The Edmonton Oilers’ NCAA and European prospect pool is not a large one, made even smaller by Finnish goaltender Eetu Laurikainen joining the Bakersfield Condors in 2015-16 and Bogdan Yakimov making his return to North American hockey after a brief hiatus in Europe. The team also added former Minnesota Wild prospect Jere Sallinen out of the Finnish Liiga to its pro ranks. The remaining crop of players consists of mid- to late-round picks, many of whom are longshots for NHL success. Nevertheless, there are some intriguing standouts, such as in the case of Russian defender Ziyat Paygin who has pleasantly surprised many with his 2015-16 season numbers. Tyler Vesel continues to lead the way as the de facto leader of the NCAA prospect group. See the full breakdown below.
Miroslav Svoboda, G, HC Sumperk (Czech-2)
Drafted 7th round, 208th overall, 2015
After being passed over in his first two years of draft eligibility, the Edmonton Oilers selected the 20-year-old goaltender in the 208th slot of the 2015 NHL entry draft. Property of HC Trinec of the top Czech League, the 6’3 netminder had two strong seasons with the team’s U20 squad. Svoboda was loaned in November 2015 to HC Sumperk, of the Czech second-tier league where he posted a .924 save percentage through 21 appearances with the club. Predicting success of goaltending prospects can be tricky, so a late-round overager who has never seen a game on North American ice is no exception to that rule. At current, Svoboda seems far from making the jump across the pond any time soon, and is more of a low-risk, draft and follow type for the Oilers.
Ziyat Paygin, D, HK Sochi (KHL)
Drafted 7th round, 209th overall, 2015
Seventh round draft selection Ziyat Paygin has been a darkhorse of sorts, named to the KHL Western All-Star team after earning 27 points in 37 games with HK Sochi of the Kontinental Hockey League. The 6’6, 194-pound defenseman is surprisingly mobile for his size, moves the puck extremely well, and has a heavy, accurate shot. By the end of February, Paygin was the top defenseman in terms of time on ice, and is relied upon heavily by his club in a top-pairing role. Paygin has proven himself to be an intriguing talent, and no doubt has caught the attention of the Oilers’ brass with his steep upward development curve over the past season and a half. Right now, it looks as if Paygin will remain in Russia for 2016-17, but will certainly be one to watch as the Oilers continue to search for ways to bolster their blueline.
Evan Campbell, LW, UMass-Lowell RiverHawks (Hockey East)
Drafted 5th round, 128th overall, 2013
Another Oilers prospect that has largely flown under the radar since his draft selection in 2013 is Evan Campbell, who is fresh off his junior season with the UMass-Lowell RiverHawks. Campbell got off to a roaring start in his first few appearances, posting four points in his first three games, but his offensive production dropped off after that. He chalked up 27 points in 34 games in his sophomore effort, but managed just 12 points in 28 in 2015-16.
The River Hawks were ultimately eliminated by Quinnipiac University in the NCAA East Regional Final. Campbell appears to be a long shot for NHL consideration at this point in his career, but does still have an opportunity to bolster his offensive production in his senior year. At 6’1 and 205 pounds, Campbell has good size and the right tools to find success – he just needs to put it all together.
Aidan Muir, LW/RW, Western Michigan Broncos (NCHC)
Drafted 4th round, 113th overall, 2013
Collegiate prospect Aidan Muir is truly a long-term project selection for the Edmonton Oilers, chosen at 113 overall in 2013. Muir has good size and plays with some grit and tenacity, but seems to lack the high-level, elite skillset to give him the offensive upside he needs to set himself apart from his peers. It’s not likely that he will develop into a legitimate point producer for the Oilers, but could perhaps carve out a career in a bottom-six role, if he’s able to find a higher gear in his junior season with Western Michigan University in 2016-17, after the team struggled mightily on the ice this past season. Muir also appeared to take a step backward in 2015-16, logging only two goals and six assists for eight points in 35 games. In 2014-15, Muir had 15 points in 36 games.
Tyler Vesel, C, Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (NCHC)
Drafted 6th round, 153rd overall, 2014
An impressive shot-blocker with a strong work ethic and decent skating ability, Tyler Vesel has emerged as a standout among a relatively weak pool of NCAA prospect talent in the Edmonton Oilers’ pipeline. Vesel has logged two solid seasons with the University of Nebraska-Omaha, with a notable 23-point season in his rookie year. He regressed slightly in 2015-16, finishing the season with 18 points in 35 games, but has improved on more nuanced areas of his game, getting more physical and making himself more difficult to play against. Vesel was named the first star in a February 13 win against Aidan Muir’s Western Michigan University. Vesel likely still has two years of collegiate hockey before the Oilers look at any potential contract offers, but the 21-year-old centerman seems to show some promise for success beyond the NCAA level and will have an even bigger role with UNO next season.
William Lagesson, D, UMass-Amherst Minutemen (Hockey East)
Drafted 4th round, 91st overall, 2014
A member of Sweden’s World Junior squad, William Lagesson is a big body who is hard on both the man and the puck, playing his best minutes in his own zone. While offensive flair is not really his calling card, Lagesson moves the puck relatively well and has a heavy shot. He looked perfectly capable in his first NCAA season with UMass, playing sheltered minutes and earning seven points in 27 appearances. Combined with his three points in seven games and impressive overall performance at the World Junior tournament, Lagesson gained a few more points on the Oilers prospect radar. He likely still has three years of college hockey ahead of him, so time is on his side to continue refining the areas of his game that need work – namely speed and potentially adding a few more pounds to his frame.
Zach Nagelvoort, G, Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten)
Drafted 4th round, 111th overall, 2014
Nagelvoort had a terrific freshman season back in 2013-14, posting a .929 save percentage for the Wolverines. Even with that excellent performance, the 2012 draft-eligible freshman rose no higher than 20th on NHL Central Scouting’s list of North American goaltenders for the 2014 Draft (Keven Bouchard, whom the Oilers drafted in the 7th round, ended up 10th). In hindsight, the league’s scouts had it right.
Nagelvoort has slipped in each subsequent season, and played a backup role in this his junior year. In eleven appearances (three of which came in relief duty), Nagelvoort had a 2.99 goals against average and an .893 save percentage. The Wolverines were an offensive powerhouse but even allowing for some laxity in team defense, Nagelvoort was a subpar performer against middling teams. With still another year of college eligibility, Nagelvoort could rebound, but he is certainly not trending the right way for a pro contract.
Prospect of the Month
With the promotion of Laurent Brossoit to the NHL ranks to back up Cam Talbot, Finnish goaltender Eetu Laurikainen has taken up the torch as the Bakersfield Condors’ starter in the AHL. The job hasn’t been an easy one throughout the year, as the blueline has been somewhat of a revolving door with injuries at both the NHL and AHL level. Nevertheless, Laurikainen has risen to the challenge. He posted 37 saves in a win on April 1, followed up by 43 more saves in an eventual loss on April 2. Laurikainen was a big part of a strong final push for an AHL playoff spot, but unfortunately, the Condors fell just short and were eliminated from playoff contention on April 10. Laurent Brossoit will return to the Condors as the team closes out the 2015-16 season, but the Finnish netminder’s performances as of late should earn him some starts alongside Brossoit next season.