Thoughts on the Edmonton Oilers’ farm system heading into the 2022-23 season
By Cam Lewis6 months ago
We’re more than three years into the Ken Holland era and it’s safe to say that the Edmonton Oilers are now his team.
When the Oilers take the ice in October to kick off the 2022-23 season, all but three of the players on the team will have contracts with Holland’s signature on them. The three contracts left from the Peter Chiarelli era are Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s long-term deals and Evan Bouchard’s entry-level deal.
We can also say the thing is the case for the Oilers’ farm system. Holland has had four drafts at the helm of the organization and most of the players in the Oilers’ system who you’d consider to be prospects are ones that he selected or signed.
When Holland took over for, Chiarelli in May of 2019, the goal was to ice a competitive team in the short-term while also building a Detroit-style system that would continually develop talent for the Oilers to be a long-term contender. The Oilers have made the playoffs in each of Holland’s three seasons, but has he built a strong system for long-term success?
This has been a big area of focus in the Holland era. In the past three drafts, the Oilers made 16 selections and 12 of them were forwards. Also, each of the Oilers’ past three first-round picks, Dylan Holloway, Xavier Bourgault, and Reid Schaefer, were forwards.
The objective here has been to load the organization’s system with a handful of forwards who would soon be able to contribute at the NHL level. This allowed Holland to make significant splashes in free agency knowing that there would be a solid pool of young forwards on inexpensive entry-level contacts who could help fill roles on the team’s roster.
Holloway is expected to contribute to the Oilers this season and Bourgault is a reasonable bet to arrive the year after. Getting positive results from first-round picks is one thing, but Holland’s Oilers would get a significant boost if the team can unearth some later-round gems from the group of Tyler Tullio, Carter Savoie, and Matvei Petrov.
Forwards have become the strength of the Oilers’ system over the past few years, a change from when it was defencemen a few years ago.
The top prospect that Holland inherited from the Chiarelli era was Evan Bouchard, a defenceman with top pairing upside. The Chiarelli era also gave Holland Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, and William Lagesson, young defenders who logged cheap minutes on the NHL roster, and Dmitri Samorukov, Markus Niemelianen, and Vincent Desharnais, who are solid bets to do the same in the coming years. Inheriting such a group ultimately allowed Holland to lean into the forward-heavy draft strategy over his first few years with the Oilers.
Holland’s first draft pick with the Oilers was Philip Broberg, a left-handed defender to mirror Bouchard as the team’s long-term bet for the top pairing. Since then, the organization hasn’t drafted any high-upside defencemen, so that’ll become a priority in the coming drafts.
The Chiarelli Oilers used high draft picks on goaltenders in 2017 and in 2018, Stuart Skinner at No. 78 and Olivier Rodrigue at No. 62. In Holland’s first draft with the Oilers in 2019, he selected Ilya Konovalov at No. 85, giving the Oilers three reasonable bets to become NHL goaltenders in the future.
Konovalov has left the organization and Rodrigue has struggled at the professional level but Skinner has done well in his time in the NHL. He’ll form a tandem with Jack Campbell in 2022-23 and could wind up becoming the No. 1 guy in the future.
Holland passed on a chance to draft a franchise goalie when he traded down at the 2021 NHL Draft. During his time in Detroit, Holland only used top picks on goaltenders twice, Igor Grigorenko at No. 62 in 2001, Jimmy Howard at No. 64 in 2003, and Tom McCollum at No. 30 overall in 2008. It seems unlikely we’ll see him use a first-round pick on a goaltender given where the Oilers are in their contention window.
Has Ken Holland built a good farm system?
The Oilers have roughly $55 million in salary cap commitments already made for the next three seasons so internally developing talent is going to be important to the team’s success.
The farm system inherited from the Chiarelli era helped Holland’s teams in the first three seasons of his tenure, as Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan McLeod, Stuart Skinner, and others have played at the NHL level on inexpensive contracts. We’ll see in the coming years if Holland’s draft picks do the same.
Things are looking good right now. Philip Broberg faired well in his debut last season, Dylan Holloway showed very impressive flashes in the AHL, and Xavier Bourgault was one of the best forwards at the Memorial Cup. Beyond the former first-round picks, draft picks from the later rounds such as Carter Savoie, Matvei Petrov, and Tyler Tullio appear to have NHL upside.
You never know who will pan out and who won’t but the Oilers have a farm system with enough good bets that Holland can comfortably trade high draft picks away in order to push the team over the top now.
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