was cut to the bone as the skate of the other player inadvertently came down on the back of his calf.  There was concern for the 21-year-old’s long-term career and initial reports suggested a possible eight-month recovery time.  However, the Oilers have confirmed that Bisaillon has actually begun skating again, albeit leisurely at this point, and a return to action this season has not been ruled out. 

19. (NR) Bryan Pitton, G – Brampton Battalion (OHL)

Grade: 6C (5.5C) Projection: Depth goaltender

It’s been a long time since there was a third goaltender on Edmonton’s Top 20 list and Pitton was not a shoo-in. But the backstop for the Brampton Battalion makes the grade because of how far he’s come already.

Pitton was drafted while still a backup despite his 3.43 goals against average.  The following year that stat dipped to 3.57 and his save percentage was a disappointing .879 percent.  To be fair, the Battalion were a bad team last year, and they are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference this year. His current 2.49 GAA and .913 SV% reflect this.

“He’s stepped into the role in Brampton, a very good hockey club and he doesn’t see the shots he did in previous years but he’s giving his team a chance to win every night he plays,” said Prendergast. “He’s so athletic!  Goalies can take forever but the steps he’s taken in his development this year have been huge from where he was at this time last year.”

Pitton was disappointed not to get an invite to represent the OHL during the ADT Canada-Russian Challenge but he did play in the All-Star game.

“He’s really matured, you can see it, he really wants to get better every day in practice and he’ll stay out all day after practice for shots,” Hodgson said. “It’s really paying off for him.”

Pitton is top 10 in the OHL in all goaltender categories which should help him to earn a contract next year.  However, a log jam of puck stoppers in the Oilers system might mean a return to the OHL as an overager.

20. (NR) Milan Kytnar, C – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

Grade: 6C Projection: 3rd/4th line shutdown center

Kytnar has 21 points in 59 WHL games with the Rockets and should get plenty of playoff experience this spring.  The 18-year-old was slow adjusting but has settled into his surroundings and become a dependable player.

“We drafted him as a defensive player,” admitted Prendergast. “He doesn’t bring a lot of offense to the table but he brings a lot of smarts.  With some development time he could be a good third or fourth line player.  He’s getting better as the year has gone on but next year will be a big one with him.”

“He’s a guy that you like to have on the ice with you because he’s a safe player and he makes the right plays,” said 2008 top prospect Luke Schenn.

Missing the cut

Bryan Young, D — Springfield Falcons (AHL)

A slow first half has given way to a much more Bryan Young-like second half where he’s quietly gone about being his defensively reliable, hard hitting self.  Still regarded internally as one of the best hitters in the organization, Young is dedicated and still has a future where he could be a dependable call-up or depth defenseman.

“His game up this year didn’t help him and he’s somewhat limited in what he brings,” said Prendergast. “He’s struggled at times in Springfield but he’s getting better.  He sure gets involved physically.”

Alexander Bumagin, RW — Khimik Mytishi (RSL)

This talented Russian’s exploits as a pro in his homeland have been hot and cold.  He went from 23 points one year to five the next and is currently sitting with 8 goals and 15 points.  The Oilers have interest in bringing the smallish Russian over but want to take him for a test drive before offering him any cash.

“He’s been up and down but again, he’s a highly-skilled player and we have to find places for these guys that have skill,” said Prendergast. “We talked to him last year and obviously he had another year to go on his contract but he was interested in coming over for next year so hopefully we can work something out. I think we’d like to get him over in May to get a look and, if we like him, we could pursue signing him at that point.”

Tyler Spurgeon, C — Springfield Falcons (AHL)

If not for bad luck, Spurgeon wouldn’t have any luck at all.  After missing a large portion of 2006-07 with a shoulder injury, Spurgeon started this year on the shelf again after suffering a serious back and shoulder injury in training camp.  Once he got playing in late October for Springfield, he was impressive putting together eight points in 12 games before sustaining a concussion that has kept him out of action ever since.

If continually healthy, Spurgeon’s name would be higher on the top 20 list but there are questions as to whether he can carve out a lasting career having had two major shoulder surgeries and a long layoff due to a concussion.  If heart, determination and character were all that it took to get back on the ice, he would have been back playing a long time ago.

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