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ON’s Top Prospects Countdown: The Top 15 and a post-draft look at the state of the Oilers’ farm system

Over the past month, I’ve been counting down the Edmonton Oilers’ Top-15 prospects. Today, I’ll provide the entire list along with an updated look at the organization’s farm system as a whole with the 2020 draft class in the mix.

No. 15 – Stuart Skinner

The No. 78 overall pick from the 2017 draft, Skinner is one of the players that the Oilers hope can buck a long-term organizational trend of being unable to internally develop goaltenders.

Skinner put together an excellent post-draft season in the WHL but has yet to find his game at the professional level. He spent the majority of the 2018-19 season in the ECHL where he posted a pedestrian 0.903 save percentage and then put up an 0.892 save percentage in 41 AHL games in 2019-20.

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This will be a big season for Skinner. His entry-level deal expires at the end of the 2020-21 season and the Oilers have two other goalies on the way. Olivier Rodrigue turns pro this season and Ilya Konovalov is eligible to head overseas next year. He needs to play well in 2021 to prove that he should still be considered one of Edmonton’s goalies of the future.

No. 14 – Filip Berglund

Back in July, the Oilers inked defenceman Filip Berglund, the No. 91 overall pick from the 2016 draft, to a two-year entry-level contract.

Much like Erik Gustafsson a few years earlier, Berglund would have been eligible to become an unrestricted free agent had the Oilers not inked him to a deal. Letting Gustafsson slip away was an oversight and Ken Holland ensured the same mistake wasn’t made twice.

Berglund is currently playing his fifth full season in Sweden’s top league and will likely make the trek over to North America in 2021-22. He’s a physical, positionally-sound, stay-at-home defenceman who seems ready to play a bottom-pairing role at the NHL level.

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No. 13 – Cooper Marody

Back in 2018-19, Cooper Marody was a bright spot in the Oilers’ organization.

Acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers for a third-round pick (the third-round pick the team got back for Patrick Maroon), Marody put together an excellent rookie season for the Bakersfield Condors, exploding for 64 points in 58 games. In the playoffs, Marody took a dirty hit from Kale Kessy and hasn’t been able to find his footing since. That hit ended Marody’s playoff run and he played just 30 games in 2019-20 due to various ailments.

Marody needs a healthy season to get himself on track. A strong showing in the AHL in 2021 will put him on the radar to play a depth role for the Oilers come 2021-22.

No. 12 – Carter Savoie

Despite being considered a first-round talent by some scouts, local product Carter Savoie slipped to the fourth round of the 2020 draft. The Oilers finally grabbed him with the No. 100 overall pick and appear to have found themselves a steal.

Savoie boasts tremendous talent in the offensive zone. He can make defenders look like pylons and he has a wicked shot that can fool goalies from just about anywhere. The knock with Savoie is that he lacks a 200-foot game and he sometimes disappears when the puck isn’t on his stick.

Regardless, Savoie does one thing very well and that one thing is very important — scoring goals. Through 10 games with the University of Denver, Savoie has already scored seven times. He’s already making teams look bad for passing on him.

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No. 11 – Tyler Tullio

Savoie wasn’t the only mid-round steal for the Oilers at the 2020 draft. Tyler Tullio, a prospect widely considered to be a mid-second-round talent, fell all the way to Edmonton at No. 126 overall.

Tullio models his game after Boston Bruins’ super pest Brad Marchand. He plays well in all three zones, is capable of playing all three forward positions, has a chippy and physical edge to his game, and is an excellent play-maker. But, despite putting up a solid 66-point season in the OHL in 2019-20, Tullio got passed over largely because of his size.

Once the OHL gets going, Tullio will have a chance to prove his doubters wrong. Like Savoie, this is a prospect who might make a lot of teams look bad for passing over him multiple times.

No. 10 – Olivier Rodrigue

The son of goaltending coach, Sylvian Rodrigue, the Oilers traded up at the 2018 draft to select Rodrigue with the No. 62 overall pick.

Though that seems like classic Oilers nepotism at a glance, Rodrigue is a fine talent in his own right. He’s a very athletic and technically refined goaltender who compensates for his smaller frame with lightning-quick movement.

Rodrigue had a great season in the QMJHL cut short last year, which is unfortunate because his Moncton Wildcats appeared poised for a serious playoff run. Rodrigue is currently playing professionally in Austria and will return to North America once things get rolling.

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No. 9 – Ryan McLeod

Ryan McLeod, Edmonton’s No. 40 overall pick from the 2018 draft, is somewhat of a conundrum. With him, it’s not quite so much if he’ll become an NHL player, it’s more where he’ll fit on the roster.

McLeod is a big guy with elite skating ability who boasts all of the tools to be a good two-way centre. But the fact that he hasn’t ever produced at a high level, either in the OHL or in his rookie season in the AHL, leads to doubt he can ever live up to his billing as a second-round pick.

By 2021-22, McLeod will likely be ready to step in and play a bottom-six role on the Oilers, with a clear path as the team’s fourth centre. Internally developing role players is great, but McLeod’s vast talent will leave you wanting more.

No. 8 – Tyler Benson

Tyler Benson’s career has been a rollercoaster ride.

He gained prominence at a young age, was the No. 1 overall pick in the WHL draft, struggled with injuries during his time with the Vancouver Giants, had an amazing rookie season in the AHL, and is now trying to break into the NHL with the Oilers.

Benson has a lot of talent. He’s a big body who isn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas to get the puck and he’s an elite passer with excellent vision. The thing that holds him back, though, is skating. Benson’s speed has improved since he was drafted, but he did still look a step behind during his cup of coffee with the Oilers in 2019.

Nobody is being gifted a spot on the big-league club in the Ken Holland era. Benson will need to have a good AHL season to earn a role.

No. 7 – William Lagesson

William Lagesson always seems to be overshadowed in Edmonton’s system.

He put together a great rookie season with the Condors in 2018-19 but Cooper Marody and Tyler Benson were the stars of that team. Lagesson is also hidden behind a quality list of young Oilers defenders, like Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear, who graduated to the NHL last year, and top prospects Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg.

Lagesson looks ready to step into a bottom-pairing role with the Oilers and there’s legitimate upside for him to move up the depth chart from there.

No. 6 – Ilya Konovalov

After getting passed over in the draft multiple times, Ilya Konovalov put together an excellent KHL season in 2018-19 and the Oilers finally grabbed him with the No. 85 overall pick.

Konovalov is again posting very good numbers in the KHL this season (a 0.924 save percentage) but he’s stuck behind import Eddie Pasquale, who has taken control of Lokomotiv’s net with a hot showing of his own (a 0.932 save percentage).

Konovalov’s contract in the KHL expires after this season so he’ll be eligible to head overseas. It’s reasonable to assume he’ll land in the AHL, but the performances of Skinner and Rodrigue will have a say in that.

No. 5 – Dmitri Samorukov

Samorukov, the No. 84 pick in the 2017 draft, has been a major success story for the Oilers over the past few seasons.

In 2018-19, Samorukov had a breakout season with the Guelph Storm, serving as the team’s No. 1 defenceman. He produced 45 points in the regular season and then went on to add 28 points in 24 playoff games.

Samorukov followed that up with a decent rookie season in the AHL, a tough task given the fact he had to take on a larger role than anticipated due to injuries on the big-league club. He’s currently playing for CSKA Moscow in the KHL and boasts the team’s best plus-minus rating (plus-22).

Edmonton has a crowded blueline but Samorukov offers the team a unique skill-set as a big, intimidating, physical defender.

No. 4 – Raphael Lavoie

Like with Olivier Rodrigue, Raphael Lavoie, Edmontons’ second-round pick from the 2018 draft, had what looked like a deep playoff run in the QMJHL derailed last year due to COVID-19.

Lavoie is set to make the transition to professional hockey this season and is currently playing in Sweden’s second league, Allskevan, with Vasby IK, where he sits tied for the team lead in points. It isn’t the same as producing in the AHL, but it’s a good start, especially given the circumstances.

A big body with solid skating ability and a knack for generating shots on net, Lavoie has all of the tools to become a good power-forward at the NHL level.

No. 3 – Dylan Holloway

At the 2020 draft, Edmonton used a first-round pick on a forward for the first time since they selected Kailer Yamamoto in 2017.

With the No. 14 pick, the Oilers took Dylan Holloway, a former AJHL MVP who was one of the youngest players in the NCAA in 2019-20. Holloway is a big, strong forward with elite skating ability and an impressive two-way game for his age.

Long-term, he profiles as either a quality complementary winger or possibly as a third-line centre. You’d like to see him become the former because he was a first-round pick, but that versatility will come in handy at the NHL level.

We haven’t been able to see much of Holloway yet this year but we’ll get to watch him play a key role on Team Canada at the upcoming World Juniors. After that, he’ll finally get his sophomore season at Wisconsin rolling.

No. 2 – Evan Bouchard

The top of Edmonton’s farm system features two defenders who, if all goes well, should form the team’s top pairing of the future. The first of those two defenders is Evan Bouchard, the No. 10 overall pick from the 2018 draft.

Bouchard is a puck-moving maestro who projects to be the type of defender who can produce at a high level offensively and quarterback an NHL power-play. He had a strong rookie season for the Bakersfield Condors and appears ready for NHL action, though the organization is taking a very conservative approach with his development.

He’s currently playing in Sweden, will return to North America and join the Condors again for more seasoning, and will be ready for primetime come 2021-22.

No. 1 – Philip Broberg

And, finally, we have Edmonton’s top prospect, 2019 first-round pick, Philip Broberg.

Though this selection was met with a bit of skepticism, Broberg has done nothing but impress since being drafted with the No. 8 overall pick. He played third-pairing minutes in the Swedish Hockey League as an 18-year-old, an impressive feat, and wowed everybody when he joined the Oilers’ pre-playoff camp during the summer.

Broberg has tantalizing talent and all of the tools to develop into a No. 1 defenceman in the NHL. He’s probably good enough to play a bottom-pairing role in the NHL already, but expect the Oilers to take it slowly with Broberg and for him to play a full season in the AHL in 2021-22.

Sep 20, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Evan Bouchard (75) skates during warmup against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

What does it all mean?

Back in September, I took a look at the Oilers’ farm system ahead of the 2020 draft. Here’s what I had to say at the time…

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.

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.

They did exactly that. The Oilers went ahead and used all of their selections at the 2020 draft on forwards, giving the organization some much-needed quality and depth up front.

Dylan Holloway has a couple of different paths to become a quality NHLer, one of which is a two-way winger who plays alongside Connor McDavid. Elsewhere, Edmonton compensated for not having a second-round pick by grabbing a couple of talented forwards, Carter Savoie and Tyler Tullio, who were available much later than they should have been.

Edmonton now has a consistent pipeline of forwards who are working their way up to the NHL level. Tyler Benson, Ryan McLeod, and Cooper Marody are vying for gigs now, Raphael Lavoie and Holloway won’t be too far behind, and names like Savoie and Tullio represent long-term projects with serious upside. That’s a pretty nice move in the right direction since September.

Still, though, there’s no doubt that the strength of Edmonton’s system is on the blueline. The team just graduated two quality defenders in Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones. Next up should be Evan Bouchard, and then Philip Broberg. Behind them, there’s a handful of other interesting names like Dmitri Samorukov and William Lagesson who look poised for NHL careers.

Things have changed a lot over the past decade. Gone are the days of Edmonton grabbing a new saviour with a top draft pick and finding nothing otherwise in a draft. The farm system now boasts quite a bit of depth and no prospects need to be thrown into the deep end simply to fill a hole.

Not everybody will pan out, of course, but there’s a great deal of quality talent that can help contribute to the big-league club. Drafting and developing players is critical in the salary cap world and Edmonton has multiple waves of young talent on the way.