Darnell Nurse takes top spot in Edmonton Oilers Top 20

By Kady Hobbins

Darnell Nurse - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

Photo: Sault Ste. Marie captain Darnell Nurse ranks fourth among OHL blueliners with 48 points in 58 games (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

In this spring update, the Oilers’ Top 20 rankings saw the graduations of Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz, leaving future franchise defenseman Darnell Nurse to lead the charge.

The Oilers’ defensive pipeline continues to be their strongest asset, with two promising power forward prospects rounding out the top five. Other developments to note include the re-emergence of Tyler Pitlick, who made a big push to crack the Oilers’ lineup this year. Newcomer Greg Chase has certainly turned heads this season and recently-acquired netminder Laurent Brossoit may be the high-caliber goaltending prospect the Oilers have sought for years.

1. (3) Darnell Nurse, D, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 7th overall, 2013

With the recent graduations mentioned above, 19-year-old Darnell Nurse now heads the list of Oilers prospects. Nurse continues to be an offensive force on the blue line in the Ontario Hockey League with 48 points in 58 games, logging 12 goals and 36 assists. The captain of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds garnered attention in December when he was left off the list of invites for Canada’s World Juniors team, but he has not let the snub slow down his development. He continues to log big minutes for his OHL team and will be one to watch at training camp next year for the Oilers.

2. (5) Martin Marincin, D, 7.5B
Drafted 2nd round, 46th overall, 2010

In a logjam of talented defensive prospects, Martin Marincin needed to make the most of his call up to the Oilers in early December. He was sent back to the minors, only to receive a second chance to crack the lineup after Christmas, where he has remained ever since. While his numbers are not particularly impressive (he has just two assists in 22 games), he has managed to maintain a simple, defensive game and not only is he caught out of position much less frequently, he contributes to some great scoring chances while on the ice.

3. (4) Oscar Klefbom, D, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 19th overall, 2011

Highly touted European defensive prospect Oscar Klefbom made his North American debut this season with the Oklahoma City Barons, but has fallen a bit short of expectations. He has seven points in 42 games, six of which are assists. While not exactly a call for panic, it is a little bit disappointing to see the lack of progress from such a talented defenseman. Thankfully, he can spend another year or two in the minors while he finds his footing and continues to transition to the North American game.

4. (12) Mitchell Moroz, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2012

Nineteen-year-old Mitch Moroz is in his third full season with the Edmonton Oil Kings and is having the best season of his career by a long shot. With 58 points in 60 games, Moroz has stepped up to the plate this year and has found his role as a top contributor on a deep WHL squad. His physical presence has not faltered with his newfound offensive flair, either: he has logged a team-high 131 penalty minutes and is not one to back down from a tilt. Look for Moroz to make a big impact at Oilers training camp this fall as he begins his first professional season.

5. (11) Jujhar Khaira, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 63rd overall, 2012

Along with Mitch Moroz, Jujhar Khaira is one of the most promising forward prospects in the Oilers’ pipeline. The 6’4, 215-pound winger has the size and physicality the Oilers are looking to add to their lineup. He is slightly behind Moroz in offensive production with 34 points in 49 games, but still looks to have a promising future ahead of him as he rounds out his first Major Junior season. 

6. (NR) Laurent Brossoit, G, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 164th overall, 2011

Acquired earlier in the season in the trade that sent Ladislav Smid to Calgary, Laurent Brossoit made his Oilers debut with the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL. Since then, he has been a force to be reckoned with – he has a 1.96 goals against average with 14 wins, 6 losses and four shutouts in 21 appearances for Bakersfield. Currently the most promising goaltender in the Oilers’ system, he will be on many people’s radar in the future as the Oilers continue the search for a franchise starter.

7. (8) Marc-Olivier Roy, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 56th overall, 2013

Marc-Olivier Roy is currently playing with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL and is on a near point-per-game pace with nine goals and 18 assists in 31 appearances. Somewhat undersized, Roy has a little bit of growing to do before he makes the jump to the professional ranks, but appears to have an intriguing offensive upside.

8. (6) David Musil, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 31st overall, 2011

David Musil is the epitome of a defensive defenseman and his game has not changed with his graduation from junior to the AHL level. He has maintained his sound positional play and big, physical presence in his own end, but his offense is practically non-existent and his skating continues to be a bit of a factor. With the high number of talented defensive prospects, it is a possibility that Musil may get lost in the shuffle.

9. (14) Dillon Simpson, D, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 92nd overall, 2011

Hobey Baker candidate Dillon Simpson is in his final season with the University of North Dakota and is having his best college season yet. The two-time NCHC defenseman of the week has 20 points in 30 games with the Sioux. He leads his conference in blocked shots and since becoming the youngest person to captain his school’s team at age 20, has led by example. He will turn pro at the conclusion of this season and will look to translate his success to the pro ranks.

10. (13) Taylor Fedun, D, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, March 2011

Twenty-five-year-old Taylor Fedun has had his share of adversity in his hockey career and after getting his first cup of coffee at NHL level this season, he finds himself back with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL with the clock ticking on his development. The rearguard  was impressive in his debut with the Oilers, but his small stature and unassuming style of play may not be exactly what this team needs right now.

11. (NR) Bogdan Yakimov, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 83rd overall, 2013

In his first season in the Kontinental Hockey League, centerman Bogdan Yakimov has 12 points in 33 games with limited ice time. Aside from his regular season play, he slotted into a third-line role with the Russian squad at the 2014 World Junior Championships where he showed off his skill on the dot as well as his two-way play, which is above average for most players of his age and experience.

12. (NR) Anton Slepyshev, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 88th overall, 2013

Russian prospect Anton Slepyshev has had an average season in the Kontinental Hockey League, but his performance at the 2014 World Junior Championships showed that there may be more to this prospect than his regular season numbers suggest. He logged seven points in seven games as a crucial member of Russia’s bronze medal effort.

13. (NR) Tyler Pitlick, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 31st overall, 2010

Tyler Pitlick appeared to be down and out in the 2012-13 season – injuries were mounting and his development was stagnant. Surprisingly, he made an impressive comeback and slotted himself into a lower-line role with the Oilers before going down with another knee injury midway through the 2013-14 season. He has since returned skating with the Oklahoma City Barons, where he has logged 15 points in 29 games. It appears likely that Pitlick will get another chance to hit the ice in an Oilers uniform, even as early as this season.

14. (9) Martin Gernat, D, 7.0D
Drafted 5th round, 122nd overall, 2011

Adding to the list of defenseman in their rookie professional season is Martin Gernat, former Edmonton Oil King. He has had a respectable first year with the Oklahoma City Barons with 15 points in 40 games, although playing sheltered minutes and sometimes finding himself getting caught out of position in his own end. Still, his natural ability shines through and he still appears to have a promising future ahead of him.

15. (NR) Greg Chase, C, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 188th overall, 2013

Perhaps the biggest steal of the 2013 draft was Greg Chase, who has been a key contributor to the Calgary Hitmen since being drafted in the seventh round overall. He leads the talented WHL team with 73 points in 61 games and is maddeningly difficult to play against. He is a hardworking talent with great two-way hockey sense. The Oilers should count their lucky stars that they were able to snag him so deep in the draft.

16. (10) Daniil Zharkov, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 91st overall, 2012

After two seasons with the Belleville Bulls of the OHL, Daniil Zharkov made the departure to the KHL to join the Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo of the Kontinental Hockey League where he has managed only four points in 49 games. He was also left off Russia’s WJC team after playing for them last year. While in North America, his talent was evident and he appeared to have an NHL ceiling, but his lack of production in the KHL is a bit troubling.

17. (15) Joey LaLeggia, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall, 2012

Joey LaLeggia is in his third season with the University of Denver Pioneers and the 5’10, 185-pound defenseman has maintained respectable point production throughout his collegiate career. He has logged 19 points in 29 games thus far and it remains to be seen whether or not the undersized rearguard will be able to translate his success at the professional level.

18. (19) Curtis Hamilton, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 48th overall, 2010

After an ill-timed injury midway through the 2012-13 season, winger Curtis Hamilton has struggled to regain his offensive flair. He currently sits with nine points through 21 games, and as the final year of his entry-level contract winds down, he may be feeling the pressure to regain that scoring ability.

19. (NR) Andrew Miller, C, 7.0D
Signed as a free agent, April 2013

Former Yale captain Andrew Miller has made the transition from college to professional hockey quite well – he has 19 points in 37 games with an even plus/minus rating in his first season with the Oklahoma City Barons. The 25-year-old centerman may be in tough to find a fit with the Oilers at the NHL level in the near future, but his on-ice vision and leadership skills are undeniable.

20. (18) Erik Gustafsson, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 93rd overall, 2012

In his first season with Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League, Sweden’s highest level of professional hockey, defenseman Erik Gustafsson has managed 19 points in 46 games. Compared to the 23 points he logged in 49 games the season prior in a lower league, it looks as though Gustafsson has made minor improvements. Until he makes the jump to North American hockey, it is largely unclear where this prospect will finish out.