Anton Slepyshev has been very good in training camp. On merit, if training camp were a blank slate and all that we had to assess these players, he would probably have a job in the NHL when the Oilers wander into St. Louis on October 8.
Training camp, though, is not a blank slate, not the lone piece of information we have in assessing these players. That’s why October 8 will probably find Slepyshev in California, getting ready to play against the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Bayesian Training Camp
I went through the math on the training camp process last year. That piece is here for those interested; I’m not going to go into any math this year. What I will do is identify the three pieces of information we need to have to properly assess what we see in training camp. They are as follow:
- We need to have a feel for how likely it was that Slepyshev was an NHL player entering camp.
- We need to know roughly how common it is for NHL players to have a camp like Slepyshev’s.
- We need to know roughly how common it is for non-NHL players to have a camp like Slepyshev’s.
We can do this with math, but math isn’t necessary. We just need to think on it a bit.
Slepyshev’s Performance, Past and Present
I’m going to try to be uncontroversial here, though naturally mileage will vary between readers.
Slepyshev entered camp with some marks in his favour. A big, skilled forward who has spent most of the last four years playing against men, Slepyshev was the kind of guy who based on resume might be expected to stand out.
With that said, the expectation of most was that Slepyshev would not make the Oilers out of camp. He scored 25 points in 58 KHL games last year, which was a breakout performance for him but still only projects to 30-35 points over an 82-game NHL season; that’s not enough to win top-six minutes and it’s as good as Slepyshev has ever been. He is only 21 years old; he’s the same age as players like Mitch Moroz and Jujhar Khaira who are expected to spend most of the year in the AHL. He’s also a European-trained player adapting to the smaller rink and different playing style of North America. So there were a lot of reasons entering camp to think that Slepyshev was not NHL-ready.
Of course, he’s been really good in camp. He’s big and skilled, and has had success with varying linemates. He’s shown more than a number of NHL players on the roster. That’s a big point in his favour.
The trouble is that sub-NHL players sometimes stand out in camp like this. Just last year, Steve Pinizzotto, Tyler Pitlick and Jesse Joensuu all put up superb performances in training camp. Bogdan Yakimov and Jujhar Khaira were among the final cuts; Yakimov was recalled almost immediately on the strength of his camp work. Oilers fans were up in arms because Vladimir Tkachev couldn’t be signed after a standout performance. We know this kind of thing happens. We know that bubble players – and particularly bubble players who got a head start on camp in the Penticton tournament – come in and play well in short bursts.
Entering camp, I was nearly certain that Slepyshev would need time in the AHL. His training camp performance has increased his stock and injected some uncertainty into that projection. However, I’ve seen enough ridiculous camp performances from players who ultimately couldn’t sustain that success that I know not to read too much into it.
Then there are additional factors worth considering, including (in order of importance):
- On-ice development: Time in the AHL, where Slepyshev will be in a feature role, is probably going to be good for his maturation as a player.
- Off-ice development: Slepyshev is coming to a new culture and language. In the AHL, Bogdan Yakimov can help him through these adjustments, adjustments that Yakimov himself made last year. The two were roommates in camp, and having a peer who has been there isn’t likely to hurt.
- Waiver risks: Keeping Slepyshev likely means waiving someone like Rob Klinkhammer. If Klinkhammer is claimed, he’s gone forever, so if keeping Slepyshev turns out to be a mistake there’s no way to reverse it. If Slepyshev goes down and that turns out to be a mistake, it’s easily reversible with a recall.
- Contract issues: Slepyshev is on a two-way deal while if unclaimed someone like Klinkhammer will draw an NHL salary in the minors.
Put it all together and the answer is obvious. Slepyshev’s age and history suggest something much different than his training camp performance, and while the latter has the benefit of recency the body of work constituting the former is far larger. The most likely conclusion is that he’s playing over his head right now. Developmental imperatives, the waiver wire and contract considerations all make demoting Slepyshev far less risky than keeping him in the NHL.
A month from now, if Slepyshev’s still playing well, those considerations could easily shift. But for the time being there’s really no case to keep him in the NHL. Some like to pretend that camp is a blank slate, two magical weeks where everything we know is thrown out a window and merit over a handful of preseason games is all that matters. That isn’t the case. Nor should it be.