Thanks for joining us for our December 31-in-31 series! Every day this month we will be taking a look at each team and diving into their prospect depth charts, risers and fallers, graduating prospects, and top 20 prospects in the system.
After a successful regular season last year in which the Oilers appeared to be taking a step in the right direction, the team followed it up with a lacklustre and uninspired play in series where they lost to a Chicago Blackhawks that was last in the Central Division. So the question on everyone’s mind is, how does the team now compare to the team then? Let’s quickly dive into that to start and if you would like a more complete breakdown you can find it in our November 31 in 31 Oilers article.
Let’s start with the forwards as this is where the biggest changes were made. Ken Holland did a fantastic job of filling holes with very little cap this offseason and the additions of Kahun, Turris and Puljujarvi will definitely help with the team’s lack of secondary scoring. Resigning Edmonton native and deadline acquisition Tyler Ennis to a one by one contract after a 43-points pace last year was a crafty move no doubt. The players lost from the lineup are Andreas Athanasiou who never really fit in during his short stint in Edmonton and Riley Sheahan who although he was a key part of Edmonton’s excellent penalty kill, is not exactly an irreplaceable player. There were rumours that both players asked for too much money and based on both still being free agents when this article was written, those rumours could very well be true.
For rookie forwards, Tyler Benson could see time with the big club if injuries occur but I would not expect a major impact from him. Benson has given some fans Anton Lander vibes with his strong AHL production, average skating and master of nothing skill set. Hopefully, Benson can do what Lander could not and become an NHL’er full time. Ryan McLeod might be a long shot to play on the club this season but if he takes strong steps forward this year there is potential for a call-up due to injuries.
“What about the defence?” you may ask. Well, do not be surprised if there are some rough patches this year. With Oscar Klefbom potentially missing the entire season, newly signed defender Tyson Barrie will be labelled as his replacement. Klefbom is a more well-rounded player and more reliable in his own end but he does not have the puck moving and offensive abilities of Barrie. Edmonton has been desperate for offensive defensemen for years but someone will need to pick up the slack defensively. Youngsters Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones took big steps forward last year and will likely be asked to play major roles for the team this year. Kris Russell resigned as this year was set to be his last season with the team. This new contract is likely bait for Seattle. At this point, everyone should know what to expect From Adam Larsson and Darnell Nurse, the latter of which could still improve and find more consistency.
Evan Bouchard has the upside Edmonton fans want but he will need to earn his spot and beat out players like Russell, Jones and prospect William Lagesson who is a steady defender that has not looked out of place in his time in the NHL. 26-year-old Swedish free agent signing Theodor Lennström has not played any games in North America but may get some looks in camp also.
The Oilers’ last line of defence will once again be the duo of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith. Is this the optimum tandem for success? Not at all. Are some Oiler fans upset about the resigning of Mike Smith? Yes they are. The team could not afford to go after a big fish goalie and I’m sorry but Henrik Lundqvist was not coming to Edmonton. Lundqvist’s and Smith’s numbers are very similar the last five years, they are the same age and they for the same amount of money this Summer (yes Smith has more potential bonus money). I guess there is an argument to be made that Aaron Dell got a little less than Smith and is likely an equivalent option but if Dell vs Smith is your biggest concern then we have bigger problems on our hands.
I would be surprised if any rookie goaltenders suited up for Edmonton this year but then again, crazier things have happened when injuries occur.
Overall, the team is deeper offensively this year but might be even shakier in their own end than they were last year. With the exception of maybe Evan Bouchard, I would not expect any significant rookie impacts on the big club this season. But with that being said, young players Kailer Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi, Bear and Jones will all be given the opportunity to play significant roles for the Oilers. It is anyone’s guess how Puljujarvi will perform this time around and Yamamoto will be hard-pressed to match his 26 points in 27 games last year but he will likely be given the chance to be Leon Draisaitl’s right-winger again this season. The left side of that trio should be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins but he was pulled off that line for the play-in series to try and get Connor Mcdavid better wingers. Note to self, if your best line is the one that Mcdavid is NOT on then leave it alone and challenge opposing coaches to make the decision on whether to put their best defenders out against your top line or against Mcdavid. Now there is talk that Dominik Kahun might replace Nugent-Hopkins-Hopkins on Draisaitl’s line. Personally, I find it silly to tear apart one of the league’s best lines last year just because two players share the same nationality but I digress.
That is enough of that, now let us dive into some prospects info!
Ethan Bear – Consistently played in Edmonton’s top-four last season and lead all rookies in the league in minutes. If he takes another step forward like he did last season, then watch out!
Raphaël Lavoie – After four years in the QMJHL, Lavoie has already turned pro this season as he was loaned to Väsby IK of the Allsvenskan in Sweden. At the time of this article, he has recorded 11 goals (third in the league) and 17 points (top 20) in 23 games. He also leads his team in goals and is tied for the lead in points.
Philip Kemp – With three seasons with Yale of the NCAA under his belt, on November 25th, Kemp opted to turn pro as he signed his three-year entry-level contract with the team. Like Lavoie, the young defender has been loaned to Väsby and has one assist in three games.
Kailer Yamamoto – It is tempting to graduate this player but we need a bigger sample size first. His 26 points in 27 games last year is obviously outstanding and while he did look great, he did play most of that time with the league leader in points, Leon Draisaitl. He also followed up his strong season by going pointless in four play-in series games which is not a big concern in my opinion but should give pause. I like to be cautious when a player produces at a better rate in the NHL than they did in the AHL but hey so did Leon Draisaitl!
Caleb Jones – He was expected to challenge for a spot on the team last year in camp but was disappointing and was ultimately leapfrogged by Ethan Bear. The setback did not stop him though. He recorded 11 points in 14 games in the AHL and then did not look out of place in the NHL while recording nine points in 43 games. He can play both sides and looked to have surpassed Kris Russell and the recently departed Matt Benning. He possesses a well-rounded skill-set and could be a top-four defender in the future.
Jesse Puljujärvi – Time to see what this kid can really do. His hips are repaired, he was a top producer in the Liiga last year and he will be given every opportunity to be a top-nine forward on the Oilers. I hope he comes into camp with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.
Carter Savoie – Look, I know Edmonton just drafted him 100th overall a couple of months ago but let’s take a second to appreciate his start to his NCAA career with Denver. In four games, the freshman forward has recorded five goals and six points. Yes, I know that his production likely is not sustainable and I am well aware of his flaws (weak defensively, not a great skater for his size) but let’s give credit where it is due!
Cooper Marody – When you record 64 points in 58 games as an AHL rookie and also play in six NHL games in the same season, expectations will be high. Unfortunately, Marody followed up that campaign with an injury-filled season and just 17 points in 30 games for the Condors. The forward prospect will turn 24 this month and will need to bounce back in order to be resigned when his contract expires after this season. In my opinion, it is time to buckle down and focus on improving his skating and becoming an NHL’er as opposed to releasing more country songs on iTunes in the off-seasons.
Kirill Maximov– After recording 40 goals and 79 points in 63 games in his final season in the OHL, Oiler fans were hoping that they had a future top-six goal scorer in the system. Unfortunately, in his first AHL season, the young Russian recorded an underwhelming five goals and 13 points in 53 games for the Condors. He is currently on loan in the KHL where he has recorded two points in 11 games and has also recorded eight points in nine VHL games. Obviously, it is too early to write off the 21-year-old but his production last season does not exactly instill confidence. Time will tell.
Dylan Wells– The Condors lost starting netminder Shane Starrett early in the season last year and it was expected that Stuart Skinner and Dylan Wells would compete for the starting job. Wells ultimately lost that battle and played in just seven AHL games recording a poor 3.71 goals-against average and 0.878 sv% in those games. His stats in the ECHL were even worse so let’s just leave it at that. This is the last season of his contract and he will need to at least post respectable numbers to be considered for a new contract.
Joe Gambardella– He turned 27-years-old earlier this month and had a major statistical regression last year in Bakersfield. The year prior, Gambardella was a consistent scorer for the Condors and suited up in 15 NHL games. His contract expires after this season so he will need to bounce back in order to be resigned even as an AHL veteran option.
Prospect Depth Chart
*Note that these depth charts are not ranked based on talent/upside but rather NHL readiness
Top 20 Fantasy Prospects
Thanks for reading! Agree or disagree with something I’ve said? Feel free to leave a comment or question! You can also find me on Twitter @JamesonEwasiuk. DM’s are open. Stay safe and here’s to World Junior hockey in December and the NHL back in January!