Oilers 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 Edmonton scouts and management as well as various sources from around the leagues were collected over the last few months and while they appear in this project, they were not necessarily given for it at the time.

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.

Top 20 at a Glance

1.Rob Schremp, C – 20
2.Ladislav Smid, D – 20
3.Andrew Cogliano, C – 19
4.Marc-Antoine Pouliot, C – 21
5.Matt Greene, D – 23
6.Alexei Mikhnov, LW – 23
7.Jean-Francois Jacques, LW
8.Devan Dubnyk, G – 20
9.Viatcheslav Trukhno, LW/C – 19
10.Taylor Chorney, D – 19
11.Colin McDonald, RW – 22
12.Tom Gilbert, D – 23
13.Jeff Petry, D – 18
14.Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, G – 22
15.Patrick Thoresen, C – 22
16.Bryan Young, D – 20
17.Kyle Brodziak, C – 22
18.Geoff Paukovich, C – 20
19.Fredrik Pettersson, LW/C – 19
20.Dragan Umicevic, LW – 21

The Top 20 is based on peak potential and projected long-term impact on the organization and is not a reflection of who is closest to making the NHL. Players are assigned an individual grade (HF Prospect Rating) based on comments from both inside and outside the organization. Other factors that help determine ranking order to varying degrees include: player age, draft position, current league and team quality, location (North America or Europe) and foreseeable opportunity. Players are removed from the prospect list according to the HF Prospect Criteria.

Key: Current Rank, (previous rank), Name, position, age
Draft Position, Grade

1. (1) Rob Schremp, C – 20
Draft: 1st Round, 25th overall, 2004 Grade: 8B

After netting 145 points with the London Knights in 2005-06, including 57 goals in 57games, Rob Schremp is one of the premiere talents turning pro this year. Schremp is the top offensive player the club owns who is not yet on the roster and regardless of whether he spends 2006-07 as an Oiler or somewhere in the AHL, he’s considered a high-end prospect. On his resume are a Memorial Cup Championship, the 2005-06 OHL scoring title and two appearances at the World Junior Championships.

Strengths: World-class puck control and passing abilities set Schremp apart from most players his age, but he obviously knows how to find the back of the net too. Schremp is at home on the power play, has improved his defensive reliability and having regularly played over 35 minutes a night in London, there is little question about Schremp’s conditioning.

“Having seen Robbie in the playoffs,” commented one Oiler scout, “he’s definitely gotten stronger and his body is becoming muscularly defined.”

Schremp is a team player and as the last player cut from the 2005 training camp, he also has the respect from head coach Craig MacTavish as well as the veterans of the team.

Weaknesses: The knock on Schremp has been his average skating and that continues to be his biggest challenge. Despite repeated training sessions in Regina under instructor Liane Davis, Schremp tends to revert back to his old wide stance that prevents him from generating efficient power strides. (Schremp did not venture to Regina this summer). However, average skating didn’t keep some of the NHL’s top players out of the league and it likely won’t stop Schremp either.

The ‘class-clown’ exuberance Schremp displays during practices and training camps led one scout to comment, “Rob’s never met a camera or a microphone he didn’t like.” Schremp has also displayed a short fuse that has gotten him in trouble at the junior level. Maturity will eliminate these concerns in due time.

2006-07 Projection: Don’t be surprised if the dynamic forward spends the coming year in the AHL, though the team is uncertain as the Oilers currently lack an affiliation. Former teammate Patrick O’Sullivan (LA) is an example of a similar player that benefited from a year on the farm. That said, the organization wouldn’t be afraid to play Schremp this year if he is clearly ready.

2. (NR) Ladislav Smid, D – 20
Draft: 1st Round, 9th 2004 Grade: 8B

The Oilers search for a premier defensive prospect ended when GM Kevin Lowe was forced to move veteran Chris Pronger. Acquired in the trade from Anaheim were sniper Joffrey Lupul, as many as three high draft picks and 20-year-old Czech rearguard Ladislav Smid.

In 2004, the Oilers considered Smid to rival Cam Barker (CHI) and Andrej Meszaros (OTT) as the top blueliner available in the draft, but had no chance of selecting him after he was scooped up by Anaheim with the ninth overall pick.

Smid has made three appearances at the WJCs for the Czech Republic, an uncommon feat. Last year as a 19-year-old the 6’3, 204 lbs defenseman played for the AHL Portland Pirates and collected 28 points in 71 regular season games en route to the Calder Cup semi-finals.

Strengths: Smid is an exceptionally well-rounded defenseman with a calm demeanor. He makes strong outlet passes, and in the offensive zone he can move the puck around smartly and can quarterback a power play. Skating is an obvious talent for Smid; his mobility enables him to recover from the occasional error.

Weaknesses: Like the vast majority of players his age, Smid will benefit by adding strength and muscle to his tall frame. The one aspect of the game that Smid is not accomplished at is physical contact; despite his above average size, he is not noted for being a hitter.

2006-07 Projection: There are openings on Edmonton’s blueline at training camp and Smid is expected to earn one of them. Having three years of pro experience behind him already, he isn’t as green as most 20-year-olds.

3. (2) Andrew Cogliano, C – 19
Draft: 1st Round, 25th 2005 Grade: 8C

Don’t be surprised to see Michigan forward Andrew Cogliano even higher on the rankings next August. The sophomore Wolverine drew rave reviews at the recent Oilers prospect camp and summer training session with the Canadian World Junior team.

Strengths: Cogliano’s most obvious asset is his incredible acceleration and top-end speed. Not only is he one of the fastest skaters the organization has ever had, but also his hands are able to keep up with his feet, allowing him to operate at full speed. With an uncanny ability to get the puck to any open man, Cogliano has shown higher playmaking skills than goal scoring although the latter isn’t lacking by any means.

“He makes NHL type passes by using his speed and forcing defensemen to pay more attention to him so he can find the open guy,” described one scout.

Weaknesses: Cogliano will need to improve his strength in preparation for the next level. Cogliano’s off-season endurance was clearly not up to par at the prospect camp where he was seen cramping up the first few days but there were few players as muscularly defined.

“His weakness would be his willingness to take it to the net,” described one Oiler onlooker. “He just needs to be a little bit more selfish; instead of looking to set up guys all the time he sometimes has to just put his shoulder down, use his speed and drive to the net.”

2006-07 Projection: With several key players leaving Michigan and Trevor Lewis (LA), their top recruit, headed to the OHL, expect Cogliano to be a go-to guy for the Wolverines. In December, Cogliano will play in his second WJC.

4. (3) Marc-Antoine Pouliot, C – 21
Draft: 1st Round, 22nd 2003 Grade: 7.5B

MacTavish admitted that he underestimated Marc-Antoine Pouliot at last year’s training camp, but it was his March performance with the Oilers that has many expecting to see the former Rimouski captain sticking with the team in 2006-07.

“The progression he has made over the last year by turning pro, starting slow, playing very well then coming to the NHL and fitting in, it’s just the tip of the iceberg of what he can bring,” said one Edmonton scout. “He’s done nothing but impress a lot of people this past year.”

After leading the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs in scoring and being named the team MVP, Pouliot is good position going into camp, but some will argue that another year on the farm might be better for his long-term development.

“He has a shot at playing but you have to ask ‘would he better served being a leader and getting his offense going in the AHL or by playing on the fourth line and practicing with NHL players?’” one Edmonton source stated.

Strengths: Like current Oiler Shawn Horcoff, Pouliot is well rounded in all aspects of the game and may ultimately surpass expectations placed on him. Pouliot is an excellent complimentary player to a true high-end talent; his playmaking and finishing abilities seem to be on par with each other and because he is defensively sound he can fulfill many roles.

Weaknesses: One word: experience. “I don’t see a lot of weak areas to him, I just think he needs to play a lot more,” one scout advised. “In all fairness to him he’s been hampered with injuries and illness and so he lacks experience from missing a lot of games. He missed two big chunks of development in junior due to injury and that probably set him back about six months from where he could be.”

2006-07 Projection: Like Schremp, Pouliot will force Edmonton into making a tough decision at the end of training camp. With the recent signing of Petr Sykora and the expected arrival of Alexei Mikhnov, there are fewer spots left open, but the way Pouliot ended 2005-06 likely gives him an edge.

5. (5) Matt Greene, D – 23
Draft: 2nd Round, 44th 2002 Grade: 7A

Appearing on the top 20 ranking for the final time is Oiler defenseman Matt Greene. With 27 regular season games under his belt, the former North Dakota captain has established himself as one of Edmonton’s top 5 blueliners and may begin the year even higher on the depth chart. Greene’s first year pro featured a 26-game stint with Iowa and was capped off by a run to the Stanley Cup finals.

“We’ve just seen Matt Greene evolve into the player that he’s going to be for a lot of years,” smiled one Oiler scout.

Strengths: At 6’3 and 223 lbs the Michigan native is currently the biggest and most powerful player on Edmonton’s roster. Greene is also likely the best hitter on the team next to captain Jason Smith. The rookie showed more confidence with passing or skating the puck than was expected and also displayed a keen knack for learning from his mistakes and taking guidance from the Oiler veterans.

Weaknesses: Depending on who you ask, Greene is either undisciplined or a victim of being a rookie. There was definitely a learning curve for Greene before he figured out exactly what the limitations were on his physical play.

“He struggled with penalties, but it wouldn’t be an Oiler game if Matt Greene didn’t go to the box once a game,” laughed scout Chris McCarthy. “As he grows older and plays more, he’ll learn and he showed a lot of people this year that he’s more than capable of handling the NHL.”

2006-07 Projection: There is no doubt that Greene begins the year with the big club. The bigger question is who he will be partnered with and how many minutes the coaches feel Greene is ready to take on. Greene should be firmly entrenched as a top 4 defenseman by the end of the year.

6. (20) Alexei Mikhnov, LW – 23
Draft: 1st Round, 17th 2000 Grade: 7B

The saga of Alexei Mikhnov has been exhausting, but appears headed for a happy conclusion for Oiler fans who have been anxiously awaiting the Ukrainian’s arrival. Having given Yaroslavl Lokomotiv his formal two weeks notice back in June, the Oilers believe Mikhnov is free from his RSL commitments and therefore able to negotiate directly with Edmonton.

“We don’t pretend to understand Russian labor law in and out, but that is our understanding and his understanding,” confirmed Assistant GM Scott Howson. “Now we have to work out a contract with his representative Don Meehan and we’re in the process of doing that.

“Negotiations are going fine, it’s not an overly complicated deal,” added Howson. “We think he will play on our team this year.”

The behemoth winger was impressive during international play at both the Karjala Cup in Finland and the World Championships. It was the first year in which many Oilers scouts were able to witness his performance live and all of them came away smiling.

“He’s very impressive,” commented McCarthy. “He’s a big kid who can really skate with agility and that combination could be pretty good here.”

Mikhnov’s surge up the list from the 20th position stems from the fact that at long last he appears destined for an Oilers uniform.

Strengths: With size, skating, hands and agility, Mikhnov is a complete package. Mikhnov can beat defensemen one-on-one by using his long reach to control the puck while stepping through or around a check. With terrific speed and strength, Mikhnov is very hard to knock off the puck and therefore often draws multiple opponents to him. Mikhnov can play either wing and that versatility will serve him well in Edmonton. The soon to be 24-year-old is comfortable in front of the net using his frame as a screen and positioning for rebounds.

Weaknesses: It will be a learning year for Mikhnov who will have to adapt to North American life on and off the ice. With no Russians on the big club, it could be tricky communicating with Mikhnov whose English was nonexistent two years ago. Can the Oilers keep him motivated over a much longer and demanding NHL campaign?

2006-07 Projection: Edmonton believes that Mikhnov will be in the starting line-up after training camp. He may begin the year on the fourth line, but at some point during the season he will likely get time on a top line.

7. (6) Jean-François Jacques, LW – 21
Draft: 2nd Round, 68th 2003 Grade: 6.5A

Outside of Matt Greene, no Oiler prospect’s future is clearer than that of J.F. Jacques. Jacques is very close to sticking in the NHL and will gradually slide into a role that Ethan Moreau has filled for the last several years. During his seven-game spell with the Oilers last year, the 21-year-old left a positive impression and now when Lowe talks about the future of the Oilers, Jacques’ name is one that always comes up.

“He’s going to play and he’s going to be effective,” McCarthy said simply. “He’s going to be tough and strong and with his hitting he’s absolutely going to kill guys.”

Jacques impressed enough that behind closed doors during the playoffs there were those who lobbied for him to dress against San Jose after the Sharks built up a two-game lead by dominating the Oilers physically.

Strengths: Known in the QMJHL as an aggressive forechecker who loves to lay the body, Jacques has already shown that he isn’t intimidated to do the same at the professional level. He led the Bulldogs in scoring for much of last year and also finished third on the team in penalty minutes despite being a rookie. While he won’t replace heavyweight Georges Laraque, Jacques will contribute to ‘team toughness’.

Weaknesses: Although he showed he could score at the minor league level, Jacques wasn’t able to do so in his NHL stint last year. If he is able to develop that side of his game, he will go on to have a bigger role and could eventually find time on a second line as a true power forward.

2006-07 Projection: Jacques is poised to challenge for one of the 11-14th forward jobs with the Oilers. He already has a year of pro hockey under his belt and that may put him ahead of guys like Schremp, Jonas Almtorp and Thoresen.

8. (4) Devan Dubnyk, G – 20
Draft: 1st Round, 14th 2004 Grade: 7.5C

Now ready to graduate to minor pro, Dubnyk is stuck in the same situation that Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers was in last year; without a job in the AHL. Dubnyk is more than likely headed to the ECHL, where the Oilers spin machine says he will develop nicely.

“I think if he goes to the ECHL it will be a good thing for him; the ECHL is a really good league for goalies,” said one Oiler official. “Mike Morrison had nothing but good things to say about that league because you get lots of ice time, you see a ton of shots, you get to work on technique and you get to become a workhorse by playing so much.”

Strengths: At 6’5.5, size must be seen as a natural advantage. Positioning is easier for a netminder who takes away as much of the net as Dubnyk does because when he drops to his knees his shoulders are still crossbar high.

Perhaps Dubnyk’s biggest asset is his dedication; in junior he compiled notes on shooters and studied tendencies before games as part of his preparation. Attention to detail like that speaks very highly of Dubnyk’s maturity and commitment towards the game.

Weaknesses: When he’s on his game, Dubnyk is a world-class netminder, but when he’s not, the wheels can come off quickly. Admittedly he has been caught flatfooted in the crease not expecting a shot only to see it beat him from a bad angle. Goalmouth scrambles seem to be a challenge for Dubnyk as well.

“If he makes the first save and he gets a bit out of position, he really has to come back hard the other way as opposed to a little shuffle step to get back into position,” observed McCarthy. “It’s just some fine tuning, he just needs to learn how to use his size as more of an asset.”

2006-07 Projection: Dubnyk is likely headed to the ECHL unless Edmonton can unexpectedly find him an AHL team willing to give him more than a third of the starts.

9. (9) Slava Trukhno, LW/C – 19
Draft: 4th Round, 120th 2005 Grade: 7C

As a 19-year-old in the QMJHL, Slava Trukhno totalled 96 points playing on a PEI team described by some as “horrendous”. Trukhno had 29 points more than the next closest forward on his team indicating that the Russian was by far the best player on a weak squad. Truhkno’s total surpassed Schremp’s 90 points with London and is significantly better than Alexander Radulov’s (NSH) 75 points with Quebec at the same stage of their junior careers. So why isn’t Trukhno higher on the list?

“There are still some question marks on him, not big ones, but they’re there,” stated one Oiler scout. “This will be a huge year for him getting out of PEI and going to a club (Gatineau) that’s going to be very good. You can’t say anything bad about his offensive upside and what he can do with the puck but it’s still a wait and see with what he does with this year.”

Strengths: Trukhno is an interesting blend of grit and finesse; one minute he’s hard on the forecheck and the next, creatively setting up a scoring play. Willing to stand up for his teammates and even drop the gloves if necessary, Trukhno bucks the stereotype of the selfish and soft Russian forward.

Weaknesses: “He needs to work on his defensive play,” said one Oiler scout who has followed Trukhno for the past couple years. The question is whether his request to be traded out of PEI indicates a character flaw or just a desire to get out of a hopeless situation in order to win.

2006-07 Projection: This is a huge year for Trukhno as the change to Gatineau presents him with his first chance to be a part of a strong team and play with other talented prospects. The Oilers need to sign Trukhno before June 1, 2007 and Scott Howson described signing him earlier in the season as was done with Schremp as “a possibility”.

10. (7) Taylor Chorney, D – 19
Draft: 2nd Round, 36th 2005 Grade: 7C

The organization’s second best blueline prospect behind Smid, Chorney had a noteworthy freshman year at North Dakota and also played for Team USA at the 2006 WJCs. Although behind Tom Gilbert in age and development, Chorney ranks higher on the list based on his upside or as one scout put it, “Gilbert is a good player who is going to get better. Chorney is a good player who is going to get a lot better.”

Chorney spent the first part of August in Lake Placid for team USA’s summer evaluation camp preparing for the 2007 tournament.

Strengths: Like Smid, Chorney is a solid puck-moving defenseman, but is more likely to lead a rush and contribute more offensively. A top-notch skater with terrific hockey sense, Chorney is as polished and worldly off the ice as he is on it and is already composed and mature at a young age.

Weaknesses: His defensive game isn’t bad but he can still improve it. “Instead of laying sticks on guys you have to work on your position between the man and the net,” commented one scout. “He’s going to need to be a lot stronger in his legs and his upper body in order to handle the NHL.”

2006-07 Projection: Partnered with Brian Lee (OTT), Chorney should be on the top defensive pairing at UND this year. Another trip to the WJCs will only help to further develop his character and maturity.

11. (10) Colin McDonald, RW – 22
Draft: 2nd Round, 51st 2003 Grade: 7C

Colin McDonald has confirmed with Hockey’s Future that he is returning to Providence for his final year with the Friars. Edmonton is very keen on McDonald, especially after his appearance at the prospect camp in June, and anticipates a big year for the 2003 second round pick.

“At the prospect camp, of all our guys who are not already under contract, he is the most NHL-ready of any of them,” suggested one Oiler scout. “He was in excellent shape, his skating was better than it was in college and I thought he looked like a pro.”

Spending his summer surrounded by NHL and minor pro players in a Boston summer league, McDonald is eyeing his senior year at Providence as a pivotal one.

“We’re going to be really good next year,” he told Hockey’s Future recently, noting that they won’t be losing key players. “I expect a lot of myself for the coming season.”

Strengths: A true power forward in that he combines offense with strong physical play, McDonald is a dedicated worker on and off the ice. Strong on his skates, hard to knock off the puck and tough in the corners, the Connecticut product is a workhorse. McDonald’s conditioning is outstanding thanks to his attention to training and nutrition during the off-season.

“I think the NHL game suits his style better than college where he won’t have to do more than he should,” explained McCarthy, referring to making up for errors by teammates. “In the NHL it’s almost an easier game; you go up and down your wing, you come across, you make simple passes and you go to the net. He can do all of those very well.

“I think he’s definitely getting better.”

Weaknesses: Although a tremendous point producer in junior, McDonald has not been able to score nearly as much in college in part due to playing in a program built around defense. He has increased his points per game each year in college, however.

“Are my points what I had hoped for? No, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not getting better,” McDonald said. “Spending the week up in Edmonton I learned that the Edmonton guys have such tremendous character and that’s what I want to try and bring; there’s more to hockey than just putting up points.”

2006-07 Projection: As a senior, McDonald will be counted on to lead by example including in the offensive zone. Setting a new personal high in goal scoring this year would go a long way in showing the Oilers that he’s still able to snipe the way he did in his draft year.

12. (14) Tom Gilbert, D – 23
Draft: 4th Round, 129th 2002 Grade: 6.5B

After a fine senior campaign with the NCAA Champion Wisconsin Badgers, Tom Gilbert is ready to begin his professional career. Gilbert will make his first trek to Northern Alberta since he played in the Viking Cup back in 2002 and it will be his first-ever participation at an Oiler training camp. After working out with the USA World Championship squad in the spring, the Oilers are anxious to see what he can do at his debut camp with them.

Strengths: Another blueliner whose biggest assets revolve around puck movement whether by passing or skating it, Gilbert set career highs for himself in goals, assists and points last year. “He’s got mobility with size; he’s a really good skater and he’s a big man that uses his stick really well in terms of getting into the passing lanes and forcing guys to bad angles,” said former development coach Geoff Ward.

Weaknesses: You would expect a player of Gilbert’s size, 6’3 206lbs, to be more physical, but the knock on him has been that when it comes to physical contact, he’s on the softer side.

2006-07 Projection: Barring an unexpected performance at training camp, Gilbert will begin the year in the American League and hope to duplicate Matt Greene’s success story from last year. He will need to adjust to the heavy playing and travel schedule compared to college where teams only play on weekends.

13. (NR) Jeff Petry, D – 18
Draft: 2nd Round, 45th 2006 Grade: 7C

The only member of Edmonton’s 2006 draft class cracking the top 20 is Des Moines rearguard Jeff Petry. It’s the first of many listings, as he’s expected to be a prospect for a long time.

“He’s a long way off. We’re just seeing the beginning of how good he can be,” said one Oiler evaluator. “He’s not going to be in the mix for a good three or four years, but he’s a good long-term project with a lot of upside.

Strengths: Petry is another big, skilled puck-moving defenseman. “He really has a knack for finding the open guy,” McCarthy said. “He’s 6’2 and has very good agility and backward skating.”

Weaknesses: At 18, there is plenty of time for him to mature physically and develop his 180 lb body. Next year he will attend Michigan State where he’ll have a lot of time in the weight room and will practice every day.

2006-07 Projection: The soft-spoken blueliner will be a leader for the Bucs this year and will get valuable leadership experience and playing time that he didn’t have at the start of last season.

14. (8) Jeff Drouin- Deslauriers, G – 22
Draft: 2nd Round, 31st 2002 Grade: 6.5C

After a wasted year in 2005-06, it is critical for the development of Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers that the goaltender gets playing time in the AHL this year. In the two years since he turned pro, JDD has only appeared in 35 AHL games, just 13 last season. Although he says the adversity will only make him sharper mentally, Drouin-Deslauriers knows he can’t afford to sit idly on the bench or in the press box anymore.

“He’s doing the best he can with what has been given to him and if there’s a positive to come out of it, his character will be that much stronger,” said a sympathetic supporter from the Oilers.

The one thing JDD does have on his side is age; at just 22 there is still plenty of time for him to get back on track, but his workload must increase this year.

Strengths: Heading into last year, JDD’s best asset was his positioning and agility. His lateral movement across the crease is excellent and he has great reflexes in his legs so the butterfly goalie has his share of great kick saves in his repertoire.

Weaknesses: JDD was still trying to improve a weak glove hand that had been exposed during the lone Edmonton Road Runners season. The biggest knock on the Quebec native was that he was too hard on himself and that he had lost any confidence that he’d had. He’ll need to regain it to salvage his career.

2006-07 Projection: “It doesn’t matter who you play for, you have to play your best and the good ones will make it,” Oiler scout Brad Davis once told Hockey’s Future and that motto is appropriate for JDD this year. It’s unknown where he’ll spend the coming season but he will undoubtedly be behind another NHL team’s prospect so he’ll have to make the most of every start he is given.

15. (NR) Patrick Thoresen, C – 22
Draft: Free Agent Grade: 6.5C

An interesting addition to the top 20 this year comes in the form of Norwegian forward Patrick Thoresen. An off-season signing by Edmonton, Thoresen is definitely playing in North America this year for either the Oilers or a minor league affiliate. His resume certainly is impressive and includes winning the league title in Norway with Storhamar as a 17-year-old, two consecutive seasons in the QMJHL with at least 30 goals, 108 points with Baie-Comeau as a 19-year-old and a top ten finish in SEL scoring last year with Djurgården.

“He was very talented in the QMJHL but it was a different time,” McCarthy said. “Once you don’t get drafted, it’s almost like you get that stigma where it’s like ‘there must be something wrong if he didn’t get drafted in his first year of eligibility.’”

Strengths: Thoresen is an aggressive skater who is opportunistic around the net. Despite his average size, the Norwegian can stand in and battle for loose pucks in the corners or in front of the net and with a quick release he’s a very handy player to have in a goal-mouth scramble.

Weaknesses: Depending on whom you ask, Thoresen’s speed ranges anywhere from decent to below average, but it’s something he’ll need to address.

2006-07 Projection: “He’s a guy that’s been a pro for a few years at an Elite level in Sweden and at the World Championships,” said one Oiler scout. “I think he’s going to challenge for a spot.” He’s an unknown quantity in North America so it’s tough to predict how close he is to playing in the NHL, which will make training camp interesting.

16. (16) Bryan Young, D – 20
Draft: 5th Round, 146th Overall 2004 Grade: 6B

Ready to make his professional debut, Bryan Young of the OHL champion Peterborough Petes is the best defensive defenseman in the organization behind Greene. As reliable as the sunrise, Young has quietly gone about establishing himself as a future fifth or sixth blueliner in the eyes of the Oilers.

Strengths: “There’s no glamor there, he’s not going to be heralded but he just goes out and does his job, busts his ass, works hard and is really hard to play against,” said one scout. Young is a punishing open-ice hitter and is vicious in the corners or in front of the net. As soft spoken as they come, Young lets his actions speak for themselves and the farm boy is a defensive anchor for his team.

Weaknesses: So far in his career, Young has not been much of an offensive contributor, but scouts say it’s not because he can’t, he just appears leery of taking the risk. “I think he’s limited offensively only because he doesn’t try to shoot the puck more or jump into the rush every once in a while,” echoed McCarthy. “He’s very concerned with his own end, being a support for his partner that he thinks that before everything else.”

2006-07 Projection: The minor leagues await the 20-year-old whether it’s in the AHL or the ECHL. Without much fanfare during his junior career, it might take a selling job from the Oilers to initially get Young onto an AHL roster.

17. (11) Kyle Brodziak, C – 22
Draft: 7th Round, 214th 2003 Grade: 6C

Alberta native Kyle Brodziak is following in the footsteps of dependable role players like Rem Murray and Marty Reasoner. It’s a pivotal season in Brodziak’s career; he must give Edmonton significant reason to extend him another contract next summer.

“He’s a role player with the upside to be a little bit more than that,” McCarthy said. “He’s already shown that he can play in the NHL. He’s got skill and he’s put up numbers but as you rise to the top tiers, the pyramid gets narrower and narrower and now he’s going up against guys who have done the same things as him in junior if not better.”

Strengths: Brodziak has carved a niche for himself as an accomplished player at the faceoff dot and his versatility in all three forward positions adds to his attractiveness for MacTavish. In his two brief stints with the Oilers in 2005-06, it was solid defensive play that helped keep Brodziak around longer than some expected.

Weaknesses: Despite a 93-point year in the WHL, Brodziak’s professional career has not been noted for offensive numbers. Brodziak’s skating, very average at best, will have to improve if he is going to play in the NHL for a sustained period of time.

2006-07 Projection: Brodziak is one of eight players who are going to challenge for the final four forward jobs with the Oilers at camp but probably isn’t one of the favorites to win one of them. “This is a year for him to [do his business] or get off the pot,” said one Oiler source. “He’s got to have a year that draws attention.”

18. (13) Geoff Paukovich, C – 20
Draft: 2nd Round, 57th 2004 Grade: 6C

Geoff Paukovich is now a junior at Denver where he’ll take on a much larger role than he’s had in his two previous years with the Pioneers. The 2006 WJC was a welcomed kick in the pants for Paukovich who had begun the NCAA schedule in a deep funk. The Oilers hope that Denver will give the 6’4 center an opportunity to flex his offensive muscles a bit this year as it was a part of his game they liked in his draft year.

“When we drafted him he was the USNTDP’s first line guy so he has that in him but he hasn’t been used at all in that role in Denver, not that Denver has been bad for him though,” an Oiler scout commented. “He probably hasn’t had the opportunity to develop his offensive skills in college so far but that might change this year.”

Strengths: What Denver has done for Paukovich is hone his defensive play by turning him into a respected shutdown center. Paukovich can kill penalties and take faceoffs well. With his enormous frame and his ability to physically impose his will around the net, the Denver native often scores from inside the blue paint.

Weaknesses: He definitely appears limited in his offensive abilities as a collegian but his history suggests there is more promise in that department. Speed and agility are concerns, but if he is to play purely in a defensive role they are not as big detractions.

2006-07 Projection: Paukovich has the highest profile of the three Oiler prospects attending Denver this year. If he is even considering possibly turning pro next summer, Paukovich is going to have to rebound from his sophomore jinx season and regain his rookie year form.

19. (19) Fredrik Pettersson, LW/C – 19
Draft: 5th Round, 157th 2005 Grade: 7D

Every sport has their “Rudy”, the underdog who succeeds despite having all the odds stacked against him. Freddie Pettersson is that player for Edmonton. Generously listed as 5’10 and 183 lbs, Pettersson is the antithesis of the soft-Swede stereotype. A tireless worker on and off the ice, he is the consummate team player, always encouraging his cohorts during games or practices and a player who clearly plays for the love of the game.

“He’s what you want every guy on your team to be like; he works his ass off, plays hard, he’s chippy but has an offensive touch, and he always gives 100 percent,” praised McCarthy. “He never wants the accolades for himself, he just wants to go out and help the team win. He is a winner. You just knock him down and he keeps coming back for more. Why wouldn’t you want someone like that on your team?”

Strengths: At the recent prospect camp, he was the player development coach Kelly Buchberger surprisingly came away remembering.

“I didn’t know him at all until the camp but his work ethic is hard to match,” Buchberger said. “He’s not the biggest guy on the ice but he has the biggest heart and he will not take no for an answer. He skates well and he’s got good hockey sense but what’s going to get him there is his heart and the willingness to do whatever it takes to play. He’s going to have a bright future ahead of him.”

Weaknesses: There’s that size issue, and although as a junior he is fairly productive offensively, at the next level he’ll probably be limited in what he can do as a scorer. In reality, if Pettersson were four inches taller and 15 lbs heavier he would be considered a ‘can’t miss’ prospect.

2006-07 Projection: Pettersson will return to the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL and will also captain the Swedish team at the 2007 WJCs being held back in his homeland.

20. (15) Dragan Umicevic, LW – 21
Draft: 6th Round, 184th 2003 Grade: 7D

Two years ago was a breakout year for Dragan Umicevic, but some in Edmonton feel the promising 21-year-old “took a step back last year.” For a player they consider to be a sniper, back-to-back seasons of just six goals isn’t impressive.

“Our expectations were pretty high for him because the year before he showed flashes of offensive wizardry and we thought he could be one of the top guys in the SEL but he didn’t really do that,” one scout told Hockey’s Future recently. “We’d love to have him come over here so he can be closer to us, but with no AHL team…”

Södertälje’s poor season resulted in relegation to Sweden’s tier II league and prompted Umicevic’s switch to Djurgården. Upon his arrival at his new club, the team promptly insisted that Umicevic shed as much as 25 lbs and over the course of the summer he has dropped from 216 to 196 lbs.

Strengths: Umicevic is a sniper. “If you’ve seen him shoot the puck you’d say, holy cow can this kid be a goal scorer!” said McCarthy. “His release is excellent and he can just fire it.” Swedish scouts have told Hockey’s Future though that the 21-year-old Serb is much better as a playmaker though and has terrific stickhandling and playmaking skills.

Weaknesses: If he’s such a good shooter, why has he only managed 12 goals in two years? “He misses the net a lot because he’s always looking to put it an inch under the bar and score the highlight goal that they’ll show on the news,” one Oiler scout sighed. “He’s a cocky kid who knows that he’s talented but I don’t know how good his work ethic is in my opinion and his skating is average.”

One source in Sweden suggested that Umicevic has a plethora of question marks still ahead of him.

“His defense, work-ethic, stamina and feet are still aspects he needs to improve considerably in my opinion,” he said. “Hopefully he will show some improvement this fall, since he has lost 20-24 lbs this summer.”

2006-07 Projection: Will the change in scenery be the catalyst Umicevic needs to get back on track or will his third year in the SEL reveal that his development has leveled off? A contract offer from the Oilers could be hanging in the balance as they need to sign Umicevic in the spring if they wish to keep him.

Missing the Cut

Stephane Goulet, RW – 20
Draft: 7th Round, 208th 2004 Grade: 6C

It says something about the depth of an organization when a 51-goal scorer like Stephane Goulet doesn’t crack your top 20 but that is precisely the case for the Oilers this year. The Moncton Wildcat forward will begin his pro career after a breakout season as a 20-year-old in the QMJHL. The only reason Goulet failed to reach the top 20 is the fact that until he proves that he’s not a one-year fluke, that question remains. Is his foot speed quick enough to play against men or was his final junior year an anomaly because he was one of the biggest players in the league and he was on a loaded team?

“What he’s done in junior over the last two years is really a testament to how hard he works and he does have skill,” said one Oiler scout who couldn’t resist a friendly jibe. “I’m surprised he didn’t make your top 20, he’d be on mine.”

Cody Wild, D – 18
Draft: 5th Round, 140th 2006 Grade: 6C

As a rookie at Providence College, 18-year-old Cody Wild led all Friars defensemen in scoring with 21 points, a significant achievement for a freshman. According to teammate Colin McDonald, Wild’s role at the Hockey East school is only going to get bigger this year.

“He’ll be our top guy on our power play and in all situations, killing penalties and even strength,” said McDonald. “Hopefully he’s going to lead that defensive group that we have. Even though he’s young I think he has the ability to carry them.”

McDonald speaks very highly of Wild’s performance as a rookie and describes the Rhode Island product as a key player to watch.

“He’s a really good hockey player, he’s a young kid and very offensive-minded,” said McDonald. “His game is all about instincts, whatever his gut tells him during a certain play that’s what he does. There’s not one thing he does that’s better than others, he’s just a solid all-around player and he’s young so he can only get better. When he starts realizing the importance of off-ice conditioning and nutrition, training in the weight room, he’s going to be a very good player.”

Danny Syvret, D – 20
Draft: 3rd Round, 81st 2005 Grade: 6C

Few players on the Oilers prospect list draw as wide-ranging reviews as defenseman Danny Syvret. Some think the former London Knights captain is the next Brian Leetch, while others think a long career split between the NHL and the minors is all that should be expected of Syvret.

“He’s the type of guy who’s going to get 20 games and if he puts up numbers on the power play he’ll play more, but he went through the draft two years in a row for a reason,” a scout told Hockey’s Future recently. “His development track is going up but I don’t know if his top end is all that high. He’ll always be around, he’ll always be one of the top call-up guys but I don’t think he’ll ever be in a team’s top 5.”

With Smid, Chorney, Petry, Gilbert and Wild all in the system and Marc-Andre Bergeron playing the role of diminutive offensive blueliner with the Oilers, opportunities won’t come easy.

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.