Over the next few weeks, I’ll be counting down the top prospects in the Edmonton Oilers organization.
For this year’s list, in order to be considered a prospect, a player has to have played fewer than 50 games at the NHL level (25 for a goaltender) and they have to be either 23 years of age or younger at the start of the 2022-23 season. As always, where a player ranks is based on their upside and the likelihood that they’ll reach that potential.
Before starting the countdown, let’s go through the eight players from last year’s list who either graduated their prospect status or left the organization…
Graduates from last year’s list…
The top prospect on last year’s list, Evan Bouchard established himself as a top-four defenceman in his first full season in the league in 2021-22. He played in 81 games for the Oilers in the regular season and scored 12 goals and 43 points while logging 19:48 per game and then added nine more points over 16 playoff games.
Bouchard has developed into the quality puck-moving defender the Oilers hoped for when they selected him with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2018 draft. His entry-level contract will expire after the 2022-23 season and a long-term contract will surely be considered.
After years of swings and misses on second-round picks, the Oilers appear to have found a gem in Ryan McLeod.
The No. 40 overall pick from the 2018 draft performed well in the AHL in 2021 and earned a late-season call-up to the big league club. McLeod came into training camp last year battling for a spot on the roster but by the time the playoffs rolled around eight months later he had established himself as the Oilers’ third-line centre.
McLeod continues to earn more playing time with quality play. Perhaps there’s even more upside here than a bottom-six pivot.
The Oilers selected Markus Niemelainen in the third round of the 2016 draft out of the OHL and he appeared to be a miss as his production completely cratered in his post-draft season. Niemelainen returned to Finland after two seasons in the OHL and didn’t produce any offence at all so he fell off the grid as a prospect.
In 2020, the Oilers inked him to a two-year entry-level deal right before they were about to lose his rights but the signing was met with very little fanfare. Niemelainen traveled overseas and joined the AHL Condors that fall and played very well. In 2021-22, Niemelainen earned a call-up to the Oilers and he impressed with his defensive zone and physical play.
Though he technically graduated as a prospect based on age rather than games played, I’m comfortable calling Niemelainen a developmental win for the organization. The Oilers inked Niemelainen to a two-year extension in March and he’ll be in the mix for a roster spot come October.
Edmonton’s second-round selection from that aforementioned 2016 draft was a controversial one, as they opted to select a local product in Tyler Benson as opposed to Alex DeBrincat, Connor McDavid’s teammate from the OHL.
Benson struggled through injuries during his WHL career but hit the ground running when he turned pro and joined the Bakersfield Condors. In his rookie season in the AHL, Benson scored 66 points across 68 games, suggesting that a quality, offence-generating winger was in the works.
Here we are now and Benson hasn’t been able to stick at the NHL level. Benson made the Oilers out of camp last year largely because he was waiver eligible and the organization didn’t want to gamble giving him up for nothing. He wound up scoring just one goal and two points in 29 games and cleared through waivers in March.
Benson is now 24 years old and has three points across 36 games at the NHL level. The Oilers issued him a qualifying offer and it seems they’ll be keeping him around for another year, but he’s organization depth rather than a prospect at this point.
Departures from last year’s list…
Ilya Konovalov generated quite a bit of hype after some very good seasons in the KHL. He inked a two-year entry-level contract with the Oilers back in May of last year and came overseas to join the AHL Condors in September.
Over 21 games with the Condors in 2021-22, Konovalov posted a 0.893 save percentage. At the end of the season, the Oilers terminated Konovalov’s contract so that he could ink a deal in the KHL. Since Konovalov signed a contract with the Oilers and it was terminated, they no longer hold his NHL rights.
After spending parts of five seasons in the Oilers organization, Cooper Marody has returned to the team that drafted him. Marody was a Group 6 UFA this summer and he inked a two-year, two-way deal with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Marody produced at a high level in the AHL but the Oilers never seemed too interested in giving him an extended look with the big league club. The challenge for Marody was that he couldn’t crack a role on a skill line and his skating wasn’t good enough to get a gig playing in a checking role.
He’s more likely to get a chance with the Flyers than he was here.
The Oilers traded William Lagesson and a second-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Brett Kulak ahead of this year’s trade deadline. While there was no public trade demand, Lagesson’s agent, Allan Walsh, calling out Dave Tippett on Twitter, indicated that a change of scenery was the player’s desire.
Lagesson was selected by the Oilers in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, making him one of the longest-tenured players in the organization. He developed into a quality seventh or eighth defenceman but younger defenders such as Markus Niemelainen jumped him on the depth chart.
Like with Marody, Lagesson is more likely to get a good look in Montreal than in Edmonton.
The Oilers inked Filip Berglund, their third-round pick from the 2016 draft, to a two-year entry-level contract shortly before losing his rights as a prospect back in 2020.
Berglund spent the 2020-21 season in Sweden and then came overseas to join the Bakersfield Condors in 2021-22. In his first and possibly only season in North America, the big defender put up six assists and a plus-three rating over the course of 53 games.
With Phil Kemp, Mike Kesselring, and Vincent Desharnais also on the right side, Berglund was buried on Edmonton’s blueline depth chart. He inked a two-year deal in the Swedish Elite League back in May.
More OilersNation Prospect Content…
- The Oilers continue the trend of drafting forwards with a quick path to the NHL with Reid Schaefer selection
- A look at the Edmonton Oilers’ farm system and how they might approach the 2022 NHL draft
- Oilers first-round pick Xavier Bourgault has been killing it in the Memorial Cup