Rookie games are dicey things to take impressions away from. The usual problem of sample size is there, plus the fact that the talent level of the tournament is pretty low relative even to exhibition games. The players are coming in after long and varied summers and often have very limited knowledge of their teammates. Coaches haven’t had time to get system buy-in. The format tends to favour prospects who are older and from what I’ve seen smaller guys have an easier time of the tourney than they do in the pro game.
With all that said, it’s a time where some individuals stand out, and where general trends can be seen. On Friday night in Penticton, the general trend with the Oilers was that the forward group was the one the team has been looking for forever: big, reasonably talented and aggressive.
I’m not going to get into the individual profiles here. Kevin McCartney attended the game and will have a post a little later today and based on his work last year that should be excellent. Instead I wanted to key in on the overall composition of the prospects who really matter up front and who played last night.
While the [summer prospects] series necessarily focuses on each player in his turn, at this point it’s instructive to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. And my oh my, what a BIG picture it is, as the system is chockablock with plus-sized players. This has long been identified as an organizational area of need / weakness, in fact it’s a subject that I pounded away at a couple of times in recent months. Not that I dislike small players… [m]y concern is about a small team, a documented shortcoming at all positions for the Oilers in 2013-14 which cost them dearly in the
BrobdingnagianPacific Division. GM Craig MacTavish started to address the imbalance during the summer transaction window by acquiring some experienced support players with decent size, and there’s plenty more where that came from lurking in the system.
Early in last night’s game against the Canucks, it occurred to me that the Edmonton Oilers (as constructed at the young stars camp) no longer resemble the team we’ve been watching so far this century. They were big, very big, while also managing to be terribly skilled. Now, I’ve watched J-F Jacques (big and speedy) and Linus Omark (small and skilled) plus everything in between, but big and skilled? Unicorns in Oilers colors! Pish posh old man, and yet there it was under the Penticton lights.
The Magnificent Seven
It’s helpful here to isolate the forward prospects of real organizational importance playing last night from the long shots (all due respect to Vladimir Tkachev, who played brilliantly, and guys like Kale Kessy who still have a shot):
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
|Mitch Moroz||Leon Draisaitl||Greg Chase|
|Marco Roy||Bogdan Yakimov||Jackson Houck|
Those seven guys were the most important prospects playing last night.
And, with the exception of Marco Roy (listed at 6’, 172 pounds) they’re all big guys. Leon Draisaitl was listed at 6’2”, 204 pounds at the draft combine, but there have been suggestions that he’s playing closer to 210 or 215 right now. He’s 18 years old. On his wing, Mitch Moroz is listed at 6’2”, 211 pounds and is not just tough but also aggressive; he got a sneaky shot in at Vancouver’s goalie last night and if there was an altercation he was at the centre of it. Greg Chase is listed at 6’, 205 pounds. That was the top line last night; for the sake of contrast Taylor Hall (6’1”, 201 pounds) is presently the biggest player on the Oilers’ existing top line.
The second line was centered by a real monstrosity – 6’5”, 232 pound Bogdan Yakimov. He’s taller than any forward the Oilers dressed last season and heavier than all but 240-pound Luke Gazdic. Jackson Houck was one of his linemates; the Oilers website has him at 6’, 192 pounds but he plays a physical game. Centering the third line was 6’3”, 210 pound Jujhar Khaira.
Some of the above will never find their way to the NHL. Of the guys who do, some won’t have enough offence to climb above the bottom-six. But all of them are actual players with skills that go well beyond ‘big and strong’. Even a guy like Mitch Moroz, whose offence was a long time coming, doesn’t treat the puck like a grenade – he can take and make a pass.
The defencemen are big, too, but I’m focusing here on the forwards because this is the kind of prospect group the Oilers have aimed at for years. Edmonton – a team that used all five of its top-100 picks in the extremely deep 2003 draft on big forwards and didn’t land a single significant NHL’er – doesn’t actually draft all that small; it’s just that disproportionately the forward prospects with positive arrows after the first year or two tended to be the little guys.
That’s not the case right now.
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