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The Day After 74.0: Edmonton Oilers get first hand look at what actually developing prospects looks like

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Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
1 month ago
When your top guns aren’t running right for a game, it’s always nice to have young talent throughout your roster to help supplement things and secure another victory as the playoffs near.
And when your team as a whole has aspirations of winning the Stanley Cup, those depth producers on cheap contracts become a real key.
It allows you to pay star players, and make additions at the trade deadline with accumulated cap space, giving a boost to what’s an already strong club. That goes a long way in the room when your team has a great run leading into the trade deadline, and shows the willingness to win.
Drafting players is only part of getting those young players into the NHL, as a development plan needs to be in place to not only put those players in positions to succeed but also allow them to build confidence within themselves. After all, those cheap, entry-level contracts are going to be for players in their late teens or early 20s.
When those strong development plans succeed, and those players are ready to step into roles in the NHL, they’re able to be confident in themselves to continue to play their own game. That often leads to success in their play on the ice, and further success for their team.
The Edmonton Oilers got a first-hand look at what that process is supposed to look like on Wednesday night, getting blown out 5-0 by a Dallas Stars team which has followed that model to a tee.
Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski and Jason Robertson, the Stars’ top line, were held to a single point and a combined six shots on net.
And while veterans in Radek Faksa and Tyler Seguin, it was the Stars’ young players who put it away in the second period. With the time expiring on a Wyatt Johnston penalty with six minutes to go in the second, a mind-numbingly poor pinch from Darnell Nurse gave the Stars a 4-on-1 where 22-year-old Thomas Harley fed 20-year-old Wyatt Johnston for his 30th goal of the season.
Then, a minute and a bit later, Johnston and rookie sensation Logan Stankoven got assists on a Jamie Benn goal that made it 4-0. Another from Sam Steel with a minute left in the second was salt in the wound.
Harley, drafted by the Stars 18th overall in the 2019 draft — 11 picks after the Oilers selected Philip Broberg — joined the organization after one more OHL season, splitting his rookie campaign between the NHL and AHL club. He would score 11 assists in 27 AHL games and a goal and four points in 34 NHL games, where he averaged 13:41 per night. His second pro season saw him play just six regular season games in the NHL as a late recall, averaging 16:41 per night, but get 66 in the A, where he racked up 10 goals and 34 points. He’d rejoin the big club for the playoffs and explode with a goal and nine points in 19 games, with 16:10 of ice time per night.
And this season, he’s taken a huge step forward, working his way onto the top pairing alongside Miro Heiskanen. He’s scored 15 goals and 41 points in 73 games, playing 20:50 per night. Through his first two seasons, Dallas wasn’t shy about insulating him against bottom-six competition and giving him a chance to step up in the playoffs as in their Western Conference finals series against the Vegas Golden Knights, he averaged 17:15.
Then there’s Johnston, drafted 23rd overall in the 2021 draft — one pick after the Oilers selected Xavier Bourgault. He broke right onto the scene with the Stars last year, playing in all 82 games, scoring 24 goals and 41 points. Similarly to Harley, he played the majority of his time against the lower-end competition while getting a good chunk of time on the top power-play unit.
And now, a year later, he’s a 30-goal scorer and leading the Stars in that category.
Then there’s Stankoven, drafted 47th overall in the 2021 draft — 25 picks after Bourgault. He returned to the WHL for another season where he captained the Kamloops Blazers, turning pro this season. He didn’t start in the NHL right away, instead spending the first 47 games of the campaign in the AHL, where he scored 24 goals and 57 points — the latter number still being eighth in the league.
And on February 24th, he got recalled to the Stars making his debut against the Carolina Hurricanes that night. He’s now played 18 games, scoring six goals and 13 points, playing 172 of his 233 5v5 minutes alongside Johnston and Benn. In Stankoven’s case, he’s playing over half of his ice time against middle-six competition, and this trio has become one of the league’s best third lines in short order.
So here you have three players on entry-level deals accumulating 51 goals, 64 assists and 115 points in 167 total games between them for the low, low cost of $2.57 million against the cap.
Oh, but fear not, as the Oilers have players of their own who are making $1-million or less. In fact, between Vincent Desharnais, Derek Ryan, Mattias Janmark, Connor Brown, Corey Perry, Sam Carrick, and young players in Dylan Holloway, Philip Broberg, Raphael Lavoie and Phil Kemp, they’ve totalled 353 games between them.
But they aren’t like those, accumulating 23 goals, 37 assists and 60 points between them — production Johnston himself has surpassed.

Broberg, Holloway, Bourgault and Lavoie

Save for a resurgence this season after being assigned to the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors after a trade request, Broberg’s development by the Oilers organization has been nothing short of horrific. While injuries have played some part in it all, Broberg had played in under 50 percent of games at the AHL and NHL level since he turned pro in 2021-22. That year, he split time between the leagues, getting 23 games with the Oilers, scoring a goal and three points playing 13:28 per night and 31 games with the Condors. He shined as he scored four goals and 23 points, showing lots of promise.
But last year, Broberg started the season in the AHL, appearing in seven games in October and November and notching four points. Recalled on November 25, 2022, he would remain with the Oilers for the rest of the season, playing 46 games, scoring a goal and eight points. But beyond a stretch of six games in December when he was injured, he was a healthy scratch in 16 games.
Even when he played, the Oilers often ran seven defencemen with Broberg on the outside looking in. In fact, in 29 of his 46 NHL games last year, he played 14 minutes or less of ice time, with 24 of them under 13 minutes and 19 under 12 minutes.
The thing was that when Broberg was actually given playing time, the Oilers were succeeding with him out there. In 17 games where he played 14 or more minutes, he scored six points, averaging 15:59 per night, and the Oilers outscored their opposition 19-12 controlling 61.3 percent of the goals, 53.4 percent of the shot attempt share and 53.3 percent of the expected goal share. But in the games where he played less than that, he had two points in 29 games, averaging 10:36 per night, while the Oilers got outscored 14-19 controlling 42.4 percent of the goal share, 54.7 percent of the shot attempt share and 56.1 percent of the expected goal share.
Broberg started this season on the Oilers roster, and beyond a four-game stint in the AHL between Nov. 3 and Nov. 15, had played in 10 games before he was sent to the Condors on December 7th of this season, and was scratched for seven. In those he did play, only two saw him play over 14 minutes of ice time.
It paints an ugly picture of how the organization was failing not only Broberg as a young player but the team as a whole.
Holloway’s treatment in Edmonton has also been poor, but injuries have played a bigger part in his missed time. After being taken 14th overall in 2020, he returned to the University of Wisconsin for a second season before turning pro in 2021-22. He joined the Condors, spending his full season there scoring three goals and nine points in 51 games. It’s clear he was working his way back from injury, and he was in the right spot there.
In 2022-23, however, Holloway made the Oilers roster out of camp, but was injured in the third game of the season, missing three with injury. He remained in the lineup until he was assigned to the AHL Condors on Feb. 17 of that season. He was unfortunately injured in his first game with the Condors, but still racked up seven goals and 10 points in the 12 games he did play.
He’d finish the season with 51 NHL games under his belt, and while that might seem like the Oilers gave him an opportunity, it was anything but. He played just 9:35 per night, still scoring three goals and nine points.
In the 14 games he played over 11 minutes, he had three points as the Oilers outscored the opposition 9-8 for a 52.9 percent goal share, as well as controlling 55.9 percent of the shot attempt share, and 59.2 percent of the expected goal share.
In the 37 games he played less than that, he had six points, and the Oilers were outscored 8-9. He controlled 47.1 percent of the goal share, 53.5 percent of the shot attempt share, and 56.2 percent of the expected goal share.
This season Holloway has appeared in 32 games with an extended leash in Edmonton, with 17 of them seeing him play more than 11 minutes per night. He suffered a fractured knee cap in November, missing two months, before returning early in the new year and joining the AHL Condors. In 16 games with them, he’s racked up seven goals and 12 points.
There are good signs this year from Holloway at the NHL level, but much like with Broberg in recent years, any sign of struggle in the slightest — be it a missed assignment, a blown play or anything else that can often ail young players, their leashes were tightened and quickly by the coaching staff.
It never seemed as if those moments were something to try to bounce back from; instead, they were punished. The picture painted was either perfection or failure.
800 words later, and we haven’t even talked about Xavier Bourgault — the player the Oilers drafted ahead of both Johnston and Stankoven.
He debuted with the organization in 2022-23, playing 62 games with the AHL’s Condors, scoring 13 goals and 34 points. It was a promising first season for him, as he drew in as the Oilers’ second-ranked prospect in our own Bruce Curlock’s prospect rankings.
“No question, Xavier Bourgault had a tougher first pro year than many of us expected,” Curlock wrote. “He certainly needs to work on some elements of his game that will surely help him develop. However, his season was not all bad.
“There was good in there that should be encouraging to Oiler fans. I expect a really big improvement from Bourgault this season and should that be the case, there is an opportunity on the right side of a skill line for him in Edmonton.”
The only problem? There hasn’t been much improvement this season. Through 51 games, the forward has scored just seven goals and 17 points, halving his point totals from his rookie campaign. Things are not looking promising for him to be an impact NHL player.
Raphael Lavoie, the Oilers’ third-round pick in 2019, appears ready for his jump to the NHL after racking up 52 goals and 91 points in 120 games over the last two years. A lot of that production has come since the midway point of the 2022-23 season, when a switch flipped for him in a four-goal game on Feb 19 of this year. In the 83 games since, he’s scored 40 goals and 67 points.
He landed as Oilersnation’s number one prospect in the system ahead of this season, and is having another strong year.

Holland’s role

When the Oilers hired Ken Holland in May 2019, all the talk of the town was about the Guide and Record Book, his time in Detroit winning Stanley Cups, and his ability to draft and develop players.
His track record as the Red Wings’ director of amateur scouting from 1987 through 1994, and his time as general manager from then on more than speak for itself. His words, too, spoke for itself at the time of his hiring in Edmonton.
“I believe in player development. I believe in time in the minors,” said Holland during his introductory press conference with the Oilers on May 7th, 2019. “I believe the National Hockey League is the toughest league in the world, and if you put young players in the league too quick, it is more likely they will fail than succeed.”
Looking back over the body of work and what his five drafts have returned, it’s disastrous. Not only has he failed to carry his Detroit draft success into Edmonton, but he’s reneged his theories about when players should arrive in the NHL.
None of this is to say that Broberg, Holloway, or Lavoie could make the impacts that Harley, Johnston or Stankoven could, but rather to highlight the Oilers mismanagement of these young prospects they have. With the Oilers going all-in year after year, the organization needs young players out of the draft to be difference-makers.
Broberg has shown the right signs when given the opportunity, and Holloway has the skill set to play in the Oilers’ top nine. Lavoie, meanwhile, has a potent shot, the size, and responsible play to be a competitive middle-six player at the next level.
If the Dallas Stars can trust their young players, why can’t the Edmonton Oilers?

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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