August 31-in-31: Edmonton Oilers

by jameson on August 12, 2019

 

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Welcome to the August 2019 edition of the DobberProspects 31-in-31 Series! This month, we will be diving into the depth of each organization, looking at their Top 20 prospects, risers, fallers, and recent graduates. Let’s dive in!

 

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Last season was much of the same for the Oilers, that is, finishing in the bottom 10 and having more questions than answers. Edmonton has the star power but the depth and role players left a lot to desired all season long. 
 
In the July segment we went through the Oilers’ 2019 draft results, free agency moves and Ken Holland’s relatively quiet first Summer as the General Manager of the Edmonton Oilers. 
 
What was not in our July installment was the events of July 19th. On that day Ken Holland did what most thought was impossible… he traded Milan Lucic. Lucic was sent to Calgary at 12.5% retained plus a conditional third round pick for James Neal. The conditions on the deal are that Neal has to score at least 21 goals and Lucic has to score at least 10 fewer goals than Neal. If both these things happen, which is very possible, the Oilers will happily hand over a third round pick. Neal had a bad season no question about it but he was also playing in the bottom six, a role that a player like Neal will not succeed in. His skating is not the best but his ability to shoot the puck and score goals still remains. Last season was Neal’s one and only season in the NHL with less than 20 goals. He is almost guaranteed to play in the top six with Edmonton desperately needing a pure sniper. In terms of team chemistry well Neal is friends and training partners with Mcdavid, he is friends with newly signed goalie Mike Smith and he has been coached by Dave Tippett in the past. He sounds like a great fit for the team and will be given every opportunity to succeed in Edmonton. An added bonus? Unlike Lucic, Neal does not need to be protected for the Seattle expansion draft. 
 
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GRADUATING PLAYERS

The Oilers’ pipeline will see an influx of talent take the road from junior hockey to the professional level this season. Defense prospects Evan Bouchard and Dmitri Samorukov, both from the OHL, are the two big names that will lead the way but Kirill Maksimov and Ryan McLeod will also make the transition from the OHL.

Evan Bouchard simply dominated the competition for the London Knights last season. The former Knights captain recorded an impressive 53 points in 45 games which placed him second in the OHL for defenseman points per game. He also played for team Canada at the World Junior Championship and then recorded a ridiculous 21 points in 11 playoff games for London. He followed up his junior success by suiting up for eight playoff games for the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL where he continued to display his offensive prowess with three goals and eight point in eight games. Bouchard will never be the best skater and his defensive game definitely needs some polish but his ability to produce offensively cannot be ignored. Watch for the young defender to be one of the offensive leaders on the Condors’ back end as a rookie this season. He’ll be hard pressed to beat our more seasoned prospects like Caleb Jones for a spot on the big club but if injuries occur don’t be surprised if he gets a call up sometime this year. 

 

No player in the Oilers’ system raised their stock as much as Dmitri Samorukov did last season. After a disappointing start to the campaign where he recorded just six points in the first 20 games for the Guelph Storm, Samorukov really found a groove in late November and then absolutely took off offensively once the team traded away Ryan Merkley in the middle of December. After those first 20 games the young defender recorded 39 points in 39 games and then recorded an eye catching 28 points in 24 playoff games. On top of league play, Samorukov recorded four points in seven games for Russia and one point in four Memorial Cup games. Samorukov’s offensive progression is a nice addition to his grit and defensive play and has Oilers’ fans excited about his upside. While expectations are high, everyone must remember that the transition to pro hockey is a tough one and there is usually a learning curve.

 

While Bouchard and Samorukov get most of the attention for soon to be pro prospects, Kirill Maksimov deserves some recognition too. Although the Russian winger has warts to his game that will need to fine tuned at the pro level, his shot and ability to score goals cannot be ignored. Arguably the best finisher in the Oilers’ system, Maksimov recorded 40 goals and 79 points in 63 games last year. His 118 penalty minutes speaks for both his improved tenacity as well as his lack of discipline at times. Edmonton lacks a pure sniper to compliment players like Mcdavid so Maksimov will likely be given a chance to fill that role in the future. Expect him to play the entire season for the Condors in the AHL. 

 

Ryan McLeod is one of the tougher prospects to project as he makes the jump to the pro level. His above average size and excellent skating make him an intriguing player but consistency and reliability continue to be concerns. Last season, McLeod recorded 62 points in 63 games for a 0.98 points per game between Mississauga and Saginaw which was actually a decrease from the 1.03 that he recorded in his draft year the season prior. In the playoffs he struggled to be an offensive difference maker as he recorded just 12 points in 17 games. The young speedster made his AHL last year and showed well in a limited role as he recorded three assists in five playoff games. Mcleod’s upside probably isn’t as high as some of the other Oiler prospects turning pro and there will need to be patience with him going forward. Expect him to play in the bottom six, hopefully on the third line, and provide some secondary scoring for the Condors this season. 

 

Ostap Safin has seemingly fallen off the map after being drafted in in the fourth round in 2017 and then having a near point per game rookie season in the QMJHL in the following season. Last year, Safin suited up in just 15 game regular season games for Halifax where he recorded 11 points and then managed just two points in 23 playoff games. He was also pointless in four Memorial Cup games. Safin is an intriguing combination of size, mobility and soft hands but almost an entire season lost likely hurt his development and has absolutely hurt his stock. The ECHL is a real possibility for him this season and expectations should be kept low until we see if he can bounce back. 

 

2016 seventh round pick Vincent Desharnais signed an AHL contract with the Bakersfield Condors in July after four seasons at Providence College. Technically he’s not under contract with the Oilers but he’s still a part of the Condors so I’ll include him on this list. Last year, Desharnais had his best statistical season at Providence as he recorded 13 points in 42 games. His numbers say a lot about what type of player the 6’6 defender is. His upside is realistically limited at the pro level and with Jones, Bear, Lagesson, Day, Bouchard, Samorukov as well as veterans Lowe (the Condors’ captain last season) and likely Manning all ahead of him on the Condors depth chart, he’ll be hard pressed to get minutes in the AHL. One of the mentioned prospects could make the Oilers this fall which would move Desharnais up the Condors’ depth chart but the point still stands and that isn’t accounting for Swedish rearguard Joel Persson coming over from Sweden for this season. 

 

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RISERS

 
Dmitri Samorukov 
For the reasons mentioned above. Samorukov is not only one of the biggest risers in the Oilers’ system but in junior hockey in general. Edmonton struggles to develop players, especially past the first round so everyone following the team is hoping that they finally got the “draft steal” that they’ve desperately needed. Samorukov has the potential to make an impact in the AHL as early as this season but the Condors have solid depth so he won’t be forced to play more minutes than he’s ready for. 
 
William Lagesson
The Condors roster was chock full of pleasant surprises and Lagesson was definitely one of them. As an AHL rookie, the young Swede proved to the coaches that he was reliable and can make an impact at that level. Known for his defensive zone play and physicality, Lagesson proved that there is more to his game than just the defensive zone as he recorded 27 points in 67 games and became a key cog in Bakersfield’s defender corps. He isn’t the best skater and probably won’t ever be an offensive dynamo but Lagesson is showing that he could potentially be a bottom three defender in the NHL in the future. 
 
Logan Day
Not the youngest player on this list at 24 but an impressive story nonetheless. Logan Day went from sitting out the entire 2015-2016 season to playing two seasons in Division three NCAA straight to leading an AHL playoff team in defenceman scoring as a rookie. If that does not make him a riser then I do not know what does. He has defensive warts without a doubt but he knows how to create offence and formed a solid duo with William Lagesson. He will be 25 in September so his NHL window is likely closing, especially with so many quality young defenders on the Condors, but he definitely caught the eye of Oilers’ management and did enough to earn a one-year entry-level contract in May.
 
Caleb Jones
There’s a good chance this player finds himself on the Oilers come October. The young defender proved that he is the leader on Condors’ backend and has continued to refine and develop his overall game. His 29 points in 50 games for Bakersfield last year was solid and his six points in 17 games for the Oilers was respectable. He showed well on Edmonton in a limited role but struggled at times when forced to play more minutes last season. Jones isn’t flashy and doesn’t excel at any one aspect but he plays a solid overall game and has good mobility. There’s likely a spot on the Oilers for him if he can seize it. 
 
Tyler Benson
A once highly regarded prospect whose junior career was riddled with injuries and missed time, Benson was healthy this season and exceeded expectations in every way. The young winger lead Bakersfield in scoring with 66 points in 68 games, was second in AHL rookie scoring and was fifth in PPG for all rookies. He isn’t the flashiest player but he plays a pretty well rounded game while displaying solid vision and playmaking abilities. For his size, Benson definitely isn’t the best skater but there is a lot to like about this player. The Oilers’ forward group lacks depth so if he shows well in the training camp and in the preseason, he could find himself in Edmonton to start the season.
 
Cooper Marody
Benson’s AHL rookie season was impressive but Marody’s was even better. Marody likely would have lead the Condors in scoring as he finished just two points behind Benson while playing in 10 fewer games. His 64 points in 58 games placed him second in Condors scoring, third in AHL rookie scoring and first in AHL rookie PPG. He played six games for the Oilers season and was held pointless but it’s important to note that he averaged less than seven minutes a game which makes it hard for any player to have an impact. The biggest question mark with Marody is his foot speed. He has the hockey sense and skill to be an impact player but his quickness could limit his upside at the NHL level. He’ll turn 23 before year’s end which means his NHL window is likely smaller than a player like Benson who is two years younger.
 
Shane Starrett
The oldest player on the risers list as he just turned 25 in July. After playing in the ECHL as a rookie pro during the 2017-2018 season, Starrett made the jump to the AHL last year and never looked back. In 42 regular season games with the Condors Starrett was tied for third in the AHL in wins with 27, was tied for fifth in the AHL with a 0.918 SV% and was third in GAA with 2.33. His season was excellent no doubt but younger goalie prospects Dylan Wells and Stuart Skinner are on his heels and looking to prove themselves in their second pro seasons this year. Starrett signed a one year deal with Edmonton in June so this could be a make or break season for the big net minder. He could potentially see some NHL time this year. 
 

FALLERS

 
Jesse Puljujarvi 
Let us get the obvious one out of the way. Puljujarvi’s season, including this Summer, was an absolute train wreck. Not only was his nine points in 46 games the worst PPG of his three years in the NHL but it was also announced in February that the young Fin needed double hip surgery that would take him out for the remainder of the season. To top that off, since the end of the 2018-2019 campaign there has been a big trade request fiasco with his agent coming out publicly numerous times, often contradicting himself, to tell the media that Edmonton is not a good fit. Puljujarvi’s best choice to get minutes in the NHL is to stay with Edmonton considering that they probably have the worst winger depth in the NHL but that does not seem like an option at this point. Ken Holland has stated that a trade has to be right for the Oilers which is probably why he has not traded Puljujarvi at his lowest value. If the Finnish winger decides to leave the NHL and go play in Finland or somewhere else in Europe, Edmonton would still retain his rights. 
 
Ostap Safin 
For the reasons listed above. Yes injuries completely derailed Safin’s season but 13 total points in 42 games (15 regular season, 23 playoff and four Memorial Cup) for Halifax isn’t at all promising and leaves a lot to be desired from a prospect leaving junior to turn pro. The tools are there without a doubt but there were questions before last season on whether or not the young Czech could put it all together and now he almost seems forgotten. I would not write him off just yet but he definitely has a lot to prove this season. 
 
Boston college Duo
This would have been the Boston College Trio had the Oilers not signed prospect Joey Dudek (acquired in the Patrick Maroon trade). Edmonton has until August 15th to sign Dudek but at this point there isn’t any reason to expect that they will. Aapeli Räsänen and Graham McPhee had hugely disappointing seasons last year and will need to bounce back at Boston College this year if they hope to stay relevant as NHL prospects. McPhee saw his point totals decrease from 24 points in his second NCAA season to just nine last year. He also made far less of an impact at development camp this Summer. Räsänen saw his points decrease to seven compared to the 16 he posted as a NCAA rookie the season prior. Realistically both of these prospects are long shots to make the NHL and their production last year did not help their causes.  
 
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PROSPECT DEPTH CHART
 
Left Wing
 
Tyler Benson
Joakim Nygård 
Ostap Safin
Anton Sleptshev
Nolan Vesey
Graham McPhee
Patrik Siikanen
 
Right Wing
 
Jesse Puljujarvi
Kailer Yamamoto
Kirill Maksimov
Raphaël Lavoie
Patrick Russell
Matej Blümel
 
Center
 
Colby Cave
Joseph Gambardella 
Cameron Hebig
Ryan McLeod
Bogdan Yakimov
Aapeli Räsänen 
Joey Dudek
Tomas Mazura
Maxim Denezhkin 
Skyler Brind’Amour
 
Left Defense 
 
Caleb Jones
Dmitri Samorukov
Philip Broberg
William Lagesson
Markus Niemeläinen
Matthew Cairns
 
Right Defense
 
Evan Bouchard
Joel Persson
Ethan Bear
Logan Day
Filip Berglund
Philip Kemp
Ryan Mantha
Michael Kesselring
 
Goalie
 
Shane Starrett
Ilya Konovalov
Dylan Wells
Stuart Skinner
Olivier Rodrigue 
 
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TOP 20 FANTASY PROSPECTS
 
*Note: this ranking is based on fantasy upside and NOT on who is necessarily the best or most NHL ready prospect right now.
 
20. Michael Kesselring
 
HM: Logan Day
 
 
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