Oilers Top 20 Prospects, Fall 2008

By Guy Flaming

The following Top 20 list is a snapshot in time of the prospect pool currently held by the Edmonton Oilers. The order of the 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 and staff.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Jeff Petry
2. Taylor Chorney
3. Rob Schremp
4. Riley Nash
5. Jordan Eberle
6. Theo Peckham
7. Chris Vande Velde
8. Cody Wild
9. Devan Dubnyk 
10. Ryan Potulny
11. Ryan O’Marra
12. Alex Plante
13. Jean-Francois Jacques
14. Slava Trukhno
15. Linus Omark
16. Alexei Mikhnov
17. Liam Reddox
18. Josef Hrabal
19. Johan Motin
20. Bryan Lerg

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 spring version of the Top 20 showed a franchise that graduated a plethora of prospects to NHL status with organizational depth players filling the resultant holes. Since the March list was released, the Oilers have restocked their system via trade, free agency and the NHL Entry Draft. The end result has five players making their debut on Edmonton’s Top 20 Prospects list.

Two names have been deleted from the Edmonton page over the last month: Jeff Deslauriers (due to age) and Troy Bodie who was not retained by the Oilers and subsequently signed with the Anaheim Ducks.

Here is a look at the new Top 20 list.
Key: Current Rank, (previous rank), Name, position – team
Grade (previous grade) Projection

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

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

The Michigan native is the son of former MLB pitcher Dan Petry and those athletic genes passed on to the next generation. Jeff Petry is an emerging talent who could be one of the premier blueliners in the NCAA in 2008-09 if his steep development curve keeps going. Two years ago he was named the top American-born junior in the United States, last season’s freshman year was impressive with only a few blemishes in terms of poor performances on the schedule. A recent report has Petry being named an alternate captain for the Spartans this coming season.

Petry isn’t really lacking in any one area; he can skate, pass (21 assists last year), shoot (95 mph shot in USHL All-Star game), makes safe decisions under pressure, can play physical and he’s still maturing. Where once he was a gangly specimen, all arms and legs, he is now physically thicker and stronger, although he’s still not tipping the scales at the 200 lb mark despite what the MSU Spartans suggest on their team site.

He is not an elite defensive prospect, but Petry is still a player who is projected to be a top-pairing contributor at the NHL level. When that NHL career begins is the bigger question and some suggest that another step forward in his development in 2008-09 would have Petry very close to being ready for the next step. 

2. (2) Taylor Chorney, D – Springfield Falcons (AHL)

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

He’s second on the list, but Taylor Chorney is one of the organization’s best prospects. The Canadian-born rearguard chose to skip his senior year with North Dakota and signed a deal with the Oilers in July. It’s expected that he’ll be a key member of the Springfield Falcons until he gets his pro legs underneath him, but going by the quick progression of Matt Greene and Tom Gilbert before him, Chorney’s AHL stay could be short.

Chorney is agile as you would expect a 6’ blueliner to be, but his greatest strength might be his ability to read the game. He’s a bit like a switch hitter in baseball in that he can play either side of the blueline and will often change it up during the play. The 21-year-old is mentally mature, articulate and a student of the game. On the ice, Chorney will control the tempo of the game, slowing it down if need be but able to kick into a higher gear at crunch time. He’ll play in all situations and will be on the ice at the end of the game whether his squad is up by a goal or trying to tie the score.

He was captain of the World Junior squad the Americans sent to Sweden in 2006, a leader in a room full of players who were bigger names or were drafted higher. Chorney is a player that any team in the NHL would welcome into their system.     

3. (3) Rob Schremp, C – Edmonton Oilers/Springfield Falcons (NHL/AHL)

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

2008-09 will be a key year for Rob Schremp and his future with the Oilers. It’s not a make-it-or-break-it season though as plenty of prospects have signed second contracts with Edmonton prior to establishing themselves at the NHL level, including most recently Marc Pouliot and J.F. Jacques. What makes this a different situation from those is that the expectation level for Schremp from the organization and from the player himself is much higher.

Some doubted that Schremp’s offensive prowess from junior would follow him to the pro level but last year he finished in the top 10 of AHL scoring. Strength and skating speed are still areas where he needs to work very hard, but he has dedicated the current off-season to doing exactly that.

His once brash and somewhat controversial demeanor is now a little more subdued although Schremp still remains as confident in his abilities as ever. After making a successful switch to the left wing position, he has improved his chances at making the NHL roster — diversity goes a long way. Sticking with the Oilers out of camp is possible, but not a given as competition will be plentiful and Edmonton already has a number of players on the roster who share his basic profile: slightly undersized, offensively talented but average defensively. Would a seat in the press box be better for him than top-line duties in the AHL? That might be the question management is asking in September.      

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

Grade: 7.5C (7B) Projection: Two-way center

The center is poised for a big year at Cornell and quite possibly with Canada’s U20 squad as well. Nash graded well at Canada’s summer World Junior camp in a defensive role, first on the wing but more effectively at the pivot position.

At 6’1 and 175 lbs the Alberta-born, British Columbia raised forward captured pretty much every award he was eligible for as a freshman with the Big Red. More of a playmaker than a shooter, Nash has been trying to develop more of a tendency to try and score rather than look to set up most of the time.

He’s strong but still maturing from a physical sense so there is every reason to expect that he’ll add another 20 lbs to his frame before he reaches his full playing potential. Described as ‘ridiculously hard to knock off the puck’ by teammates during Edmonton’s summer prospect camp, Nash is an effective forechecker who can log the puck in the corners or behind the net.

Nash’s CHL rights are held by the Swift Current Broncos but although there is a strong chance he’ll leave Cornell after his sophomore year it is expected that the Oilers would turn him pro rather than send him back to junior as an overager in 2009-10.     

5. (NR) Jordan Eberle, RW – Regina Pats (WHL)

Grade: 7.5C (NR) Projection: Scoring forward

The Oilers have lacked a pure scorer in the organization for many years but feel that they filled that hole when they selected Eberle 22nd overall at the 2008 draft. He led the Regina Pats with 28 goals as a 16-year-old and bumped that up to 42 last year. There is no reason to expect that an 18-year-old Eberle couldn’t hit the 50-goal plateau, a mark that hasn’t been reached in the WHL since Justin Keller did it in 2005-06.

The Regina native collected a bunch of team awards last year including Most Popular Player, Most Sportsmanlike, the Three Star Award and obviously won the Top Scorer trophy as well with 75 points. Eberle was also named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team.

It will be offense by committee for the Pats this coming year, but Eberle is clearly the straw that stirs the drink in Regina and new head coach Dale Derkatch knows it. The bench boss coached Eberle at Notre Dame with the Hounds so the reuniting of player and coach should work well.

Eberle’s biggest flaw is that he’s not big or overly speedy – potentially a bad combination. However, in a defensively tough league with plenty of NHL-sized defensemen in it, the 5’10 and 174 lbs winger has survived and is one of the WHL’s most successful shooters. Some have compared him to Sam Gagner in that hockey sense and vision will help him overcome a lack of size and speed.

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

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

In an organization that has made an obvious and concerted effort to fill their blueline stable with offensive puck-moving blueliners, Theo Peckham is almost a breath of fresh air. At 6’2 and 223 lbs the Toronto product is Edmonton’s throwback player who reminds people of Jason Smith, a player who is all character, brute force and board denting physicality.

The recent trade that saw bruiser Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll head to Los Angeles opened a door for Peckham. At the NHL level, the Oilers are considerably softer than they were a year ago and as the premier prospect in that department, Peckham’s path to the NHL just got a little bit shorter.

Peckham made a single NHL appearance in 2007-08 in a match against the Columbus Blue Jackets where he made an impression by setting tough guy Jarred Boll on his behind with a thunderous open-ice collision. The organization is very high on the not quite 21-year-old. 

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

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

Last year, the prospect who made the biggest leaps forward in his development, Vande Velde, could be in line for another boost at North Dakota where he’ll get top-line minutes. The Fighting Sioux program may be heading into a rare rebuilding season thanks to the early departures of many key stars so it will be up to the remaining players to carry the load and Vande Velde, now a junior, will be relied on heavily.

He’s big, has good instincts around the net and has the strength to battle near the top of the blue paint as he screens goalies and looks for tip ins or rebounds. A native of Minnesota, Vande Velde impressed at Edmonton’s recent development camp as a player who has improved in many facets of the game including his physical conditioning and overall fitness levels. Although not one who was ever thought to be in poor condition, the 21-year-old is an example for other prospects on how to prepare for success at higher levels. Now weighing in at 204 lbs, Vande Velde’s added size and strength have become an asset to his playing style. 

8. (8) Cody Wild, D – Springfield Falcons (AHL)

Grade: 7C (6.5B) Projection: 4th-6th defenseman

Talented but still fairly raw, Cody Wild is another in a growing line of offensive defensemen that the Oilers have been collecting through draft, trade or free agency. A strong skater with the puck, Wild isn’t afraid to jump into the rush or to lead the attack. That tendency also leads to defensive lapses that Wild has been trying to limit.

Providence College is now behind Wild who opted to turn pro after his junior year. The New England product played the tail end of the 2007-08 campaign in the AHL with the Springfield Falcons and got enough of a taste of the league that he should be well prepared for the coming year.

At 6’1 and 185 lbs he is of average size with Wild’s skating and passing being his strong points. Knowing when to attack and when to hold back and play defense has been Wild’s biggest flaw to this point and it’s still something he’s working to improve on.

9. (9) Devan Dubnyk, G – Springfield Falcons (AHL)

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

This will be a very telling season for Devan Dubnyk, his first in the AHL where he is penciled in to be the starting netminder. Last year he saw the short end of the 65-35 split of starts but did show signs of being ready to take on more of a workload.

Dubnyk’s natural size is clearly his biggest attribute. Standing a hair under 6’6 and weighing in around the 210 lb mark, the Calgary-born keeper takes up a lot of the net. Like most large goalies, the trade off to that size is mobility and although Dubnyk isn’t slow, he’s vulnerable if the opposition gets him moving from side to side; it’s a lot of mass to stop and change direction quickly.

Very well liked by his teammates and the organization, Dubnyk has leadership qualities and is more of a team guy than the stereotypical goalie who is often described as a loner. It’s a contract year for Dubnyk who played a full season in the ECHL and then as the AHL backup in Springfield; he should be extra motivated because of it. 

10. (6-PHI) Ryan Potulny, C – Edmonton Oilers/Springfield Falcons (NHL/AHL)

Grade: 6.5C (7C) Projection: Depth utility forward

A former third-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, Potulny came to Edmonton at the expense of Danny Syvret. The Flyers, in need of blueliners and especially ones that lean more to the offensive side, were willing to deal from a position of excess and so moved the former Golden Gopher.

Potulny was nothing short of a sniper in the NCAA scoring more goals than assists during his three-year tenure at the University of Minnesota. He had 118 points in 99 career college games and appeared to be on track after joining the Flyers in 2006-07. He played 35 games as a rookie and was one of only a handful of players that ended the year with a plus rating. A much revamp Philly team in 2007-08 didn’t include Potulny who spent that majority of the year on the farm with the Phantoms.

Potulny is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades in that he can play any of the three forward positions and can take on any role he’s given. If the coach wants him to be a checker, he can do that but if injuries bump him up higher he can be a player that contributes offensively as well. Another average sized forward, Potulny’s advantage might be that he’s got more than a taste of the NHL and would gladly accept a fourth line role and try to advance up the depth chart from there.

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

Grade 6B (6.5B) Projection: two-way center

A former 1st round draft pick of the New York Islanders, O’Marra is entering a pivotal year in his development. He struggled early on with his demotion to the ECHL in 2007-08 but to his credit he worked hard and earned an All-Star nod before being recalled to Springfield. He played a limited role with the Falcons amidst rumors of tension between himself and the organization. With that year behind him, O’Marra will be looking to take a massive step forward this year.

O’Marra is capable on the right wing or in the middle but his strength at the faceoff dot has him taking key draws regardless of where he plays. At 6’2 and nearly 220 lbs, O’Marra is at his best when he is playing with a physical edge and not concentrating as much on the offensive side. The 21-year-old is a very good skater and with his heavy hitting and proficiency at the dot, O’Marra could develop into an exceptional checking forward at the NHL level.

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

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

After his disastrous 2007-08 with the Calgary Hitmen there aren’t a lot of believers in Alex Plante these days but as quickly as his stock dropped it could be poised to bounce right back up. Injuries compiled to practically erase last season for Plante but almost since the Hitmen were bounced from the WHL playoffs by Lethbridge, the Brandon Manitoba product has been preparing for next year.

Almost a month in the hands of Chad Moreau, Edmonton’s fitness expert in California, has Plante bigger and stronger than ever before. Plante says he’s not feeling any lingering pain in his back or effects from the concussion he had in Calgary.

Plante is to the WHL what Sheldon Souray is in the NHL — big physically but not really aggressive in regards to body checking, a massive shot from the point, somewhat lacking in the mobility department but arguably underrated as a defensive defenseman.

The Hitmen will be entering a rebuilding year and rumors persist that Plante could be moved to a team building towards making a serious run in the next year or two. With the Brandon Wheat Kings bidding for the 2010 Memorial Cup, Plante returning to his hometown would seem like a natural fit. If he stays in Calgary, Plante should be a top-pairing blueliner.   

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

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

Jacques is in a similar boat to Plante in that he too is coming off serious injury problems that hampered his play last year. One of the bigger forwards in the organization, Jacques has a roster spot just waiting for him to grab with both hands but to this point he’s been unable to do so.

Big, fast, strong, aggressive and willing to drop the gloves, Jacques is exactly the type of player Edmonton wants on its fourth line as a running mate with Zack Stortini. At the AHL level the former Baie-Comeau standout can do it all including score but in the NHL he hasn’t been able to stay in coach Craig MacTavish’s good books long enough to get comfortable.

Certainly questions exist about the status of his back. He and the Oilers were considering surgery to repair the problem but held off hoping that rest and rehab would be enough. Reportedly Jacques is feeling well as camp approaches but training camp will either show that he’s fully healed or expose the severity of the injury.  

14. (15) Slava Trukhno, LW – Springfield Falcons (AHL)

Grade: 6.5C (7D) Projection: Offensive power forward

Slava Trukhno did not live up to expectations in his rookie AHL year until the last month of the season when he finally started playing with some confidence.  The Russian has decent size at 6’1 and 203 lbs, can play as a power forward at times and, at the junior level, has shown the ability to score.

Described as a bit of an introvert by Assistant General Manager Kevin Prendergast, Trukhno’s play on the ice improved as his comfort level in Springfield also went up. Having a year under his belt should help and a much quicker start would also go a long way for the 21-year-old’s confidence.

Training camp should be a telling scene as to whether or not Trukhno has changed much over the last few years. Always one to leave coaches wanting during practices yet impressing them in exhibition games, Trukhno would be doing himself a great disservice by repeating his old pattern.  

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

Grade: 7D (7D) Projection: Boom/Bust offensive winger

The talented Swede made his Edmonton debut during prospect camp and said he felt it was beneficial for him to come over even though he knew he’d be playing in the SEL this year.

“It’s important,” he said, “Now I know everybody so it will be easier the next time I come.”

Omark insisted that he was looking at North America in 2009-10 should there be an opportunity to play a lot of minutes and that it wasn’t a case of NHL or bust with him.

“It’s my goal to come next year but we’ll see how the season goes; it’s up to me,” said Omark.“If [playing in the minors] is what Edmonton wants me to do then I’m going to do it. It’s not about money, I want to play NHL some day then I must one day play in the American League.”

Omark impressed in the SEL with his tenacious effort around the net, his ability to successfully attack defenders and his knack for putting the puck in the net from creative angles. Size is the knock against him but it hasn’t slowed him much playing in the top pro league in Europe.

16. (13) Alexei Mikhnov, LW – Yaroslavl Lokomotiv (KHL)

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

Probably good enough to play in the NHL but not willing to bide his time in the minors when he can earn a much better paycheck in the KHL, Mikhnov’s tenure on the Oilers top 20 list is nearing its end. The native Ukrainian has become a pretty good player in Europe, has played for Russia internationally a few times over the last few years, but just hasn’t shown enough to convince the Oilers that he deserves a one-way contract paying him NHL dollars whether he is in the NHL or the minors. Likely a moot point as the chances of Mikhnov returning to North America seem to be pretty slim.

Mikhnov is an offensive player with pretty good hand skills, an ability to score and has the size to stand in front of the net. Speed and agility are obviously a concern when dealing with a 6’5 forward, but flair isn’t really expected from him either. 

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

Grade: 5A (5.5B) Projection: 4th line energy player, quality AHL player

Very few players have gone from the depths of the ECHL one year to making an appearance in the NHL less than six months later but Reddox did exactly that last season. It was a gargantuan leap forward from what was expected of him after two fairly disappointing years previous. Reddox became a coach favorite in Springfield and he earned a one-game recall to Edmonton as a reward for his dedicated hard work.

Reddox was a scorer in junior with the Peterborough Petes but has reinvented himself as a pro choosing to fill an agitator role that the organization largely lacks. With more ice time came more confidence and soon the offensive numbers started to come his way and Reddox quickly cemented himself as a key AHL player.

It would probably be expecting too much for Reddox to take another leap forward in his development but he may be fairly close to reaching his potential, that being a successful AHL player who could make periodic appearances in the NHL to fill in for injuries on the fourth line.

18. (NR) Josef Hrabal, D – Springfield Falcons (AHL)

Grade: 6C (6D) Projection: Bottom pairing blueliner

Making his first appearance on Edmonton’s Top 20 Prospects is defenseman Josef Hrabal who does so largely based on the fact that he’s signed a two-year deal and will finally play in North America beginning this season. The Oilers are viewing Hrabal and his years of pro experience as a major asset, especially considering how young the Falcons defensive corps could potentially be this year.

At the risk of overhyping one of their own, management has compared Hrabal to Denis Grebeshkov — a two-way rearguard who could surprise and exceed everyone’s expectations this year as the Russian did with the Oilers last year.

Hrabal is not a big physical defenseman but does play a style that is somewhat comparable to Grebeshkov or Ladislav Smid — smart in his own end, able to move the puck yet not afraid to skate with it. Destined to play in the AHL this year, injuries could certainly lead Hrabal to spot duty in the NHL.

19. (NR) Johan Motin, D – Färjestad, (SEL)

Grade: 6C (NR) Projection: Defensive defenseman

The only other 2008 draft pick to make the list, Johan Motin does so based as much on potential as on his résumé. Ranked much higher at the beginning of his draft year than at the end of it, Edmonton feels the potential is there for Motin to develop into a NHL-caliber defenseman.

A comparable can be made to Bryan Young, another blueliner in the system. Like Young, Motin is all defense, likes to play the body and rarely tries to venture outside of his comfort zone. At 6’1 and 202 lbs already the Swede can play against men and has been for the past few years.

He played in the 2008 World Junior Championship and should return to Sweden’s team again for the 2009 tournament in Ottawa. He also played in the SEL as a 17 and 18-year-old, definitely worth noting. 

20. (NR) Bryan Lerg, C – Springfield Falcons (AHL)

Grade: 6C (NR) Projection: Depth utility forward

Undrafted thanks to his size, 5’10 and 175 lb Bryan Lerg will be looking to prove a lot of people wrong for passing him over. During his stay with the Michigan State Spartans, Lerg scored 20 goals twice and had at least 36 points in his last three seasons. He captained the Spartans in his senior year and flexed his leadership skills with a feisty competitiveness.

Lerg isn’t tall but he is not slight by any means. He has very strong legs and he’s a tough player to take the puck away from along the boards. Has international experience playing with the US National Development program and should become a dependable player for the Falcons this coming year. 

Missing the cut

Colin McDonald, RW – Springfield Falcons (AHL)

Grade: 6C (7D) Projection: Offensive power forward

Still has the potential inside of him to be a scorer as a pro but this is a crucial year coming up, a contract year where McDonald simply has to get results in order to earn a second deal with the Oilers. Some in the organization feel that it was a bad decision to leave him at Providence College for four years but at the same time, Edmonton’s lack of their own farm team pretty much assured his staying at school until graduation.

A first shot scorer who doesn’t shoot enough but could develop late if he has a consistent role in Springfield.

Sebastien Bisaillon, D – Springfield Falcons (AHL)

Grade: 5B (5.5B) Projection: Depth defenseman, power play triggerman

A severe calf injury ended what was quickly becoming a breakout season for Bisaillon. How much it set him back in his development remains to be seen but Bisaillon is far from the only offensive-minded defenseman in the system so must do something to separate from the pack. The fact that he might have the second hardest shot in the organization next to Souray could be his ticket, but he’ll have to be better in all areas still to get to the NHL.

Bryan Pitton, G – Brampton Battalion (OHL)

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

Ended 2007-08 in Springfield and Stockton after having an all-star finish to his OHL career. He doesn’t have the same size advantage as Dubnyk or Jeff Deslauriers but he’s extremely agile and acrobatic. His fall off the top 20 is less to do with anything he’s done wrong than it is a case of additions to the organization via draft, trade and free agency. Pitton should be the starter in Stockton where he’ll receive the bulk of the starts behind a much stronger team than the Thunder had last season.

Comment on this story at the Oilers section of the Hockey’s Future Message Boards.