Photo Credit: David Banks/USA TODAY Sports

Yamamoto excitement is a byproduct of a barren Oilers prospects cupboard

There’s a reason Kailer Yamamoto is getting so much attention in Edmonton, beyond the fact that it’s August and he was a first-round pick. The truth is that the Oilers don’t have many other forward prospects worth getting excited about.

Certainly the AHL level is a bit of a wasteland. Of the team’s top-five scorers last season, two (Anton Lander and Taylor Beck) are gone, two (Ryan Hamilton and Josh Currie) are on AHL-only deals and the lone prospect is 25-year-old converted defenceman Joey Laleggia, who was taken late in the 2012 Draft as an overage player and managed 38 points last season.

The exceptions, Jesse Puljujarvi and Jujhar Khaira, come a little further down the list thanks to limited games played totals in the AHL.

Puljujarvi is absolutely still a blue chip prospect, though it’s fair to be a little worried about his offensive game. Even if the offence doesn’t come in at hoped-for levels, he’s a 6’4” winger with brains and speed, and those kinds of players can have an impact in multiple roles. Khaira has less upside but should be a cheap and competent bottom-six guy. Both players should make the jump this year, though. Once they do, there won’t be any forward prospects of significance in Edmonton’s AHL system, and only 2-3 of the non-longshot variety in the system at all.

Yamamoto is the best of the lot, though this speculation he might make the Oilers out of training camp seems, well, let’s just call it incredibly premature. Very few late first-round picks are ready so soon, especially not ones who weighed less than 150 pounds at the draft combine. Even David Pastrnak, the bluest of blue-sky comparables, was more than 20 pounds heavier than Yamamoto at the same point in his draft season.

Tyler Benson is the other forward picked relatively early by Edmonton. He fell to 32nd overall a little over a year ago, with a serious draft year injury scaring teams off despite his obvious talent. A summer later, it’s not clear whether the Oilers should be pleased or dissatisfied with his development; his offensive numbers improved markedly but once again he was limited to fewer than 40 games played.

If I were to add a third player to this list of interesting prospects in the system, it would be Joe Gambardella. The 23-year-old college free agent put up big numbers last season and at least as importantly brings a reputation for defensive ability. Having said that, Gambardella fell outside SBN’s top 100 college prospects list and a lot of top UMass-Lowell scorers have had rocky pro debuts, so I’d advise caution before labeling him the next Scott Wilson.

Outside of those players, Edmonton’s forward pipeline is all lovable longshots – players like Aapeli Rasanen and Ostap Safin and Tyler Vesel and Kirill Maksimov. Like any good prospect watcher, I can give you reasons to believe in these players. However, also like any good prospect watcher, I can tell you the odds do not favour individual selections made outside the top 100.

This is a problem for Edmonton, though one that it’s possible to overstate.

As everyone knows, the salary cap favours teams that have a perpetually regenerating supply of cheap, capable young forwards. But there are ways around it, ways the Oilers have already demonstrated. If a team can go out and sign a Jussi Jokinen to a cheap deal every year (and recent NHL history suggests this is a viable strategy) that somewhat mitigates not having the next Anton Slepyshev. Teams with limited prospect depth also tend to do better when courting free agents like Drake Caggiula. A combination of veteran and undrafted free agents can cover some problems.

Still, there’s a need to draft players at this position and do so in volume, because even a pile of good prospects only produces so many actual players.

Excluding top 10 selections, between 2009 and 2013 Edmonton took 14 forwards with top-100 picks. That group produced two depth guys who have since moved on (Anton Lander, Tyler Pitlick) and two other players who might still have careers with the Oilers (Khaira, Slepyshev).

Between 2014 and 2017, the Oilers have taken just two forwards between picks No. 10 and No. 100 (Yamamoto and Benson). That’s not enough to restock the cupboard at a time where Edmonton is likely to need both a) cheap forwards to play with their impact guys and b) prospects to deal for veterans at the trade deadline.

In between doing the other things needed to turn Edmonton into a championship team, GM Peter Chiarelli needs to find a way to restock a nearly depleted system. Otherwise, he risks not having the resources necessary to put the team over the top when the time comes to add trade deadline reinforcements over the next few seasons.


  • Mike Modano's Dog

    Losing a 2nd and a 3rd round pick for new management sure didn’t help. I still can’t believe the NHL went through with that *compensation for fired personnel. bush league move

  • OriginalPouzar

    A very important thing for this organization is for Tyler Benson to play a full season of hockey this year.

    If healthy, yes, big if at this point, this is a real prospect and a good bet to provide a year or two of value on his ELC.

    I’m hoping for a bounce-back health year from Tyler and to re-establish himself as a top prospect.

  • madjam

    Oilers doing very well pumping out draft choices onto team – far better than most . McDavid , Draisaitl , Cagguila , Puljujarvi , Slepyshev , Khaira , etc. just for forwards . Yamamoto and Benson look promising as well . Many new faces that look promising on defence in the pipeline that already sees Nurse and Benning up with main club . Oilers much better in depth than Willis credits them with . 3 new goalies in system as well that could prove fruitful . Chia doing well restocking AHL club even if Willis does not see it that way .

    • Lazarus

      Lol. Doing super well. McDavid and Draisaitl top picks. Nail Puljujarvi isn’t looking that great. Slepyshev isn’t much and neither is Cagguila. Khaira..meh. Doing really well at pumping out draft choices you are right. System is in poor shape. This team will never get over the top with salary hell, and empty cupboards

        • BringtheFire 2.0

          No no, you’re making a mistake: Puljujarvi is the prospect, Tkachuk is the current bona fide NHLer. If you are going to compare two prospects, make sure you have two prospects! 😀 (No need to thank me, easy mistake!) 😀 😀

          • Joy S. Lee

            You’re right, but as Jordan stated, next year will be year two of their professional careers. I’m still onside with the Oilers choosing Puljujarvi ahead of Mr. Obnoxious. Just to be clear, I’m a fan of Tkachuk’s, he’s an integral piece for team success. However, he will also be the target of much animosity, and I hate to break it to you, but the Oilers may be the most efficient team in the NHL now for meting out animosity. Tkachuk will be held accountable by the team to the North, and I’m not referring to McDavid and Draisaitl.

            Jury is out on our guy early on, but I’m convinced both will be very good. Tkachuk will be a complete player with the ability to play a skill game, but Puljujarvi will be an exceptional skill player with the ability to play a complete game. And unlike Tkachuk, Puljujarvi won’t need eyes in the back of his head to prepare him for his many enemies. Point being, I’m still happy with choice the Oilers made.

      • HardBoiledOil 1.0

        *Nail Puljujarvi* huh? i guess we should just give up on him at 19 then because he didn’t do what Laine or Matthews did at the same age? i guess it’s a players required duty to become an instant star if picked in the top 5 or he’s a bust?

        • DerpSolo

          Lazurus, why don’t you go back to flames nation and talk about how good your gonna be, and how “deep” your lineup is, how mike smut is gonna be the saviour, how your finally gonna win a playoff game. Enjoy your foolish optimism while you can, because come oct 4th, you’ll be drowning your sorrows after Oilers rape the flames, and go on to be one of the better teams in the league, while flames once again scramble for a WC spot

        • supra steve

          Hypocrite. a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.

        • BringtheFire 2.0


          I was never high on Bennett either, but that opinion isn’t shared by my FN alumni.

          To me, he hasn’t been a consistent player. He was the highest rated player in his draft, but it was based on a blazing second half of his pre-draft year. Then there is the question of whether he was entirely truthful about the shoulder injury which basically cost him his rookie season.

          If it were me, I’d sign-and-trade, but he’s earned a shot next season. It’s his last, though.

          • BendingCorners

            Jesse and Sam are both quality players and are both very young. It is not clear that Sam benefited more from playing in the NHL than he would have in the AHL, and he might be a better W than he is a C, but both Sam and Jesse I think will be top-6 forwards in the NHL for many years once they complete their development. It would be great to see them both have good years this year and add even more excitement to the BOA.

    • Jonathan Willis

      “Chia doing well restocking AHL club even if Willis does not see it that way.”

      Assuming that Jesse Puljujarvi makes the Oilers out of camp next year, the best forward prospect on Bakersfield entering 2017-18 could be either Joe Gambardella or Joey Laleggia. In what world is that a well-stocked AHL system? There’s a reason the Oilers spent the first week of free agency signing a bunch of mid-20’s AHL journeymen – because they have precious few real prospects to fill those roster slots in Bakersfield.

      • madjam

        Just how many do you expect we have to graduate each year to make main club to satisfy you ? Yamamoto , Maksimov , Safin , Bear , Jones , Mantha are not poor draft choices , nor the new goalies . Our real good ones of course make it on first attempt . Your expectations are either way to high , or you just do not find the quality that a lot of the rest of us do . They signed more AHL players to help aid the younger ones in system as well as to revamp the Condors , which Chia has done admirably . Sorry to hear you do not agree on the job Chia has done here and Condors , and your lack of faith in Puljujarvi and Yamamoto by the sounds of it .

        • Jagrbaum

          I think his principal argument was in regards to attrition. Every year you are going to have players leave the team either due to numerous reasons (can’t afford them, don’t have role on the team, wife for some reason hates the glory that is Alberta Summers etc). The issue with our current prospect pool is in regards to potential replacements a couple of seasons down the road.

          Think about the Chi-Pitt system. They constantly lost good players due to cap issues and success of winning the cup, but were able to replace them cheaply with guys like Sheary, Guentzel, etc who may later become expensive and shipped out while other prospects fill the ranks.

          Even this season, we kind of have an example of this with Jordan Eberle’s spot. We have Jesse available to take a crack at or below 2RW. He might not perform up to that standard, but he certainly has the potential. Now if you look at a year into the future, where I think we will lose RNH due to cap issues, who in our prospect pool do we think has the ability to play 14-16mins as a responsible centre capable of chipping in 30-40 NHL points? Right now we have a phenomenal depth at C with McD, Drai, Nuge, Strome, Letestu. However, lets say the Strome centre experiment fails and RNH* is gone. Who is there to give us a capable 3C in our current prospect pool? Could we get a decent free agent there on a reasonable contract?** Those are the questions that I think have caused Willis to write this.

          *I’m assuming Drai is 2C this season thus pushing Nuge down
          **Good luck

        • NoBuBlackOPS

          You completely leave out the fact that in BAK that outside gambardella there are no prospects of worth as far as forwards go. Assuming that puljujarvi and kahira make the big club. Ya we have FWD prospects coming but none able to help in the AHL. The oilers FWD prospect depth in the AHL is suspect at best there’s some real nice D prospects but it’s pretty barren at FWD.

  • Jordan88

    JP, Bear, Benson, Yamamoto, Betker, Khaira. We are not that barren. Not to mention players in Europe and NCAA we have rights to.

    Could be worse, Calgary leveraged their future the next two seasons.

    • SeethingRed

      “Leveraged their future”…hate the Flames all you want but this is a really uneducated comment. They have a logjam in potential NHL players in every position except right wing…where the Oil are incredibly weak also by the way…the reason they moved picks for Hamonic and Smith is because the could…just sayin

      • Jordan88

        Yeah the flames will be in the position Edmonton is some time in the next 3 years. Of empty cupparbs and sub par picks. Except the core of Edmontons Defence is 24 not 33, our goalie is 30 not 35, and forward core are under 25 JP, McDavid, Draisaitil, Strome, RNH,

        Kassian Lucic and Jokinen are 26, 29, 34.

        Please again tell me how its uneducated. The only chance you have is trading for picks at the deadline, or dealing with cap hell. Great plan for the post season.

        • HOCKEY83

          You wont be able to afford your goalie when his contract is up. The flames have the top goalie prospect in the league in their system right now along with 2 other ready now great goalie prospects. If you don’t win a cup now you will be struggling to get decent players due to McDavid’s and Draisaitl’s contracts. Letestu, Maroon, Jokinen, Slepyshev, Strome, Caggiula, Pakarinen, Fayne, Benning, Nurse, Broissoit all win want raises next season some of which you’ll have to give raises to before the seson is over or you will lose them to free agency. Talbot will be looking for a massive raise by the end of the season going into next year and you also have 14 prospects looking for new contract at the end of the year. Bottom line is Oilers are screwed.

          • HardBoiledOil 1.0

            just because it makes sense to *you* that the Oilers “won’t be able to afford your goalie when his contract is up” doesn’t make it so ! he’s given us the best goaltending since forever so i don’t think they will do what the lames make a habit of doing these days and just let him walk without trying hard to re-sign him. if there’s a way Chia will find it ! we’ll be find unlike the Lames !

        • SeethingRed

          Ummm hey short bus…in three to four years our dearth of prospects should be challenging for a spot…that’s why they are prospects…I don’t think you get it ?

          • McDavid's Comet

            Exactly, that’s why they are only prospects; no guarantees. 3-4 yrs from now is not helping this or next 2-3 seasons from now. Your team mortgaged the future on a old declining goalie with good stats on a declining team and a fragile d-man with a good reputation. One goalie and defense-man will not help compete for Stanley in a conference with multiple heavy weight teams. fLames have no one to help for the immediate future that will improve depth or challenge the top 6 as bonafide NHLers. Sure maybe the flames get into playoffs (wild card….. maybe); incumbent on the fact that the pacific has 3 declining teams and one in it’s inaugural season. You still have to compete against divisional juggernauts San Jose, Anaheim and Edmonton as well as Chicago, Nashville, Minnesota, Dallas or St.Louis. I’m not sure you get it but, good luck with that ?!

  • Rock11

    This “problem” is also mitigated by the general youth in the Oilers top 9. Obviously 97 and 29 are both very young and even Nuge, Strome, Sleppy etc. It isn’t like they have to replace aging veterans this year. This buys the prospects some development time and the organization some procurement time.

    • OilCan2

      Agreed. There are only so many NHL roster spots coming available every year. The Oilers are flush with young talent. Look no further than the youngest ever Captain in NHL history.

      • BringtheFire 2.0

        @ Oilcan2

        No one in the hockey world shares the opinion that the Oilers are “flush” with young talent, including the author of the article under which you are commenting. You had a good season last year that no one saw coming. Expect regression this year.

        That’s what happened to us.

        • HardBoiledOil 1.0

          but in reality the Lames suck so it was not unexpected that they would take a step back from where they had no business being in the first place! so we’re not flush with young talent on the NHL only roster, hey? McD is 20, Leon 21, Nurse 22, Caggiula, Benning, Slepyshev, Khaira are all 23, Nuge, Strome, Klefbom, Larsson, Brossoit are all 24….so you were saying? that’s a pretty young core my friend !

          • DerpSolo

            Flames don’t have the best player in the world on their team tho…Oilers do. I don’t see any regression coming! All hail king Connor! Have fun relying on mike smut

          • BringtheFire 2.0

            It’s really very simple: if Connor McDavid doesn’t get injured, the Edmonton Oilers make the playoffs. If he does get injured they do not.

            I hope he doesn’t get injured, because I want to win-or lose-the BOA with him on the ice.

    • SeethingRed

      Prospects = future…so you can’t mortgage your future if you have a decent prospect pool which was my point all along….sigh…reading is hard.isn’t it…

  • JimmyV1965

    It’s also important to remember that the Oil are still one of the youngest teams in the league. 12 of their starting players are 24 and under. And their core is all 24 and under. The team has time to restock the shelves.

    • OTOF2

      Pay attention. The restocking challenge is not driven by the age of the player but the cost of the player. It doesn’t matter how young they are if you can’t afford their contract. A team with the Oils salary structure needs to cycle in ELC players to keep under the cap. And these ELC players need to contribute.

    • Bob Cobb

      Yes, their core is young, but they don’t have tons of time, maybe 2 or 3 years before they have to start promoting from the AHL. They can restock the cupboard through college FA’s quicker, but they have to get early to mid round picks in some trades to restock the cupboard as well and then make wise picks.

      • madjam

        We had problems with size and truculence as Chia pointed out , not to mention goaltending during those times , and lacked a solid defence as well . We had a lot of small to medium skilled forwards with little balance and truculence , and not much else . Chia transformed team in short order to a truculent team , and that above all else , has done wonders for rest of club .

    • Bob Cobb

      Not entirely, the reason for the decade of despair was the Pronger trade request, everyone else departing from the 2006 SCF team, trying to sign over the hill players and finally deciding to go scorched earth and trade everyone to get to draft Hall, surrounding him with AHL has beens and expecting to win. Not to mention the list of GM’s and Coaches that attempted to turn it around and failing because the said GM was afraid to make Bold Moves. There’s also trying to build from the wingers first and forgetting that centers and defenseman are important too…did I miss anything?

  • oilfan4ever

    JW makes some valid points. However our prospect depth on defense is the exact opposite and these players are assets that can be used as trade bait to fill a need in another position if required.

  • russ99a

    Good article, and yes we have a void of scoring forwards in the system.

    Seems to me Bakersfield is more into competing with grinders to ensure a consistent gate than developing our prospects into top 6 forwards.

  • Butters

    I think the Oilers are trying to surround their prospects with better AHL players. I don’t think having a crappy AHL team is good for prospect development.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    I’m not too worried. We have a couple forward prospects in pizzaparty and Yamamoto.

    We just have to draft some decent players, sign some college players and sign free agents like Jokinen.

    Free agents will want a chance to play with MCDavid.

  • Heschultzhescores

    If we were playing ladies hockey I’d be excited about Yamamoto, but this is big-boy hockey….size is everything now-a-days…sorry to say. Can’t believe the Oilers wasted this pick. How have the past midgets worked out for us? It’s a big grinding game now…let’s remember that and forget how it used to be in the wide open 80’s.

  • TKB2677

    Part of the problem with the Oilers and their prospects is they were so lousy for so long and lacks so much talent that they couldn’t afford to let young guys develop. They needed the help on the big club so any first rounders had to play. That is obviously the fault of management. They drafted poorly in the lower rounds so there weren’t a lot of players who even had a chance to develop into something.

    I also think in general until recently, the Oilers didn’t draft properly. Most successful teams build strength down the middle, have some skilled size down the middle and build on defense. If you look at the Pens, they have 2 strong centers, when healthy, have a top end dman and they fill around those elite centers with for the most part decent but not overly spectacular wingers. If you look at the Oilers first round history.
    2007 they draft a small center in Gagner. THen blow 2 other 1sts.
    2008 They draft a small winger in Eberle at 25. They had depth on wing already.
    2009 They draft Paajarvi at 10, another winger adding to their already deep wing depth.
    2010 Their center depth was weak at this point. They had Hemsky, Penner, Eberle, Paarjarvi already. 2 lefties, 2 righties. It was Taylor vs Tyler. They picked Hall over the skilled center. Another winger. Was it a bad pick?No, Hall is a good player and both he and Seguin worked out. But given the organizational depth, they should have picked a center, they didn’t need another winger. At this point, Gagner was going into his 3rd season as an NHL center and wasn’t exactly blowing the doors off.
    2011 They finally drafted a center. A small center but a center in Nuge. The depth chart would have looked a lot better with Gagner, Seguin and Nuge rather than the gutten of wingers. They also got smart and drafted Klefbom who most thought would be a stud and he is.
    2012. They bust on Yak but again drafting another winger. At this point Gagner is in year 5 of his NHL season and looking suspect as an NHL center. So all they have is Nuge at center. Their defense is brutal so they needed a dman or a center badly. So picking Yak even if he was rated as the best player was pure stupidity.
    After 2012, they finally clued in.
    Drafted Nurse in 2013 who at worse is a top 4 damn
    Finally drafted a big, skilled center in Draisaitl in 2014 that they desperately needed and resisted to urge to go stupid like some people wanted and draft the small, suspect center in Bennett. Bennett looks exactly like Gagner only Gagner had better stats in the NHL to the same time period. I think Bennett will be an OK top 6 forward but he is undersize and will be a winger.

    Then they drafted McDavid in 2015, the center. No brainer. But also in that draft, organizationally they were really weak on defense so in 2015, they drafted 4 dmen. It looks like at least one of Jones, Bear or Paigin might have a legit chance to be a player in the near future.

    2016 organizationally, they were weak at right wing especially skilled size, so they draft Puljujarvi. At worse he will be a top 6 RW.

    2017 they are still weak on right wing with any skill so they draft Yamamoto. He’s small but very skilled so he has a shot.

    So if you look at what I typed, it took until 2013 before the clued in and started drafted smart.

    • HardBoiledOil 1.0

      like every player drafted in the top 5, if he doesn’t produce Laine or Matthews type of numbers right off the bat at 18 years old ! he’s a bust, didn’t you know that? or at the most, Pool will become “only” a good support player….hockey “fans” can predict all this after only one small sample from a very young player….it happened to Leon, right? oh wait….

  • Joy S. Lee

    The Flames strength has been on D, the Oilers at forward. Currently, the Flames D remains one of the league’s best, but they aren’t spring chickens, either. Calgary does have four good prospects to fill in for aging departures when the time comes, but all four are merely prospects at this point. The Flames D is in good – not great – shape.

    The Oilers D is coming around, and with fine YOUNG prospects: Klefbom, Larsson, Nurse, Benning are all still quite youthful, and gaining experience quickly. By my analysis, Edmonton has NINE (9) good defense prospects in the system. I would suggest that the Oil may surprise everyone by boasting the league’s finest defense within the next few years, and that’s with Connor and Leon up front with an army of nasties like Lucic alongside them.

    As for the subject matter of the article, the Oilers forward prospects are questionable, no doubt. I’ll put my money on Yamamoto because he looks like a special player to me, much like Johnny Gaudreau did with the American world junior team. The next couple of drafts and FA signings will see the Oilers focus on forwards, since the back end has been addressed. Signing FA’s – which is getting easier in the north – will allow PC to fill out his forward ranks with youthful support players, but it’s the only major reclamation project he has left, having done his other projects in record time. Give the guy a chance to shut you up before publishing sky-is-falling prognostications at the only blemish he has left besides trying to make it all fit in under the salary cap.