The Edmonton Oilers current prospect list rivals any in the team's history. The summer 1979, 1980 and 1981 lists would have been other-worldly, but after that I'm confident this group trumps all others. At the top there are three (three!) strong Calder candidates, followed by some big forwards and a few large defenders. The organization is going bigger again, but these are not the Coke Machines your older brother fell asleep watching. These young men are hockey players.
Gone from last summer's list: #3 Riley Nash (traded); #11 Milan Kytnar (stayed in junior and did not dominate at age 20); #13 Philippe Cornet (bumped off a deep list); #15 Jeff Deslauriers (graduated to the NHL); #18 Cody Wild (traded to Boston); #20 Rob Schremp (lost on waivers to the Islanders).
- L Taylor Hall: The Oilers first ever #1 overall selection goes to the top of the list. His Desjardins NHLE (17-29-46) is in the range with Steven Stamkos (23-19-42) and John Tavares (25-21-46). I think the Desjardins' numbers for Hall are a reasonable expectation, but would say there's a chance he blows that out of the water if he gets to play with good NHL players and against the soft parade. Extended PP time will also help. My guess is that he'll be a Calder finalist if he can survive the first few weeks and manage to post some offense. This is not a 30th place team when healthy, and should he manage playing time with men like Hemsky, Penner and Gagner he'll deliver some impressive results.
- L Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson: Hall's selection could block his way to the NHL for this season, but the long range forecast is very strong. The Oilers are so poor at LW my guess is that MPS also makes the team and in fact if Hall plays center they could be linemates. We should remember though that Tambellini sent Eberle to the minors last season after he signed and the team is very much interested in making certain these kids are ready. His Desjardins NHLE (16-22-38)--considering the league he played in last year--make him the most NHL ready player in the system.
- R Jordan Eberle: The third member of the "Calder group", it is sometimes easy to forget how much skill this kid is bringing to the show. That would be a mistake. His NHLE (22-24-46), while not as impressive as Hall's (Eberle was 19, Hall 17) does tell us that Eberle probably has enough offense now to pass men like Nilsson on the depth chart. He is somewhat at the mercy of the organization because if they can't move out bodies (and then decide to keep O'Sullivan, as an example) that will impact his ETA. A wonderful talent, would rank #1 on this list in most seasons.
- C Tyler Pitlick: Oilers fans should consider Pitlick a second 1st round draft pick, as most lists had him going in the top 30. A wide range of skills (size, speed, skill, grit, plus shot) elevate him to top 5 status. Stu MacGregor: "Who does he compare with in the NHL? Geez, I'm not good at that ... maybe (David) Backes a bit. He's a very good two-way centreman, a very hard shot. Strong on the puck." He'll play in Medicine Hat next season and I think the Oilers will be very patient with him.
- C Chris Vande Velde: 6.02, 210, plays center and routinely rips off 55%+ numbers in the faceoff circle. His offensive ability (NHLE 13-21-34) suggests he may have the ability to play on a skill line in the NHL someday. Vande Velde got a taste of AHL hockey in the spring (2gp 0-1-1 +1) and will probably spend at least one full season in the minors before coming to the NHL.
- D Theo Peckham: Sometimes in life opportunity knocks and man I hope this kid answers the door. When healthy and fit, he's a strong, tough defender with a mean streak and a willingness to drop the gloves. Tom Renney has mentioned him in the last week as a player he's excited about seeing at training camp in the fall. Injury and conditioning issues have been a problem, but the Oilers badly need developing defenseman and he is the best of the group.
- L Linus Omark: And here we have the other side of the opportunity coin. Omark has terrific skills (NHLE: 20-15-35) and has played in both the SEL and KHL; he's 23 and has been playing a man's game for years. The problem is that he's another small forward, and the Oilers have so many of this player type it may be easy for him to get lost in the shuffle. Omark needs to arrive at training camp and do something extraordinary. I think I'd tell him to do something crazy in pre-season against the Flames. Cheap shot Regehr, something like that. Get noticed early, young man. It'll be key.
- C Anton Lander: The more we find out about this player the more we like him. Already a responsible center, it is clear he is a leader and someone the coach counts on based on TOI totals and how he is used in the game (at a very young age). He won't be a factor in the fall race for a roster spot, but someday soon this young man will arrive and when gets here he's going to help win hockey games. NHLE: 9-12-21.
- D Martin Marincin: Huge defenseman (6.04, 187 at 18) with good footspeed, positioning and intelligence. The organization loves his size (impressive wingspan) and the fact that he has competed on the international stage so often at a young age. Stu MacGregor: "We might put him in the American Hockey League; we're wondering if he can make that jump. He was the captain of the Slovaks under-18 team, then moved up and played in the (under-20) worlds." If not, he'll likely play in the WHL. Marincin could be a very good NHL defenseman when all is said and done, he certainly has the skill set.
- G Devan Dubnyk: He showed well in a late season run with the Oilers (he had a .912SP in his final 10 games with the Oilers). He also had a .915SP in Springfield on a team that apparently played blindfolded in front of him, so I'd say he has made great gains in the last season. It may not be enough, as the organization will have to unload one of their young goalies or risk waivers in the fall.
- D Alex Plante: Made big strides this season and is certainly part of the future. His pro debut was the most impressive in the entire system. Injuries and callups forced Plante up the depth chart and he played well, so well in fact the club rewarded him with a call to the show (4gp, +1) last season. He's in a position now to play well in Okla City and be one of the first callups when injuries occur. Alex Plante is not an NHL defenseman yet, but the light has turned on and he's trending well.
- D Jeff Petry: His NHLE (82gp, 4-22-26) makes him (once again) the strongest offensive defenseman in the system and his wider range of skills gives us some hope for a more complete defender than someone like Chorney (Petry is 4 inches and 20 pounds bigger than Chorney). Petry's -10 in 8 AHL games to close the season once again gives us pause in regard to rushing college defensemen to the show, and I believe the organization will be very patient with him. A full season in the minors would probably be the best thing for Petry's development.
- L Teemu Hartikainen: His NHLE (82gp, 12-14-26) tells us he projects as more of a role player than Vande Velde. He is a little sluggish as a skater but has good size and I think enough offense to impact the AHL and get a long look when his NHL opportunity comes along. His size and strength make him an ideal prospect for the new Oilers, who are going to have skill on 2 lines and size/grit on the 3-4 units.
- C Ryan Martindale: Has good size (6.03, 183) and plenty of skill (his Desjardins NHLE is 8-16-24) but scouts worry about his work ethic. When the Oilers took him yesterday I was down on the selection, but after reviewing the draft it looks to me as though the team was getting near the end of the bigger, skilled C's and MacGregor/staff "saw him good." He scored at near a point-per-game clip in a very good league and that has value. An older prospect, he turns 19 in late October.
- L Curtis Hamilton: 6.02, 211 and has some skill. Regular poster Smarmy Boss: Hamilton played on the Blades top six for the most part. He's not a coke machine--he can score and he was a touted first rounder. Got injured in the WHL vs Russia game and missed the top prospects game due to that injury. Recovered from a second break just in time for the playoffs and played really well without much in the way of rust. A blatant hit from behind in the Brandon series seperated his shoulder and put an end to a disappointing injury filled season. He is ranked below Martindale only because of injury concerns, I like him much better as a prospect. I think Smarmy's point about being an actual player with size (as opposed to a Coke Machine) rings true and was a big part of the Oilers draft list this season.
- G Olivier Roy: An impressive QMJHL season (his .908 SP was 5th among regulars in the Q) added to a solid resume make him the next great hope for an Oiler picked goalie to have an impact in the show. He's done everything right since draft day, including shaking off a slow start to have a strong season. As an aside, I like what the Oilers are doing under MBS with goalies: one pick a year, somewhere in the bowels of the draft pool. They only need to get lucky once, and they may have done it with this fellow.
- D Johan Motin: Motin made his pro debut and performed well. His numbers (he's not an offensive defender) are rock solid in the AHL (55gp, 1-5-6 -5 on a terrible team) and he would rank higher if there was any evidence he played against tough competition in the minors. I think he is the type of player who will improve over the next couple of seasons as he adjusts to the length of the season and the physical wear and tear. He is exactly the player-type this organization needs at this time, but something tells me he's a fair distance from Plante in terms of NHL readiness. It'll take some time.
- D Taylor Chorney: Among the reasons KP was fired, surely "the poor performance of his NCAA selections" has to be on the list. Although Matt Greene worked out fine, names like Colin McDonald and Taylor Chorney have not developed as was hoped on their draft day. I know he looks like a player (wonderful skater) but there should be real concern about this player as a defenseman. He's not strong enough, he's not going to have a chance to gain the experience needed at this level before getting passed by other defensemen, and he isn't going to have much trade value if he posts another similar season. I'm pulling for the kid, but they need to send him to Okla City and start his minor league career over again. He's still young enough, but for heaven's sake get him some help.
- D Jeremie Blain: Honestly, I had no plans to include him on this list, but a few things made me do it. First of all, he was among the better offensive players for his QMJHL team (4th overall in scoring, 2nd in assists), plus he was -22 on a team that was 78 goals in the red overall (I don't know their EV numbers). This may be a case of good old fashioned scouting, seeing a kid turn the corner in his draft year and then putting pedal to the metal. Backing up this train of thought is this item from Hockey's Future: Blain continues to play a lot of minutes for the Titans, top four plus PP and PK. He currently has 3 goals and 27 assists in 49 games. He looks bigger and stronger than in earlier viewings. He battles and competes well. There is more upside here than first thought.
- R Toni Rajala. His NHLE (82gp, 11-15-26) is in the "tweener" range and there's a very good chance he'll be much less than we're hoping for based on how good he looked on televison. His season just wasn't that impressive. Maybe he had a tough time adjusting or didn't get the playing time that other prospects received, but the math says he's a long shot.
Outside looking in: D Troy Hesketh. He's miles away but did progress as a player in high school and he's going to blue factory Wisconsin some day. He suffered a torn labrum and could miss 5 months. He'll play for Fargo (USHL) in the fall before beginning his NCAA career in 2011 fall.
Outside looking in: L Phil Cornet. His NHLE (10-17-27) is about equal to Rajala but he's about to turn pro and looks like a tweener. His minor league career begins at a time when the Oilers are very interested in building a better AHL club, which may mean a full season in the ECHL for Cornet. No crime in that, but it keeps him out of the top 20 this summer.
Other candidates considered: D Kyle Bigos (a solid year in the NCAA); C Milan Kytnar (has a wider range of skills than some on the top 20); Ryan Stone (UFA and may not be signed, otherwise he'd be on this list); Josef Hrabal, who is still playing in good European leagues. I did consider all of the players chosen yesterday, but it is hard to slot them until we've had a chance to follow their progress. There are always a few surprises by Christmas.
Outstanding list. There may be other NHL teams will richer, deeper prospect lists but they are few, far between and do not exist in the NW division. It is a long way back, but this list tells us the Edmonton Oilers are headed in the right direction.