A month ago, I wrote about the lack of forward prospects in the Edmonton Oilers pipeline. Jesse Puljujarvi isn’t really a prospect anymore, which leaves Kailer Yamamoto as the only forward prospect that has a chance to make an impact in the NHL within the next year.
Since then the Oilers have added:
That’s three players who could be playing in Bakersfield next season, with Yamamoto and Tyler Benson graduating to professional hockey as well.
This is in addition to overage Western Hockey League centre Cameron Hebig, who was signed at the end of the December. The Oilers have recognized the lack of forwards in their system and are trying to fix it. Bakersfield has too many American Hockey League veterans getting minutes when the Oilers need prospects playing those minutes instead.
The Oilers are in this position because they’ve drafted at the top, where most players make the NHL immediately, and they’ve traded a lot of draft picks in an attempt to get better.
The Oilers didn’t pick a forward after selecting Connor McDavid first overall in the 2015 draft. The Griffin Reinhart trade has been relentlessly talked about, but for a good reason. It’s not hard to see how two, young forward prospects drafted with those picks could be finishing their first year of professional hockey right now, maybe even with a brief campaign in the NHL.
The Reinhart trade will go down as one of the worst in recent years and a reason why the Oilers don’t have cheap talent to fill out the roster.
There’s an argument for acquiring prospects instead of draft picks: they’re closer to the NHL and Edmonton needs players in the AHL and not junior hockey. But prospects worth anything are rarely traded. Cooper Marody is likely the highest quality prospect procured by Edmonton recently, and even he wasn’t rated much in Philadelphia’s strong system.
Larkin comes from a league that historically produces almost no NHL players.
Dudek isn’t producing any offence that suggests an NHL future.
Hebig is having a nice year in the WHL after missing all of 2016-17, but that should be expected from an overage player.
Edmonton’s desire to address their forward prospect depth is good. They need young players to come through the system and make an impact in the NHL, but it’s hard to see how these additions move the needle for Edmonton’s prospect pool
It’s still better to have younger players like Hebig and Marody playing big minutes in the AHL than older AHL veterans. Maybe one of them surprises in professional hockey, even if they lacked the offence in college or played in a lower league.
The Oilers’ need for forward prospects is still there. They’ll need to improve their drafting and developing, and resist trading high draft picks for mediocre prospects like they did with Reinhart.
Edmonton’s aggressive approach in signing undrafted free agents and trading for prospects is like taking a swig of mouthwash for strep throat. It won’t hurt you and might help a little bit, but still doesn’t address the underlying issue.