January 06 2017 12:17PM
As the Edmonton Oilers enter the back half of the 2016-17 season, it’s going to be worth watching how they handle a number of prospects currently in the AHL. Most of the team’s significant minor-leaguers are in their last season of waiver exemption—which means it’s either impress now, or go into training camp next fall as an outsider.
Jujhar Khaira is now playing his third season of pro hockey, which means that he will need to be either kept on the NHL roster next fall or exposed on the waiver wire. The 22-year-old is a natural centre who has spent time on the wing. He isn’t overly fast but does have the size (6’3”, 214 pounds) to potentially succeed in the NHL anyway.
His offensive game appears to have developed well over his time in the minors, too:
- Age 20: 51 games, 10 points, 0.20 points/game
- Age 21: 49 games, 27 points, 0.55 points/game
- Age 22: 22 games, 16 points, 0.73 points/game
There would be risk in putting Khaira on waivers, though it isn’t unprecedented for big 22-year-olds with this level of scoring to go unclaimed. Chicago’s Mark McNeill, a 6’2”, 212-pound centre and first-rounder back in 2011, slipped through waivers this year after scoring 0.75 points/game last season.
I doubt it comes to that. Khaira’s a pretty reasonable fit in a fourth-line/end-of-roster role, and I’d guess the Oilers find space for him. It would be nice to see him land a call-up before the end of the year to see what he can do in the majors, and it could happen: He’s probably in the mix with Taylor Beck and Anton Slepyshevas the top trio of recall possibilities up front.
David Musil cleared waivers this fall. He started the year as a healthy scratch in the AHL, and while he’s worked his way into a significant role with the Condors it’s hard to imagine him being in the Oilers plans. He’s big and smart, but in the modern NHL it’s pretty hard for a guy with subpar skating and puckmoving to make the grade. At least as importantly, though, he’s one of approximately a bazillion left-shot defencemen applying for work and unlike the others he has already cleared waivers.
Reinhart’s point production isn’t good, though Bakersfield coach Gerry Fleming suggested in an interview on 630 CHED Thursday that he’s been snakebitten lately despite joining the rush and getting some chances. In some ways, Reinhart’s strengths/weaknesses are the same as Musil’s, with the key distinction being that his weaknesses are less pronounced.
Edmonton paid a premium to land Reinhart, which suggests real belief in the player; I’d guess he gets his shot next year. Importantly, his entry-level deal runs out this summer, meaning that next year he can be signed cheaply and the Oilers won’t have to worry about bonus cushion issues.
Oesterle is almost the opposite of Reinhart as a player. His speed and ability to move the puck are his primary strengths; the big weakness is size/strength. He showed really well during an NHL run in 2015-16 but has had issues this year (he’s only played 14 games) and so far his season has to be regarded as a disappointment. It’s going to take some work to squeeze him on to next year’s roster—both with the abundance of left-shot defenders and with some smaller guys (Matt Benning for sure, Kris Russell likely) in the mix already. Of the three, he’s the guy who seems most likely to be trade bait, especially with the entry of Las Vegas into the league straining defensive depth around the NHL.
Simpson falls somewhere between the extremes of Oesterle and Reinhart. He’s progressed like clockwork every season prior to this one and is like Brandon Davidson in the sense that he does a lot of things well without having a standout quality, though skating is more of a concern with Simpson than it was with Davidson.
Again, the problem is as to where he fits. There’s at least some chance he clears waivers, but he can move the puck while playing a smart defensive game and that’s a guy a bunch of teams might have time for.
Finally, Laurent Brossoit is having a tough season. He’s been outperformed of late by college addition Nick Ellis in 2016-17, though after two very strong AHL campaigns it would be the height of silliness to write Brossoit off after fewer than 20 games. He’ll need to clear waivers to be demoted next season, so as long as his play improves down the stretch he stands a very strong chance of landing on the Oilers’ NHL roster.
Cam Talbot’s play this year probably helps his case, in that it makes the No. 2 goalie role a bit less crucial. Jonas Gustavsson hasn’t been very good when used, but hasn’t been used much, and if that’s the bar for backup goaltender it’s a bar that Brossoit should be able to clear.