Looking Back at the 2015 Young Stars

Every year, the NHL’s 30 teams invite a bunch of undrafted and
unsigned young players to play with their prospects in a rookie tournament. The
Oilers are no exception, and recently
unveiled
their roster for the 2016 Penticton Young Stars tournament.

What should we expect from the unsigned hopefuls on the
list? Looking at what ultimately happened with last year’s group gives us a
decent idea.

I’ve ignored players like Connor McDavid and Greg Chase here,
as well as players with AHL deals like Josh Winquist and Alexis Loiseau,
because I wanted to focus on the true tryouts. By my count, the Oilers had
eight such players, though we should also note a ninth first.

LW Braden Christoffer.
Christoffer was the big winner of last year’s rookie camp, impressing
(while playing with Connor McDavid) as a feisty, if undersized, forward. Like
Loiseau and Winquist, he entered camp with an AHL contract, but managed to
parlay his performance into an NHL entry level deal with the Oilers, which is just
what everyone coming to camp dreaming of doing. Given his WHL numbers, scoring
at the pro level always looked to be a challenge, and while he ran over the ECHL
he only managed one goal in 33 AHL games. Still, he has two more seasons with
the organization to work his way up the ladder.

The Tryouts

Leveille, Loik

LW Rihards Bukarts. I’ve
yet to come across a Latvian I didn’t want to cheer for, and it’s especially
true for a 5’9” offensive dynamo. Bukarts had scored 74 points in 62 games the
season before he joined the Oilers at rookie camp, and while he slipped to 62
points in the WHL last season he did earn a pro tryout (and a point) with
Florida’s AHL affiliate in Portland. The Panthers liked him enough to invite him to
their rookie tournament this year.

RD Kevin Davis. Davis,
an undersized 18-year-old defenceman, came to rookie camp after a breakthrough
25-point season in the WHL. He wasn’t signed, returned to the Everett
Silvertips last season and fell to 16 points. Elite Prospects has him returning
to Everett for his 19-year-old campaign.

RD Loik Leveille. Leveille
was a fun player to watch in camp, listed at 6’ and 223 pounds and coming off a
54-point season in the QMJHL. He didn’t get signed, the offence fell a touch in
Cape Breton last season and it seems he’s headed for Junior A hockey in Quebec next
season.

C Cole Linaker. Linaker
came to the Young Stars tournament after a 39-point WHL season. He increased
that total to 50 points in Kelowna last year, and will play for the Golden
Bears next season.

G Jordan Papirny. Already
a veteran WHL starter when the Oilers brought him to camp, Papirny handled No.
1 duties for the WHL champion Brandon Wheat Kings this past year, though his
playoff save percentage was under 0.900. He’ll be back with Brandon again this
coming season.

RW Cole Sanford. Another
pint-sized scorer, Sanford had 50 goals and 95 points in 2014-15, and if he
wasn’t 5’8” and 163 pounds I imagine he’d have been drafted. He fell to 70
points last season, but snagged an AHL contract
this year with Colorado’s minor-league affiliate.

C Tyler Soy. Soy
was first eligible for the 2015 Draft, but despite scoring at nearly a point-per-game
level didn’t get selected. The Oilers invited him to camp, but then returned
him to Victoria of the WHL. This season scored 46 goals and 85 points, a career
high. Anaheim thought enough of his performance to take a seventh-round flyer
on him this June.

LD Colton Waltz. Waltz
was a little older than most of the other players on this list, turning 21 back
in January. He wasn’t signed and went back to the WHL, where he split the year
between Brandon and Saskatoon. Bakersfield brought him in on a tryout deal and
he picked up an assist, but he’ll play for Mount Royal in the Canadian
University circuit next season. That’s often the end of the line as far as NHL
hopes go, but as Joel Ward or Derek Ryan could tell you that isn’t always the
case.

The Results

There are a few interesting players in that group of eight,
and just under half of them have some sort of NHL connection for next season.
Bukarts gets another chance to try and earn a contract, while Sanford has a
minor-league deal. Soy is in the best position of the group, with the Ducks
having invested a draft pick in him and with two years now to earn an
entry-level deal.

A late draft pick and a couple of AHL possibilities isn’t a
lot in NHL terms, but it isn’t nothing, either. As good as major-league scouts
are, players slip through multiple years of draft eligibility and still find
their way to the majors. A camp like the one starting now can be a first step
in that journey. 

Tkachev, Vladimir

Oh, and one last thing. Remember Vladimir Tkachyov, who was
the standout of the 2014 Young Stars tournament? He has 12
points in eight KHL games
this season and leads his team in scoring.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS