The Major League Baseball trade deadline passed yesterday and it was crazy. Many big names were dealt. There were 15 trades yesterday, and a total of 36 in the last week. It is rare that MLB’s trade deadline is busier than the NHL’s, but it was. As with most deadline trades, one team usually received prospects in return. “He is the fourth or 10th ranked prospect in their system,” was mentioned often.
This isn’t as common in hockey, so today, let’s look at the top ten prospects in the Oilers organization.
Jesse Puljujarvi is still young enough to be considered a prospect, but he was on the Oilers roster all of last year so I didn’t include him. Here are my rankings.
I ranked them based on a combination of things: Overall ability, the potential to play and remain in the NHL, as well as where I project them to play in the lineup.
1. Evan Bouchard: He isn’t here just because he was drafted the highest. He has outstanding offensive instincts. His best asset, moving the puck, is something the Oilers lack on the blueline. I wouldn’t rush his development, but if he shows he can defend at the NHL level, he could stick. I could see him and Darnell Nurse paired together in a year or two. His passing and shooting ability will get him early recognition, but if he shows he can hold his own in the defensive zone, he could be a top pairing defender for the Oilers in the future.
2. Kailer Yamamoto: His hockey sense and vision are his best attributes. He can think the game well enough to comfortably play alongside Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl in the future. He will need to get stronger. Size and weight isn’t as much of an issue in today’s game, but when you are Yamamoto’s size, 5’6′, 160 pounds, you will need to be strong to battle against top-four NHL defenders. He has always played against bigger players and had success, but the size and strength of NHL players is much different than playing against 19 and 20 year olds in the WHL when he was 16 and 17. The Oilers lack of proven right wingers combined with their two excellent centres makes Edmonton a perfect organization for Yamamoto. I see him getting some NHL action this year, but I suspect he sees more time in the AHL his first pro season.
3. Cooper Marody: In March, the Oilers acquired him from Philadelphia for a third-round pick (the one they received from New Jersey in the Patrick Maroon trade). Marody turns 22 in December. He was a sixth-round pick in 2015. He played the past three seasons at Michigan in NCAA. He scored 90 points in 90 games over three seasons, including 51 points in 40 games this past year. He did get in three AHL games with Bakersfield late last year and produced three points in three games. Many were impressed, albeit in an extremely small sample size, of how he looked in the AHL. Marody was traded, because he wasn’t going to sign in Philly. He had the option of free agency, and would have gone there, so the Flyers traded him. Marody is likely a bottom six forward, and the Oilers don’t have many right shot centres in the organization. I see him being the first line C in the AHL this year. It makes little sense to have him as the 13th forward in the NHL. He needs to play and I’d play him a lot in the AHL, but I see him being in Edmonton soon.
4. Ethan Bear: The addition of Bouchard impacts Bear directly. Bear performed well when recalled late last year, but he needs to improve his defensive game. He’s only played 37 AHL games and 18 NHL games. Like most offensive-minded young defenders, improving his defensive awareness will be his biggest challenge. Bear thinks the game well, is a solid passer and has a great shot. He has many NHL qualities. His biggest challenge will be ensuring he puts in the work in the off-season to become an NHL player. In the past his off-season training wasn’t consistent enough. The dedication when no one is watching (TV or coaches) is what separates many players from making the NHL or just hanging around. He has the skill, and I think getting a taste of the NHL last year will motivate him to ensure he is working as hard as other aspiring NHL players in the off-season.
5. Kirill Maksimov: I love players who can score and Maksimov loves to shoot. He had a breakout season last year, 34-46-80 in 62 games in the OHL. He has good size, good hands, reads the play well and is a decent skater. He, like the many other young forwards in the system, will have the luxury of not being rushed to the NHL. He will play another year in the OHL, then most likely turn pro and get some seasoning in the AHL. In the next few seasons, the Oilers will add young, skilled players to their farm system and they will play with other skilled forwards and hopefully the organization gives them ice time in Bakersfield to hone their skills. Maksimov has the potential to become a solid shooter in the NHL.
6. Ryan McLeod: He can play centre or wing. He’s another late birthday and he likely turns pro next season. Like Maksimov, he took a big step offensively last year, finishing with 26-44-70 in 68 games after producing 42 and 20 points in his first two OHL seasons. He skates well, has good size at 6’2″, 200 pounds, and is more of a play maker than a shooter. Needs to be more consistently engaged.
7. Tyler Benson: He needs to stay healthy. In four WHL seasons he only played 183 games. Last season, he sat out the first 12 games recovering from two hernia surgeries in April and July. Once he returned, he was finally able to stay healthy and hopefully the injuries are in the past. When healthy, he has an excellent all-around game. Of all the young players I’d argue he is the most consistent. He isn’t flashy, but he does everything well. He needs to get a bit quicker, and if his hip issues are behind him he will gain a half step. He’s very strong, highly competitive and is reliable in both ends.
8. Ostap Safin: He’s huge at 6’5″ and just needs time to get stronger and fill out his massive frame. He had a good first season in the QMJHL, producing 26-32-58 in 61 games. Adapting to the smaller ice and a new country is a challenge, but he looked more comfortable throughout the season. He led the Saint John Sea Dogs in scoring and should build on his numbers this year. Right now he projects to be a middle six winger.
9. Stuart Skinner: He will be able to work with Oilers goalie coach Dustin Schwartz every off-season in Edmonton. That should be a huge advantage for him. Goalies are extremely difficult to project, but Stuart has all the tools to push for an NHL job in the future. Odds are we won’t see Skinner in the NHL for at least three or four years. Last year only seven goalies 24 years old and under played 25 NHL games. Juuse Saros (22) played 25 games. Tristan Jarry (22) played 26, Matt Murray (23) played 49, John Gibson (24) played 60, Andre Vasilevskiy (23) played 65 and Connor Hellebuyck (24) played 66 games. Patience will be a must for Skinner’s development.
10. Caleb Jones: He and Bear are very close in ability. Jones is better defensively. He needs to mature and after some early challenges last year (he wasn’t in the best shape), he played well. He has the luxury of training with his older brother Seth in the summer, and he should see firsthand the dedication and commitment it takes to become an NHL player. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Jones has a longer NHL career than Bear if he commits himself.
The Oilers have some other young prospects with talent as well. William Lagesson, Dmitri Samorukov and Filip Berglund on the blueline and Aapeli Rasanen, Tyler Vesel and Graham McPhee up front. For the first time since 2004/2005 the Oilers should start to have numerous players on their AHL team who could become NHL players. The 2004/2005 Roadrunners had Jarret Stoll, Raffi Torres, Brad Winchester, Kyle Brodziak, Toby Peterson, Mike Bishai, Jeff Deslauriers and Mike Morrison.
Starting next season, the Oilers should have Bear, Jones, Maksimov, Safin, Benson, Mcleod, Skinner, Lagesson, Vesel, Samorukov and Berglund all in their farm system, and possibly Marody and Bouchard.
They all won’t become NHL players, but after years of having virtually no depth, the Oilers are finally starting to look like they will have options to fill out roster spots from within their own organization.