Oilers prospects: Who, where, why?


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.


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.

Recently by Jason Gregor:  

  • @Gregor

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

    Coincidentally there is also no tangible proof that going to the NHL will hurt his development. Nor is there tangible proof that another year of junior will not create bad habits.

    I don’t have a firm opinion on the matter because I am not familiar enough with the player or his situation to claim to know what would be best for his development, but demanding proof is an odd way to try and sort out a clear “matter of opinion” issue.

  • Jason Gregor

    I liked the Marincin Petry combo last year, but it was such a small sample size, and I worry that tandem might go sideways at some point in the year, making everyone question why Marincin is still playing big minutes on the team.

    With his added weight, I see Nurse making a huge push for that spot this year, and I am great with that. After all, I think all Oiler fans want him to be our Seabrook, so we might as well get that process started.

    That only means Marincin and Klefbom get to further develop before earning a spot in the line up, or being traded for assets, and that sounds like a winning plan to me.

  • ubermiguel

    I don’t know enough about the Soo’s coaching staff to judge if going back to the CHL will help or hurt. Have they ever dealt with high-end borderline-NHL talent before? It’s one thing to develop batches of 16 year-olds, quite another to develop 19 year old first round draft picks.

  • Young Oil

    I can see how Nurse would, perhaps not get lazy, but get too used to being physically dominant over all the shrimp in the OHL ocean. Doing stuff you just can’t get away with against grown men.

    In general I feel the CHL and NHL need to re-negotiate their agreement. There are too many instances when a player is steamrolling his way through junior (which isn’t really that good for his development or that of his competitors and teammates), while not being good enough for the NHL.

    Nurse is an obvious example. I’d say Drouin was another, as was Dougie Hamilton. A strong case could be made for Griffin Reinhart.

    • Jason Gregor

      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.

      • nuge2drai

        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.

        • Jason Gregor

          Reinhart wasn’t too good. That is the point. Having them be successful isn’t a bad thing. Drouin wasn’t putting up numbers well above other players. They aren’t too good for the CHL.

          • Jason Gregor

            Reinhart was a beast. I loved watching him with the Oil Kings, but it was almost comical seeing 16 and 17 year olds try to get around the guy. He was to the Oil Kings was Pronger was to the Oilers – 25 minutes a night where you knew almost nothing would go wrong.

            Drouin scored over 2ppg in his draft season and 2.4 last season. Nobody in junior even came close.

          • Jason Gregor

            Drouin scored 2.1 his draft year and 2.3 last year. He had 108 points this year and 105 last year in 3 fewer games. Not a major difference.

            He also scored 12 fewer goals this year compared to last. He became more of a playmaker with MacKinnon gone. Helped him round out his overall game.

            Mantha had 120 points in 57 games, 2.1 ppg. The top scorers in the Q over the past few years average more points than the top guys in the OHL or WHL.

            Did it hurt Drouin to keep his confidence high and work on other aspects of his game?

            If you want to say players shouldn’t have to go back to junior for the 2nd year after their draft, that could be argued, especially since players who are born after Sept 15th only have to play one year of junior before they can go to the AHL. Pitlick, Hamilton.

            But don’t see any reason why Drouin was limited by going back to junior.

            You are also forgetting the mental part of the game. Most players aren’t mentally ready for pro hockey. So no need to rush them.

          • pkam

            From your comment, Druoin isn’t getting any better in playing another year of juniors hockey as there is very little improvement, right?

            So if he was not capable of making the NHL and the juniors doesn’t seem to help his development, what is the best development option for him? Wouldn’t the AHL or ECHL make more sense?

            If he makes the NHL this coming season, would you think one year in AHL will do him better than the juniors?

          • Bullets Hockey

            My take is that they should be able to make exemptions if the NHL team is willing to burn 1 year off the ELC.
            They make exemptions for guys to get to the CHL to start with….seems logical to do it for the next level too.

          • nuge2drai

            I would argue that going from 2.1 to 2.3 is probably a lot tougher than going from 1.0 to 1.2, and I think you’ll agree.

            Of course he became more of a playmaker with MacKinnon gone. He lost his elite centre, he didn’t have a guy he could play off with together. He had to distribute more because he didn’t have the space he’d normally have with MacKinnon there. The next-best guy on the team was Ehlers who was on a different line most of the season.

            Mantha was one of those players I listed who I suggested would have been better served with a year of minor hockey.

            It didn’t hurt Drouin to keep his confidence high. However, I think it would have benefited him more to play against men. Players who are faster, and more importantly, bigger and stronger. Drouin’s hockey fundamentals are obviously more than fine. What he would benefit more from is the opportunity to practice those fundamentals against tougher competition.

            To give you an analogy, Lewis Hamilton didn’t go from Formula Renault directly to Formula 1. He could have practiced and kept his confidence up in Formula Renault, but he needed the faster pace of Formula 3 and GP2 to be ready for Formula 1.

            IMO, certain select players benefit more from being moved to the minors than staying in junior, and I’d argue Nurse is one of them this year.

    • Sorensenator

      The AHL should be an option straight out of junior, there is no reason why an 18 year old can step right into the NHL but not the AHL. It is a developmental flaw that ought to be fixed.

      • Jason Gregor

        The AHL should be an option straight out of junior, there is no reason why an 18 year old can step right into the NHL but not the AHL. It is a developmental flaw that ought to be fixed.

        Do you think NHL teams want kids wasting a year of ELC in the minors. It means way more players becoming UFAs at 25 and often many of them will play two years in the AHL before coming to the NHL.

        I’m not sure why so many people feel rushing kids to pro hockey is the best thing for their development.

        The vast majority of 1st round picks who go back to junior after being drafted aren’t head and shoulders above the rest.

          • Jason Gregor

            They should be able to go to the A without burning a year ELC.

            So then every player in the AHL is getting paid, but not on a pro contract? This makes no sense.

            How can you pay players, but not have them on a contract? Who pays Insurance if they aren’t on a contract. Think this through. It isn’t possible to not count as ELC.

        • Isn’t using up an ELC year the choice of the team? If they feel that a prospect needs a bump in competition, but isn’t ready for the NHL, and they’re willing to sacrifice an ELC year, it seems like a valid trade-off.

          Nobody said we should rush kids to pro hockey. In fact, this argument is about the opposite – rather than taking a guy like Jones who’s clearly too dominant for junior and sending him to the NHL where he gets exposed after 30 games, why not let him play in the AHL?

          • I’m differentiating between the NHL and AHL. You’re lumping both leagues in together under the label of “pro hockey”.

            The argument I’m making is rather than rushing players to the NHL, teams should have the option of sending select prospects (say, 1 who would normally be ineligible for the minors) to the AHL.

            You seem to be acting as if there’s no difference between the AHL and NHL.

      • Jason Gregor

        I’ve wondered that many times and the answer seems to be so the talent level is maintained in the junior leagues.

        While I understand that, especially since I enjoy going to Winterhawk games, I think that there should be an adjustment. I suggest players drafted in the first round be allowed the option to play in the AHL if it is warranted. For the other players, the status quo should remain.

      • Bullets Hockey

        They should make some exemptions….they do it for players to get into the CHL already.
        Although I think a lot of teams don’t want to start burning off years on the entry level contracts…..but for an elite player its probably worth it.

      • Jason Gregor

        I can see why teams would prefer to keep some guys in junior rather than send them to the NHL. Ryan Murphy, for example. The CHL also needs a good base of talented players, but when it comes to physically dominant monsters like Seth Jones, Erik Gudbranson, Nick Ritchie, Anthony Mantha, Jonathan Drouin (not big, but fast!), and arguably this year’s Aaron Ekblad, it seems obvious that they’re waaaay too good for junior – to the point of hurting their own development as well as others – but could use time in the AHL, to get used to the size (if not speed) of the players they’ll face in the NHL.