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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The state of the Oilers’ farm system

The Oilers own the No. 14 overall pick at the 2020 draft and will have an opportunity to select a very good prospect from a class that experts say is one of the best we’ve seen in years.

But what type of player should Ken Holland and Co. be looking for come draft day? Let’s take a look through the state of Edmonton’s farm system to get an idea of the organization’s strengths and weaknesses before they make their pick.

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Forwards

The Oilers are fairly barren when it comes to game-changing forwards in the minor leagues.

Kailer Yamamoto, the organization’s top forward prospect this time last year, graduated after a breakout season in 2019-20. Jesse Puljujarvi, who’s only a couple of months older than Yamamoto, is still technically a prospect and it would be a nice boost for the Oilers if he could hit the ground running in his return to Edmonton after spending a year in Finland.

Tyler Benson has put up very strong numbers in the AHL and seems ready to make the step to becoming an effective, complementary, middle-six playmaker.  Ryan McLeod, the team’s second-round pick from 2018, shouldn’t be too far behind. He hasn’t ever produced at an elite level, but he projects to become an effective bottom-six centre in the NHL. Cooper Marody once appeared to be on track for a similar role, but struggles with injuries have hurt his billing as a prospect.

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The one forward prospect in Edmonton’s system who has some major top-six upside is 2019 second-round pick, Raphael Lavoie. The 6’4 winger produced 38 goals in 55 games in the QMJHL last season and boasts the complete package of size, skating, and a good shot.

A couple of other names with upside in Edmonton’s system are Kirill Maksimov and Ostap Safin, a pair of mid-round picks from the 2017 draft. Both players boast skill but had so-so transitions to the professional ranks last year. Maksimov scored just five goals in 53 AHL games and Safin spent the majority of his season in the ECHL.

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Of course, when talking about Edmonton’s fairly underwhelming forward prospects, it’s important to also remember that they have two former Hart Trophy winners in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl at just 23 and 24 years of age respectively. The key for the Oilers is finding quality wingers to play alongside McDavid and Draisaitl into the future.

Defencemen

There’s no doubt that the strength of Edmonton’s system is on the blueline.

The team already boasts a relatively young core of defenders at the NHL level, with Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse leading the way as veterans and Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones making the jump from prospect to the NHL last season. William Lagesson and Matt Benning are also quality depth defenders at the NHL level still in their mid-20s.

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Beyond them, Edmonton’s top two prospects are Philip Broberg and Evan Bouchard, who were the team’s first-round selections at the 2019 and 2018 draft respectively. Broberg is currently playing top-pairing minutes in the Swedish Hockey League while Bouchard produced 36 points in 54 games in his rookie season in the American Hockey League.

If all goes according to plan, Broberg and Bouchard could become an NHL top-pairing within the next few years. And with Klefbom, Nurse, Jones, and Bear already in the fold, the Oilers have the luxury of not having to rush either player.

Lower on the chart are names like Dimitri Samorukov, Markus Niemelainen, Filip Berglund, and Phil Kemp who project as solid NHLers or AHL call-up types, giving Edmonton plenty of depth on the blueline moving forward.

Goaltenders

The Oilers have selected a goaltender in each of the past seven drafts.

Their 2014 and 2015 selections, Zach Nagelvoort and Miroslav Svoboda, didn’t sign with the organization. 2016 fifth-round pick Dylan Wells and 2017 third-round pick Stuart Skinner have spent the past two seasons bouncing between the AHL and ECHL. 2018 second-round pick Olivier Rodrigue is set to make the jump from the QMJHL to professional hockey and 2019 third-round pick Ilya Konovalov is playing professionally in the KHL.

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Edmonton doesn’t have an elite goaltending prospect right now, but these are still names worth paying attention to. Between Rodrigue, Skinner, and Konovalov, the Oilers have a solid trio of goaltending prospects who could eventually develop into an NHL starter, but this is obviously the most difficult position to project.

Photo By: Jason Franson/Canadian Press

What does it all mean?

When looking at the future of the Oilers’ organization, I would say the strength is having Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl coupled with a very deep pool of talent on the blueline both in the NHL and in the system.

What Edmonton lacks is more game-changing talent up-front to play with McDavid and Draisaitl. Kailer Yamamoto, as I said above, graduated into a very good top-six winger this season, giving Draisaitl a much-needed linemate. But, after him, there isn’t much in the pipeline in terms of high-quality forward talent.

Jesse Puljujarvi could be a huge addition but is far from a guarantee, Tyler Benson looks like a solid middle-six NHLer, Ryan McLeod projects to be a nice bottom-six centre, and Raphael Lavoie has the makings of a top-line power-forward but is a few years away.

With that in mind, ideally, the Oilers use the No. 14 pick on a quality, scoring winger at the draft. The organization is loaded with quality defensive prospects, having used back-to-back top picks on blueliners, and they’ve also used a top-90 pick on a goaltender in each of the past three drafts. It’s now time to add a high-quality forward prospect to the mix.


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