I was listening to Oilers Now yesterday. Full disclosure, I don’t normally listen when Bob doesn’t host, but I wanted to hear some of the fan feedback after the game seven loss. No doubt it hurts, but that was likely as easy of a game seven loss as a franchise will ever suffer! I was expecting fans to be disappointed, but all pretty pumped. NOPE! Callers to radio shows are always going to be a bit off. But every caller?! It really makes me question if fans aren’t so scared from what’s gone on here the last decade that they can’t comprehend what this team is on the verge of becoming.
I’m certain most of you reading this understand it though. And it’s not to be a fan boy about it, and it’s not to discount that there is still work to be done. But this team is going to be picked to win the Cup starting this fall. Not by all, but by some, and it’s not going to be any kind of hot take. They’re now a contender, and they’re setup to last a long time.
Obviously I’m hyped about what’s on the roster and the fact that this team is loaded with kids 24 and under, a lot of whom aren’t just on the team, but are leading this team. And with the team taking that massive turn we had all been eagerly awaiting since the 2010 draft, what has flown under the radar is how well this team is all of a sudden drafting and developing. Obviously we know why this has flown under the radar, but unfortunately it is now the offseason and we need to start looking to the future.
Being a big draft guy, I’d like to focus for a minute on the 22nd pick. The way I’m looking at it, you either go centre or defence there. Even if the Oilers don’t manage to land Spencer Foo in free agency, you can always put a centre on the wing. I’m getting to the point now where, at least for me, where the winger has to knock me on my ass with his skill set to like him over a centre. Now, who am I right? But I’m certain there are NHL GM’s who see this the same way.
The kid I’ve loved for months now is Owen Sound centre Nick Suzuki. In February that looked possible at 22. Now, not a chance if you ask me as he has rocketed up a lot of lists. In my latest mock draft I had London Knights centre Robert Thomas. 5’11, 185 pounds, right handed shot, great wheels, already real good in the dot and a point per game player this season. Another one I really like is Jaret Anderson-Dolan out of Spokane. He’d be a BIT of a reach at 22 the way most lists currently look, but the same size as Thomas with better point totals and just as good of speed. Was held off the board at the U18’s for Canada, but was named captain of the team which is always a positive.
If you’re thinking a blueliner is the way to go, Henri Jokiharju is the kid I like. 6’0, 176 pounds with a right handed shot. He’s a great skater, needs work in his own zone but what I really like about the kid is he’s always playing on his toes and does not lack aggression both in terms of taking chances and willingness to battle. The one thing about taking a D-man in the draft, even though the Oil are pretty stocked with them right now, is that they always have great trade value. Trades are nearly impossible to make these days, but defencemen are at an all time high as the Hall/Larsson swap proved, so you really can’t go wrong taking a defencemen. Especially a right handed shooting puck mover.
But enough draft talk for now, onto the top 10.
Before I get started on the list, let’s make one thing very clear. While I go glass half full with all these kids, it’s all hypothetical. I’d say if four of these guys become SOMETHING, then it’s a massive win. Also should mention, the ages are as of September 1st, 2017, so some guys aren’t as old currently as they’re listed (i.e. Ethan Bear). I also put their team as who they played for the majority of this season rather than who they’ll be with to start 17-18. Hopefully that puts to rest any misunderstandings of how I did this.
Ryan Mantha Niagara OHL
Pos: D Ht: 6’5 Wt: 225 Shot: R Age: 21
Acquired: Free Agent, Signed March 1st, 2017
One of the latest additions to the Oilers stable. Mantha was originally drafted by the Rangers in the 4th round of the 2014 draft, but they chose not to sign him. I have a tough time at this point ranking him. That size and those numbers this season say he’s a hell of a prospect, but he was an overager this season for Niagara. Intriguing package, but the jury will still be very much out on him for now. I’m guessing he’ll start the season in Bakersfield, likely part of the agreement when he chose the Oilers.
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, hence not being taken until last June. 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.
William Lagesson UMass-Amherst NCAA
Pos: D Ht: 6’2 Wt: 198 Shot: L Age: 21
Acquired: 4th Round, 91st Overall, 2014 Draft
When I’ve seen and when I read up on Lagesson, everything points towards a Darius Kasparaitis type. Bigger offensive numbers would without a doubt be nice to see, but he skates well, and he’s simply miserable to play against. As a prospect he reminds me a lot of Brandon Davidson, not at all in style of play, but in the sense that every time I watched and read something on Davidson, I liked it. Same deal with Lagesson. I love that he’s going back to Sweden next season, I believe it’ll really help his development.
Bogdan Yakimov Nizhnekamsk KHL
Pos: C Ht: 6’5 Wt: 232 Shot: L Age: 22
Acquired: 3rd Round, 83rd Overall, 2013 Draft
Full disclosure, I’m not sure how it works with his rights. I don’t see why he wouldn’t be under team control next season, but he is listed as an RFA this summer so I’d assume he needs qualifying? For now, I’m listing him here. He’s still got a very intriguing skill set. I would never get overly excited about what he can bring to the table should he come back over, but I do believe he’s capable of being a Brian Boyle type with the upside to be more Michal Handzus…which of course is code for “a 3rd or 4th line centre”. I’m definitely not holding my breathe on him, but until they officially don’t own his rights I believe he is still worth mentioning.
10. 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 this 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, very 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.
9. 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 next season, although he does have Calgary 2016 3rd rounder Adam Fox to contend with.
8. Markus Niemelainen Saginaw OHL
Pos: D Ht: 6’5 Wt: 200 Shot: L Age: 19
Acquired: 3rd Round, 63rd Overall, 2016 Draft
I really didn’t understand this pick. It was great value, as most had Niemelainen as a late first/early second round pick. But he was just more of what the Oilers had. Adam Fox (getting mentioned twice in an Oilers piece, impressive) was taken two picks later by the Flames, and I personally felt Fox was a lot better fit for the Oilers in the organization. Of course this is where I explain that as years have gone on I’ve become much more of a pick for need guy than a BPA guy because of the difficulty making trades has become. Having said all this, he is similar to Adam Larsson in that he will not wow you in anyway, but can completely shut down the other teams top line. He’ll be around 215-220 once he fills out, has great mobility for his size, and despite low offensive numbers he moves the puck very well. Like William Lagesson, I’m a big fan of the fact that he’s headed back to Finland to play pro next season. Should help his development a lot.
7. Ziyat Paigin Kazan Ak-Bars KHL
Pos: D Ht: 6’6 Wt: 209 Shot: L Age: 22
Acquired: 7th Round, 209th Overall, 2015 Draft
Man, it’s still ridiculously early, but the hope is very much alive that Peter Chiarelli knocked it out of the park with the D-men he selected post McDavid in the 2015 draft. Paigin’s calling card is his bomb from the point. But he has a long way to go in his development. He has the skill set you want (size, mobility, willingness to engage physically), but he still needs a season in Bakersfield. I can’t find and didn’t hear anything about how he played in his five games after coming over, although I wouldn’t put much stock into those games having just come over from Russia to what is a vastly different league and style.
6. Tyler Benson Vancouver WHL
Pos: LW Ht: 6’0 Wt: 190 Shot: L Age: 19
Acquired: 2nd Round, 32nd Overall, 2016 Draft
Two brutal seasons from an injury standpoint. The other scary thing about Benson is he isn’t the most fleet of foot player, definitely needs to work on his first step. Having said this, there are too many positives in his game to quit on him as a prospect. First and foremost, look at what he was doing while healthy this season (42 points in 33 games). I’d be lying my ass off if I said the groin/pubic bone injury reoccurrence didn’t worry me. Absolutely does. But, should he play 60-70 games next season, he likely plays in the WJC, and he’ll likely dealt to a contender before January 10th. At this point I’m definitely not writing him off, and still think there is a good chance he’s a steal. It’s just going to take a bit longer than some thought.
5. Dylan Wells Peterborough OHL
Pos: G Ht: 6’2 Wt: 182 Glove: L Age: 19
Acquired: 5th Round, 123rd Overall, 2016 Draft
I first got hyped about Wells right after the Oilers drafted him last June. A few OHL scouts I follow on Twitter were raving about the pick moments after the pick was made, as they both firmly believed that Wells had all the tools to be a steal, he just hadn’t put it together to that point. Fast forward 10 months, and he’s really started to put it together. Wells has had a great season, but his play went to another level around midseason, and continued to be incredible during the Petes playoff run. Through his first 11 playoff games, Wells had a Sv% of .941. That did dip thanks to Peterborough getting destroyed in their final playoff game, but it was still a 2.51 G.A.A. and a .930 Sv%. Size wise he isn’t much bigger than Nick Ellis, but with Wells only being 19 he is more likely to pack on the 20-30 pounds both netminders need to play in the league. Goaltenders are a crap shoot, but I will say that had the Oilers taken Wells with a late 1st or early 2nd round pick, we’d all be raving about Wells right now. It’s still so very early in his development. BUT…so far, the pick has been a home run.
4. Griffin Reinhart Bakersfield AHL
Pos: D Ht: 6’4 Wt: 208 Shot: L Age: 23
Acquired: Trade, June 24th, 2015
As bitter as you are about this trade…I’m a whole lot more bitter about it than you are! I immediately hated the deal, and could not be talked out of it no matter how hard some of my buddies tried. Had they not done it and simply selected who they liked (sounds like Joel Eriksson Ek would have gone 16th, Brandon Carlo would have gone 33rd) they’d have one of the best prospect pools in the league right now. But, it’s done and we all need to get over. We also all need to understand that just because that trade was awful that it doesn’t mean Reinhart can’t play in the NHL. From all reports, he came on real strong around January in Bakersfield. It was only one game, but in his 13 minutes of play in game six, he did look solid. It’s the same old story with Reinhart. If he can get a chip on his shoulder and play with an edge (and I’m not just talking about throwing hits once in a while, but learning to play on his toes), he still has a chance to become a real solid top four defenceman. I’m hopeful he’s not about to be snagged by Vegas in the expansion draft, but I also have a feeling the reason the return was low on Brandon Davidson was because Peter Chiarelli knows that George McPhee will take one of Pouliot (likely) or Fayne, perhaps thanks to Peter greasing the wheels a bit. There for it was viewed as not only getting Desharnais, but shedding over 5 mil off the cap for 2018.
3. Ethan Bear Seattle WHL
Pos: D Ht: 5’11 Wt: 205 Shot: R Age: 20
Acquired: 5th Round, 124th Overall, 2015 Draft
It’s tough with Bear, because on one hand you can’t help but get giddy about the numbers he’s put up in the WHL the last two seasons and the fact that he was named the WHL defenceman of the year. But on the other hand, that foot speed just simply isn’t good enough right now. It’s not an easy thing to improve, but man, if he can get it to the level he needs to, this kid is going to be a huge steal. The fact that he’s playing in the WHL finals with what is suspected to be a broken hand really speaks to this kids character and toughness. And he’s not just a big shot on the PP. That PP runs through Bear just as much, if not more so (when I’ve seen them play) than it does through Matt Barzal. I really believe the upside on this kid is that he can be a Ryan Ellis type. But even if his skating doesn’t improve to that level, I still believe he can play in the league as a number six guy who is sheltered five on five but sees a ton of minutes on the PP and PK.
2. Caleb Jones Portland WHL
Pos: D Ht: 6’1 Wt: 190 Shot: L Age: 20
Acquired: 4th Round, 117th Overall, 2015 Draft
I’m not the only one noticing that he could be pushing for ice time next season am I? I’m not saying out of camp, but I could see him start getting looks on the big club around midseason or so, and by the 2018 offseason I could see a scenario where they’re looking for a way to get Sekera’s deal off the books to not only create cap space but also fit Jones onto the big club (depending on how Nurse’s development continues to go). 62 points in 63 games for Portland this season and was used on the top D pairing for the U.S. at the WJC this year in more of a shutdown role. He’s been a hell of a find. Some will scream that Bear should be ahead of Jones, but with Jones there is zero concern about his skating ability.
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’ve heard some people get worried about Puljujarvi. Guys, R-E-L-A-X. He just turned 19 five days ago. He was great in the AHL. He has nowhere near the strength to match his body size right now, you can see it with how he skates. He’s going to be an offensive driver. I believe his explosiveness will improve as he gains strength, and with that big frame and big ass he will be able to dominate defenders below the hash marks much like Jagr and Hossa can (not saying he’s going to be either of those guys, just in terms of how he protects the puck). He’s also going to live off McDavid feeds on the power play with that righty one timer he has. The Oilers have an absolute stud here. I could see a scenario in a few seasons where McDavid, Draisaitl and Puljujarvi are each anchoring their own line much the way Mike Sullivan used Crosby, Malkin and Kessel last season.
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