Is there perhaps any better time than now to release a piece on the Oilers organizational depth? Wow, this season has gone so depressingly horrendous for this organization. Worst year in the history of the club given the expectations vs the results, and that’s no exaggeration.
But I’ll continue to make the point that while its just that, it’s not a bleak scenario, just a real shitty season to go through. This isn’t like 2014 or 15 where they hardly had anything, and nothing was going right. This team is setup very well even despite so many missteps by the organization. The system isn’t rich, but it features an elite prospect, and good depth. It won’t get the love at this point that other systems around the league will because it only features one 1st rounder and none of the other kids were able to make splashes at the WJC, but trust me they’re in the midst of building a damn good system. You can go after Peter Chiarelli for a lot of things (like most have, and deservedly so), but one thing you can’t deny is that since he’s taken over the drafting has been greatly improved. I seen someone on Twitter the other day amidst the beat down of Peter Chiarelli take a swing at the way they’ve scouted and drafted saying something to the effect of “if they were going to take Eriksson Ek over Barzal then it’s just proof that the scouting hasn’t improved under these guys either!” I love Barzal and would have taken him with that pick, so don’t get me wrong here. But Eriksson Ek is a damn good prospect and just because at 20 years old he has yet to set the league on fire like Barzal has, doesn’t at all mean that he’s not going to be a hell of a player.
Under Kevin Pendergast and then Stu McGregor, I don’t recall looking at 4th and 5th round picks and getting real excited. We’re seeing 6th and 7th rounders show as much or more promise as previous regime’s 2nd and 3rd rounders. I’ll go back to the 2010 draft for example and how excited people were about it out of the gate. But the question on Martin Marcincin for example was always hockey sense, and it was highly unlikely, even after the great start he had to the 2011 season, that light bulb was ever going to go on. And it never has. Another example from that draft was Ryan Martindale, who was putting up big numbers, but his skating and determination were always a massive question mark. Those are things that just aren’t going to be fixed.
But now, we’re seeing a lot of kids drafted who have what I would call fixable flaws, and as long as they’re coachable, they’ll have a great opportunity to get their shot and stick in the league.
Things I like about the system: Maybe the most vital thing about the system is they look a lot better on the wings, especially when compared to what I had wrote in May of last year. I would suggest that they got two tremendous prospects on the wing in the draft, with another exciting wildcard. And in addition to that, what looked like a wildcard at that time in Tyler Benson has comeback and flourished this season. The downside there is that only one of those wingers is ready to step in next season (and even that could be a little up in the air at the moment), but it’s much improved and is a big need for this organization in order to support the strength the club has down the middle. Other areas I like are in goal. I feel like Chiarelli has maybe done his best work shoring up the Oilers goaltending from the time he arrived. I don’t recall them ever having this kind of goaltending depth. And finally, given that this team hasn’t drafted a D-man in the 1st round since 2013, the blueline looks real good moving forward. On this list you’ll see six of the ten defencemen that this regime has drafted since taking over in 2015. Two of the four which aren’t on here were 7th round picks. And the other two not on the list were drafted as projects and I certainly wouldn’t write them off as of now. Six of the top eleven are D-men too, so it’s definitely something I feel they’ve done well considering they haven’t spent a 1st round pick there.
Things I don’t like about the system: Only one, but it’s a biggie. Centre. Without a doubt. This organization is extremely weak down the middle after 97, 29 and 93. They’ve completely ignored centre ice since they took McDavid in the draft. I believe two of their 21 picks since taking McDavid have been used on centres, and both weren’t until the 6th round. I don’t care how good you feel about your first three guys, you can’t leave your system depleted of centres like they’ve done. It was a massive issue heading into the draft last year, so in this draft…saying it’s vital to take care of is an understatement. Extremely careless of this organization to be so thin at such an important position.
Nick Ellis Bakersfield AHL
Pos: G Ht: 6’1 Wt: 180 Glove: L Age: 23
Acquired: Free Agent, Signed April 7th, 2016
He hasn’t looked near as good to date this season as he did last. After last season, I had Ellis as the 10th ranked Oilers prospect and suggested the only thing that could hold him back from playing in the NHL was his size. He did technically get a call-up, but as you all know he didn’t see a minute of ice time. It was clear the coaching staff had zero faith in him when he didn’t get the start either against Philadelphia or against Toronto on the second half of a back to back. Tough to ignore last seasons performance, so he stays an honourable mention. But with Brossoit now back down there and another prospect I’ll get to coming on strong, not to mention the possibility of two more kids entering pro hockey next season in the system, it’s tough to see Ellis being with the organization for much longer.
Cameron Hebig Regina WHL
Pos: C Ht: 5’10 Wt: 185 Shot: R Age: 20
Acquired: Free Agent, Signed December 28th, 2017
Hebig is the latest Oilers prospect. I list him as a centre, but I’m not sure he’ll play centre in pro hockey. He might, he does have damn good wheels, and as it currently stands the Bakersfield Condors don’t have much at centre, but at 5’10 that’s always dicey. Also, he’s listed as 20, but he turns 21 in 11 days (playing as an overager this season). Freshly dealt to the Pats from his hometown Blades which ensures that he’ll get some big minutes in the Memorial Cup this spring. He missed all of last season, and it’s been quite impressive how he’s bounced back with damn near 1.5 PPG on a weaker Blades team (though much better than they were in his tenure there).
Dillon Simpson Bakersfield AHL
Pos: LD Ht: 6’2 Wt: 205 Shot: L Age: 24
Acquired: 4th Round, 92nd Overall, 2011 Draft
In the past when I’ve done this list, I’ve avoided the “veteran prospects”. It wasn’t as if I didn’t like any of the guys, I just didn’t view them as prospects. But I’m slightly changing that tune, though it’s highly unlikely you’ll see me rank any of them in the top 15 or so. I like Simpson’s game and wouldn’t have been against rolling with him as the seventh defenceman had they started the season that way. Chances are slim at best that he’s going to get a shot with the team now being nine D deep, and who knows if they’ll qualify him this summer. It’s a shame though, because I think there might be a player there. The knock has always been the wheels, but he makes up for it with IQ, composure, and how well he moves the puck.
Joey Laleggia Bakersfield AHL
Pos: LW Ht: 5’10 Wt: 185 Shot: L Age: 25
Acquired: 5th Round, 123rd Overall, 2012 Draft
Not at all about production here. Much like I mentioned with Russell, nobody is tearing it up in the AHL for the Condors. Laleggia is 2nd on the team in scoring right behind Ty Rattie though (21 points in 33 games). But the team doesn’t have any centres who can produce offensively. So when that’s the case, you have to really scout what the kid can do and how he may fit with a good centre at the next level. The wheels are real good, he’s put up offensive numbers in the past whether it be as a winger or defenceman, and he’s responsible defensively. I think of a kid like Bryan Rust or Brandon Tanev who never put up the kind of numbers in the AHL which would garner attention, yet when playing with the right guys they’re very effective players. He’s very much like Simpson in that I’ve always felt like there might be something with Laleggia, and it’d be nice to see him get a few games at some point this season to see what they really have before possibly moving on from him this summer.
I felt while writing this that I better break it up between the honourable mentions and the top 20. Otherwise it would just feel like a top 24 list, wouldn’t it?! So I guess I can hit on a few of the other kids in the system while doing that. I hated both the Markus Niemelainen and Matt Cairns picks in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft and so far they both look like disasters. I actually had Niemelainen ranked in the mid 30’s going into the draft, but to be real honest I recall not being a fan despite having him there (definitely a case where I wasn’t being honest with myself on how I truly felt, just going with the rest of the scouting world). Tough player to get a read on because he isn’t and never will be a great two way player. He’s big and for such a big kid he’s really mobile. But he’s back in Finland this season and from all reports he doesn’t seem to be growing as a player. He was still eligible for the WJC this season, and I’m not even sure he was on Finland’s radar (though how do I know of course). The kid I personally liked with that 63rd pick in the draft for the Oilers was Adam Fox, taken at 65 by the Calgary Flames…As for Cairns, he’s only got into one game so far this season with Cornell. I know he was viewed as a project, but he did nothing to really impress in the USHL or the BCHL last season, and it continues to look like a wasted pick. I’ll never forget reading about him leading into the draft and thinking “what is anyone seeing in this kid to make him a top 100 prospect?” The very next pick? St. Albert native and Ducks stud prospect Josh Mahura. OOPS!!! Hopefully I’ll get proven very wrong someday soon.
Also at some point I had to mention the great work that @EDProspectWatch does on You Tube. If you want to follow these kids and how they’re tracking, you follow him on Twitter, and you subscribe to his You Tube page and trust me you won’t regret it! The guy just does phenomenal work and I believe he mentioned something not that long ago about doing a new top 20 list himself (likely will be better than this one!) so watch for that to come out before too long. Ok, that’s a good enough break I think…eh?! On to the top 20.
***Made a very embarrassing mistake when I first put out these rankings, having Miroslav Svboda as the 15th prospect when he is no longer property of the team. Stupid, sloppy, embarrassing mistake. It’s been corrected now, but I apologize for the mistake.
20. Patrick Russell Bakersfield AHL
Pos: RW Ht: 6’1 Wt: 205 Shot: R Age: 25
Acquired: Free Agent, Signed May 9th, 2016
Russell really shows some ability if you watch him play. But he just turned 25. So it’s questionable whether the kid is going to grow into anything more than what he currently is. He could, it’s not unheard of. Look at a guy like Derek Ryan, or Fernando Pisani. You’ll see a trend with any of the AHL kids I talk about on here. It’s tough to get a read on how good their potential is this season as the club has really been struggling offensively. But what I can say is Russell shows a lot of power down low, and pretty good explosiveness.
19. Shane Starrett Whichita ECHL
Pos: G Ht: 6’5 Wt: 195 Glove: L Age: 23
Acquired: Free Agent, Signed April 10th, 2017
I know it’s only been in the ECHL thus far, but thus far Starrett has looked pretty good! 6th in the league in Sv% at .923 as of writing this. He got the one start in the AHL thanks to the shuffling that went on when Talbot went down, and even though he took the loss, he made 44 of 47 stops. He looked great in his start at the rookie tournament in Penticton this past fall too. Only gets to 19th for now, because it is only the East Coast league, but it’ll be interesting to see how he’ll do once room is made for him in Bakersfield. He’s got the size and in today’s NHL that’s half the battle for a goaltender.
18. Tyler Vesel Nebraska-Omaha NCAA
Pos: C Ht: 5’10 Wt: 182 Shot: R Age: 23
Acquired: 6th Round, 153rd Overall, 2014 Draft
I might have Vesel too low. Then again, I might have him too high. But he’s a kid who I haven’t seen much of. Even in highlight clips, it’s tough to get a read on how his game might translate. Doesn’t seem to score a lot off the rush, more shifty and agile than speedy in my viewings (but fully admit that could be wrong with how little I’ve truly seen him). Maybe a good way to look at his production is by comparing it to former teammate Jake Guentzel? Guentzel in his final season with the program put up 46 points in 35 games. Vesel as of right now is a little below a PPG (16 points in 20 games), second in points on the team (behind Edmonton product David Pope), but the team this season isn’t anywhere near as good as that 2016 team was which Guentzel played on. It’ll be much easier to get a read on him should they get him signed and into Bakersfield for next season.
17. Joe Gambardella Bakersfield AHL
Pos: LW Ht: 5’10 Wt: 200 Shot: L Age: 24
Acquired: Free Agent, Signed March 28th, 2017
I doubt he’s having the start to his pro career that he would of liked to (just 6 points in 16 games), but I’m keeping him in the top 20 because he’s still got that great speed, real good wrist shot, and while he’s not that tall he has a real thick frame. And again, the Condors aren’t scoring much this season, there’s no high scoring AHL centre like Anton Lander was last season to get the most out of these wingers, so it’s tougher to judge their performances. I know he went through college and was signed as a centre, but though I could be mistaken, I believe Bakersfield has used him primarily on the wing this season and as I’ve said before in my write up’s about him that is where I see him ending up should he make it to the show. He’s got the tools to play, just a matter of putting it all together.
16. Philip Kemp Yale NCAA
Pos: RD Ht: 6’3 Wt: 202 Shot: R Age: 18
Acquired: 7th Round, 208th Overall, 2017 Draft
An invite to team USA WJC camp as a 7th rounder in your 18 year old year? That’s a HELL of a start to Kemp’s development. Not only that, but he was the final cut for the States, and Elliotte Friedman even made a point of mentioning this in his 31 Thoughts article a few weeks back. “Edmonton’s hoping it found a diamond-in-the-rough late in the 2017 Draft. Seventh-rounder Philip Kemp (208th overall), was the final defenceman cut from the Team USA World Junior roster. No guarantees, but that was a good showing for him.” I said to a buddy after reading that “you know Friedman didn’t just write that after seeing it, he asked around if the kid was possibly the real deal as a prospect.” I’ve hardly seen Kemp play, and though I really like the combination of RH shooting 6’3 D-man who skates well and is at an Ivy League school, I still don’t have enough on Kemp to rank him higher than this. But it’s clear to me that in Chiarelli’s three drafts that he’s high (or someone in the room is) on simply taking RH shooting D-men who skate well, have a good size, and show intelligence. John Marino, 6th round in 2015, righty, attends Harvard, 6’2, good skater. Vincent Desharnais, 7th round in 2016, righty, attends Providence, 6’6, good skater. Kemp is the same as those two and frankly its strategy I really like. You get down to the 6th and 7th rounds, just look for guys who have most of the unteachable traits covered and of course we know the value of the righty shot on the blueline. He took someone who fits this bill when he was in Boston in the 2012 draft named Matt Benning.
15. John Marino Harvard NCAA
Pos: RD Ht: 6’2 Wt: 190 Shot: R Age: 20
Acquired: 6th Round, 154th Overall, 2015 Draft
He’s a ways away, but if you’ve read my first two Oilers top prospect lists then you know I’m a big John Marino guy. Righty shot, decent size, real good skater, high IQ, and moves the puck real well. For a 6th rounder, this is what the Oilers need. And I hit on it earlier while talking about Philip Kemp that this is smart strategy by whoever is suggesting it for the Oilers at the draft table. The big problem for Marino is he has Flames prospect and team USA blueliner Adam Fox playing in front of him, and they’re both RH shooting D-men so they never play together. I love everything I hear on Marino though and believe the Oilers will look to get him signed at the conclusion of this season.
14. Stuart Skinner Swift Current WHL
Pos: G Ht: 6’3 Wt: 205 Glove: L Age: 19
Acquired: 3rd Round, 78th Overall, 2017 Draft
The freshly dealt Stuart Skinner as he was just moved from Lethbridge to the Swift Current Broncos. Not a great season for Skinner to this point, yet I’m starting to see his pattern is that he plays up and down to his competition. His best game of the season so far was a 47 save performance against Portland who lead the WHL’s Western Conference. Skinner was awesome in his start at the rookie tournament in the fall, and of course was tremendous for the Canes in their run to the Eastern Conference finals in the WHL playoffs last spring. Yet his numbers don’t look that good at all. So I believe we have to ignore the numbers with Skinner to a point because it’s quite possible that the bigger the game, the better he’s going to play. So that’s the positive, but we still need to start seeing that higher level on a consistent basis. I’ve never been quiet about not liking the pick for the organization (not that I don’t like Skinner, just didn’t like the move to trade up for him and not for others), so he had better prove the organization right in doing it. I’ll be a little interested to see if maybe the team doesn’t have him back in the WHL next season as an OA. With so many kids potentially taking up spots in Bakersfield and Whichita next season, if the organization has that option I’m wondering if they might take advantage of it?
13. Aapeli Rasanen Boston College NCAA
Pos: C Ht: 6’0 Wt: 190 Shot: R Age: 19
Acquired: 6th Round, 153rd Overall, 2016 Draft
Pre World Juniors I had him on the list. I was well aware of Rasanen from the day they picked him, always liked the pick. But at the WJC, he just looked to me like a kid who is going to play in the league. So he jumped up quite a few spots. This ranking is a lot more about the probability that he’ll play rather than upside. Because I don’t see Rasanen becoming a kid who’ll produce much, but more like a better version of what Mark Letestu is. You can use him on the PP, PK, give him tougher minutes and he can handle it. He’s just solid all around. Good size, good speed, good shot, dominated the WJC in the dot. The best centre in the system shouldn’t be 12th on the list, so this must be fixed by the organization by the time the 2018 draft has wrapped up. Having said that, I believe the Oilers have a regular someday soon who was taken with a 6th round pick, not too shabby.
12. Graham McPhee Boston College NCAA
Pos: LW Ht: 6’1 Wt: 175 Shot: L Age: 19
Acquired: 5th Round, 135th Overall, 2016 Draft
Ok, so the story here is that I made a lot of mistakes while making my original list. You would think that after 6 years of blogging that I’d learn to trust my head a little less, because what happens is I’m so confident in my ability to remember sports and especially Oiler related things that I mess up. So I end up making embarrassing mistakes that make this look like amateur hour such as including Miroslav Svboda in my rankings when the team no longer owns his rights, or completely forget about Graham McPhee. This one wasn’t near as bad at the moment I put these rankings out, but he still deserved to be ranked. At the time? Probably 16th or 17th. But since my mistake, he’s been on fire and made me want to come back and adjust this list. Not cause I want to look right, but I want to get it right for anyone who may want to look this up. The kid has sniper written all over him as he loves to get it off his stick as quickly as possible. The size is going to be real good once he’s filled out, and the wheels are well above average. I would guess with both McPhee and Rasanen the talk from Pete Chiarelli this spring will be “we can do a deal now if you want to come out, we’d prefer you stay one more year and dominate, but it’s up to you.” I would guess they’ll stay, but then it’ll be a concern in the spring of 2019 whether or not the Oilers can get these two signed. Both are intriguing.
11. William Lagesson Djurgardens IF SHL
Pos: LD Ht: 6’2 Wt: 198 Shot: L Age: 21
Acquired: 4th Round, 91st Overall, 2014 Draft
From off the list the last time around to cracking the top 11 this time around. And I made mention of this in another blog I wrote, but it was difficult to leave him off when I did, because the guy was a personal favourite. I loved his game, but felt others had a higher ceiling. Then he may have been the best defenceman in rookie camp, so I know nothing! And his ranking is a lot like Rasanen’s where I don’t love the upside, but I really love the potential to be a regular. I’m not sure it’s fair to say he’s a Radko Gudas type because I don’t see him as being THAT nasty (also Gudas is a top four, I don’t see Lagesson being more than a five), but he’s got an edge to him without a doubt. Skates well, and can move the puck well. I do believe he has a bit of untapped offensive potential which could come out if he’s in the right role. But I see an old school/stay at home type defenceman here with the skating and puck moving ability you now need to go with that to succeed in the league.
10. Filip Berglund Skelleftea SHL
Pos: RD Ht: 6’3 Wt: 209 Shot: R Age: 20
Acquired: 3rd round, 91st overall, 2016 draft
I read a piece David Staples did a couple months ago on Berglund and had some really good stuff in there. One of the things he actually attributed to Jonathan Willis, and was said by Swedish hockey reporter Robin Lindgren. “If the offence comes with him, that’s gravy, as plenty of good Swedish defenders (including Larsson and Oscar Klefbom) have failed to put up big numbers in the SHL.” In the piece Lindgren also stated that Berglund reminded him a lot of Larsson. In 26 games in the SHL this season, Berglund has 2 goals and 5 assists. Compare that with last season where he had no goals and 9 assists in 47 games played. So he’s obviously showing improvement on the offensive side of things, while defensively from every report you can find the kid is a rock, and with the limited viewings I can find of him he moves real well. I know the reason he got passed over in the 2015 draft was because of a pretty bad knee injury, but he seems to have rebounded really well from it.
9. Ryan Mantha Bakersfield AHL
Pos: RD Ht: 6’5 Wt: 225 Shot: R Age: 21
Acquired: Free Agent, Signed March 1st, 2017
Mantha has been coming on a little bit of late, though one of his three goals on the season was an EN goal. The size is real good as you can read, and the mobility, while it could stand to improve, is solid…especially for someone this big. And he’s got a bomb of a shot which he gets away quickly and pretty accurately. It’s always difficult to get a good read on AHL defencemen, even more so on such a low scoring team like the Condors are. But midway through his first season of pro hockey there really hasn’t been any reason to get more or less excited about Mantha. Most Oilers observers love the thought of Ethan Bear getting on that top PP unit as soon as possible, but Mantha has all the tools to be that guy someday as well.
8. Dmitri Samorukov Guelph OHL
Pos: LD Ht: 6’2 Wt: 181 Shot: L Age: 18
Acquired: 3rd Round, 84th Overall, 2017 Draft
If I did tiers like I do for my prospect lists leading into the draft, this would definitely be a new tier starting with Samorukov as we go from guys who have low ceilings or are more projects to the kids with much higher ceilings. I admit, I didn’t know a lot about him when he was drafted. Now that I’m following him, I’m loving what I’m seeing. I wouldn’t say he’s a project, but I would say the upside is unlimited with this kid. Love the size, love the mobility (not only a real good skater but very agile), love how active he plays, the shot looks great, and it’s really just a matter of how coachable he’s going to be. If he’s got the IQ and coachability to go with his talent, this kids going to be a top four guy someday because the ability is without a doubt there. One of only three 18 year old kids to play for Russia at the WJC, and when he got a chance to move up in the lineup he really thrived (I believe that was in the quarter final game against the States).
7. Dylan Wells Peterborough OHL
Pos: G Ht: 6’2 Wt: 182 Glove: L Age: 19
Acquired: 5th Round, 123rd Overall, 2016 Draft
He takes a fall down my rankings with a combination of others playing very well, and he not playing up to last years standards as of writing this. But he’s still showing flashes of being terrific, and I really believe it’s just typical of a goaltender to have his up’s and down’s, but considering in the summer he looked like a legitimate threat to Carter Hart’s job on the World Junior team to not even likely being much of a consideration for an invite to camp, he has to move down the rankings a bit. Still, I really do see Wells as a high end prospect and believe he’s got all the tools, including the makeup, to play in the league. His numbers have climbed a bit from earlier in the year (his G.S.A.A. is now up to 5.43, yet still nowhere near the incredible 31.87 he put up last year), and you have to remember that he’s playing on a very bad Peterborough Petes team.
6. Ostap Safin St. John QMJHL
Pos: RW Ht: 6’4 Wt: 191 Shot: L Age: 18
Acquired: 4th Round, 115th Overall, 2017 Draft
This is the first of three wingers who all have different style games, but not much separates them as prospects in my mind. Safin was a personal favourite of mine going into the draft (had him 47th in my final rankings), and I had him only one spot below this entering the season. Yet still, Safin has exceeded my expectations a bit this season. He leads the Sea Dogs in scoring, has been around a PPG player all season, and something you have to keep in mind is that the Q has gone from an absurdly high scoring league to maybe the lowest scoring league in the CHL. So to be a PPG player (sitting 35th in PPG as of writing this), and on a team which after trading Joe Velano now has nobody for him to play with, is pretty impressive. And that’s just the bonus. Safin, much like Samorukov, is a kid who isn’t really a project, but has an unlimited ceiling. With his size, skating, and willingness to play a physical game, the sky is the limit for this kid. Reminds me a lot of Jujhar Khaira (with more offensive upside). There is an off switch, and that’s the downside with him. But when he’s on, he is terrific.
5. Tyler Benson Vancouver WHL
Pos: LW Ht: 6’0 Wt: 190 Shot: L Age: 19
Acquired: 2nd Round, 32nd Overall, 2016 Draft
Talk about your turnarounds. Late October, and Benson still hadn’t suited up yet. At that point I’m saying to anyone who is familiar with the situation “this is looking bleak, and this kid is looking like a write off”. I mean, he was supposed to be ready for camp, and now it’s a month into the season and he’s still not playing?! But oh my….he literally took three games to knock the rust off, and has been on FREAKING FIRE ever since! Is he a great skater? No, he’s not a great skater. But I’d say he’s an ok skater and such an intelligent player that he won’t have problems keeping up. In his draft year I used Mark Stone as the comparison, and I’m a little proud of myself for thinking of that because that’s really who he has the potential to be. Thick, physical, intelligent, can play quick and skates good enough. David Perron is another guy who comes to mind, though Benson will likely be more physical and less of a pest than Perron. As long as he can stay healthy, I really believe Benson is going to end up on McDavid’s wing in a few seasons because he can think the game at a similar level.
4. Kirill Maksimov Niagara OHL
Pos: RW Ht: 6’2 Wt: 192 Shot: R Age: 18
Acquired: 5th Round, 146th Overall, 2017 Draft
Speaking of kids who have potential to ride shotgun with McDavid….he gets the nod over Benson for 4th mainly because I feel like he has a game and something that nobody else in the entire organization brings to the table, and that is a pure sniper mentality. This kid can flat out RIP. IT. His skating isn’t terrific, much like Benson, but unlike Benson, I feel as though Maksimov has room to improve his stride. It appears to my naked eye that Maksimov currently lacks lower body strength, so once that improves we could see him gain that extra gear. It’s not bad though, definitely could play in the league with the wheels he has as long as that shot continues to be the weapon it is. Just go look at the way he scores. Everything is Hull/Stamkos/Heatley/Kessel like. I’m not saying he’ll become one of those guys, but he scores the same way they score. Of course in saying that I’m mostly referring to his one timer. His wrist shot has literally no back swing, and is also an absolute bullet. Remember Joe Sakic’s? His might be that good. And he’s a righty, so on the PP in two, three, or four years, what a weapon to have with McDavid! Some other things to take in here, he’s 5th in the OHL in goals (25 in 36 games as of writing this). Three of the four in front of him have played either three of four more games. The only guy who hasn’t is Boris Katchouk who has the luxury of playing on the OHL’s top team, and with it’s top point producer in Morgan Frost. Maksimov has Ben Jones, who isn’t a slouch, but he’s not near what Frost has done. It’s extremely early in the process, a long road ahead developing, but so far Maksimov has me ecstatic about what he could become.
3. Ethan Bear Bakersfield AHL
Pos: RD Ht: 5’11 Wt: 205 Shot: R Age: 20
Acquired: 5th Round, 124th Overall, 2015 Draft
Holding firm in the three/four slot. Had him third in the spring, fourth in the fall, back to three here thanks to a graduation (at least in my rankings). But if he hadn’t missed time with a concussion this season, he might be higher in these rankings as he got off to a torrid start for a rookie in the AHL. Again, just like the last two guys I talked about and is always top of mind with Bear, skating is the debate. And again, like the two guys below him, he’s probably got wheels which are good enough. I recall a Vancouver analytics guy on Twitter during the rookie tournament describing his skating as “passable” while raving about Bear. The issue though is that if all three of these 3-5 prospects were to make it, with how fast this league is getting, the team speed then would start to take a hit. But make no mistake, Bear will play in the league, it’s just a matter of whether he’ll be a number six who is a PP specialist, or a top four.
2. Caleb Jones Bakersfield AHL
Pos: LD Ht: 6’1 Wt: 190 Shot: L Age: 20
Acquired: 4th Round, 117th Overall, 2015 Draft
Finally, a kid with no skating issues. Not only doesn’t have skating issues, but is likely the best skater in the pipeline. Jones is playing in the league someday, it’s just a matter of when, and how good will he be. Right now the big thing in Bakersfield is for him to learn how to play in his own end. Gaps, positioning, stick, handling bigger players down low, etc. But that’s all stuff that can be coached up. His wheels and offensive instincts really can’t be. I won’t be shocked if Jones is pushing for a spot sometime next season should Peter Chiarelli (or whomever the GM could be…) can move out the right people, because they’ll need some cheap contracts on their bottom pair. We better start wrapping our heads around the fact that Darnell Nurse is playing himself into a big extension that could exceed five million a year. So Jones very possibly will have a chance to earn a spot, and I really believe that after a couple seasons on the bottom pairing, he’ll be pushing for a top four role. The only thing that would hold him back is if he’s not coachable, which with the way he’s developed to this point, and how he embraced his role of Charlie McAvoy’s guardian so to speak at last year’s WJC, he really doesn’t seem like a kid who coaches have trouble getting through to.
1. Kailer Yamamoto Spokane WHL
Pos: RW Ht: 5’8 Wt: 154 Shot: R Age: 19
Acquired: 1st Round, 22nd Overall, 2017 Draft
A no brainer here. Work on your shot kid, and that’s about it. Yamamoto is almost guaranteed to be in a top six role on the Oilers next season. Part of that is because of his rookie deal and how he can only be a max of 1.1 million against the cap, but even if that weren’t the case he’d be a prime candidate to step in. I could care less that he hasn’t torn apart the WHL since he returned to Spokane, or that he didn’t set the WJC on fire (got better and better as the tourney went on though). The kid damn near stuck with the NHL team this year and spent time on their top line…and if he had a better shot…which he likely will next season…then he probably is still there. He’s tiny, but other than that the kid possess everything you want. Speed, vision, intelligence, work ethic, determination, he plays the game you want every player to play it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: he constantly gets a Johnny Gaudreau comparison, and that’s nice, but he’s much more Marty St. Louis than Johnny Gaudreau. I think we’ll see as time goes on he’ll become a little more chippy of a player, just because of the intensity he plays with, it’s bound to come out on a consistent basis.
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