Photo Credit: NHL.com

The next wave of AHL Forwards

Last week I wrote about how youth and speed are taking over today’s NHL and also how important it is for teams to develop that talent themselves.

The Oilers have a decent amount of high-end young talent when you look at Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and when you consider Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto, they could be adding two more legitimate top-six options in the next few seasons.

The biggest problem for the Oilers will be finding cheap options or players on their entry-level contracts who can both contribute and give them cap relief.

The Oilers actually do have a wave of forwards hitting Bakersfield next season and although I wouldn’t call it a tsunami-like wave, there are some interesting names.

TYLER BENSON – 32nd overall – 2016

When I spoke to Benson back in January, he said that his goal for 2018-19 was to play professional hockey and it’s looking like he will reach that goal, even if it’s not in the NHL.

The 20-year-old could technically return to the WHL for another season but after back-to-back point per game campaigns, all signs point to Benson moving on, which is great news for Oilers’ fans.

While I wouldn’t call Benson an ‘A’ level prospect, he’s a solid ‘B’. Someone who I think will be an NHLer someday, but likely as a middle-six forward. The Edmonton product thinks the game at a very high level and was able to use that to his advantage in the WHL. He has some solid offensive instincts as well, he was six points away from being a point per game player across his whole junior career.

He got a taste of AHL action towards the end of this season and posted three assists in five games. That experience, along with being healthy enough to train hard this offseason will make next year very interesting for Benson.

KAILER YAMAMOTO – 22nd overall – 2017

Oct 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers right wing Kailer Yamamoto (56) skates during the warmup period against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

I mentioned him as a possibility at the NHL level, but there’s an equal chance that the 2017 first rounder ends up in the AHL, at least to start the 2018-19 season.

One reason I would be hesitant to put a skilled winger in the AHL is that I always worry that their development might be stunted by not getting used to playing with skill. That might be a ridiculous concern, but I believe there is some merit to it.

I think some time in the AHL would be really good for Yamamoto and with a centre like Benson, and I feel there’s a chance for him to develop well and get used to playing with skill.

OSTAP SAFIN – 115th overall – 2017

The 6’5 Czech winger was signed to his entry-level contract in March after a strong year with the Saint John Sea Dogs which saw him score 26 goals and add 32 assists in 61 games.

Like Benson, Safin got a cup of coffee in Bakersfield towards the end of the year but scored just once in nine games. Even without the numbers, the experience was good for Safin, who will be more prepared should he make the jump to pro hockey next year.

Despite being only 19-years-old, Safin is eligible to play in the AHL as a teenager because he was drafted from a European team and then went to the CHL after.

Scouts describe him as a big, skilled, straight line player which leads me to believe his potential is as a good complimentary winger, something the Oilers could desperately use.


A 6th round pick by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2015, Marody was never signed by the team and was acquired by the Oilers in March for the same third-round pick the team got for Patrick Maroon.

A veteran of 80 games in the NCAA, Marody finally found offensive success in his third season scoring 16 goals and 35 assists in 40 games. The forward impressed the Oilers enough to earn an entry-level deal and a short stint in the AHL, where he grabbed three points in three games.

College players can be tricky, but Marody showed well in a very brief trial in Bakersfield, it will be interesting to see how he handles his first full season as a pro.

CAMERON HEBIG – Undrafted Free Agent

The Oilers inked Hebig to an ELC in December when he was with the Saskatoon Blades. The overage forward finished the season with Regina and combined for 90 points in 66 games between the two teams, his second straight year with more than a point per game.

He’s a long shot to become an NHLer, but it’s clear that he knows how to score and might just be a late bloomer. It will be very interesting to see how he adjusts to pro hockey.

Oilers fans will get a great look at him with the host Regina Pats at the upcoming Memorial Cup.

TYLER VESEL – 153rd overall – 2014

After spending four full seasons with the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and wearing the ‘C’ on his jersey in his final season, Vesel finally got a one-year entry-level deal from the Oilers last month.

He will be with Bakersfield next year, but on a one-year contract, he’ll have to make a strong first impression. He never stood out statistically, although 35 points in his junior year is nothing to scoff at, but scouting reports suggest he could be a good depth player. He can kill penalties and has been praised for his two-way play.


Grayson Downing and Colin Larkin could both be in the AHL next season and could be interesting. There’s also Kirill Maksimov, who has to play at least one more year with Niagra in the OHL. JD Dudek was acquired from the Devils and the trade deadline, but it sounds like he could head back to college for one more year.

Out of the players I named, I would say Yamamoto and Benson are the surest bets to one day be NHL players while Safin and Marody might be sleepers. Hebig and Vessel both look like long shots at this point.

A player’s first year as a pro can tell you a lot, so next year will be very important to these young men as they look to carve out pro hockey careers.

Like I said off the top, it’s not a huge wave for the Oilers, but it’s encouraging for there to be multiple decent prospects looking to play pro hockey for the organization. Hopefully, 2018-19 is the beginning of a strong wave of supporting players coming through the system for Edmonton, because they desperately need it.

  • Jimmer

    Looking at this list it makes it hard to trade the 10th overall pick…doesn’t it? Unless the 10th pick and a minor league player gets you a young player ready to play now like a Max Domi.

  • Fire Woodcroft!

    More articles like this please! There’s so much doom and gloom these days and it’s nice to see something focusing on what little depth the Oilers organization has.

    Yeah we need more. I agree. But we should also know who we DO have in our ranks.

    It would be good to see a similar article talking about the defensive prospects that are coming up through the system.

  • Chungerr

    Great article! One comment though is that Benson is an LW and not a Centre as you mentioned.

    Other than that this seems like this is the first season where the Oilers have a steady crop of prospects that will fill their affiliate. Hopefully, over the next few years, there will be high-level of internal competition at the NHL level and the AHL level.

  • TKB2677

    I am totally on board with putting Benson and Safin in the AHL. Part of the problem with the AHL and I think it even hurt Puljujarvi a bit is the overall lack of skill in the AHL. Skill players need to play with skill players. For the last 2 season while Puljujarvi was down in the AHL who are the skill players? No disrespect to Lander when he was there in Puljujarvi’s first year but while he was a good AHLer, he’s a borderline NHLer at best. I am of the belief that it would be to Yamamoto’s benefit to see some AHL time. So with that in mind, having a Benson and Safin in the AHL will help bring up the skill level. Marody seems to be skilled so that will help. Even Hebig is a pretty skilled WHLer so that will help.

    I am curious why Tyler would mention Grayson Downing as a guy who might be on the AHL team. Why? I know you are required to dress a certain amount of AHL vets but I would dress the bare minimum. Part of the problem over the years is the Oilers AHL team have too many career AHLers taking ice time from young players. Last year, Bakersfield had:
    – Downing who is 26 and is a UFA and has 5 yrs of AHL experience. He didn’t contribute much but played lots.
    – Ferland who is 25 and is a UFA and has 5 yrs of AHL experience. He didn’t contribute much but played lots.
    – Callahan who is 26 and unfortunately signed for another year and has 7 yrs of AHL experience. He didn’t contribute much but played lots.
    – Malone who is 28 and is signed to another year. He’s got parts of 7 seasons but also NHL time. So having a guy like him isn’t terrible.
    – Hamilton I know they brought back on an AHL deal again last season.

    So that is at least 5 forwards for sure. I don’t know how much AHL time a player needs to be considered a vet but Christopher has been there for 3 seasons, he might count.

    Then you have guys like Gryba, Stanton, Lowe, who would for sure be AHL vets.

    So I think they have way more than enough.

    • The Ghost of Alex Plante

      Nope. It’s the other way around, there is no minimum on AHL vets, but there is a maximum. I believe you can only dress a max of 5 AHL vets per game. The problem is they have been playing the maximum number of vets allowed. They could ice a line up entirely made up of rookie pros if they wanted too.

  • ThatGuy109

    Isn’t Benson a winger? You mentioned in the Yamamoto section he was a center.

    In either case, I’m a big fan of putting them in the AHL and letting them push their way up provided that the coach actually gives them time to develop over playing AHL, overage veterans.

  • JSR

    I’ve watched Hebig play a few times this year. He’s a solid, fast player in the WHL. I wouldn’t count him out, but then again, he’s not big…
    Yamamoto scares me, in the sense that the Oilers drafted someone that small, with a first round pick…I hope he proves me wrong…

    • OilersBro

      He’s small but also averaging almost two points per game in the second half of the season. I see him being like Eberle and putting up 50-60 points a season

  • OilCan2

    Kailer and Tyler are good picks for their draft position. I like the Hebig deal for a freebee.
    How about going after some young prospects in those big name (Hall, Ebs) deals. Yeah I know; water under the bridge but it appears we have room for more young contracts in CA.

  • El Petrolero

    This is promising. How many of these players wore letters for their former teams? Off the top of my head Benson, Hebig, Yams, Vesel, and Larkin all helped captain their teams. As the leading scorers of their teams I’d love to see if Tyler, Kailer, and Cameron have chemistry and light the A on fire. When the NHL lineup starts to worry me I just calm myself by looking at our farm’s potential lineup. Haven’t seen the Condors present a lineup this encouraging in years.

    • Big Nuggets

      I don’t expect them to light the A on fire. It is still a big jump from junior to the AHL and this will be the first year for many of these players, and thus their first time playing against men. It should be a good year of development for some nice prospects but I would caution against over-hyping these guys and just let them develop. As opposed to rushing them into the NHL to fill holes in the Oiler’s line-up.

      There is a tendancy to declare a prospect requires x amount of time in the AHL to develop and then they are ready. That’s just not how it works. Much like snowflakes, all prospects are unique individuals. I hope we can graduate them to the NHL when they prove they are actually ready.

      • Glencontrolurstik

        Benson actually worries me a bit, as he seems to be made of glass? It will be interesting to see how he fairs with a heavier league against him. Also, should be noted that although college players do show hope, like Caggiula, Boeser etc. it should be noted that they seem to run out of gas & get injured or just their play drops off. They seem to be not used to a longer season? Boeser in Vancouver is a great example, as he has missed a ton of time due to injury. His stamina may be the culprit?