A deep dive into James Stefan, the newest Edmonton Oilers prospect

Photo credit:CHL.ca
Bruce Curlock
18 days ago
With the Edmonton Oilers focused on winning the Stanley Cup each year that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are here, the one thing that gets sacrificed is draft picks. They’ve been used to acquire players like Brett Kulak, Mattias Ekholm, Nick Bjugstad and Adam Henrique to help the Oilers win now.
The problem is that organizations do need to refresh their prospect pool regardless as there needs to be youth moving through the organization to be deployed at the NHL level or as part of trades. So, inevitably, the route taken is the signing of collegiate and junior free agents. The Oilers have started to move down this path. The most recent successful signing is James Hamblin who has played 41 NHL games with Edmonton. Hamblin started on an AHL contract with Bakersfield and then earned an NHL deal in the spring of 2022. Brady Stonehouse was signed out of the OHL straight to an NHL deal, and he will compete for a roster spot in Bakersfield next season.
When the Oilers announced they had signed another overage junior player earlier this week, it should not have been a surprise. This will be their modus operandi for some time in the future. So, on March 21, 2024, James Stefan, the son of former NHLer Patrik Stefan, became an Edmonton Oilers prospect, signing a three-year entry-level contract. Stefan, a veteran of 233 WHL games, is a right-shot winger and is one of those players whose development was interrupted by the COVID shutdowns that hit all sports leagues in 2020. His original draft year was 2021, but was passed over then and subsequently went undrafted in the following years. Does that mean we can expect little impact from this signing? Obviously, it is too soon to tell, but James Hamblin gives us hope. What we do know is what James Stefan can bring to the table, and for that, let’s go to the video.

What Do I See?

The Shooter Mentality

Let’s not kid ourselves. James Stefan has some offensive chops. In his last three junior seasons, he has 105 regular season goals, including 49 this year, with one game remaining in the schedule. Stefan shoots the puck whenever he can get the chance. This year alone he has 346 shots in 66 games. He is most likely going to lead the league, as he has a six-shot lead with one game remaining on Egor Sidorov. He is also fifth in goal scoring with those 49 goals. His goal-scorning prowess is not one-dimensional as he scores off the rush using strong puck skills like this one here.

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He also has a very deceptive release. The puck comes off his stick relatively hard without much body sway or stick load. Watch this goal here as an example.

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This would be a challenging release for a goalie who could be surprised by Stefan’s quiet body mechanics in generating his shots.
Stefan also does have a fairly heavy shot. I think it is more accurate than heavy, but it definitely comes off his stick with pace. Here is a great example of his shot from distance.

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Offensive Instincts

While Stefan’s shot is most notable, what I really like is his ability to find space to get the shot off. He really has a strong sense of how to get into position in the offensive without players either noticing or being able to attack him before he can release the puck. This video is my favourite play by Stefan.
Watch as he manipulates this 2v2 rush into an open shot for himself, leading to a goal. He does a great job supporting the puck on the exit by getting to the wall to receive the chip. He then makes a really great play after his partner initiates a mid-lane net drive. He pulls up and goes across the ice, using the confusion in front of him to open up a shooting lane. Once there he makes no mistake.

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Here is another example where all he does is get his body into a good position exiting his zone and just keeps tracking to the net with his check in a trail position. Nothing fancy, but all that work started in his own zone.

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Opportunities To Improve

Now, let’s be clear: players averaging more than .5 goals per game in the WHL don’t go undrafted for no reason. There are always areas where improvement is needed and it’s no exception with James Stefan. He’s not a small player, listed at 6’0″ and 186 pounds which is probably a little generous. His skating is not brilliant, but it is also not something that will be a massive hindrance. His stride is a little short and the skates do come off the ice a little higher than you’d like, but that is technique stuff that can be worked on in the off-season.
More than anything Stefan needs to work on being more engaged defensively. Here is an example of what I mean. Stefan makes a nice rush up the ice on the attack. As the puck starts to head back to his zone, he can see in front of him that it is 3v2 developing for the opponent. He starts back, but then really just glides into his own slot. This is really a shame because three more hard strides and I am quite certain he interferes with the shot release on the play.

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Here is another example where Stefan is less engaged than he could be. In this case, he is on his wall in the defensive zone. Watch how passive he is on the check with the puck on the wall. There were two opportunities for him to support the check on the wall, but instead he is very passive. Now it wasn’t his issue on the outlet, but he could have and needed to do a better job on the wall to help his teammate.

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Here is one final clip that I really think sums up James Stefan. This clip is really a three-act play. In the first act, Stefan is anxious to get on the offence and completely forgets the check right in front of him, leading to a high-quality chance against him. He then makes a really good defensive play coming all the way to support his defenseman and get the puck up the wall for an outlet. Finally, when he sees the potential for an odd-man rush, he races up the ice to support the play and ends up tapping in the rebound.

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So some not so good, some good and some very good all in one shift. Eliminating the first act of this play will make the rest of the scenes in his shift a little easier.

What’s The Verdict?

This is a very nice signing. James Stefan has some skills that are very hard to teach. His offensive instincts are really strong. He understands how to find quiet space and then use a very good shot to challenge goalies. His size and skating are not great, but not anything that should hold him back. Where he will get challenged is on his compete and his defensive awareness as he will need to increase his work rate at the professional level against players who are bigger, strong and faster than him. This is a player that will need three years to develop almost certainly.
Nevertheless, it is a great bet by an organization that has not done enough of this and will need to do it more and better over the coming years.

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