Oilers prospects: Who, where, why?

Jason Gregor
July 21 2014 11:00AM

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The Oilers prospect cupboard might be as full as it has ever been. They have good depth on the blueline, they finally have some skilled size in the system and, most importantly, they have a few prospects who are NHL ready.

The blueline has the most depth with Martin Marincin, Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Brandon Davidson, David, Musil, Martin Gernat, Dillon Simpson and William Lagesson.

Marincin played 44 NHL games last year and didn't look out of place. He played better in his first 25 games than he did in the final 19, but he showed he is ready to compete for a spot in the opening night roster.

Klefbom played 17 games and he improved with each game. He was cast in a more defensive role and  Dallas Eakins and Steve Smith weren't afraid to have him start shifts in the D zone. He is also ready to compete for a spot on the 23-man roster, but like Marincin if he isn't in the starting six, I'd rather see him in OKC than the #7 in the pressbox.

Last week, Rocky Thompson said that of the other D-men who played in OKC last year, Davidson is the next in line for a promotion. He liked his defensive game and expected Davidson to get some PP time this year to show off his offensive talents.

Musil needs to improve his skating. He has a wide stance and because of that he doesn't have a long stride. He has been working hard to lengthen his stride and get quicker, but until that happens I don't see him as a regular NHL D-man.

Gernat will get more ice time this year. He has excellent offensive instincts, but his biggest challenge will be putting in the necessary work to become a regular pro hockey player. There is no doubting his talent, but he needs to get stronger and quicker.

Simpson is only 21, and after four years of NCAA adapting to the busier schedule will be his biggest challenge. He will need a few years of seasoning in the AHL, and his year will a good test to see where he fits in the depth chart.

NURSE

That leads us to Darnell Nurse. The 7th overall pick in 2013 is in a unique situation. Due to his age and NHL rules, he can play in the NHL or in junior, but is ineligible to play in the AHL. If he was, it would be  no-brainer that he'd start the season in OKC.

However, since he will be in the Show or back in the Soo, the debate over where he fits best will be a spirited one. Nurse is committed to making the Oilers, as he should be. I wouldn't want a 1st round pick who didn't expect to make the team, but he will need to play unbelievably well to stay in Edmonton past nine games.

OHL blogger, Brock Otten writes about top OHL prospects and he wrote this about Nurse yesterday. What caught my eye was this line about Nurse's development.

I don't think there's much more that the OHL can teach him. If he returns, I think it will be a mistake and the Oilers will risk him developing some bad habits out of boredom (the way Alex Pietrangelo did in his 19 year old season).

I completely disagree.

First off, players can always work on things. Nurse has many aspects of his game he can improve on, and from the games I watched he wasn't a man against boys on every shift. He definitely had great games and some shifts where he dominated, but he would still be challenged this season.

He also would benefit greatly from playing for Canada at the World Juniors. He didn't make the team last year, so he hasn't mastered the junior ranks, and he'd be highly motivated to make it this season.

I'm also not sure what bad habits Pietrangelo developed in his final season in the OHL, because he didn't spend much time in junior.

Pietrangelo only played nine games for the Blues, but he was a healthy scratch often from October to December before they released him to play for Canada at the WJC.

Pietrangelo sat out the opening three games of the season before playing on October 10th. He then sat out the next four games, but returned to the lineup to play the next seven games. He watched from the pressbox for three more, and then played his final game on November 19th. He stayed with the Blues for a few more weeks before they sent him to WJC camp.

Pietrangelo won a silver medal for Canada at the 2010 WJC and he was named best D-man in the tournament. After the tourney was over the Blues assigned him to Niagara in the OHL. The Icedogs quickly traded him to the Barrie Colts.

He played 25 regular season games for the Colts, scoring 9-20-29 in 25 games and then another 17 playoff games.

The following season Pietrangelo was a regular with the Blues and he was their best D-man. He played the most minutes, led them in scoring with 43 points and his possession and quality of competition stats were very good.

I'm not sure what bad habits Otten was referring to, but there is no data that suggests Pietrangelo going back to junior delayed or hampered his development in any fashion.

It is interesting, however, to see how the Blues used him.

He spent two and a half months, including training camp and preseason, with the big club. He practiced with them but played in only 9 of the 25 games that he was there for. Young players can learn from sitting in the pressbox, and despite what some think, it isn't always a punishment to have them watch the game from upstairs.

The Oilers could conceivably do the exact same thing with Nurse. He could spend two months practicing with the team and playing only nine games. He could go play for Canada at the World Juniors and then spend January to April in junior.

It is very plausible, but I still see Nurse ending up in junior. I see him coming to camp, competing for a job, playing some preseason games and maybe an NHL game or two, but I'd be surprised to see him practicing with the club for two months and only playing nine games.

Jason Strudwick has said many times that the first 20 games of the season are much slower then the final 60, so gauging Nurse's NHL-readiness through the first quarter of the season can be misleading.

The other challenge for Nurse is that he will need to beat out two other left shooting defenders, Marincin or Klefbom, to crack the lineup. It wouldn't make much sense to have two of those young guys sitting out every night, so regardless of whether the Oilers keep seven or eight D-men out of training camp, one of Marincin or Klefbom starts the season in the AHL.

Either way, there is no tangible proof that playing another year of junior will hurt his development or see him create bad habits.

PARTING SHOTS

leon_draisaitl_prince_albert_012613

  • I spoke to Leon Draisaitl over the weekend for my article in the Edmonton Journal. If his on-ice play matches his desire, commitment and determination off the ice Oiler fans will love him. Instead of heading home for the summer, Draisaitl stayed in Edmonton and moved in with former owner (one of the Edmonton Investor Group) Bruce Saville. Very few 18 year old draft picks bypass the comfort of home to live in their new NHL city and train for the upcoming season. Good on him.

  • Draisaitl has yet to sign a contract, but it will happen soon. Here's a quick look at when the previous top-seven picks signed their deals.

    Taylor Hall signed his first contract on July 5th, 2010.
    Ryan Nugent-Hopkins signed his on July 2nd, 2011.
    Nail Yakupov put ink to paper on July 23rd, 2012.
    Darnell Nurse signed his deal on July 25th, 2013.

  • The Oilers will have some size down the middle in OKC. Bogdan Yakimov and Jujhar Khaira have size and skill. Toss in Mitch Moroz on the wing and the Oilers have a few options coming in a year or two.

  • I'm curious to see how Greg Chase, 7th round pick in 2013, does at the WJC summer camp. Chase has good skills, tallied 35-50-85 in 70 WHL games last year, and he's an agitator. Last year, Brent Sutter admitted he didn't have enough skilled grit on the team, so if Chase gets off to a good start with the Hitmen he should have a good shot to make Team Canada.

Recently by Jason Gregor:  

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#51 Henry
July 21 2014, 08:45PM
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@Quicksilver ballet

Brock Otten response:

That's perfectly fine. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Nowhere did I say that he dominated every shift. I said that he dominated quite a few shifts. There's a difference there.

Bottom line is that if he dominated quite a few shifts last year, the projection would be for him to dominate even more as a 19 year old. And that raises the question? Do you want him dominating the competition? Quite frankly, I'd rather my top prospect be challenged. It's only through adversity and challenge that we improve.

Pietrangelo is the perfect case of that. Jason Gregor can throw stats out as he wishes, but Pietrangelo was not terrific in that 19 year old year with Barrie (a year which I saw him a lot). He DID develop bad habits that year and in 08-09 with Niagara. He was making bad pinches, had developed a bit of lazyness away from the puck and in returning to his own end and times looked disinterested when the puck wasn't on his stick.

Did Pietrangelo turn out alright? Hell yeah he did. He's one of the top defenseman in the NHL already at a young age. But his final two years in junior, where he bounced around the NHL, and the OHL were not good years for him in the OHL.

Each individual prospect requires a different developmental path because no two people/players are the same psychologically.

The coaching staff in Sault Ste. Marie is top notch, among the best in the league. But what I'm simply saying is that I think he's learned all he can from the OHL. The coaching staff can't control the competition he'll be facing off against. Nurse is physically ready for the NHL. And I think he's mentally ready for it too. One of the most composed and mature kids in the O.

Nowhere in the article did I say that if the Oilers send him back to the OHL he'll be ruined and will never develop into an NHL player. I said I think it would be a mistake and I stick by that. I think he's ready for a new challenge.

July 21, 2014 at 4:12 PM Blogger Brock Otten said... I should add...

Yes, Nurse does have some things to work on. He's by no means the perfect player? But who is.

His ability to read the play, both offensively and defensively, is the biggest area of improvement needed from him.

But in the OHL, he can find so much success without having that particular trait, because of his skill set. In the NHL, he'd be forced to learn and forced to improve. That's just my two cents.

If he comes back to the OHL next year, dominates, wins a WJC Gold, wins Defenseman of the Year. That would all be fine and dandy. It's not going to screw him up. BUT, going into 2015/2016, when he goes to make Edmonton, he'll still have to learn how to play to the speed of the NHL and improve his decision making ability. Why not do it next year?

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#52 Dan 1919
July 21 2014, 09:33PM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

Hope they keep Nurse this season.

He may not have his license to kill just yet. Doesn't mean the Oilers can't give him his learners permit to do just that this coming season.

Hockey violence = good. Let the beast start showing he belongs.

Agreed, I think people are overestimating current Oiler D and underestimating Nurse right now. Everyone seems to forget the sad truth that Nurse should have made the Oilers last year based on training camp performance, but based on common sense, and his best interest, they sent him down regardless of his superior showings over the Petrys and Garbagekovs etc.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least two of Nurse, Klefbom and Marincin force their way onto the team next year, meaning Petry is the odd man out.

If that’s the case I’d expect Petry to be traded early in the season for a third liner, hopefully a 3C.

Or as the article suggests, maybe everything will continue slowly with one guy getting an NHL spot, but I just don’t see it. These guys are coming to the age and skill level where they start to take spots from the streaky guys who just can’t seem to find a consistent NHL game (Petry).

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#53 billythebullet
July 21 2014, 10:15PM
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Spoils wrote:

Nice article.

Just for fun - dreaming up the 2017ish FUTUREOiler lines. Curious who ends up where... what positions are we looking to fill - and who is likely to fill them.

Hall - Nuge - Yakupov
Perron - Draisaitl - Eberle
Pouliot - Yakimov - Purcell
Hendricks - Gordon - Chase

Nurse - Klefbom
Marincin - Schultz
Nikitin - Petry

Scrivens

thoughts?

Due to the age some of these guys will be in 2017 I doubt this roster looks remotely like this. Hall, Nuge, Eberle, Will in my opinion be the only 3 player's barring injury that will likely be a lock on this roster in 2017. Perron and Pouliot r my best geuss at the next 2 most likely forwards to still be kicking. If Drai is as good as we hope pencil him in, ditto yaks unless he continues down the scapegoat path. So for the heck of it this is what I hope for.

Hall-Nuge-Ebs Perron-Drai-Yaks Pouliot-Arco-who knows Moroz-Khaira-Chase As for your d, u could be bang on.

Goalies, Scrivens, and he may be getting pushed around by Broisoit for starts...

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#54 nuge2nail
July 21 2014, 10:37PM
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Oiler Domination To Follow

My prediction for the Oilers 2017 lineup:

Hall - Hopkins - Eberle

Perron - McDavid - Yakupov

Pouliot - Draisaitl - Khaira

Moroz - Yakimov - Chase

Nurse - Marincin

Nikitin - Fayne

Klefbom - Shultz

Scrivens - Broissoit

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#55 billythebullet
July 21 2014, 10:57PM
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@nuge2nail

McDavid if we win the lotto, will be better then rnh in less then 2yr. I think he's for real. obviously just my opinion.

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#56 Nina Russo
July 22 2014, 12:44AM
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"First 20 games of the season are much slower than the last 60" .... Exactly the training ground the rookies need to get upto speed in the NHL. Much better than throwing them in with no exposure in those last 60 games after playing at a lower level during the time when they could be getting actual NHL experience against actual NHL players for competition ... But who knows better than scribes and seasoned coaches of ... (wait for it) ... a whole year's worth of experience. Too bad you couldn't give certain. Coaches, managers or scribes a nine game audition.

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#57 Patrick Miranda
July 22 2014, 12:56AM
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Henry wrote:

Brock Otten response:

That's perfectly fine. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Nowhere did I say that he dominated every shift. I said that he dominated quite a few shifts. There's a difference there.

Bottom line is that if he dominated quite a few shifts last year, the projection would be for him to dominate even more as a 19 year old. And that raises the question? Do you want him dominating the competition? Quite frankly, I'd rather my top prospect be challenged. It's only through adversity and challenge that we improve.

Pietrangelo is the perfect case of that. Jason Gregor can throw stats out as he wishes, but Pietrangelo was not terrific in that 19 year old year with Barrie (a year which I saw him a lot). He DID develop bad habits that year and in 08-09 with Niagara. He was making bad pinches, had developed a bit of lazyness away from the puck and in returning to his own end and times looked disinterested when the puck wasn't on his stick.

Did Pietrangelo turn out alright? Hell yeah he did. He's one of the top defenseman in the NHL already at a young age. But his final two years in junior, where he bounced around the NHL, and the OHL were not good years for him in the OHL.

Each individual prospect requires a different developmental path because no two people/players are the same psychologically.

The coaching staff in Sault Ste. Marie is top notch, among the best in the league. But what I'm simply saying is that I think he's learned all he can from the OHL. The coaching staff can't control the competition he'll be facing off against. Nurse is physically ready for the NHL. And I think he's mentally ready for it too. One of the most composed and mature kids in the O.

Nowhere in the article did I say that if the Oilers send him back to the OHL he'll be ruined and will never develop into an NHL player. I said I think it would be a mistake and I stick by that. I think he's ready for a new challenge.

July 21, 2014 at 4:12 PM Blogger Brock Otten said... I should add...

Yes, Nurse does have some things to work on. He's by no means the perfect player? But who is.

His ability to read the play, both offensively and defensively, is the biggest area of improvement needed from him.

But in the OHL, he can find so much success without having that particular trait, because of his skill set. In the NHL, he'd be forced to learn and forced to improve. That's just my two cents.

If he comes back to the OHL next year, dominates, wins a WJC Gold, wins Defenseman of the Year. That would all be fine and dandy. It's not going to screw him up. BUT, going into 2015/2016, when he goes to make Edmonton, he'll still have to learn how to play to the speed of the NHL and improve his decision making ability. Why not do it next year?

ABSOLUTELY AGREE ... these bloggers and scribes are too afraid of losing their media pass to actually question what the "Established Oiler Management" brain thrust are force feeding them.

Makes no sense ... Best time to learn the NHL game is the first 20 games ... But let's send the kid who needs a challenge back to the OHL instead of playing him as a 5/6 damn against other teams third and fourth lines.

Yes let's sign more rejects from other teams to multi-year one way deals to take all incentive away from these kids; because we know the rejects signing for term and dollar will sure be motivated on the OIL.

Makes a lot of sense. Where did you go to school again? Oh right, this is an on-line blog....

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#58 Nina Russo
July 22 2014, 01:08AM
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Jason Gregor wrote:

Reinhart played in WJC and won the Memorial Cup. His confidence is at an all-time high and he was able to work on improving his puck skills. He said this was in incredibly beneficial season.

Saying he steamrolled league is inaccurate.

Ask scouts, Nurse wasn't physically dominating everynight in the OHL.

Most 18 year olds and 19 year olds aren't physically or, more importantly, emotionally ready for the wear and tear of the NHL.

I haven't seen any proof that these guys dominanted the CHL to a level that made them bored or had their skills lowered because of another year of junior.

Did you just compare Reinhart to Nurse? Sorry bro, only one of these guys can skate, the other bears a remarkable resemblance to one Alex Plante.

Why don't you try comparing Nurse to Ekblad? Ask this question, if Ekblad is too good for the OHL because of size and smarts, is he that much farther ahead than Nurse, at a year younger??? The two went head to head in the OHL this year, lots to compare, if you actually wanted to.

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#59 DonEnrico
July 22 2014, 04:37AM
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@JG and/or anyone that might feel they have an answer:

Is it allowed for a junior player to go play a year in europe? As people have said, there are a lot of junior players here in Sweden, that play in SHL (=top flight mens league for those not familiar) before they go over to the NHL.

Or are the two only options 1) NHL or 2) back to junior?

It would be awesome to see some promising canadian players come over here to play, and it might be a great learning experience. For example, just ask Jusitn Williams or Anze Kopitar what they thought it was like to play here in Sweden (Williams wasn´t a junior, I know...)

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#60 Spydyr
July 22 2014, 06:59AM
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It would be best if players were allowed to earn their spot on the team in camp.Instead of spots being predestined.

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