Taylor Hall remains top prospect for Edmonton Oilers

By Lawrence Bailey
Photo: Ranked 18th in the Oilers latest top-20, Tony Rajala is one of the many skilled players populating the Oilers depth chart. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

A few years at the bottom of the standings is a near surefire way to stockpile high end talent in your system. However, it is making good use of your selections outside the first round that allows you to lay the foundation for a contender. With Top 10 picks like Sam Gagner, Magnus Paajarvi, and Taylor Hall figuring prominently into the Edmonton Oilers‘ future plans, finding players like Martin Marincin, Jeff Petry and Linus Omark outside the first round could very well be the difference maker when it comes to future success in the Alberta capital. The current crop of Oilers prospects is among the deepest and most impressive in decades and it certainly has all the makings of a bright future.

1. (1) Taylor Hall, LW, 9.0B
Acquired: 1st round, 1st overall, 2010

Expectations were high for the 18-year-old wunderkind coming into the season, and he has met (perhaps even exceeded) them thus far. Currently on pace for a 50 point rookie campaign, he is by far the most talented and dynamic player the franchise has seen since the Boys on the Bus era of the 1980s.

His maturity seems to be building with each game, his confidence soaring higher and higher, the results becoming more and more impressive. One could argue all of that is to be expected of a first overall pick, but there is a certain something special you can see when watching Hall play. He has speed, physicality, and a desire to dominate that combine to electrify fans and foes alike. This will certainly be his last appearance on the Oilers Top 20 as he will be a graduated prospect in about a month.

2. (3) Jordan Eberle, RW, 8.5B
Acquired: 1st round, 22nd overall, 2008

Since his draft year, Jordan Eberle has always seemed to be more than the sum of his parts. The results were there, however it was sometimes tough to see how they were being repeated and improved upon. He’s not the fastest skater, doesn’t have the greatest shot, and doesn’t cut an imposing physical figure. That said, he’s been a star every step of the way, and has earned the coveted mantle of a "clutch" performer due to some all world tallies when it mattered most.

After an incredible 19-year-old season with the WHL‘s Regina Pats in 2009-10, Eberle made the leap directly to the Oilers lineup and what was true of his game in the past held to form. He had an instant impact scoring a highlight reel goal in the season’s first contest, and has continued to impress with a phenomenally cerebral style of play. He thinks the game at a much higher level than the majority of his peers which is impressive for any player and off the charts for a rookie. With an elite understanding of how to play the game and a skill set that allows him to excel in nearly every facet, Eberle has established himself as an Oilers cornerstone.

3. (2) Magnus Paajarvi, LW, 8.0C
Acquired: 1st round, 10th overall, 2009

The third member of the preseason "Big Three" in Edmonton, Paajarvi’s game is more understated than either Eberle or Hall, but he is an impressive talent nonetheless. His numbers have him on pace for a 34 point campaign, solidly off the pace of the two above him on this list, however his defensive play, his recovery speed, and his overall play away from the puck all stand out.

A smart and economical player, Paajarvi teases with flashes of brilliance, but seems to be far more concerned with getting the job done right and hedging on the safe side early in his NHL career. While this has led some to question whether the offense is as advertised, it has also earned to respect and trust of his teammates and coaches. He may never fully emerge from Hall and Eberle’s offensive shadows, but he is an incredibly talented and important piece of the new generation of Oilers hockey.

4. (11) Martin Marincin, D, 8.0D
Acquired: 2nd round, 46th overall, 2010

As is evidenced by his jump from 11th on the preseason list to 4th on this one, Martin Marincin has had one heck of a season. Drafted out of Slovakia, the 6’4 blue liner opted to make the move to the WHL‘s Prince George Cougars and has impressed and then some since. With 49 points through 49 games, he sits among the top of the WHL in scoring by a defenseman.

On top of the offense he has been supplying are rave reviews of his positional game, his stick work, and his ability to read the play and make the right call. Much like Eberle and Paajarvi, his mental game is a big plus, and an attribute that is developing as a definite trend under the new Oilers scouting regime, led by Head Scout Stu MacGregor. It’s been quite some time since an Oilers blue line prospect showed this kind of potential and upside at such a young age, so the excitement in the organization and amongst the fan base is palpable.

5. (4) Jeff Petry, D, 7.5C
Acquired: 2nd round, 45th overall, 2006

At 23 years old, Jeff Petry is a grizzled veteran when compared to the kids ahead of him in these rankings; however he is starting to show that he was well worth the wait. After three years at Michigan State University, Petry made the jump to pro hockey this year, opening the season with the AHL‘s Oklahoma City Barons. He was dominant at the AHL level, posting 21 points in 32 games and when the injury bug hit the Oilers mid-season Petry got the call.

Since being given an NHL opportunity, Petry has seized it and shows no signs of letting go. He hasn’t been counted on for the same kind of offense in Edmonton, but plays a composed, intelligent, and physical game that most feel will have him patrolling an NHL blue line for many years to come. With Ryan Whitney out for the season, and a decent chance that one or two veteran rearguards are moved by the trade deadline, Petry will likely get more responsibility as the season wears on, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be able to handle it with ease.

6. (5) Tyler Pitlick, C, 7.5C
Acquired: 2nd round, 31st overall, 2010

Viewed by many as a first round talent heading into the 2010 Entry Draft, the Oilers were delighted when Tyler Pitlick was still available to them atop the second round. Drafted out of the University of Minnesota-Man
kato, Pitlick opted instead for the more NHL-style schedule of the WHL and joined the Medicine Hat Tigers. The buzz around him started before he ever laced up for Medicine Hat however, as his performance at Oilers training camp had management and fans raving-he showed size, great skating ability, and didn’t seem one bit out of place. In the end, the Oilers sent him back to the WHL and it’s looking like a wise choice.

Pitlick started slow this season, taking time to adjust to a new league and a new team, however he has hit his stride over the last couple months and is starting to flourish. His 22 goals and 56 points in 49 games are both good for second among WHL rookies. With NHL size at 6’2, 188 lbs, NHL skating ability, and quality offensive upside, Pitlick has all the makings of a player who could be pushing for a roster spot in Edmonton in the next couple seasons.

7. (13) Curtis Hamilton, LW, 7.0B
Acquired: 2nd round, 48th overall, 2010

The Oilers third and final second-round pick in 2010 has had a season just as impressive as both Marincin and Pitlick. The knock on Curtis Hamilton coming into the draft was an inability to stay healthy, but if the 2010-11 season is any indication of his ability while healthy, the Oilers might have themselves a steal. Hamilton’s 58 points in 44 games are good enough for a spot in the Top 30 in WHL scoring, however the most impressive statistic on the year thus far might be his eye-popping plus-37, good for 3rd in the WHL.
Hamilton plays a physical game, is great on the cycle and works for every inch he gets. He’s been compared stylistically to former Oiler Ryan Smyth and while he may not have the elite skill level of some other Oiler prospects, his grinding, no quit approach to the game is something that isn’t duplicated by many other players in the organization. Like Pitlick, he’s a real contender for an NHL spot in 2-3 years.

8. (12) Devan Dubnyk, G, 7.0B
Acquired: 1st round, 14th overall, 2004

They say goalies take longer to develop, and while some may joke that you could time Devan Dubnyk‘s development on a sundial, it seems like he’s finally arrived. After a prolonged back-and-forth battle with Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers over the past few seasons, Dubnyk emerged as the better option late in the 2009-10 campaign and has been impressive thus far in 2010-11. His .920 save percentage is much better than nominal starter Nikolai Khabibulin and the Oilers look to be a better team when he’s between the pipes. As recently as this offseason, many felt he would never be more than an NHL backup. His play this year suggests there may be much more to him than that.

9. (8) Linus Omark, RW, 7.5C
Acquired: 4th round, 97th overall, 2007

Because of his highlight reel shootout goals while playing in Sweden and Russia, Linus Omark came over to North America with the stigma of being thought of as a prima donna and a one-dimensional player. Now 25 games into his NHL career, that stigma is no more.

Omark is a highly skilled skater with incredible offensive instincts. His defensive game can often lack intensity or attention to detail and he does turn the puck over quite a bit. However he plays with grittiness and a passion that does much to compensate for the shortcomings in his game not to mention his 5’9 168 pound frame. After begrudgingly starting the season in the AHL, Omark set the league on fire posting 31 points in 28 games and earned a call to the big club. In that timeframe he’s put up 13 points in 25 games and is making a real case that he needs to be factored into the team’s plans going forward.

10. (9) Alex Plante, D, 7.5C
Acquired: 1st round, 15th overall, 2007

Mean, physical, and positionally sound, Alex Plante is the kind of rugged blueliner no coach can have enough of. It’s been a bit of a meandering journey since his 15th overall selection at the 2007 Entry Draft, but the rearguard-who was viewed as a project on draft day-has put together a second consecutive impressive season at the AHL level in 2010-11 and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he gets a good stretch of games at the NHL level in the final third of the season. With the trade deadline looming, his no-nonsense, physical, stay-at-home style could be required if the team moves some bodies off the backend.

11. (10) Anton Lander, C, 6.5B
Acquired: 2nd round, 40th overall, 2009

What began as a promising year of steady improvement for the young Swedish center has blossomed since he captained his country’s World Junior team. Anton Lander has been seen as a quality leader, a tenacious defensive player, and a strong candidate for a role in the Oilers bottom six forwards down the line since draft day in 2009. While that remains his most likely landing spot-a smart, positionally sound center who excels on the penalty kill and in the defensive aspects of the game-Lander has displayed some offensive upside this year that suggests there may be something more there when all is said and done.

12. (18) Ryan Martindale, C, 7.5D
Acquired: 3rd round, 61st overall, 2010

It may surprise some that a 6’3 center with 68 points in 47 OHL games is this far down the list, however the red flags that led to Ryan Martindale falling to the third round in 2010 are still lingering. Questions about his commitment to the game and his overall work ethic will be hard to shake, however his tremendous 2010-11 season is definitely a positive indicator. His line is tops in the OHL but there are conflicting reports about who the passengers are. Suffice it to say that while the skill is clearly there, the jury remains out on his long term ability to maximize that skill set and translate it to success at the pro and NHL level.

13. (15) Olivier Roy, G, 7.5D
Acquired: 5th round, 133rd overall, 2009

Olivier Roy is a bit of a mixed bag as a prospect, and a player that is tough to get a good read on. The scouting reports and statements by the experts in the field are most often glowing and full of praise. Hockey Canada felt he was one of the two best goalies available to them for the World Junior Championships and he was recently voted the goalie most difficult to score on in a QMJHL player’s poll. That being said, his statistical outputs are solid but uninspiring, he seems to struggle with consistency, and at 6’0 he will always be less than ideal size for his position. A lot will be determined once he turns pro (likely next season) and we’re able to see him against pro level, likely AHL level, competition.

14. (14) Teemu Hartikainen, LW, 7.0D
Acquired: 6th round, 163rd overall, 2008

Teemu Hartikainen is a beast. He’s a thick 6’1, 215 lbs, plays like an immovable force and makes life difficult for opposing forwards, defensemen and goalies alike. Compared in style to Tomas Holmstrom, Hartikainen had a very slow start to the year before scoring at a point-per-game pace for an 18 game stretch over December and January and sits at a very respectable 32 points in 54 AHL games so far this season. Realistically he is most likely to make his NHL impact as a bottom six energy type player, but produces excellent results playing a Holmstromesque role on the powerplay so he could add value in other ways. With the Oilers currently in evaluation mode when it comes to their prospects at the pro level it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a few NHL games in before the end of the season, and if he performs well his style of play could help him stick.

15. (20) Jeremie Blain, D, 7.0D
Acquired: 4th round, 91st overall, 2010

A foot injury early in 2010-11 sidelined Blain for almost half the season, but in his 26 games back he’s been a force notching 25 points. He has good size at 6’2, 192 lbs and plays a physical, well-rounded game. His foot speed leaves something to be desired and obviously foot injuries are a red flag for defenders, but Blain is just another in a long line of 2010 Oilers draftees having an exceptional season. With a lot of young talent in the system it is very likely that Blain will get another crack at the QMJHL next season, but if he’s able to maintain the kind of production he’s shown this year, he could be another quality young rearguard in the Oilers ever-growing stable of blue line prospects.

16. (NR) Brandon Davidson, D, 7.0D
Acquired: 6th round, 162nd overall, 2010

Much like Jeremie Blain, Brandon Davidson was a 2010 later round draftee who is really catching a lot of people’s eyes. He also boasts pro size at 6’2 194 pounds and is posting impressive numbers with 40 points in 55 games for the WHL’s Regina Pats. His minus-four rating may not jump off the page but considering the Pats are minus-69 in the goal differential battle on the year, it is a truly impressive accomplishment. Davidson also has a great story, as a player who didn’t make his WHL debut until his draft year due to financial limitations, he is the kind of feel-good player you can’t help but root for.

17. (NR) Tyler Bunz, G, 7.0D
Acquired: 5th round, 121st overall, 2010

Much like fellow net minding prospect Olivier Roy, Bunz is a 5th round pick who thus far is outplaying his draft pedigree. Playing behind a quality but by no means dominant Medicine Hat Tigers team, his 2.45 goals against average and .917 save percentage are both good for 2nd in the WHL, while his 28 wins on the season are good for 6th. His numbers and performance this season are a huge step forward from year’s past, and with consistency being such a key attribute for goalies it would be important to see him duplicate them next season (possibly even see him in the mix for a spot on Canada’s World Junior team). That said, for a 5th round pick Bunz has shown tremendous promise and upside and should he continue to develop would be a wonderful asset to have.

18. (NR) Toni Rajala, RW, 6.0C
Acquired: 4th round, 101st overall, 2009

Back in Finland for a season in order to fulfill his military obligations, Rajala has posted solid numbers with 17 points in 33 games with Ilves Tampere. This comes on the heels of a quality season the year before in Brandon of the WHL where he was just over a point-per-game for the Wheat Kings (63 points in 60 games). All that being said, he is a slight 5’10, 163 lbs which is something he will always need to battle to overcome, and is well down a stacked forward depth chart in Edmonton. It is most likely he continues to play next season at a lower level, either in Finland for another year or in the AHL, and he will need to really impress to ascend past some of the players currently ahead of him in the organizational pecking order.

19. (19) Ryan O’Marra, C, 6.0C
Acquired via trade with the New York Islanders, February 27, 2007

The reinvention of Ryan O’Marra continued this year, and he has all the tools to become a quality NHL depth forward. It’s always difficult for a highly touted prospect (O’Marra was the 15th overall pick in 2005) to reinvent themselves, however he has made strides in that area, working on his game at the AHL level, and in his nine game stint with the Oilers earlier this season he performed well, posting three points and an even plus/minus. At 6’2 193 lbs he has good size and plays a simple, economical game, so it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see him back in the mix with the big club down the stretch this season and into next year, where he will continue to battle for a bottom six forward spot.

20. (16) Taylor Chorney, D, 6.0C
Acquired: 2nd round, 36th overall, 2006

Taylor Chorney‘s was once a very promising career but it is now very much in danger of being passed by. The 23-year-old blue liner was poorly handled by the Oilers, rushed to the NHL and left to struggle far too long, however his own shortcomings were the main culprits in his slide from top prospect to minor league depth defender. Chorney is undersized at less than six feet tall and not overly physical. In his time at the University of North Dakota his calling cards were his skating and offensive acumen, and while his skating is certainly still world class the offense has yet to translate at the pro level. Lacking size, physicality, and requisite offense, it’s unlikely Chorney will fulfill his earlier promise, but with his wheels he could still be a valuable depth defender if the hockey sense comes around a bit more.