Oilers 2019-20 Rookie Candidates

The Oilers didn’t add a whole lot to a roster that wasn’t good enough in 2018-19. That doesn’t mean they’re destined for another bottom-of-the-standings finish, but they’ll be hoping a few prospects can establish themselves in the NHL in 2019-20.

Which prospects have a shot at making the team or spending a significant chunk of time in the NHL in 2019-20?

I’ve including each prospect’s NHL equivalency, which estimates their NHL production based on their stats in their respective leagues, the American Hockey League, Canadian Hockey League, or Europe, using historical transitions from those leagues. All NHLe’s are over 82 games.

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Cooper Marody

2018-19: 58GP 19g 45a 64p (AHL)
NHLe: 43 points

The Oilers acquired Marody at the end of the 2017-18 season for the third-round pick obtained in the Patrick Maroon trade to New Jersey. Marody’s scored 67 points in 61 games over two seasons with Bakersfield in the AHL.

Marody has an excellence chance to claim the wide-open spot as the Oilers’ third-line center. The only other right-shot center is Kyle Brodziak, who might not be a NHL player anymore, or Sam Gagner, who probably isn’t a center at the NHL level anymore.

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Marody will be 23 by December, so he’s older than prospects like Tyler Benson, Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear, and should be closer to the NHL in theory if he’s going to have a career. A 43-point NHLe is encouraging. Whether that’s at center or right wing, it would be a godsend for the Oilers.

Tyler Benson

2018-19: 68gp 15g 51a 66p (AHL)
NHLe: 37 points

Benson had a stellar rookie season in Bakersfield. 66 points in 68 games is among the best rookie seasons for Oilers prospects in some time. Benson’s AHL season projects to a 37-point season in the NHL.

Is Benson NHL ready? The knock on Benson is his skating and he didn’t score a ton of goals in Bakersfield last season. But his competition isn’t great. Depending on if Leon Draisaitl plays to the left or right of Connor McDavid, Benson has to beat out some combination of James Neal, Alex Chiasson, Sam Gagner, Markus Granlund, Joakim Nygard, and Jujhar Khaira.

I like his chances.

Evan Bouchard

2018-19: 45gp 16g 37a 53p (OHL) 7gp 1g 0a 1p (NHL) 8gp 3g 5a 8p (AHL)
NHLe: 30 points

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Evan Bouchard is still a rookie despite Peter Chiarelli’s best efforts and thanks to Todd McLellan for recognizing the 2018 10th-overall pick wasn’t NHL ready.

Bouchard went back to the London Knights after a seven-game NHL stretch and was once again above a point per game in the OHL. Bouchard joined the Condors for their playoff run and had eight points in eight games. Ken Holland has emphasized prospects playing in the minors and ‘overripening’, but there’s a clear hole on right defence. If it isn’t Bouchard, it’ll be Joel Persson or Ethan Bear. None of those right-handed defence prospects come with the draft pedigree Bouchard carries or with the type of season Bouchard just had in London.

Bouchard’s numbers in the OHL equate to a 30-point season in the NHL. His eight-game AHL run has a NHLe of 39, but eight games isn’t enough to make anything from it. Holland and Tippet might find it hard to keep Bouchard off the NHL roster.

Joel Persson

2018-19: 50g 6g 25a 31p (SHL)
NHLe: 29 points

Persson is an older rookie at 25-years old. His past two seasons with Vaxjo HC in the Swedish Hockey League show he’s a capable offensive defenceman, a skill set that isn’t plentiful on the Oilers defence. Especially on the right side.

Persson’s SHL season gives him at NHLe of 29 points, which should give him a solid resume to claim an NHL job. The Oilers have Adam Larsson and Matt Benning as right-handed defencemen in the NHL. Kris Russell has long played there for the Oilers, but Dave Tippet likes him on the left side which suggests a reduced role.

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There’s a role for Persson on the Oilers. Persson’s an older rookie, so he shouldn’t need too much time to adjust if he’s going to be an NHL contributor.

Ethan Bear

2018-19: 52gp 6g 25a 31p (AHL)
NHLe: 23 points

A couple of seasons ago, Bear had an 18-game stretch in the NHL alongside a solid season in the AHL. Bear didn’t have any NHL time last season, but that shouldn’t be cause for concern. Bear’s 31 points in 52 games means he’s still a legitimate prospect. He’s another right-handed shot that could pounce on a weak right side in Edmonton. Bear may not as good of a skater as Caleb Jones, but he moves the puck well and can play on the power play.

Caleb Jones

2018-19: 50gp 6g 23a 29p (AHL)
NHLe: 22 points

Jones had an excellent sophomore season in professional hockey, including a 17-game stint with the Oilers where he didn’t look out of place playing with good players.

Jones has the skating and puck-handling abilities to play in the NHL. He’s even spent time on the right side despite being a left-handed shot. That might give him the inside track over some other defenceman, but Holland signalled the arrival of a couple of young defencemen when he bought out Andrej Sekera.

Kailer Yamamoto

2018-19: 27gp 10g 8a 18p (AHL) 17gp 1g 1a 2p (NHL)
NHLe: 26 points

Kailer Yamamoto’s made the Oilers each year since being drafted by them in 2017. Both times it’s been premature and he either ended up in junior or the minors. Yamamoto didn’t light the AHL on fire, but his 10 goals in 27 games projects to a 25-goal season over a full AHL season.

Yamamoto dealt with various injuries that limited him to just 27 games with Bakersfield. The Oilers need significant help on the wings. A skilled winger like Yamamoto could fill that role eventually, but a season mostly in the AHL, where he doesn’t start in Edmonton, is probably in order.

William Lagesson

2018-19: 67gp 8g 19a 27p (AHL)
NHLE: 16 points

Lagesson is one of the less-heralded prospects in Edmonton, but he had a good season in the AHL and is only 23. The problem with Lagesson is his traits are well supplied in Edmonton already. The Oilers don’t need another tough, defensive defenceman that shoots left. What Lagesson has working for him is a dirt-cheap contract at the NHL level. The Oilers have Oscar Klefbom signed for a very reasonable $4.167 million for the next season. Darnell Nurse carries a $3.2-million cap hit for the next two seasons. He’ll get a big raise after 2020-21.

Holland will need cheap players to round out the roster. Can Lagesson be a guy that plays third-pairing minutes and makes almost nothing? That doesn’t seem like a stretch, but it’s unlikely he sees a lot of NHL time in 2019-20.

Shane Starrett

2018-19: 42GP 0.918 SV%

The Oilers goaltending situation: overpaid 31-year old goaltender with a career 0.904 save percentage in 59 games and a 37-year old goalie with a .894 in 42 games last season in Calgary, a team with a much better defence and forward depth than Edmonton. Mikko Koskinen might perform better with a lighter workload and Mike Smith was reasonably good for many years before crashing last season. Smith also had a .912 save percentage from February 1st to the end of the season.

There are enough question marks with the Oilers goaltending that it won’t be a surprise if Starrett plays five or 35 games for the big club this season. Starrett had a .918 save percentage in 42 games with Bakersfield, although he wasn’t as good in the playoffs. If he posts similar regular season numbers as last season and Koskinen or Smith falter, he won’t be in Bakersfield long.

The Cut

I see Marody, Bouchard, Persson, and Jones spending significant time as Oilers this season. Benson and Bear get some games, while Yamamoto and Starrett spend almost all their time in Bakersfield. As much as Holland and Tippett preach patience, there are too many holes on the roster and an easy path for many prospects to stick in the NHL.

Follow me on Twitter: @chrispagnani.