Edmonton Top 20 prospects

By Guy Flaming

The following Top 20 list is a snapshot in time of the prospect depth pool currently held by the Edmonton Oilers. Comments from Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, Assistant GM Scott Howson, Chief Scout Kevin Prendergast, anonymous scouts from around the leagues and various players were collected over the last few months and while they appear in this project, they were not necessarily given for it specifically.

The player ranking is property of Hockey’s Future and should not be considered the official opinion of the Edmonton 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.

Spring 2006 Top 20 at a Glance

1.Rob Schremp, C – 19 – London Knights (OHL)
2.Andrew Cogliano, C – 18 – Michigan Wolverines (NCAA)
3.Marc-Antoine Pouliot, C – 20 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
4.Devan Dubnyk, G – 19 – Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
5.Matt Greene, D – 22 – Iowa Stars (AHL)
6.Jean-Francois Jacques, LW – 20 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
7.Taylor Chorney, D – 18 – North Dakota Fighting Sioux (NCAA)
8.Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, G – 21 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
9.Viatcheslav Trukhno, LW/C – 18 – Prince Edward Island Rocket (QMJHL)
10.Colin McDonald, RW – 21 – Providence Friars (NCAA)
11.Kyle Brodziak, C – 21 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
12.Brad Winchester, RW – 24 – Edmonton Oilers (NHL)
13.Geoff Paukovich, C – 19 – Denver Pioneers (NCAA)
14.Tom Gilbert, D – 22 – Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)
15.Dragan Umicevic, LW – 21 – Södertälje (SEL)
16.Bryan Young, D – 20 – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
17.Danny Syvret, D – 20 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
18.Stephane Goulet, RW – 20 – Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
19.Fredrik Pettersson, LW/C – 18 – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
20.Alexei Mikhnov, LW – 23 – Yaroslavl Lokomotiv (RSL)

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 a grade (HF Prospect Rating) based on the 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 due to NHL experience or simply age; those details can be found here (HF Prospect Criteria). The NHL comparisons mentioned are based on similarities of playing style, attributes and mindset and not necessarily on expected potential.

Key: Current Rank, (previous rank), Name, (position), age, 2005-06 team (league)
Draft Position, Grade, and Role Projection.

1. (1) Rob Schremp, C – 19 – London Knights (OHL)
Draft: 1st Round, 25th 2004 Grade: 8B Projection: 1st Line/Power Play Offensive Dynamo

With well over 135 points and one of the best point-per-game performances the OHL has seen in the last 25 years, there should be absolutely no surprise that Rob Schremp tops the list of Oiler prospects again. Schremp’s memorable year began in Regina this past summer where he fine-tuned his skating technique and prepared for Team USA’s August World Junior sessions and Edmonton’s fall training camp.

As the last player cut from Oiler camp, there was a concern that Schremp would return to the London Knights with a chip on his shoulder, but clearly the exact opposite happened and the 19-year-old has made the best of his situation leading his club out of an early-season funk and back to the top of the league.

“I knew it was a possibility,” Schremp said about being cut from the NHL team. “Everyone seems surprised that I didn’t come back and become some kind of whiny ass, but it never really crossed my mind to come back and pout. I didn’t want to come back to London and be a poor sport about it or being a cry baby, I wanted to come back and make an impact.”

No one can doubt the job Schremp has done in the OHL this year. Questions about his conditioning have been answered because Schremp regularly plays in excess of 35 minutes a night. His abilities on the power play have long been recognized, but now Schremp is also one of the Knights leading players at even strength as well. However, as excited as the Oilers must be about a player who is clearly too good for junior, it must be pointed out that Schremp still might not be ready for the NHL quite yet.

“He’s just on such a different page skill-wise from everyone else and he’s scoring at will, but it’s against juniors,” cautioned one OHL observer who says his summer tweaks on his skating have not stuck with him through the season.

“His skating has deteriorated over the course of the season without a doubt and that’s Robbie’s fault,” the scout told Hockey’s Future. “He’s got to learn that in order to be a player in the NHL you have to work on your weaknesses. In August at Lake Placid his skating was incredible. Now his skating looks like it did before because he doesn’t keep working on it; he goes back to his regular body posture as opposed to the one Liane (Davis, skating instructor) put him in and then it’s all gone. Before he didn’t even look like the same kid but now, he looks like Robbie Schremp again.”

His straight line skating is still a problem, but according to one evaluator, Schremp’s agility is second to none.

“His lateral movement might be the best of any player playing in junior hockey, skating-wise,” he said. “His confidence in little movements that he has to make sideways, backwards, in small areas, you watch his edge control and he can get around pucks like nobody can because of his movements in small areas.”

Critics still like to point out apparent signs of attitude problems by citing the now infamous water bottle incident against St. Mike’s, the run in with a Kitchener fan or the showboating ‘kayak’ display after scoring against Guelph. However as Oiler scout Brad Davis stated to HF, there are two sides to all of those stories and there are actually positives the team can see in them.

“I don’t have a problem with Robbie being pissed off that somebody spit on him, I’d probably try to scare somebody that spit on me too,” Davis said in reference to the incident in Kitchener. “The water bottle… do I think it was right? No. Do I think it was stupid? Yeah. Do I think it was Robbie? Yeah, but I don’t want to change who Robbie is. Robbie’s going to bring a lot of attention to the Edmonton Oilers and hopefully it’s not for drinking out of somebody else’s water bottle.”

“He got a 10-minute misconduct in that game and still played 41 minutes,” Davis smiled. “So he played 41 of 50 minutes!”

Most consider Schremp to be in the running for CHL Player of the Year with goaltender Justin Pogge (TOR) from the WHL and winger Alexander Radulov (NSH) from the QMJHL. All three played for their home countries at the World Junior Championships in Vancouver, but Schremp and Radulov were overshadowed on their roster while Pogge helped lead Canada to the gold medal.

2. (4) Andrew Cogliano, C – 18 – Michigan Wolverines (NCAA)
Draft: 1st Round, 25th 2005 Grade: 8C Projection: 1st line offensive speedster

Caught in a mid-season slump, Andrew Cogliano still has impressed enough this year to climb to the second spot on the Oiler ranking. As a freshman with the University of Michigan Wolverines, Cogliano has been a point per game player for most of the season.

“His speed and his skating,” said one CCHA watcher quickly naming Cogliano’s best assets. “He’s got awesome breakaway speed where he can just move past a defenseman and turn it up a notch to blow past a guy. He’s got really good vision and he finds his teammates well. Defensemen have to be wary of him because of his speed, they respect that and he uses that to his advantage by sucking the defender to him and then makes a nice play to a linemate for a goal.”

At the World Junior Championships Cogliano was underused considering he saw no power play time despite being a leading scorer through both training camps. Since the WJC, Cogliano and the Wolverines have been mired in a funk. Pointless through six games in February, the 18-year-old is still working hard but has gotten away from the things that made him successful earlier on in the year.

“He’s not being as aggressive on the puck; where Andrew used to use his speed to get by somebody and make a play or to fly into a hole to make a play, now he’s trying to get on the outside in order to get open and get some points and that’s not how you do it,” said one NCAA scout. “You get points by using your attributes to the best of your abilities which means Andrew should use his speed to beat people wide or make it look like he’s going wide and then cut it back inside all via his feet.

“Instead of blowing by guys he’s stopping inside the blue line like Gretzky and waiting for guys to join him,” continued the report. “Well, when you have Cogliano speed you’re going to draw a check to you all the time and maybe beat that check and take it to the net and then the guys coming will catch up and the puck will be there anyway.”

Some have wondered how long Cogliano is likely to stay in college before turning pro, but to hear it from Edmonton, there is no rush at this time to pull the speedster out of school. One of the major influences on Cogliano’s decision to head to Michigan was Los Angeles Kings rookie Mike Cammalleri who actually grew up just houses away from Cogliano.

“We grew up on the same street in Woodbridge, Ontario and I told him that going to Michigan would be the best time of his life and I’ve heard some stories already so I imagine he is having the time of his life!” Cammalleri joked back in December. “I’m really impressed with his game, he’s got all kinds of speed which everyone knows, but he’s one of those guys who is not all just speed because when he gets the puck he knows what to do with it. He’s fun to watch.”

3. (2) Marc-Antoine Pouliot, C – 20 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 1st Round, 22nd 2003 Grade: 7B Projection: 2nd Line Playmaking Forward

A season ago he was playing with arguably the best prospect in the world as a linemate, but this year in the AHL, Marc-Antoine Pouliot has rarely known who his linemates were even going to be. It’s a far cry from riding shotgun on the media circus that was the Sidney Crosby show in Rimouski and the days of multiple, multiple-point games are a fading memory.

Pouliot, like most AHL league rookies, struggled out of the gate with trying to adapt to the speed and strength of his opposition. Sounds typical, but Pouliot also had to get acclimated to a room full of strangers too as the Edmonton Oilers opted to share their AHL affiliation with the Montreal Canadiens, or rather that’s probably best said the other way around. The Hamilton Bulldogs consist mostly of Canadiens, players forcing Pouliot and the other Oiler properties to fight extra hard for opportunities and also develop their patience along with their skills.

The offensive numbers took a long time to start rolling in for Pouliot, but as Christmas came and went, the Quebec native began playing with more confidence and started to make his opportunities count.

“He’s definitely progressing because he’s gotten better as the year has gone on,” developmental coach Geoff Ward explained. “He needed to make some adjustments in terms of what he was doing away from the puck in the first half of the season. He’s become a bit more physical and as a result he’s been able to play with the puck more. Since Christmas he’s been one of Hamilton’s best and most consistent performers on a nightly basis.”

Pouliot is currently leading the Bulldogs in scoring with a modest 36 points, on pace for about 50 points, which would be better than any Oiler product had in 2004-05 with the Edmonton Road Runners.

The talented playmaker has improved his skating, but still needs to be more willing to go into traffic and play a little more aggressively because he has the size and hands that make it difficult for defenders to strip the puck away. A solid performance down the stretch with the Bulldogs helped earn a recent call-up to Edmonton and will also help to better his position heading into next year.

Pouliot is no longer being looked at as a top line player, but rather a dependable and solid second liner who will be able to contribute on the power play and be one of the main pieces that provides secondary scoring the Oilers are always looking for. Could he be ready for the NHL on a full-time basis next year?

“Is he going to be a better player next year than he was at our last training camp? Absolutely, but whether he’ll challenge for a spot will remain to be seen until September,” Ward summed up.

4. (3) Devan Dubnyk, G – 19 – Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
Draft: 1st Round, 14th 2004 Grade: 8C Projection: Starting Goaltender

Patience. That’s the key word when it comes to goaltenders according to most scouts and talent evaluators. It is increasingly rare for goaltenders to break in and stay as a starter at the NHL level before their 25th birthday although some like Kari Lehtonen (ATL), Cam Ward (CAR), Marc-Andre Fleury and Hannu Toivonen (BOS) appear on their way to bucking that theory.

For Devan Dubnyk, the journey to the NHL will probably take the average length of time which will likely make impatient Oiler fans restless and frustrated. The Kamloops keeper has had another solid but not exceptional year for the Blazers, a team that is again bringing up the rear of its division. The Blazers are a team that takes a ton of penalties, the second most penalized team in the entire WHL, and they simply aren’t good enough in front of Dubnyk to be of much help.

“This is a team in disarray that does not have a great defensive defense,” echoed a scout. “For his sake, I was hoping that he would get dealt to a good team before the trading deadline.”

That didn’t happen though and instead Dubnyk’s year will end next week along with the rest of the Kamloops Blazers. Statistically, Dubnyk is pretty middle of the pack, but taking into consideration how often he is named a game star, you realize that this is a pretty good goaltender who just happens to be stuck on a largely inadequate team.

Dubnyk was named to the World Junior team for Canada, but did not play a minute in the actual tournament. Mostly that was due to the excellent performance of Justin Pogge, but a weak showing at camp from Dubnyk also factored into that decision as well.

“Goaltenders are always long-term potential,” said one scout. “Great goalies often go undrafted while other great goalies in their first few years often shit the bed; they go through highs and lows, through junior especially.”

The Oilers feel that Dubnyk is actually on pace and are ready to show the patience most fans probably are not.

“We drafted Devan on what we expect him to be in six or seven or eight years, not in three,” sighed scout Brad Davis. “Roberto Luongo was the best goalie in the world his age in his early days and he got traded and now there’s rumors about dealing him again! Goaltending is a different science and you have to look at a kid’s tools and attributes growing into his body over a very long haul.”

With the year coming to a bitter end for the Blazers, don’t be surprised if Dubnyk turns up in Edmonton before the NHL club’s year is up, not to play but to simply practice and take in the atmosphere in preparation of next season.

“I don’t want him to be sitting from now until September,” Prendergast stated. “He’s Canadian, so we can’t send him to the ECHL because they are out of immigration forms for the whole league. The situation in Hamilton and Iowa is tight because they have their own goaltenders. With our team, Kevin and Pete Peeters and MacT will have to see; three goaltenders was more than enough at one time so do they really want four? Certainly not but, if the opportunity presents itself where the team is in the playoffs then Devan will be around for the ride.”

5. (6) Matt Greene, D – 22 – Edmonton Oilers (NHL)
Draft: 2nd Round, 44th 2002 Grade: 7A Projection: Top 3-4 Defensive Defenseman

Almost unbelievably, Matt Greene represents the first non-overage defenseman drafted by the Oilers to actually develop and play for the team since Tom Poti who was selected back in 1996. That in of itself could be viewed as both a condemnation of the scouting staff and a tribute to it, considering that most of the current staff were not with the team prior to 2001.

Greene left college a year early then spent a mere 26 games in the AHL before getting his call-up to the NHL and seemingly, he’s not going anywhere any time soon. The beefy blueliner has not been able to escape the occasional rookie mistake but overall, Greene’s play helped make both Igor Ulanov and Cory Cross expendable for trades.

“He went down to the minors with a good frame of mind and he worked on the little things that he had to do,” said assistant coach Charlie Huddy. “Since he’s been up here he’s played well for us and not taken a lot of the hooking and holding penalties.

“It’s not a fancy game that he plays out there,” added Huddy, “He’s a mean kid, he likes to get on the body, he likes to get some good hits and we’ve seen that a number of times. His first pass coming out of our end has been exceptional for us and that was one of the things we talked to him about when he went down to the minors.”

In a game against Buffalo, Greene stood up to a challenge from Sabres tough guy Andrew Peters who was surprised by the young blueliner’s willingness to dance and didn’t even get his gloves off before dropping to his knees and covering up.

Greene has quickly become a fan favorite because of his penchant for big hits as well as his solid defensive play. Long compared to Oiler Jason Smith, don’t be surprised if next year Greene is placed directly under the wing of Chris Pronger much like Barret Jackman once was in St. Louis.

6. (10) Jean-François Jacques, LW – 20 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 2nd Round, 68th 2003 Grade: 6.5B Projection: Second/Third Line Power Forward

Few of the Oilers prospects have impressed as much this year as beefy J.F. Jacques in his rookie season with Hamilton. Not only was Jacques the leading Oiler property on the ‘Dogs for a long stretch this season, but he was ahead in a physical sense as well. In his last couple years with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, ‘Captain Jack’ was not required to drop the gloves very often, but that is an aspect of the game that Jacques has reacquainted himself with in 2005-06.

With 35 points in 53 games, Jacques has been able to retain his offensive game from junior and there was little adjustment time needed for the 6’4 217 lbs winger to get acclimated to the AHL, something Ward attributes to a short stint with the Edmonton Road Runners in 2005.

“I think that was a big thing because he went away for the summer from playing knowing exactly what it would take to come back and play at the AHL level,” Ward explained.

Jacques did not register any points in his short six-game stint, but clearly the exposure has paid off this year. Unfortunately, the Quebec-born forward has had his share of nagging injuries because of the rough style of play he thrives on.

“With JF, the biggest thing is that he skates so well that the key to his success is his ability to drive to the net,” Ward continued. “If he’s going to do anything offensively it’s going to be by driving to the front where he can compete for loose pucks or for tips. When he plays a physical game he’s dominant and like all young power forwards they go through stretches where they don’t play as physically because there is an awful lot of wear and tear on the body playing that style so you tend to see a bit more inconsistency with guys in that role.”

Jacques’ edge throughout the year earned him a brief call-up to the NHL where he impressed the coaching staff with his effort and physical play. While many expect Jacques to eventually fill a role much like Ethan Moreau’s as a third line checker whose speed on the forecheck can generate offensive chances, there are those who think that is setting the bar too low.

“I think we all underestimate JF Jacques because we say he’s not a top liner but in reality, he’s not far from it,” complimented one scout. “He rocks guys, steals pucks and makes plays and if I was a second line center I know I wouldn’t mind having him on my wing.”

7. (7) Taylor Chorney, D – 18 – North Dakota Fighting Sioux (NCAA)
Draft: 2nd Round, 36th 2005 Grade: 7.5C Projection: Top 3-4 Defenseman

Defenseman Taylor Chorney’s season has included his debut with the North Dakota Fighting Sioux as well as an appearance at the World Junior Championships in Vancouver. In both cases those who have watched him closely say that he has played a steady, reliable game that is anything but flashy.

“He’s not going to be a headline catcher like Brian Lee (OTT) but he just goes quietly about his business,” said one NCAA scout. “Walt Kyle used him on the PP and the PK and in tough even strength situations because he’s very reliable.”

It’s a description that the Oilers are agreeing with as well.

“He shoots the puck well but he’s not a big offensive defenseman, he just takes care of his end really well,” Kevin Prendergast told Hockey’s Future recently. “He keeps things simple, he can skate and gets back into his end to make the right play. If anyone is expecting a guy who can score a ton of goals for us as a pro, he’s not going to be that type of player.”

Chorney has only recorded three goals and a total of 17 points thus far in the NCAA schedule, but reportedly early on in the season the likeable rearguard simply couldn’t buy an offensive break. One scout told HF that if it wasn’t for a case of stone hands for some of the Sioux forwards, Chorney would have twice as many points as he does currently just because of how many opportunities he created for forwards early in the year that were not converted.

“For a young guy he does a lot of things on defense really well and he’s a very fluid skater,” Ward offered. “He’s got to develop a little more defensively in his reads, but all young defensemen do.”

8. (5) Jeff Drouin- Deslauriers, G – 21 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 2nd Round, 31st 2002 Grade: 7.5C Projection: Starting Goalie

Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers’ slide down the rankings is due to a few factors, not all of which are in his control. Certainly the minor league scenario this season has worked against the sophomore pro, but at the same time JDD is often his own worst enemy. Most of 2005-06 has been a write off for the 21-year-old who spent most nights in Hamilton watching from the bench before being relocated to the ECHL where after three games he injured his knee.

The inactivity in Hamilton led to Edmonton’s decision to send him to Greenville, a choice that Drouin-Deslauriers’ agent had balked at allowing earlier in the year, but eventually came around to accepting as the year went on.

“Last year wasn’t a very good season for (Drouin-Deslauriers) because we had the three-man rotation going with the Road Runners,” said Prendergast. “I think Jeff, as much as he knows that he belongs in the AHL, he realizes that the opportunity to play is something he needs, to be the No. 1 guy, and carry the team on his back to get his confidence back. Montreal’s just not going to play him, there are no other options. We tried every team in the AHL and like we told his agent, every team has the same problem and they’re not going to make room for ours. This was the only thing available to him and it obviously didn’t hurt Mike Morrison to go down there and go 7-1 in two weeks so how would it hurt Jeff? Jeff was completely on board when I talked to him.”

Unfortunately for JDD, he blew out his knee after three games with the Grrrowl and has been sidelined ever since. To date, the supposed future starter of the Oilers has only played in 16 games all year.

“There’s a guy who, if we have our own team he probably plays 50 games this year,” sighed one frustrated Oiler source.

In Edmonton’s training camp last fall, talk about JDD’s mindset was that the goalie was heaping far too much pressure on himself and that he wasn’t able to properly prepare for games because of the stress he was creating for himself. It’s a sentiment that Hamilton coach Don Lever agreed with during a conversation with HF back in December.

“He really has to concentrate on his consistency,” Lever told Hockey’s Future at the time, “He gets himself all focused and ready to play, but it’s almost like he gets too wired at times.”

2006-07 will be a pivotal season in the development of Drouin-Deslauriers who will face competition from at least Dubnyk to be the starter for the new AHL affiliate.

9. (19) Slava Trukhno, LW/C – 19 – Prince Edward Island (QMJHL)
Draft: 4th Round, 120th 2005 Grade: 6.5C Projection: 2nd line playmaking forward

The biggest surge up the ranking this year belongs to PEI’s dynamic leading scorer Viatcheslav Trukhno. Through 56 games, Trukhno had amassed 92 points, 25 points more than the next highest scoring member of the Rocket. That fact helps display the exciting talents of the Russian while also clearly showing the lack of quality players on the Island.

“Obviously he’s got a lot of offensive skills and he’s really the only beacon in the night for that team because it’s just a terrible club,” stated one QMJHL area scout. “Trukhno is a fairly natural goal scorer and a solid skater. He’s not a ‘get dirty in front of the net and pay the price’ type of guy — although he will bang, he’s more finesse.”

Another talent scout was equally complimentary after getting a chance to watch Trukhno play this year.

“Trukhno is lacking one thing and that’s high-end speed, otherwise he just does whatever he wants,” said the scout. “I’d like to see him finish more for the opportunities that he gets. I was amazed at how hard he plays, how North American he has become with the skills that are the reason you draft a European thrown in here and there. This kid, he’s a leader now and if you didn’t know he was European you wouldn’t know because you could throw him into any CHL jersey and he’d be just fine.”

Trukhno is among the top 20 scorers in the QMJHL this year despite having missed several games throughout the calendar with various short-term injuries. The 19-year-old has enjoyed the season with an expanded role under head coach Yanick Jean and Trukhno has responded to the added expectations.

10. (8) Colin McDonald, RW – 21 – Providence Friars (NCAA)
Draft: 2nd Round, 51st 2003 Grade: 6.5C Projection: 2-3rd Line Scoring Power Forward

Junior forward Colin McDonald was hoping for a breakout year after a serious knee injury limited his development in 2004-05. The Friars forward missed six weeks last season thanks to the injury, so this year has been all about regaining his form and showing enough development to possibly turn pro at the end of the year.

With an offseason coaching change in Providence that has seen a much more offensive orientated game plan under Tim Army, McDonald was expected to be a major contributor for the Friars. However, although McDonald has surpassed his previous personal bests in both assists and total points, his eight goals through the end of the regular season might depict a small step backwards.

“He’s getting a lot of opportunity but the goals aren’t going in for him,” Prendergast told HF in late January. “His coach is very happy with the way he’s playing and he gets power play time, kills penalties, plays wing and center, and his ice time has been great. His team is winning a lot of games compared to the past so I’m not really looking that hard at his stats compared to previous years, but I listen more to what our guys are saying when they go in to see him play. We think he’s right on course as a scoring forward.”

One area scout indicated to Hockey’s Future that McDonald was still playing a very effective game, but had settled into a role where he was relying on his linemates to get puck control rather than earning it himself.

“He still needs to work on his game without the puck and get more involved in the defensive aspect,” the scout pointed out. “He sometimes does like Phil Esposito used to do, let everybody else do the work and then stand there and wait for them to get him the puck. His linemates are doing all the grinding while he gets into position to score. If he’s going to play well at a higher level, he has to be sound in all aspects of the game so he really needs to put a better effort into those areas.”

Ward indicated that the trait he admired most in McDonald is the power forward’s tendency to fire the puck.

“The one thing he brings is that he wants to score and he gets himself into the areas to do that,” Ward’s report began. “Some guys get into those areas and look to pass but when Colin is there he’s looking to shoot and that’s nice to see. He goes to the front of the net, stays there, he’s great on the power play at working down low and he’s very physical on the forecheck. Colin is smart and in all three zones he knows where he’s supposed to be and what he needs to do. He’s a decent skater but I think his first few strides could get better but once he’s moving he skates fine.”

The question of whether or not McDonald will turn pro for next season is there and the Oilers admit it’s something they had been considering. However, with a number of European players also in contract consideration, the budget may not be there for McDonald this summer. That might not be a bad thing though either as a second year under Tim Army’s offensive system might be very good for McDonald’s development.

“(McDonald) is in a good program, playing a lot, and our AHL situation hasn’t resolved itself yet and we don’t want to put him into that situation so we think it’s best for him to stay back in school,” said Prendergast.

11. (13) Kyle Brodziak, C – 21 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 7th Round, 214th 2003 Grade: 6B Projection: 3-4th Line Forward

It has been said that Kyle Brodziak is going to be an Oiler for one major reason: he’s the prototypical Craig MacTavish player. That’s hard to argue when you consider that Brodziak is defensively responsible, can play a variety of forward positions, has some offensive upside and has developed into an excellent technician at the faceoff dot.

“He’s a great positional player and he thinks the game very well and for a guy playing in his first game I felt he had a lot of composure and he’s got a real savvy for the game,” said MacTavish earlier this year in Calgary after Brodziak’s first NHL game. “We have really high hopes for him. We saw he had a high level of understanding of the game and where he had to be (on the ice). Anytime you’re playing in your first game the butterflies are there and guys have a tough time dealing with that but he apparently didn’t.”

To date, Brodziak has played 10 games for the Oilers this year and has not looked that far out of place although he has yet to record a point. For most of the year, the St. Paul, Alberta product has skated for the Iowa Stars. The offensive production he had with the Road Runners a year ago has not really followed Brodziak into 2005-06 and that has been a disappointment.

“Kyle’s done everything that they’ve asked him to do there in Iowa but it’s a tough situation where they basically have the top 6 forwards that they want to look at and he’s got to play his way into that top six or play on the third line,” Prendergast told HF in December. “He’s killing penalties and checking the top lines. The points aren’t there but the will and the try that we want to see for a second-year guy has been there.”

Brodziak says the experience in Iowa has been a lot different from his AHL rookie season a year ago and one thing that took some getting used to was the sweater on his back.

“In the first exhibition game I played there I was wearing a Dallas jersey and I remember looking at Stortini and we kind of shook our heads a bit,” he laughed.

Brodziak has begun contributing more and has raised his offensive totals to nine goals and 20 points but that is slightly down from his pace from last year when he totalled 32 points in 56 games. The reason Brodziak rises in the ranking this time around is twofold, his maturity and development into an effective defensive player, and also because of Edmonton’s recent trade of Marty Reasoner and Yan Stastny that clears two possible obstacles out of his way.

12. (9) Brad Winchester, RW – 25 – Edmonton Oilers/Hamilton Bulldogs (NHL/AHL)
Draft: 2nd Round, 35th 2000 Grade: 6B Projection: 3rd line Power Forward

Power forward Brad Winchester seemingly has it all, the size at 6’5, the speed, the strength and the scoring touch. However, he’s also got the curse of inconsistency. According to some in the organization, Winchester added too much weight in the offseason and it made him too slow to be effective.

“Coming into this year Brad felt that he needed to get stronger for the NHL level and as a result he came in about 8-10 pounds heavier and that’s a lot of extra weight to carry around,” explained Ward recently. “The game is quicker and he got bigger and that wasn’t a good combination. He was a bit of a slow starter in college and maybe we’re seeing that a bit at the pro level too but he’s got a lot to offer. I like the fact that he can one-time the puck from virtually anywhere because he can make the adjustments in his body if it’s ahead or behind him. He protects the puck well and he can take it to the net and that’s something that he wasn’t doing very well earlier when I saw him, but I think that was a function of maybe being too heavy.”

Clearly at the minor league level there is little that Winchester can’t do but it is with the Oilers where he seems to be struggling much to the chagrin of the fans who have been waiting for him to develop and contribute since 2000. One scout says the fans are being too impatient with the former Wisconsin Badger.

“Everybody is shit kicking (Winchester) but he’s a pretty good player,” he said. “He’s putting up some pretty good points in the AHL.”

Nearly a point per game player in Hamilton, Winchester is on the verge of sticking with the Oilers but must find a way to force Craig MacTavish to insert him into the line-up. The key to Winchester’s success is in his physical play but too often he does not use that asset of his game.

13. (14) Geoff Paukovich, C – 19 – Denver Pioneers (NCAA)
Draft: 2nd Round, 57th 2004 Grade: 6B Projection: 3-4th Line Power Center

2005-06 has been a tale of two seasons for big Geoff Paukovich. The shutdown man for the Denver Pioneers couldn’t buy an offensive break in the first half of the schedule, but since the World Junior Championships the points have steadily begun piling up.

“I think if there’s one guy aside from Erik Johnson (2006 eligible) who came away from the experience as a better player, it was (Paukovich),” one scout said referring to the annual tournament. “He consistently worked his nuts off the way he’ll have to as a pro and he did it very well. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a scorer but he’ll be a big, strong shutdown guy like Joel Otto — tough to beat on faceoffs, in the corners and just a hard guy to play against because he’s just so big.”

Paukovich was named as the US team’s player of the game in their bronze medal loss to Finland. It was in Vancouver where he scored his first goal of the season and since returning to Denver, Paukovich has scored four times and raised his point total to 10. However, it’s his defensive play that has continued to develop and impress onlookers.

“His timing has got a lot better so he’s always ready to shoot the puck, his skating has improved and he continues to bang,” Ward complimented. “He has improved a lot over the course of the year.”

Paukovich will return to Denver for at least one more season as the Oilers feel that the Pioneers run one of the best programs in the NCAA and feel with three of their players there next year, it also provides an opportunity for player development off the ice. Glenn Fisher, Matt Glasser and Paukovich will all be members of the Pioneers in 2006-07.

14. (20) Tom Gilbert, D – 23 – Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)
Draft: 4th Round, 129th 2002 Grade: 6B Projection: No. 3-5 Defenseman

Prior to this year, the Edmonton Oilers quietly felt that they might have gotten a serviceable blueliner from Colorado in that late season deal a couple years ago. Now they’re not being so quiet about it.

“He’s been everything we hoped he was going to be when we traded Salo for him,” said Prendergast in January. “He moves the puck, he’s creative, he shoots it well, he’s patient, he’s not really physical but he gets in the way, he gets a lot accomplished and knows how to get the puck out of his end by carrying it or passing it out and those guys are hard to find.”

“He’s an extremely smart player; he’s got the offensive upside in his game where he can join the rush and he can do a lot of good things from the backend on a power play. His defensive game is solid.” Ward added. “I think he’s a guy who has the potential to be an NHL defenseman.”

Gilbert will turn pro next season and while he likely will play most of it for the as-of-yet not-established AHL team, there is the chance that the Minnesota native could repeat Matt Greene’s success this year and put in an appearance with the Oilers.

“I’m not going to rule out the possibility of him stepping right in because he’s mature enough and his game is sound, his skating is good enough and his defensive play is what MacTavish likes in young defensemen,” said one team source. “I wouldn’t put it past him but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the AHL to learn how to play as a pro too.”

One scout who has watched Gilbert a lot this year draws a favorable comparison to Chris Pronger, not necessarily in style or ability but in the way he is used by the Badgers at the collegiate level.

“I’m not trying to compare him to Pronger, but he logs the same sort of minutes and plays in the same situations against the top lines of all the other teams for Wisconsin like Pronger does in the NHL,” said the observer. “You could say that he’s logging a Chris Pronger type workload when it comes to minutes and responsibility and he really is the leader of that team.”

15. (11) Dragan Umicevic, LW – 21 – Södertälje (SEL)
Draft: 6th Round, 184th 2003 Grade: 7C Projection: Offensive Forward

This time last year, Dragan Umicevic was considered the flavor of the week. From seemingly out of nowhere, the Serbian-born forward burst onto the SEL scene with Södertälje and the Oilers, who are hungry for skilled wingers, did not fail to take notice. But has the success story continued on to 2005-06? That depends on whom you ask.

“I was expecting a more speedy pure player and he’s not; he’s not really fleet of foot, he has to work and keep his legs moving constantly,” said one scout who saw Umicevic earlier this year. “I don’t know if he could come over and step right in to the NHL, but I think he could find a way to play.”

One scout commented that what Umicevic might lack in speed he makes up for with his hands and his heart.

“Along with his hands, skills and vision that he has, his work ethic is phenomenal; he competed, he was strong on his check, committed to defense and yet knew when it was time to go the other way without leaving his check too early. When the transition happens, he was jumping in and making himself available.”

“No passes bounce off of this kid,” added another. “He’s not a pure flight guy that can stretch the defense out though. This guy does a lot of work out of the corners. He’s really strong and now he fights off checks and wins battles and then makes something happen. I was really impressed.”

And yet another observer compared Umicevic unfavorably to a former Oiler prospect.

“I don’t know if Umicevic is going to play,” he sighed, “In my mind he’s not a really high-end guy but he’s a good player with a chance. In my mind Tony Salmelainen was a better prospect than Dragan is.”

Perhaps the most damaging reviews come from a Swedish scout from outside the Oiler organization.

“He has improved, but not as much as I hoped; most thought he’d end up with around 35 points or more, but instead ended up with just six goals,” said the scout. “He had big problems putting the puck in the net and six goals is actually just as many as he had last season which is not good enough.

”Umicevic was also tested internationally with the Swedish national team, but honestly, he was awful. He definitely did not have the intensity or the endurance to play high-level international hockey and if I remember correctly he was benched after a while,” the scout added. “Umicevic is, as I see it, not ready to contribute at the NHL level. However, I do think it would be pretty good for him to spend some time in the AHL. His upside is still very good.”

The question is whether Umicevic will ever agree to come to North America when there is a very real probability that he would have to play in the AHL first. Considering that Södertälje is running the risk right now of being relegated out of the SEL and if that happens the AHL will begin to look a lot better for Umicevic.

16. (NR) Bryan Young, D – 19 – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Draft: 5th Round, 146th Overall 2004 Grade: 6C Projection: No. 5-6 Defensive Defenseman

If Tom Gilbert is called the forgotten prospect in the system, then Bryan Young should be called the unknown or underrated prospect. No one in the media talks much about him and he doesn’t get recognition from the National Program, but anyone who sees him play in Peterborough seems to say the same thing, that when it comes to defensemen, Bryan Young is one of the best-kept secrets in junior hockey.

“Young is going to play in the NHL,” one amateur scout told Hockey’s Future. “He’s going to play for a number of years and nobody is going to notice him because he’s such a bland type of player that’s just effective as hell. I loved his game every time I saw him this year. He doesn’t make many bad decisions, is rarely out of position and he plays the man with an edge.”

Long-time Oiler scout Chris McCarthy described one such example of Young’s edge.

Bryan Little (2006 eligible) was dancing around in Peterborough, kind of flashing the goalie after the whistle, cutting in and out and Young caught him one time and just pasted him against the boards and Little wasn’t dancing anymore for the rest of the game,” McCarthy chuckled. “He just swatted him as if to say ‘get away from me, that’s enough of your little antics’. He has a presence; I like him.”

OHL scout Brad Davis is drawn to Young’s off-ice character as much as his play during the game.

“He’s about as accountable as any young player that you’ll find,” Davis explained. “If somebody gets around him for a goal or he loses his check in the corner and someone said ‘Bryan, that was your man’ he would say ‘Yes it was’. He’s never made up an excuse for anything wrong he’s done but he’s always tried to learn from all of them and that’s why I think he’s going to be a NHL player; he’s honest with himself and with everyone around him.

“When I think of Bryan and how he was when we first drafted him, he was the most shy and quiet guy but now he’s becoming more of a man with more confidence,” he added. “He might be a No. 5-6 guy probably but he could be a very good five and anybody who comes through the middle is going to know that he plays for the Edmonton Oilers.”

Perhaps the biggest compliments for Young came from Geoff Ward.

“He might be the best one on one defenseman in our entire system; the guy is tremendous one on one and people underestimate his feet,” Ward began. “In our training camp in the drills he wasn’t getting beat by the NHL guys. He’s probably the guy that plays the most consistently in our whole system right now, you know what you’re going to get out of Bryan Young every night. I like that he’s very aggressive and plays a physical game but it’s a smart game, he’s not going to take stupid penalties. He’s a great penalty killer too.”

17. (NR) Danny Syvret, D – 20 – Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Draft: 3rd Round, 81st 2005 Grade: 6C Projection: 3rd Pairing Offensive Defenseman

Former London Knights captain Danny Syvret has seen spot duty with the big club this year, which is what some scouts believe is the most Oiler fans should expect going forward. Considering that Edmonton has Marc-Andre Bergeron already filling the role of diminutive offensive minded blueliner and for a lengthy contract, the opportunity for Syvret might not come for a few years outside of the odd call up here and there.

During his 10-game stint with the Oilers earlier this year Syvret looked better than he has in Hamilton throughout the AHL schedule. Ward is convinced it’s because Syvret plays better with better teammates.

“He’s a guy who relies on his partner a lot because he likes to play the give and go, pick and roll and I think that’s why he’s been more effective in the NHL because your partner supports you a lot better,” said Ward. “(In the AHL) he’s had some ups and downs. He plays the small game well; he can be evasive and beat a guy then turn the puck up the ice and get it going the other way and I really like the way he thinks the game.”

It must be pointed out though that after a 23-goal season in 2004-05 with the Knights, Syvret has yet to dent the twine in his rookie pro campaign. Will Syvret be able to be as offensively effective as he was in junior over the long haul as a pro? Possibly, but so far he definitely has not had that success.

18. (NR) Stephane Goulet, RW – 20 – Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
Draft: 7th Round, 208th 2004 Grade: 6C Projection: Scoring Winger

Cracking the top 20 for the first time since he was drafted in 2004 is Moncton winger Stephane Goulet. The Levis, PQ native is having a tremendous season for the Memorial Cup hosts but that should be expected to a certain degree because of the physical maturity that the 20-year-old has over most of the players in the QMJHL.

The 6’3 200 lbs right winger is second on his team in scoring with 88 points and is on pace to challenge the 50-goal plateau by the end of the regular season. Playing a lot with Phillipe Dupuis (CLB) and Adam Pineault (CLB) has allowed Goulet to develop his scoring ability.

“He’s the triggerman on that line and that’s a role he likes,” said one area scout. “I’d like to see him get more involved instead of just putting himself in a position to be the triggerman all the time when he could be learning the things he’ll need to in order to become a good pro. He’s playing well without the puck and finding areas to make himself available and he goes to the net better than he did.”

Still, for all the improvements there are still things Goulet needs to improve on before graduating to the next level.

“To be a player, his skating is going to have to get better and he still needs to get stronger although he’s gotten better there,” one scout critiqued. “He needs to finish hits better.”

19. (NR) Fredrik Pettersson, LW/C – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Draft: 5th Round, 157th 2005 Grade: 7D Projection: Energy forward with offensive upside

Oiler prospect Fredrik Pettersson has quickly become a fan favorite in Calgary, something that when said out loud just has an odd ring to it. However, the 5’10 18-year-old Swede has connected with the fans in Alberta’s second city thanks to his inspiring play with the Hitmen of the WHL.

Pettersson jumped out of the blocks and quickly became an offensive leader for the Hitmen before eventually coming back down to Earth thanks to some minor injuries and bouts with the flu. His 21 goals are second on the team while his 41 points is good enough for third on the team in scoring.

“If it wasn’t for size, he would be a blue chip prospect because he gives you everything he’s got every night,” said Prendergast. “He finds ways to get things done, he’s a pest and he’s got drive. He’s a guy that coaches love because the way that he plays he’s not intimidated by size at all, he’s got grit and he’s got 20 goals.”

Pettersson played in the 2006 World Junior Championships for Sweden and he finished fourth in team scoring and led the club in penalty minutes. The feisty winger was one of the more eye-catching Swedes in the tournament according to some scouts. But will a player his size be able to survive at the highest level?

“It’s going to have to be a special situation for Freddie to make it to the NHL,” cautioned Prendergast. “But he’s a special kid so you never know.”

20. (NR) Alexei Mikhnov, LW – 23 – Yaroslavl Lokomotiv (RSL)
Draft: 1st Round, 17th 2000 Grade: 7D Projection: Power Forward

After an excellent performance at the Karjala Cup in Finland where a handful of Oiler scouts watched and were very taken with what they saw, there is a very real possibility that Mikhnov is not out of the picture just yet. For many of the current scouting staff, it was their first opportunity to see Mikhnov in live game action and they were impressed.

“’Tractor Boy’ as you guys call him,” laughed Brad Davis as he referenced the Oiler HFBoards community’s nickname for Mikhnov. “He was the best player in the game against Sweden but the goalie was named as the game star and then the next night he was the game star and he was by far the best player on the ice.”

One watcher went so far as to call Mikhnov the best player at the entire tournament and said the Ukrainian’s abilities were extremely impressive.

“My job is an opinion and talent-wise, strength-wise, use of his body, he has such a good stick and he uses his body to get in the way and protect the puck, he is so able to play over here (NHL) but you have to light a bit of a fire under the kid because he doesn’t go all the time,” one scout told Hockey’s Future. When told about the top 20 ranking, he added, “Should he be in the top 20? Without a doubt he should be, without a doubt he should be in the top 5 skill-wise. Ability-wise he can play, there’s no doubt that he can play. The question is will he work hard enough and skate hard enough to play hockey in the NHL for a whole season or a career? I don’t know that anyone can say that for certain about anybody until they give it a try.”

The Oilers do not have to bring Mikhnov over this summer to prevent losing him to free agency like other pre-2003 European draft picks because the Russian Federation still has not signed the IIHF/NHL agreement. If the money is in the budget though, the possibility of seeing Mikhnov in Edmonton next fall is better than ever before.

“From what we understand from talking with his agent in Russia, he’s interested in coming over,” Prendergast told HF very recently. “He’s been through the gamut of the Russian league and I think when he came over a couple of years ago and got a sniff of what it’s all about here, I think he feels it’s finally time to come over and play.”

It’s not the first time fans have heard that and until they finally lay eyes on him in an Oiler uniform, some will never believe Mikhnov will play a day in the NHL. Can they pry him out of Russia if there is a chance that he won’t play in the NHL? Can the Oilers offer him a NHL contract with an escape-back-to-Europe clause in case he doesn’t make the team out of camp?

“That’s something that we’d explore but having watched him play myself over there a couple of weeks ago,” replied Prendergast, “I don’t have any qualms that he’s not ready to play in the NHL.”

Missing the Cut

Two players who slid out of the top 20 this time around are forwards Zack Stortini and Liam Reddox. Stortini has struggled in his first professional year having begun the campaign in Iowa before being transferred to Milwaukee in order to get more playing time. The reasons for his difficulty in adjustment are likely twofold according to one scout.

“He’s struggling to learn what his role is going to be as a pro,” the scout began. “He was the wheel in Sudbury, he could kind of run amok and do whatever he wanted and he could score whenever he wanted to because he was bigger than everyone else. He’s not going to be that guy in the NHL, he’s going to be a low line grinder, physical, cycle the puck and play eight minutes a game and he hasn’t gotten that through his head yet. He needs to grow up a bit and realize what he needs to do to make it.”

It should also be pointed out that this is the first year that Stortini has lived away from his home in Sudbury where he played his junior career. That alone would be a major adjustment that could affect his on-ice performance.

In Peterborough where the Petes are a powerhouse club and one of the favorites to represent the OHL at the Memorial Cup, Reddox has been an underachiever. For a 20-year-old player that is surrounded by talented linemates at every turn, most scouts tell Hockey’s Future that Reddox has been a major disappointment this year. While it was expected that Reddox would push the 100-point plateau he has instead reverted back to his rookie pace of a point per game which sounds fine, but is well off the predictions. After seasons of 31 and 36 goals, Reddox has just 18 this year.

Kamloops defender Roman Tesliuk has put together what appears like a good season when one looks solely at statistics. He has equalled, not surpassed, his 2004-05 numbers but increased his goal totals from that season from 9 to 14. However, those that have followed him this year have noticed that outside of his big booming shot on the power play, Tesliuk has gotten away from using all of the things that got him drafted and struggles to make an impact in most games.

“All he wants to do still is shoot that puck with that big thing he uses,” said one scout referring to the stick that by all accounts is way too long. “He could get a hooking penalty from a zone away!”

Last Chance

There are a couple Oiler players now entering their final stretch in regards to the requirements of being a prospect under HF’s guidelines. Twenty-four-year-olds Brad Winchester and Jason Platt will be dropped from the listing in August while others such as Dan Baum, Eddie Caron, Ivan Koltsov, Tomas Micka and Patrick Murphy are all impending free agents who will likely not be tendered contract offers. Baum and Murphy may receive camp invites that represent their last chance to show they deserve to be members of the Edmonton Oilers organization.

Johan Nilsson contributed to this article. Comment on this story at the Oilers section of the Hockey’s Future Message Boards. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.