As the 2015-16 season commences, one cannot help but notice the top-heaviness of the Edmonton Oilers’ prospect talent at the professional level. The team’s new farm club in Bakersfield, California is stacked with noteworthy names like Darnell Nurse, Leon Draisaitl, Tyler Pitlick and more, and the number of legitimate prospects fighting for an opportunity to earn a look at the NHL level is much higher than it has been in recent memory. The fact that the Oilers are now deep enough at the top level to afford to let prospects like the ones mentioned earlier spend some time in the minors developing is a sign of systemic improvement, which bodes well for a club that is trying to establish itself as a legitimate playoff contender after years of poor performance.
Top Pro Prospect
Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers (NHL)
The obvious selection for the top professional prospect is Connor McDavid. After a strong pre-season performance, the 18-year-old is gearing up for his first professional season with the Edmonton Oilers. Although he failed to log a goal during the pre-season, he and Taylor Hall made for an exciting combination on the top line and the young centerman managed to maintain a point-per-game pace, chalking up five assists.
McDavid’s speed and top-end skill are evident on every shift. He plays with the puck on a string and his positioning is top-notch, clearing lanes and creating high-quality scoring chances for his linemates. The Oilers should expect big things from this young prodigy, who has already shown that he has what it takes to help lead this team out of the basement and secure himself as a franchise player.
After a fairytale junior career with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, left-wing prospect Mitchell Moroz failed to find his stride in the AHL with the Oklahoma City Barons in 2014-15. Playing limited minutes in a fourth-line role with the Barons, Moroz managed only nine points in 66 games, and failed to score his first professional goal until January 31. It was later revealed that Moroz was suffering from a bout of mononucleosis, which may have contributed to his lackluster performance.
This season, Moroz will return to the Oilers’ farm club in Bakersfield, CA, where he will be competing for an increased role with the organization. He suffered an untimely hand injury during the Oilers’ annual Young Stars Tournament prior to the start of the official preseason, so the 21-year-old forward has yet to see much ice time in 2015-16 and missed the majority of training camp with the big club. It will remain to be seen how this year pans out for Moroz, but it’s clear that he’ll need to improve upon his freshman pro effort in order to ensure that he isn’t passed by other up-and-coming prospects on the depth chart.
Unsigned for 2016-17
Tyler Pitlick, RW, Bakersfield Condors (AHL)
2010 draft selection Tyler Pitlick has been an interesting prospect to follow. The victim of numerous injury woes, Pitlick’s career has been often interrupted, but his size, skill and favorable performances in his few appearances at the NHL level have helped him earn two contract renewals. Now more than ever, Pitlick needs to make his mark with the Oilers organization in order to remain in talks as a part of the team’s future.
He has just under 30 NHL games under his belt at this point, and was a late cut at this year’s fall training camp. If he can stay healthy, he will likely be shuttling between Bakersfield and Edmonton as he did in 2014-15 in Oklahoma City. Pitlick is a big body that brings energy and physicality to every shift, and the winger has a solid offensive upside. His potential value as a legitimate NHLer is unquestionable – it’s just a matter of whether or not he can find a way to stay consistent and stand out among a deep pool of forward prospects for the Oilers.
Top Junior Prospect
Ethan Bear, D, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Transitions to pro and some dealings at the trade deadline have resulted in a diminished number of junior prospects in the Oilers system at this time, making Ethan Bear the top prospect in the CHL as we enter the 2015-16 season. Bear is a fifth-round draft selection, currently playing with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL.
Bear is slightly undersized at 5’11 and 198 pounds, but seems to have an intriguing offensive upside, logging a respectable 38 points in 69 games in 2014-15, his sophomore WHL effort. The young defenseman skates well and has a heavy shot, which should bode well for him as he enters his third season with the Thunderbirds. He certainly has a long development curve ahead of him, but has shown flashes of brilliance and will be one to watch as he continues to progress.
Caleb Jones, D, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Another young rearguard in the Oilers system is American-born Caleb Jones, who spent his 2014-15 season in the U.S. National Team Development Program. The younger brother of Nashville Predator Seth Jones, Caleb is a solid two-way defender with good mobility and puck movement. He reportedly had multiple NCAA offers, but decided to follow in the footsteps of his brother and pursue the major junior route instead. He is with the Portland Winterhawks in 2015-16 for his first WHL season, where he’ll look to find a role as a difference-maker on a team that is deep in talent on the blue line.
If he can settle in with Portland, his heavy, accurate shot from the point should translate to some time on the power play unit and some decent offensive production for Jones.
Goaltending prospect Keven Bouchard has a new team for 2015-16, as he moves from the Val D’or Foreurs to the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, both of the QMJHL. The netminder’s 2014-15 season was unremarkable, logging a 3.85 goals-against average and a rather pedestrian .872 save percentage. Bouchard participated in the annual Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC, this September, but was clearly the third-string goaltender behind Laurent Brossoit and Eetu Laurikainen.
Bouchard will have a chance to hit the refresh button with a new squad this season as he looks to make his mark amongst a logjam of goaltending talent in the Oilers system. He was off to a rough start for the Drakkar thus far in 2015-16, suffering losses in his first three outings. Bouchard came back with a strong performance in his fourth start for the struggling team, but continues to split time with rookie Evgeny Kiselev.
Top Amateur Prospect
Tyler Vesel, C, University of Nebraska-Omaha (NCHC)
Collegiate prospect Tyler Vesel is entering his second season with the University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks after a solid freshman effort with the squad. The 5’11, 181-pound centerman logged eight goals and 15 assists in 39 appearances for the Mavericks. Interestingly enough, it was his shot-blocking ability that earned him the most praise, and the young prospect looked impressive in his time at the Oilers’ rookie camp in Edmonton in July. Vesel earned an award at UNO for Male Newcomer of the Year for the school’s entire sports program. Vesel has been working on bringing more energy and physicality to every shift, and an increased role with the Mavericks in 2015-16 should give him more time to gain confidence with that aspect of his game. He’s certainly a player to keep an eye on, even if he is a long way from NHL readiness at this point.
Aidan Muir, W, Western Michigan University (NCHC)
The Oilers are light in the numbers in terms of NCAA prospects, so Aidan Muir is not the strongest case of a bounceback prospect. He is certainly one that could benefit from an offensive boost as he enters his sophomore season with Western Michigan University. The freshman winger put up a respectable 15 points in 36 games in 2014-15, but doesn’t stand out as an exceptional talent in any particular area. He does have size on his side at 6’4 and 212 pounds, but could stand to utilize that a little bit more as he progresses in his college career. He received a generous amount of ice time in his freshman year, and should have a bit more responsibility on his shoulders this upcoming season with WMU. He’ll need to find a way to translate that into increased offensive production in 2015-16 in order to catch the eye of Oilers management and carve a path for himself among some tough talent on the wing.
Freshman to Watch
William Lagesson, D, University of Massachusetts-Amherst (Hockey East)
Swedish prospect William Lagesson is entering his first NCAA season in 2015-16 with the UMass Amherst Minutemen. Lagesson was recently named the 16th best freshman NCAA prospect by ISS Scouting Services. The rangy defenseman earned 16 points in 52 games with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL in 2014-15. Lagesson uses his size well and can be relied on consistently in his own end. His game is simple, but he still maintains a physical edge.
The Swedish rearguard likely has a number of years ahead of him at the NCAA level before the Oilers make any major decisions about his future, but he seems to be trending in the right direction as he continues to acclimatize to the North American game.
Top European Prospect
Miroslav Svoboda, G, AZ Havirov (Czech Republic)
With only two Oilers prospects currently playing in Europe, Svoboda gets the top billing by default. Svoboda was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers at 208th overall in the 2015 NHL entry draft and is entering his first full season on loan to Czech squad AZ Havirov of the First National Hockey League, the Czech Republic’s second-tier league behind the Czech Extraliga. Svoboda had a taste of professional hockey in a handful of appearances in 2014-15, and was also a member of the Czech World Junior squad that same season where he showed well in two outings with a 1.51 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage. Albeit a small sample size, reports indicate that Svoboda has good fundamentals in net and looks to be a solid draft-and-follow type.
New Team in 2015-16
Ziyat Paygin, D, HK Sochi (KHL)
The towering defenseman checks in at 6’6, 209 pounds and played his first Kontinental Hockey League season in 2014-15, where he logged a goal and an assist in 33 games. Although that looks entirely unimpressive at first blush, the KHL is a tough league to gain a foothold in, especially as as 20-year-old player who was likely playing sheltered minutes. Despite that performance he was traded in early October from Ak Bars Kazan to HK Sochi, where he should see a greater role.
The reviews on Paygin have been positive. He’s a monstrous physical presence on the ice with a solid skill-set and good hockey sense. Time will tell if he pans out and/or makes the jump to North America, but the young defender has a bright future ahead of him at this point.