Young Stars Tournament: Oilers Preview

The Nations Network is sending this Jets blogger to the 2014 Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC. I’ll be judging your team and bringing you live scouting reports. Check out last year’s wrap-up piece here.

The Young Stars Tournament is here again! I’ll be there all weekend to scout, blog, and dry out my insides with Okanagan Events Centre popcorn. You can follow me on twitter (@kevinmccart) for live insights, or check out the Nations Network of blogs for game and player reviews. 

Inside we’ll reflect a bit on last year’s tournament and take a look at the Oilers’ Young Stars roster. Have a player, story or system you’re excited about? Let me know in the comments!

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Bring on the skill!

The Oilers brought a very strange team to the tournament last year after graduating so much young talent to the NHL in recent years. The defence group was elite, but all left handed – headlined by Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin, and Darnell Nurse. Gernat, Musil, Marincin, Klefbom and others played whole or parts of games on their off-handed side and generally struggled. The forward group, meanwhile, included a lot of stick-optional types and very little pure skill. Cam Abney played in this tournament dating back to 2009, but 2013 would be his last year as he warmed the bench in an enforcer role for a friendly tournament. Invites Ty Bilke and Brandon Baddock did their best to use their bodies as the play zoomed by them. AHL addition Austen Fyten mostly floated in awe of Marco Roy. 2014 returnee Travis Ewanyk brought new meaning to the term ‘train wreck,’ while Kale Kessy may have been convinced it was a puck-free tournament. The coaches struggled to put together two powerplay lines, changed systems for each of three games and lost a combined 17-6.

But that was last year. 

This year, the Oilers might have the most talented forward group at the event, led of course by 3rd overall pick Leon Draisaitl. While most teams are relying on their high-end draft picks to bring the skill, the Oilers have also added a throng of pure-skill players through a variety of unusual methods thanks to Bob Green. It’s our first chance to see them in true game action. 

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AHL-signed Mitch Holmberg (118 points in Spokane) and Josh Winquist (93 points in Everett) will get a chance to make an impression on management, while the tiny dynamo Vladimir Tkachev plays for a contract. The Jones brothers (Kellen and Conner) have both been in the top-5 of scoring for a good Quinnipac team each of the last four years, and Oilers fans have waited 4 years to see what they can do in the copper and blue.   

This Year

Despite adding a handful of smaller skill players and letting go of some of the stick-optional types, the Oilers will still feature a lot of size. Bogdan Yakimov (6’5, 202), Jujhar Khaira (6’4″, 215) and Mitch Moroz (6’3″, 214) will clear space up front and chip in some skill, while 5 of the Oilers’ 9 defenders are listed over 6’4″ in this tournament. 

It’s a solid if unspectacular defence group, but includes a bonafide NHL goaltender prospect in Laurent Brossoit that was missing from last year’s team. Nurse, Gernat, David Musil and Ben Betker return from last year. 

Some exciting new additions include:

Dillon Simpson: Turned pro this season with a lot of buzz despite unimpressive counting numbers in college. Known as a two-way player, the Young Stars is our first chance to see him against some (nearly) NHL ready talent. 

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Leon Draisaitl: He could be the Oilers’ #2 centre a month from now, and yet we barely know the kid. He’s expected to be among the top contributors in the tournament and it will be exciting to see both his creativity and his competitiveness. 

Mitch Moroz: He was at the tournament last year, but didn’t play due to injury. He was slated as the most skilled of the vertical, big-bodied, physical wingers, but the play of Kessey et al told us that was a low bar. The most pressing question with this player is whether he can play with the skill on this roster. Every shift spent with Travis Ewanyk will be a waste, but it’s possible the club puts him in an ‘energy’ role anyway.

Vladimir Tkachev: He’s listed at 5’8″, 163lbs and apparently that’s generous. Still, it’s a wonder he fell through the draft after a season with 39 points in 26 games for Moncton and an outstanding Super Series. His nationality and playing in three different leagues last year probably hurt his case, but Tkachev could be an impact NHL player in the future. This tournament is his chance to show what he’s got and our chance to see if his size really does hold him back.

For the full roster and game schedule, go here.

If you have any scouting requests or things you’d like me to watch for, fire away in the comments!

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  • Oil Vice

    The beauty of this tournament is that fans and, scouts and management get the opportunity to see these prospects play against other team’s players at a similar stage in their development.

    I look forward to reading your eveluations of the talent and the contribution they make. There is no doubt that there will be NHL talent lacing up their skates. The question will be when will they be ready to contribute to the Oilers.

    I am personally interested in your observations on Yakimov, Khaira, Holmberg, Simpson and Winquist. I sense there may be some real potential amongst that group. I wonder if you see it the same way.

  • Oil Vice

    Should be the most intriguing rookie tournament in the last few yrs for the oilers. In previous yrs we’ve had clear strengths and glaring weaknesses but this roster is stocked at every position with size, skill and potential.
    I’m interested in seeing how the small skilled players Tkachev and Holmberg play amongst the big guys. Should be a good indication as to their NHL potential.
    There will be disappointments but I feel as though each year our organizational depth grows stronger.

  • Oil Vice

    Oilers forwards a bit of a mutt and jeff lineup . Big intertwined with smurfs . Flames look much the same . Interested to get first look at Holmberg and Winquist -two locals.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Your analysis of the games on a play by play basis last year were outstanding, keep em coming.

    Looks like they have a solid mix of skill and size this year, there’s no way the Oilers can do worse than last year in this tourney.

    I’m most interested in Yakimov, Khaira, Moroz, Nurse and Neon Leon.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Kevin, your comments seem to have an overtly negative tone about Ewanyk.

    Granted he is a player that never has put up offense at any level, won’t in the future and likely won’t even be able to this weekend. But that does not mean there is not a hockey player there.

    Last month, Willis had an interesting piece on Ewanyk’s dramatically improved numbers in OKC in terms of Fenwick as the season progressed as well as his physical play, abilities on the PK and in the faceoff circle.

    As well, by eye Nelson used him a lot during the Barons brief playoff run against Texas – can’t find AHL TOI stats anywhere.

    He is a long shot for an NHL gig, no argument. But watching him play for the Oil Kings was a treat and it was clear his contributions went well beyond scoring – to be fair they would have to.

    So the question is – why are you right and why is Todd Nelson so out to lunch?

  • Zarny

    @The Soup Fascist

    Could it simply be that both Kevin and Todd are right?

    Is it possible that Ewanyk sucked balls over a weekend tournament at the start of the season but improved by the playoffs at the end of it?

    • The Soup Fascist

      Fair enough. I didn’t see the Penticton tournament live so the “train wreck” comment may or may not be warranted.

      To say a shift with Ewanyk is a “waste” seems to have an overly negative tone and would infer there was no development in Ewanyk’s game – especially for a player that Nelson and the organization seem to like. Arguably playing with Ewanyk for a couple of years with the Oil Kings helped Moroz with his defensive acumen and resulted in the “truculence” you see in Moroz’s game today. They were a fun pair to watch when they were on their game.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Just hope none of the legit prospects got concussion this year. The tournament is mostly about not very good hockey players trying to earn jobs by “playing hard”.

  • It strikes me as uniquely Oilers that they would have the foresight to take a look at Brandon Baddock in this tourney last year…. only to have him drafted by New Jersey the following year in the second round after a very solid WHL year…. with the Oil Kings.

    *shakes head*

    To a person not familiar with things Oilers… when the question… are they completely stunned is tabled.. the response is “because Oilers”.

    *Tips cap to Woodguy* awesome name for a blog.

    I fully expect bomb hands baddock to have a long and fruitful career as a scoring enforcer type while the Oilers unload a kid with “skill” to acquire one half as good for 8 times the money….. or something.


    • v4ance

      Quick google search says Baddock drafted in SIXTH round, not 2nd.

      After playing last year with the Oil Kings, HockeyDB has him listed as playing for LLOYDMINSTER BOBCATS of AJHL this year. Going to Bobcats’ site, he’s listed as a RESERVE player.

      From Inlouwetrust:

      “The Devils decided to throw one at someone who’s big, tough, and not much else.”

      As Kevin pointed out, we’ve had more than enough “stick optional” types. I’d rather we went with skill.

      • The Soup Fascist

        A lot of AJHL teams carry WHL players on their reserve roster. It is a way to maintain their Junior A rights, which may become more relevant in the player’s 20 year old season.

        Baddock will be playing with the Oil Kings this year, unless HockeyDB is aware of an issue I am not. He played in at least one pre-season game for the Kings.

        He is an extremely large / tough player with enough skill to play a regular shift in the WHL. His skating style could generously be called “awkward” and will likely limit him at the next level – minor pro.

        You are correct about the 6th round pick. When I read VK63’s comment about the 2nd round I definitely did a double take. Barring a revelation, Baddock will have to buy a tcket to get into an NHL game.

  • Robert (AKA Hockey Fan)

    You must have a pretty high bar for spectacular. Nurse, in my mind was both in camp when I saw him as well as the preseason NHL action he got in. Guy’s going to be a legit top 4 Dman for years. He is by that definition most certainly not to be confused with mediocrity in any way. STUD

    • The Soup Fascist

      They are bringing the NFL Hall of Famer and scary Bengals offensive lineman, Anthony Munoz out of retirement to ride shotgun for Draisaitl?

      Wow they ARE serious about protecting this kid.


  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    i’m hoping that 1 or 2 of the free agent/smaller players like Holmberg, Winquist, Tkachev and the Jones brothers can eventually make the team. what a bonus that would be!
    secretly hoping that our big guys show well in Yakimov, Chase, Khaira and Moroz. we need a few of these guys down the road to play effectively on the Oiler roster.
    and Nurse, Musil and Simpson are the d-men i will watch closely. same with goalies Tuohimaa and Brossoit. both are a little older than Bouchard who has time on his side to develop. this may also be the last chance as well for Tuohimaa to show he has a future here.

  • Sorry…not sure why I go shorthand on these things. Baddock second pick…. in the 6th round…. mercy… 120 place draft position fine.

    regardless,,,, watched him train at cujos in lloyd this summer. He has a threshold far beyond where the check book hockey kids pack it in.

    I appreciate that.