Tonight is the night!! The “Battle of Alberta” kicks off with not just one, but TWO extremely large games between two of the top teams in the NHL’s Pacific division! There is zero doubt that these are the two biggest games of the season to this point for both the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers!
Oscar De La Hoya should have had me hyping the Alvarez/GGG fight this weekend! Anyway, I’ll get right to it.
You have a lot of players on both sides of the BOA entering this season who could be deemed “X factors”. Jesse Puljujarvi, Curtis Lazar, Darnell Nurse, Mike Smith, Milan Lucic, Troy Brouwer. You can make a case that every single player on each side is an “X factor”. But to me, and I think to most, there is one guy on each side who stands out above everyone else.
I’ll start in Calgary, since I’m an Oilers fan and give them the love 95% of the time on this site.
Sam Bennett. I think at this point that it’s safe to say Bennett will play in the league for a long time. I don’t believe the jury is out on him anymore. Last season was a sophomore jinx for him though. He wasn’t overly effective last season, at either end of the ice. He bounced back and forth between centre and the wing, only put up 26 points, and I felt might have been more of a distraction for the Flames than a help.
Now, what I mean by that isn’t a knock on Bennett as a player or as a person. But when you’re trying to find out who a player is and where he fits, that can take it’s toll on a hockey club. The GM wants to make sure that player has every opportunity to develop (especially when it’s the first draft pick ever made by that GM), and the coach wants the same but it’s challenging when you’re needing the player to hit his potential and he’s struggling to do so. And frankly, what worries me with Bennett is the bi-polar nature in his game. I saw this with Sam Gagner in Edmonton. When Bennett is hot, he’s scorching hot. But when he’s cold, it lasts much longer than it should.
I don’t think it’s a must for Bennett to establish himself as a legitimate top nine centre this season. But that’s without a doubt the hope the organization has entering the season and would go a very long way for them.
If they could run Monahan, Backlund and Bennett down the middle all season it would be massive for this club. I question whether or not Backlund can repeat the offence he put up last season, but he was only six points better than his 15-16 campaign. No doubt it’s the peak of his career, but the point I’m trying to make here is that I believe a 40-45 point season is more realistic.
And is that really too much of a stretch? Just a 14 point improvement, only four more points than his 15-16 season. But I think for the Flames, it’s vital that this point total comes from him playing the middle and being a kid who Glen Gulutzan can trust to play some tough matchups. I realize they already have Monahan and Backlund who can handle those roles, but you have a situation where you can simply roll your top nine and don’t have to worry about sheltering anyone, it can take your team to another level, perhaps that of a serious contender.
The biggest thing that would help Bennett out is gaining strength. No, I’m not going to harp on the pull-ups or lack there of, but it is obvious when you watch him play that he doesn’t have the strength he needs to play the style he does. He has all the tools, but he doesn’t do anything well enough to overcome his lack of strength. Once he gets it, he’ll improve a lot below the dots, he should gain an extra step in his stride, and he should improve greatly in the dot. Sound like another centre up the highway?
What a segue!
I did hit on a lot of this with RNH in my last piece, but it’s definitely the biggest thing in my mind that holds him back, and I really believe that his game will eventually go to another level. He seems to be too committed and has too much talent to not get there. But it’s frustrating as hell waiting for it to happen.
I talked a lot about how much an increase in strength will help his skating ability which will have a trickle down affect with the rest of his game. He’ll be able to get into better positioning to strip players of the puck, of course he’ll then have an easier time stripping players of the puck with added strength, he’ll be tougher on the puck which should present more opportunities to get shots off or find passing lanes, it just has so many benefits.
But maybe the biggest thing they need from RNH is to improve his faceoff ability. Man, he has been so awful in the dot to this point, it’s completely unacceptable. 45.7% is his career high. How do you take nearly 6,000 faceoffs in this league and never improve your percentage to AT LEAST 47%?! And that’s still not really an acceptable number in my mind, but you can live with it. And I know analytics will tell you that faceoffs don’t matter, but man, you can’t convince me it wouldn’t lead to more success.
If RNH is going to be the third line centre the Oilers badly need this season, he’s going to have to greatly improve in the dot. McDavid and Draisaitl already have enough of a burden on their shoulders, and Letestu simply doesn’t have the game to see tougher matchups every night. Add to that, this team’s best LH shooting faceoff man this season was Draisaitl and he was only 49% last season. All three of McDavid, Draisaitl and RNH need to improve in the dot this season for this team to go to another level, but RNH specifically should be a 48-50% guy in the dot at this point. I know, I’m the guy who just the other day tried to hammer home the point that he’s still only 24 years old. But these numbers are just too damn low.
So what do they need out of RNH this season? They need him to be along the same lines as Nazem Kadri was for the Leafs last season. 30 goals and 60 points? No. But 20 goals and 50-55 points would be massive. We know he’s not going to see time on the top PP unit, which would mean a lot of those points would come at five on five. Kadri was also 48% in the dot. If Nuge can get to 47-48% I think it would go a lot further than people believe. It would help with those point totals, and would help greatly when facing the tough matchups Todd McLellan him to see. And they need him to tilt the ice more than he has been. When McLellan has spoke about him being too cautious offensively, I believe this is part of his thinking. If RNH takes more chances offensively, he’ll be better defensively simply by tilting the ice.
I don’t believe any of this is a big ask. RNH is already capable of being this player without gaining the strength I’ve talked so much about.
With both players, they’re already good. But they’re capable (and in Nugent-Hopkins case, paid) of being so much more. If they can either get to those levels or at least move towards that level of player this season, both the Flames and the Oilers are going to be serious threats in the West this season.
Before I begin, allow me to bitch. Last Friday I did my top ten prospects piece, and the one omission I didn’t like having was William Lagesson. Didn’t even give him an honourable mention. I didn’t like going with 16 instead of 15, let alone 17. This bothered me, because every time I’ve watched the kid play I’ve REALLY liked his game. But I leaned towards guys who were either a little younger or had a little more upside. So what happens? He was probably the best D-man they had in Penticton and the NAIT/MacEwan game. Of course he was…
Is this not the weirdest thing imaginable?! It was only a year ago at this time where we were all just praying that everything came together and the Oilers could somehow sneak into the playoffs if everything went as expected. Now, just 12 months later (and really, not 12 months because we still had these thoughts around mid October), people are picking the Oilers to win the West, and some are even picking them to win the Cup. And it’s not crazy…which is the craziest part of all. But let’s keep in mind, as of today this is not an elite team, it just has the potential to be.
I thought about doing a piece on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to start the pre season, and I likely still will. I have a love/hate fandom with Nuge. I see what he could be, and pull like hell for him to get there. He hasn’t progressed nearly as quickly as you’d expect a 1st overall pick to progress to this point, and so half the time I just want him dealt for a 3rd line centre who fits the cap situation much better.
But he’s still on the club, and the one thing I keep seeing with RNH is that he still hasn’t gained the strength he needs to take his game to the next level. The way he plays, the way he skates, it just looks to me that if he starts gaining that “man strength” that his game will go to another level. It’s not really something you can develop, it’s just something that eventually develops for all of us. Likely the biggest area we’ll notice it is in his skating. Right now he’s a solid skater, but he’s still so lanky. On occasion he looks like his skating goes to another level, but it isn’t consistent. We’ll likely notice it in other area’s too like his shot, strength on the puck (obviously), etc. But as he gains strength I believe we’ll see his explosiveness and high end speed very visibly improve.
We always look for comparisons, and with Nuge I see guys often compare him to Pavel Datsyuk, even dating back to his draft year (I believe Ken Hitchcock made that comparison). But the one that never seems to be mentioned, and is a lot more realistic, is Kyle Turris. And Turris is a kid who had a very similar game and build to RNH when he was drafted (B.C. kid too). It wasn’t until the 13-14 season (seven years after being drafted), which Turris game really took off and he started to become the player most expected him to be. I don’t know this, but I wonder if it wasn’t the same thing where Turris just needed to gain that strength. This is season number seven for RNH.
It isn’t as if RNH isn’t good right now, he is. But I still feel like one of these seasons he’s going to finally take that next step.
Sometimes we all forget that Nuge is still only 24 years old. It seemed like last year, we forgot how old a lot of these kids are. McDavid, Draisaitl, Klefbom, Larsson, Caggiula, Strome, Nurse, Benning, Puljujarvi, Slepyshev, Khaira, Brossoit, and of course the aforementioned Nugent-Hopkins are all currently 24 or younger. I think it’s safe to assume big point totals from McDavid and Draisaitl. Klefbom and Larsson for me established themselves as a very capable top pairing last season, so it’s safe to assume that remains the same as well. But the rest of the guys on that list all have the potential to greatly improve.
I’ve heard some talk about how worried they are about the team replacing Jordan Eberle’s production. They all seem to be looking at Strome to do that. I don’t see it that way. The potential replacement for Eberle to me is Puljujarvi. Is anyone going to be surprised if Puljujarvi is a better player than Eberle was last season?
The kid has ridiculous potential. I think of guys like Rick Nash, obviously Blake Wheeler whom he often is compared to, Jakub Voracek, Filip Forsberg, this is the type of player I’m expecting Puljujarvi to become in time. That dominant winger who can carry his own line. Obviously I’m not expecting that to happen this season, but what I don’t think is far fetched is for him to establish himself with the team this season, and a 45-55 point season with much better board and defensive zone play than Eberle brought is very attainable for Puljujarvi.
Having said all that, it is possible that Puljujarvi begins the season in Bakersfield. They did this with Draisaitl, and it seemed to really ignite a fire in him. But others are capable of putting up similar numbers to what Eberle did. Caggiula, Slepyshev, obviously Strome is in that mix. But even then, they wouldn’t need one of these guys to get to that level. 35-40 points out of all three of them, is that crazy?
The most vital spot though that they need a kid to take it to another level is on the blueline and stepping into the top four.
Darcy McLeod has brought this up quite a bit during the off season, and I believe he wrote a piece on it too. You really need a legitimate top four on your blueline, and with Sekera not only out for the first few months, but likely unable to get back to that level all season, they badly will need one of Nurse or Benning to take a step.
To start the season, I like one of two ideas. Option A for me would be to have Benning playing with Russell on the second pairing and I’m guessing that’s what they’ll do. Option B is a lot of re-arranging. Nurse looked damn good playing with Larsson the little time he did in the playoffs last spring. I realize it was a limited sample size, and most of it was for the 7-1 ass kicking in game six against the Ducks, not exactly high pressure. But speaking as a guy who has played D most of his life (albeit not anywhere near a level I’d brag about) I can tell you that playing with a guy like Larsson just makes things so much easier. He’s the type of defenceman you can trust will be in the right spot at the right time. He has a calming effect, which is exactly what Nurse needs in his game. So perhaps McLellan at some point goes with Nurse and Larsson as the shutdown combo, maybe puts Klefbom with Benning on the second pair which would help Benning out, and then having Russell with either Gryba or Yohann Auvitu. It’s a lot more balance, but really creates a lot more question marks. Could Larsson carry the top pair? Could Nurse handle matching against top lines each night? Is Klefbom good enough to bring Benning up to that level?
Back to Nurse for a minute, and if you’ve read my stuff in the past then you know how high I’ve always been on Nurse. The fact that he’s had some really rough stretches in his first couple of seasons doesn’t overly bother me like it does others. I just feel like he has everything you need to be number one in the league some day. The size, the toughness, the skating, and the IQ. Some might disagree with the IQ part because he’s often trying to do too much on the ice. But this is a kid who was the OHL scholastic player of the year in his draft season, you listen to him interviewed and you can tell how bright he is, I just believe with the combination of that talent, IQ and work ethic that he’s going to put it all together. Can he get to the level of a Doughty or Keith someday? Definitely not expecting that. But Seabrook, or another Klefbom? I think that’s very possible. If I had to point out one thing he needs to work, for me it’s his vision above his defensive positioning. Positioning will come with experience, vision is something he’ll have to work on. You obviously can’t teach elite vision, but I definitely believe you can improve it to the level he’ll need it at to become a top pairing D-man.
Benning is funny because he’s the exact opposite of Nurse with how he plays. He’s so subtle and plays such a mature game. While Nurse still has immense upside, it’s tougher to see that with Benning. He’s a kid who doesn’t do anything flashy, nor does he have that one attribute that really stands out. But the Oilers don’t even need much more growth out of him. He already looked solid when he received limited top four minutes last season. So he just needs to take one more subtle step, preferably this season. If he can establish himself as a dependable second pairing D-man this season, it would be massive for the club.
I’m definitely not saying my expectations are for any of these kids to reach there ceiling this season. But I am saying that the Oilers have a ridiculous amount of kids with good-great upside. Right now, with little growth from most of these guys, the Oilers look like a team that should make the playoffs and are at least a threat in the West. If a few of these guys start to pop though, and you have to assume that at least a couple will, this team could go to another level. That’s not to mention all the bullets Peter Chiarelli will have to fire at the trade deadline. All of his 2018 draft picks, and a prospect pool that is as deep as it’s ever been, so the Oilers GM will be able to really load up at the trade deadline.
I understand the concern for some of the holes on the roster. Nobody is ever quite comfortable until players prove they can fill their roles. But despite how much this team grew last season, it’s ridiculous the ceiling this group has. If just a few of them have significant growth, this team goes from good to elite and some of those Cup final prognostications get real.
I’m back! Two months off, still feels like it’s mid summer outside, still not getting paid for this shit, but regardless of all that, I’m back. For most of you, I’m sure it sucks that summer is over (almost). Not in the slightest for me…but maybe for you. For me, I like the fall. I like winter. I don’t hate summer by any means, but I also don’t see a lot of lake time during the summer. So while those maybe six days of the summer that are hot, sunny, little to no wind, and can be out on the water. Golfing? Not if it’s hotter than 22-25 or so. Ball? Same thing. So summer isn’t bad, but the truth is in my experience is that it’s a bit of a myth once you are an adult. The truth is, there are really only a handful of days an adult can really enjoy summer depending on your line of work, and the rest is just hot and dry with zero going on…especially if the Jays suck. I hope I’m not pissing all over how much you love summer, not my intention. My intention is to show you just how terrific fall is! And really, now with football in full swing as of Sunday and Penticton this weekend, and the weather being easier to live with, it’s one of the best times of the year.
I hope you all know what I’m talking about when I say Penticton, but for those of you who are maybe awful people…I’m talking about the rookie tournament which will take place this weekend. And with that being the case, I felt like it was a good time to do another top 10 list looking at the Oilers prospects. I did this list right after the game seven loss to the Ducks, and it seemed to be well received, so with the draft having taken since that time place it’s perhaps a good time to hit the refresh button.
About a month ago, I seen Oilers Nation did a top 20 prospect list. Now, they likely have done their own prospect rankings for a while, I’m not a big Oilers Nation guy (nothing against the guys doing it at all, just find it can hurt my own point of view to read too much “Oilers-centric” stuff). I did read their top 10, and frankly disagree with a lot of what they had, but it’s just a different point of view. From what I could tell, they lean more towards which prospects are the most ready to step in. For me, I put a lot more stock into a players ceiling, and the chances I feel they have of reaching that ceiling.
Just like the last time around, I’ll be adding in some players (this time six) who I felt just narrowly missed getting into the top ten, which I somewhat put into order, but honestly didn’t give it a ton of thought. So please don’t crush me for the order in which the first six are put in. I guess you could be a real asshole and say this is a top 16…but don’t. Nobody likes “that” guy.
I added in videos for most of the kids this time around, and a big thanks to Edmonton Prospect Watch on YouTube for giving me the green light a few months back for using these, and I’d HIGHLY recommend if you’re an Oilers fan and you want to follow the prospects that you subscribe to the account. Great way to see what’s on the way.
Before I begin, let me just say that aside from what I believe will be a impactful error by the organization in failing to address the need for a centre in the system this past June, the Oilers appear to be drafting MUCH better under Peter Chiarelli’s watch. The 2015 draft to this point has been a home run with the picks they had to work with (McDavid aside), 2016 outside of one slip up was the same (and they had many more picks to work with), and last year while I hated not getting a centre until the 6th round, they did do a great job once again of really loading up with quality kids.
Dmitri Samorukov Guelph OHL
Pos: LD Ht: 6’2 Wt: 181 Shot: L
Acquired: 3rd Round, 84th Overall, 2017 Draft
I wasn’t a huge fan of the pick, mainly given the Oilers depth on the left side of the ice. Had I been running the draft, I would have used the two 3rd rounders to jump up to the last pick of the 2nd if I had to so I could pick one of the projected 2nd round centres that were still on the board (likely Morgan Geekie). But they didn’t, so I have to look at the kids they got and there is a lot to like about Samorukov. He’s raw, he’s got a lot of filling out to do, real good skater, and plays aggressive. Just yesterday signed his ELC with the team, so he’s officially in the pipeline and I’d say that speaks to how excited the brass was to land him in the draft.
John Marino Harvard NCAA
Pos: D Ht: 6’2 Wt: 190 Shot: R Age: 20
Acquired: 6th Round, 154th Overall, 2015 Draft
In the 6th round of the draft, I feel like you have to stick to a few rules. If it’s me, I’m looking for kids who have decent size, skates real well, and a high IQ. Marino checks all those boxes. Obviously he’ll go back to Harvard for at least another season in 2018, and likely 2019 as well, so we’re talking about a kid who is still a long ways away. But he took a pretty big step in his development in his freshman season at Harvard and should see an increased role this season, although he does have Calgary 2016 3rd rounder Adam Fox to contend with. Here’s a shift by shift look at Marino from a game vs the Nard-dog’s favourite team from March 18th of last season.
Stuart Skinner Lethbridge WHL
Pos: G Ht: 6’3 Wt: 205 Glove: L Age: 19
Acquired: 3rd Round, 78th Overall, 2017 Draft
As I touched on with Samorukov, I was against what they did with this pick. I felt they easily could have packaged both third round picks to move up to the end of the second round or the beginning of the third and got a damn good centre that they desperately needed. Had they done this, I would have felt the Oilers absolutely crushed the draft for the third straight year. Instead, they fell in love with Skinner. Having said all this, as much as I didn’t like the decision at all, I won’t ignore Skinner just because I didn’t like the way the Oilers managed their draft. The fact of the matter is that Skinner got red hot for the Hurricanes in the playoffs last spring, and he has all the tools to become a starter in the NHL. However, you can say that about a ton of 18 year old goaltenders with the right size. Intriguing, but it remains to be seen what he does with all his talent.
Filip Berglund Skelleftea SHL
Pos: D Ht: 6’3 Wt: 209 Shot: R Age: 20
Acquired: 3rd round, 91st overall, 2016 draft
This kid has me personally really intrigued. He was originally set back with a knee injury in his draft year (2015), hence not being taken until the 2016 draft. Seems to get pretty positive reviews at both ends of the ice. His skating isn’t poor at all, but what I will say is that if he can make a subtle improvement with it that it’ll go a very long way. Some really like the skill he will flash on occasion. A long shot, no doubt, but it feels like they might have a diamond in the rough here.
Nick Ellis Bakersfield AHL
Pos: G Ht: 6’1 Wt: 180 Glove: L Age: 23
Acquired: Free Agent, Signed April 7th, 2016
Ellis had a Sv% in the AHL last season that was 10 percentage points higher than Laurent Brossoit’s. The size is a concern though, as he is very small by today’s goaltending standards. He plays a very composed style, similar to Cam Talbot. At his size I fear he’ll have to go above and beyond proving himself to earn a shot with the Oilers, but so far he’s off to a good start. It’s highly unlikely, but possible with a great camp that he could steal the backup spot away from Brossoit.
Ziyat Paigin Bakersfield AHL
Pos: D Ht: 6’6 Wt: 209 Shot: L Age: 22
Acquired: 7th Round, 209th Overall, 2015 Draft
Paigin is perhaps the biggest wildcard of all the Oilers prospects. The kids biggest attribute is his P.K. Subban like bomb from the point. I’m not saying he can get it off like Subban can at this point, but the potential is there to be that kind of weapon. The rest of the game however is a work in progress. For a seventh round pick, the fact that he’s even in the conversation is a win for the Oilers. You don’t see anyone talking about Vincent Desharnais. But Paigin does have the tools to play in the league, maybe even be a top four guy. But it remains to be seen if he has the toolbox to go with the tools.
10. Kirill Maksimov Niagara OHL
Pos: RW Ht: 6’2 Wt: 192 Shot: R Age: 18
Acquired: 5th Round, 146th Overall, 2017 Draft
How could I possibly have Maksimov ahead of Skinner and Samorukov with Maksimov going 68 and 62 picks ahead of those guys? You have to remember that the draft is like buying stock. You want the best value, especially after you move out of the first round. I like Skinner, but I’m higher on Maksimov. I could go on and on about Maksimov’s potential. But rather than have me tell you, let’s see what some of the top independent OHL scouts have to say:
There's my guy @OHLIceDogs Kirill Maksimov going to EDM. They are getting a steal. This kid keeps getting better & is a beast on the wall!
I don’t like to base a prospect comparison on nationality like so many do, but as an Oilers fan, it is really difficult to read up on Maksimov and not think he’s another Anton Slepyshev. I really believe that Maksimov was just in a poor situation early last season and once he went to Niagara we saw the real him and will continue to see that this season.
9. Joe Gambardella Bakersfield AHL
Pos: LW Ht: 5’10 Wt: 200 Shot: L
Acquired: Signed, March 28th, 2017
With what I’ve seen of the kid so far (it’s limited), the Oilers got someone who’ll play. Speed, good hands, and plays with a lot of enthusiasm. Only 5’10, but 200 pounds, so size won’t be an issue. He’s listed as a centre, but I personally see him fitting better on the wing. If he can play the middle, awesome! That would be a huge bonus and something this team really needs in the system. But to me he looks like a winger. Really like what I see though and believe he can be a top nine guy.
8. Ryan Mantha Bakersfield AHL
Pos: D Ht: 6’5 Wt: 225 Shot: R Age: 21
Acquired: Free Agent, Signed March 1st, 2017
The more I look into Mantha, the more intrigued I get as an Oilers fan. It’s tough to get real pumped up about a kid looking so good as an overager in junior. Bob Stauffer seems to have been told something good about Mantha, as he’s been hinting at Mantha being a steal for the Oilers for the last few weeks. The size is obviously there. He’s got a real heavy shot with a cautious back swing which allows him to get it away quicker, and a little more accurate too. And he’s a real strong skater for a kid his size. I wonder about the toughness. Not saying he’s not tough, but when you break out as an overager and the team which drafted you (104th overall…not that low for an unsigned kid), it just makes me wonder and could be something to watch for as he begins his pro career.
7. Ostap Safin St. John QMJHL
Pos: RW Ht: 6’4 Wt: Shot: L Age: 18
Acquired: 4th Round, 115th Overall, 2017 Draft
This will be controversial, but this list is from my perspective. If you have checked out any of my three prospect rankings I put out last spring, you’d know that I had Safin in my top 50 the whole way through. This kids upside is ridiculous. You can see the size he has, he has good wheels for that size, great hands, and when he’s on he loves to put guys on their ass. But that’s when he’s on. It’s the motor that is in question with Safin. So he’s a classic boom or bust prospect, I just can’t see there being any middle ground here. He’ll either be Brad Isbister, or Todd Bertuzzi. He might be slightly less likely to make it then some of the kids lower on the list, but the upside here is just too difficult to ignore.
6. Tyler Benson Vancouver WHL
Pos: LW Ht: 6’0 Wt: 190 Shot: L Age: 19
Acquired: 2nd Round, 32nd Overall, 2016 Draft
This is a BIG season for Benson. I talked about Safin being boom or bust. I don’t see Benson being the same way at all, but this season sure could be that way for him. IF he can stay healthy, he’s likely to be dealt to a WHL contender (maybe Regina, who host the Memorial Cup this season), he’ll get a great look for the World Junior team, and put himself right back in the conversation as a top Oilers prospect and MAYBE even get into consideration to be a replacement for Patty Maroon next season should they lose him to free agency. However…he’s had big injury set backs the last two seasons, and he isn’t playing this weekend, they’re only “hopeful” he’ll play in the regular season opener for the Giants, it’s all getting very discouraging. If he has another year like the last two, then I’m going to guess the organization will lose a lot of faith in Benson.
5. Dylan Wells Peterborough OHL
Pos: G Ht: 6’2 Wt: 182 Glove: L Age: 19
Acquired: 5th Round, 123rd Overall, 2016 Draft
If Wells had been selected with a top 60 pick in 2016, fans and media would be heaping a lot more praise on the Oilers for this pick. I listen to Sportsnet 960 in Calgary a lot, and the Flames fans and media are over the moon about Tyler Parsons, as they should be. But Wells is a little bigger, a little younger, and was a little better than Parsons last season. It’s such a long road ahead for Wells, as goaltenders take a long time to develop. But so far, this pick has been outstanding. He’ll be in the mix for the World Junior team this year, and with Carter Hart’s poor performance at the Showcase tournament this summer it may have opened the door a bit for the brass to look at other options in goal, despite the fact that Hart was the starter last year. If that’s the case, Wells could get his shot. Of course Canada now has about four or five great options after having nobody for so many years.
4. Ethan Bear Seattle WHL
Pos: D Ht: 5’11 Wt: 205 Shot: R Age: 20
Acquired: 5th Round, 124th Overall, 2015 Draft
He falls a spot in my rankings, but I’m certain anyone reading this knows why that is. The big debate, as was last spring with my rankings, is having Bear as the second ranked defenceman and not first. It’s the skating. He had amazing numbers in the WHL, no doubt. Defenceman of the year last season, helped lead the T-Birds to the WHL crown, but the NHL just keeps getting faster and faster. You just can’t lack speed in this league anymore. Look at Jagr. Terrific numbers the last two seasons, yet teams are scared off because away from the puck he’s virtually useless now. A massive if, but IF Bear can gain an extra step or two, he’s going to be a top four kid in the league, guaranteed. Because he’s got everything else in his game. IQ, vision, shot, toughness, good in his own zone, walks the line very well, he’s a stud. He just needs to improve that skating, and it’s too big of an “if” to put him any higher than this.
3. Caleb Jones Portland WHL
Pos: D Ht: 6’1 Wt: 190 Shot: L Age: 20
Acquired: 4th Round, 117th Overall, 2015 Draft
I’m probably the only guy in Alberta who has Jones ahead of Bear. I get it, Bear was named defenceman of the year in the same league. But as a pro, while Bear needs to improve his skating to make the jump someday, Jones skating is already great. You have to consider too that Bear was playing on the much better team. Portland is no joke, but Seattle of course won the league title. Had they switched spots, it’s like Jones who is winning the defenceman of the year award. In no way looking to piss on Ethan Bear as a prospect by the way, just comparing the two. Anyway, Jones has the smarts, skating, and creativity in my opinion to play in the show, and perhaps very soon. I believe he’ll get some games in this season, and could be competing for a spot this time next year.
2. Kailer Yamamoto Spokane WHL
Pos: RW Ht: Wt: Shot: R Age: 19
Acquired: 1st Round, 22nd Overall, 2017 Draft
You’re hearing and reading non stop about how he’s “another Johnny Gaudreau”. Flattering, but he doesn’t play like Gaudreau. He’s much more of a Marty St.Louis type. If you remember, St.Louis was equally a great sniper and playmaker. St.Louis had no issue at all getting his nose dirty and going to the tough area’s on the ice. And he played with a chip on his shoulder. That’s a lot like Yamamoto. This kid is driven and plays with a lot of passion. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it is going to be a hardcore love affair between Yamamoto and this fan base. He seems like the kind of kid who’ll thrive in this environment, and this fan base adores players of his ilk (passion and personality). He’ll start next season with the team, guaranteed.
1. Jesse Puljujarvi Bakersfield AHL
Pos: RW Ht: 6’3.5 Wt: 208 Shot: R Age: 19
Acquired: 1st Round, 4th Overall, 2016 Draft
I laugh at how many people are sleeping on Puljujarvi. We DO remember he went 4th overall, right? And that he only got to the fourth pick because of circumstances of the Blue Jackets being desperate for a centre, right? And that he looked great once sent down to Bakersfield, right? And that the last two high profile teens to be sent down mid season like he was were Ryan Smyth and Leon Draisaitl, right? The people who are bailing on this kid already are just humiliating. There is a chance he starts the season in Bakersfield, but I’m guessing he’ll make the club. Too big, too skilled, deceptively fast, he’s got a chance to be dominant, and I’ll be shocked if he’s anything less than a regular 50 point, top six type of guy.