Part of a disappointing season means calling up NHL-ready prospects to see if they can fill roles. What makes a disappointing season even worse is when there’s nothing of substance to call up. Jesse Puljujarvi’s already in Edmonton. After the Oilers’ 2016 first-round pick, there’s no one in a veteran-filled Bakersfield team.
Bakersfield’s top-five scorers by age: 25, 25, 25, 28, 32. Two of those players are on AHL-only deals (Ryan Hamilton and Josh Currie). Joey Laleggia is a defenceman converted to forward. Ty Rattie and Brad Malone are NHL/AHL tweeners. 25-year-old players in the AHL are usually more suspect than prospect.
The Oilers don’t have one forward under 23-years old with 10 points in the AHL. It’s not like these AHL veterans have created a winning atmosphere in Bakersfield either. The Condors are last in the Pacific and are just .500 after winning two games against Los Angeles’ AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign before getting blown out 6-0 to Anaheim’s affiliate.
Some of this is a result of the amount of draft picks sent away by the Oilers. They’ve essentially given up an entire draft class worth of picks in trades for Patrick Maroon, Cam Talbot, Griffin Reinhart and as compensation for hiring Todd McLellan and Peter Chiarelli.
Edmonton’s recovered a few third-round picks when they sent away Teddy Purcell and Justin Schultz at the deadline, as well as the Nail Yakupov trade. Early returns on those picks aren’t good. Markus Niemelainen followed up his draft season with a nine-point campaign in the Ontario Hockey League. Now he’s not playing much for HPK Hameenlinna in Finland. Matt Cairns jumped leagues before landing at Cornell for the 2017-18 season. He’s not an everyday player and has no points.
This is where the Griffin Reinhart trade hurts so much. Matt Barzal aside, the Oilers yielded nothing from two high draft picks in a deep draft. Edmonton’s system looks completely different with players like Joel Eriksson-Ek or Mitchell Stephens in it. Chiarelli’s inability to extract picks alongside Adam Larsson and Ryan Strome also shines through here.
This is also a symptom of drafting high every year. Before last season, the Oilers missed the playoffs ten years in a row and had nine top-ten draft picks. Those players make the NHL much sooner than those picked in the 20s, especially top-five picks. Connor McDavid was never spending any more time in junior. Jesse Puljujarvi started the season in the AHL but was called up due to a shallow right wing.
Next year has to see more prospects in feature roles, but it still makes the Oilers’ decision to sign seven AHL players to NHL deals even more confusing. None of those players look like NHL hopefuls, and Bakersfield already had Currie and Hamilton on AHL contracts.
Maybe this means moving a defence prospect for a forward prospect makes sense.
Kailer Yamamoto, Tyler Benson, and Cameron Hebig will graduate to professional hockey. Benson is the exact type of prospect who should receive a healthy chunk of minutes on the farm team. Yamamoto is a first-round pick and a right-wing, so the Oilers are probably tempted have him on the NHL roster. Chiarelli, or whoever is general manager, needs to add NHL depth so Yamamoto doesn’t have a red carpet to an NHL job.
A year in Bakersfield won’t hurt Yamamoto. 22nd-overall picks usually take a few years to make the NHL.
2016’s 22nd-overall pick, German Rubtsov, is playing in the QMJHL and probably headed to the AHL next season.
Ilya Samsonov was Washington’s 22nd pick in 2015. He’s playing in Russia, but likely coming over to North America next year. He could be Washington’s backup or playing a lot for their affiliate in Hershey.
Kasperi Kapanen was picked 22nd in 2014 and is just playing regular minutes as of late. He spent one year in Finland before playing three seasons in the AHL. He played 17 NHL games in the three years after being drafted.
Yamamoto doesn’t have the expectations of a top pick. He could spend another year or two in junior and provide a value contract for Edmonton afterwards. Contending teams don’t count on players like him.
Kirill Maksimov looks like a legitimate prospect with the season he’s having in Niagra. Ostap Safin hovers around a point per game in his first year in North America with the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs. Graham McPhee and Aapeli Rasanen are showing signs of life in college, but neither has a resume that indicates a future NHL scorer.
Edmonton’s situation means they can recoup some assets at the deadline for their pending free agents. Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu should return a second or third-round pick, but it’s possible the Oilers opt for a prospect instead. Tampa Bay and Boston are rumoured to have interest in Maroon, and both teams have a wealth of forward prospects playing the AHL.
The Oilers badly need to improve their forward prospect depth. They’ll need cheap forwards to compliment their roster when McDavid and Draisaitl take up a quarter of the salary cap. There’s currently nothing in Bakersfield and only a few on the way, which is bad news for a team at the bottom of the standings.