July 21 2014 11:00AM
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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