September 05 2013 09:55AM
There’s no secret that the strength of the Edmonton Oilers prospect group can be found on the blue line. That’s good on the one hand because it’s the area where the team needs high-end help. On the other hand, an NHL team can only break in so many rookies at one position at a time, so it’s worth asking when these players will be NHL ready and in what order.
The chart above shows the season I expect a player to be in a position to play 25+ games in the NHL (assuming, of course, that they make it at all). It’s based on recent Oilers’ history, which has mostly seen defencemen graduate in the 20-24 age range, with the average around age 22.
Oscar Klefbom is the prime candidate for time this year; the organization has been extremely upbeat about his progress, he has draft pedigree, and it would be unsurprising in the least if he were to graduate to Edmonton after half a season or so in the AHL. Taylor Fedun goes here, too, because he’s last year’s top right-side AHL’er and at the age of 25 he’s at the point where most players either make the jump or start looking for a second opinion.
After a strong first AHL campaign, Martin Marincin would be in the mix too except that the Oilers are loaded on defence and Klefbom is in front of him. Another year in the AHL won’t hurt and he’s likely to make the jump next year. Brandon Davidson also lands here, after two and a half AHL seasons and at the age of 23; he established himself as an AHL’er last year and this gives him a full season to push up the depth chart and then most of another to wait for an opportunity. Brad Hunt, meanwhile, is in a similar position to Fedun.
I have assumed that Darnell Nurse will be returned to junior twice to mature physically before cracking the Oilers’ roster. This timetable has him making the team at age 20 – early, yes, but given his draft position expected. Martin Gernat and David Musil are both essentially on the Marincin track here, with two seasons of AHL play before competing for NHL time at the end of their entry-level deals; a slow pro debut could push this back a year but either could start strong and challenge a year earlier, too. Dillon Simpson finishes his college career and gets a full year in the AHL before pushing for playing time at age 22. Erik Gustafsson gets one more season in Europe, one season in North America to establish himself, and is then pushing for NHL time.
Finally, Ben Betker gets penciled in at age 23; that’s at the long end for an Oilers’ defence prospect but he was a late pick so it makes sense to give him some time.
Obviously, things won’t work out exactly this way. Some players will be traded, some may not sign (or be signed), and others won’t develop into NHL’ers. There’s no way to know with any certainty who will make it and who won’t. Looking at Lowetide’s top-20 list from five seasons ago is instructive – of a group of four real prospects, Theo Peckham eventually made it in a depth role, Jeff Petry turned out very well, Taylor Chorney got 42 games on a terrible 2009-10 team that look to be the heart of his NHL career, and Cody Wild did nothing. Peckham and Petry and Chorney all got looks at the highest level, though.
Klefbom, Marincin and Nurse look to be the first guys in line for NHL work over the next three years, and the Oilers could conceivably rework their depth chart to include all three at the major-league level (though it’s both a squeeze and that’s an awfully young group). Gernat, Simpson and Musil are the other three guys who look like they have the best case for NHL employment, but the timeline is rough – especially if the Oilers plan to be contending for the Stanley Cup in 2015-16 (which they absolutely should be). I really wonder, just looking at this, if Simpson signs an entry-level with the Oilers.
Outside of Klefbom and Nurse (key guys the team seems to want to build around), a lot of these players look like candidates for the ‘team trades top prospect for immediate help’ kind of move good clubs make at the deadline.
Recently around the Nation Network
Brian Burke is joining the Calgary Flames hockey operations group, and at Flames Nation Book of Loob has already decided what he's looking forward to most:
If this all comes to fruition, my favourite part of his tenure will be whatever synonym for "Aggressive" he uses to coin the direction of the team (Truculent is so played out). My personal favourites are Bellicosity and (my personal favourite) Scurrilous. Damn that sounds hip.
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