Edmonton Oilers Young Stars will need to be patient
By Jason Gregor5 months ago
For over a decade, the Edmonton Oilers’ hopes often rested on the shoulders of rookies. Rarely did it go well. From 2007-2017 the Oilers were the worst franchise in the NHL, except if you were a young player looking to fulfill your dream of playing in the NHL. In that regard, Edmonton was a great place to play, because rookies were a staple in their lineup for many seasons.
In 2007 the Oilers had 10 rookies play at least 10 games. They had five — Ladislav Smid, Patrick Thoresen, Brad Winchester, Marc-Antoine Pouliot and Jean-Francois Jacques — players over 30.
In 2008, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Tom Gilbert played 79-82 games as rookies.
In 2009, the infamous Red Ox, Liam Reddox played 46 games.
Ryan Stone and Taylor Chorney played over 25 games in 2010.
In 2011 Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi, Linus Omark and Jeff Petry all played 35+ games.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Anton Lander got their chance in 2012.
Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz played every game in the shortened 2103 season.
Luke Gazdic, Mark Arcobello and Martin Marincin played 40+ games in 2014.
Oscar Klefbom and Leon Draisaitl were on the scene in 2015. Draisaitl was mercifully sent back to junior after 37 games.
In 2016, Connor McDavid, Darnell Nurse, Brandon Davidson, Iiro Pakarinen all played 45+ games, while Griffin Reinhart, Adam Clendening, Jordan Oesterle and Jujhar Khaira all played 10+ games.
In 2017, Drake Caggiula, Matt Benning, Jesse Puljujarvi and Anton Slepyshev played 28+ games. After making the playoffs in 2017, we didn’t see many rookies in 2018. Ethan Bear played the most games with 18 due to a rash of injuries.
In 2019, Colby Cave led all rookies with 33 games played. Caleb Jones got into 17 games late in the year and played 19:48/game.
In 2020, Bear was still considered a rookie and he played all 71 games.
William Lagesson played 19 games in 2021, while Evan Bouchard skated in 14 and Ryan McLeod in 10.
In 2022, McLeod was the only regular rookie in the lineup. He played 71 games and averaged 12 minutes/game.
Last season Dylan Holloway played 51 games while Philip Broberg dressed 46 times. They averaged 9:35 and 12:36 respectively.
The days of rookies being gifted ice time and opportunities is over in Edmonton. That is good for the players, the coaches and the fans.
The Oilers rookies had their physicals today and will fly to Penticton to prepare for this weekend’s Young Stars Classic. The roster has as 15 camp invites, eight Oilers draft picks, one free agent signing (Carl Berglund) and one acquired via trade (Jayden Grubbe).
The Oilers are a very competitive team, and their depth chart of young players is rather thin, but usually, there are only five or six players on your AHL team who could realistically help you at the NHL level each year. Combine that with the fact the Oilers’ best players aren’t old, and the coming years will make it difficult for young players to crack the lineup. A youngster like Max Wanner might push for an NHL job in a few seasons, but this year he won’t be considered for a recall. That’s how it should be. He needs to develop. Get faster, get stronger, learn to be a professional.
Wanner and Xavier Bourgault headline the roster, but I don’t expect any of them to push for a roster spot in training camp. But that doesn’t mean this weekend’s tournament and camp are meaningless for the young players. I’d argue it is very important, especially for Bourgault. He needs to stand out this weekend. He should be one of the best players on the Oilers, and in the tournament. This is an opportunity to get noticed and show the organization your summer was put to good use.
Bourgault had an okay rookie AHL season. He scored 13 goals and 34 points in 62 games. Bakersfield finished 24th among the 32 AHL teams in goals scored with 212 in 72 games. They were 12th in goals against, also at 212. Raphael Lavoie had a very good final four months, but they weren’t blessed with an abundance of offensive stars. Bourgault is hoping to be more productive this season, as is Carter Savoie and Tyler Tullio. All three were AHL rookies last season and learned how difficult it is to score regularly in the AHL. I expect all three will be more productive this season.
Wanner is an interesting prospect. He was taken in the seventh round, 212th overall, in 2021. He only played 17 games in the WHL bubble that season, but the Oilers saw something they liked. He’s a very powerful skater. He is a natural athlete. He was very raw when drafted, but he has taken huge strides in the past two seasons. What I’m most interested to see is what the Oilers plan to do with him.
He turned 20 in March and is eligible to play in the AHL this year. However, he has only played 121 WHL games due to COVID and injuries. I could make a strong argument that he’d be better off playing huge minutes and dominating in the WHL for one more year. Many teams are shy to return 20-year-olds to junior. They want them to turn pro, and face tougher competition. Many of the players also want the chance to play pro, as the AHL paycheque is infinitely more than the WHL stipend. I think teams should make the decision based on the individual, not on what “they’ve always done” or because it is their “philosophy.”
It might be the right path if Wanner goes to the AHL, and if you asked me today where he will play I’d bet it will be there. I’m just playing the odds, but that doesn’t mean it is a given. Playing big minutes in all situations in the WHL and gaining more confidence wouldn’t hurt Wanner. I don’t recall many players saying they have too much confidence and a good season hurt their development.
Wanner’s significant improvements over the past two seasons make him the best Oilers’ D prospect who hasn’t played in the NHL. What has led to his gains?
“I think it is the work you put in the summers and it reflects how you do during the year,” said Wanner. “I’ve had a few good summers training and I’m really looking forward to seeing how it will help me this year.”
For those unfamiliar with his game, I asked him what he feels are his best qualities as a player. “My ability to play defence and lock the game down. Be a physical presence, but also move the puck quick and get it into the forward’s hands.”
While Wanner is unsure where he will play this year, he has a game plan on how to approach camp. “You come in with the mindset to play the best hockey you can, and wherever you end up is wherever you end up. Just do the best with where I’m at.”
Wanner did get into one exhibition game in Seattle last season and wants to play well enough to earn a few more preseason games this year. “I’m not just holding on this year, I really want to make my presence known right away. I’m not just happy being in camp, I want to make an impression in camp.”
The Oilers used to be the main attraction at the Young Stars game. Opposing teams and fans wanted to watch them. That happens when you have top-10 draft picks regularly. But that won’t be the case for the foreseeable future, and that should be viewed as a good thing. Contending teams rarely have a packed stable of top-end prospects.
The Oilers have some prospects who will push for NHL jobs this year in Philip Broberg, Dylan Holloway and Raphael Lavoie, but they will be 22 and 23 years old when the season begins. They aren’t in the first or second year of pro hockey. They aren’t attending the Young Stars tournament.
The Oilers Young Stars roster is finally filled with players who might help in future seasons, but not the present. That is positive progress.
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