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Edmonton Oilers Prospect Report: The Oilers, late round picks and right-shot defencemen

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Photo credit:Bakersfield Condors
Bruce Curlock
6 months ago
One of the ultimate goals for the scouting and player development departments of NHL teams is the big, mean, 200-foot, play-great-in-every-zone, right-shot defenceman. These players are very tough to find, but when a team finds one, the impact is measurable, and it can last for a long time. Given the appeal of this player, if there is one in an NHL draft, they often go quick.
So teams that draft lower down, or have fewer picks need to work harder and smarter to find one later in a draft. Not a very easy task. The Edmonton Oilers have sort of made this a thing for them. Vincent Desharnais will never be considered an offensive dynamo and his skating will always be a challenge, but here he is in the NHL as a 7th round draft pick.
Michael Kesselring, a 6th rounder by the Oilers in 2018, is now skating as a second-pair defenseman with the Arizona Coyotes, after being traded there in the Nick Bjugstad trade. Well, there is another late-round right-shot defenseman in the Oilers organization who is starting to make noise as well.
This one can skate like Kesselring and is as mean as Desharnais. The offence? Well, it is not there yet, but history says it might be there. For a team struggling with prospect depth, this could be a shot in the arm. More on this potential unicorn, the persistent story of Raphael Lavoie and news and notes in the Edmonton Oilers Prospect Report.

Who Caught My Eye?

Maximus Wanner

The kid from the greatest town to be born in, Estevan, Saskatchewan (yes, I am a member of that club), Max Wanner was drafted by the Oilers in the 7th round of the 2021 NHL draft. As with others in these COVID-era drafts, the amount of data on Wanner was pretty limited. In Wanner’s draft year, he actually played U18AAA for five games, before playing 17 games for the Moose Jaw Warriors in the WHL tournament season.
When hockey leagues started to return to normal playing schedules, Wanner started to take off. In his first full season in Moose Jaw, he went 6-17-23 in 55 games with a -4. His last season of junior is really where he started to take flight. He started the year on a second pair, but by playoffs, he was playing with Denton Mateychuk, a Columbus Blue Jackets first-round pick, on the top pairing. He was also playing heavy minutes on the penalty kill and was managing the second powerplay unit. He was 8-22-30 in 44 games with a stunning plus/minus of +23. He finished off the playoffs with 2-5-7 in 10 games and a plus 6.
When he turned pro this past summer, I think most expected him to slot in down the roster some as a third-pairing D and get his feet wet. With Phil Kemp there along with a veteran group of left-shot defencemen, there did not appear to be a lot of room.
However, that is not what happened.
Since game two of the season, Wanner has been paired with Cam Dineen, as the team’s defacto number one pairing. He plays heavy 5v5 minutes with Dineen, gets a healthy turn on the penalty kill and is also out to defend leads late in games. He is 20 years old. This is exciting stuff. His offence is shy at the moment with only two assists in the 12 games played, but the early returns are still good.
So what is it about Wanner? Well, weirdly, for the most part, he’s just boring. The “plays like he’s in a rocking chair” style of play that is efficient and calming. You see a lot of this type of play from Wanner when the puck gets behind him. Quick scans, skates hard to the puck and makes the play quickly to help his forwards out.

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He also does a lot of this type of work in his zone. Again, nothing spectacular, but he gets into his man’s hands and hips which seals him to the wall. The only option for the opposition is to try and kick the puck loose and it ends up with a Condor for a clear. This is excellent stuff from a young player.

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Wanner is also really good at moving his feet into a check and using his stick to force a turnover or defend a play. Watch this clip where there are two examples. Notice how he gets his skates moving and into the opposition player before he uses his stick in the neutral zone. This causes a dump-in. Then, when the fire alarm goes off that there is trouble coming, look at his quick strides to the net front before utilizing his excellent reach.

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What made me take notice of all of these skills was the train wreck that was Jack Campbell’s first three games in the AHL. In those games, the Condors gave up nine even-strength goals against. They scored only three. Max Wanner was on for two against and one for. He was everything his game had been to start the season, composed mostly and efficient in his efforts.
Wanner also has a mean streak. For twenty years old, in a very rugged league, he is holding up really well as the clips show.

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This is the stuff that all coaches love in young players. There is a willingness to compete hard and impose their will against big, more experienced players.
Will the offence come? Well, that would be nirvana if it did. I believe it might. You see flashes like this every game. He’s a brilliant player who activates routinely into good attacking spots.

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His puck skills need work on the offensive blueline, but the base skills are there. The shot is pretty good, as well. I expect as the season progresses and Wanner learns to read the offensive game better, the scoresheet will fill for him some.
Regardless of that element of the game, Max Wanner has already outperformed his draft slot and brings some very good skills to a position in high demand in the NHL.

Raphael Lavoie

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Yes, this clip got a lot of reaction as it should. It is a goal scorer’s goal. I’ve heard a lot of “well he cannot get that off at the NHL level very often”. Maybe that is the case, but I don’t know how anyone knows. I sent out this post last week. It is a fair comparison of how other teams manage young, offensive players coming to the NHL.
I also hear a lot about his skating. Sure, it isn’t brilliant. However, there are a lot of NHLers in that camp. My question to the critics is, how do you know his skating isn’t a confidence issue of learning to play in the NHL, but only getting 7 minutes a night? Here are a couple of very short clips that tell me that when Lavoie is comfortable, his skating is fine. Have a peak. His change of tempo catches defenders off guard and he seems not to have an issue moving away from them.

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Will Lavoie get another chance? Hard to say. If he does, he needs to make more of it for certain. Will the Oilers afford him the opportunity? We will see.

Matvey Petrov

Shoutout to the young man who scored his first professional goal last night.

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He is only 1-1-2 in 12 games to start his professional career. However, the goal seemed to spark his game last night, so we will see what that brings. Petrov will be an exciting test as I remain wholly unconvinced the Oilers organization understands how to develop offensively-minded players. Petrov gets a lot of the same treatment his predecessors have. Limited minutes on 4th lines. Playing with less skilled players. Uncertain roles and linemates. For young players trying to navigate the journey of professional hockey, I’m not sure this is an excellent methodology. Nevertheless, it is the system Petrov plays in so he will have to battle through those issues.
That’s it for this week. Your feedback is always welcome right here or on the X. Have a great week.

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