Sat. Oct 16th, 2021

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A lot has been made of the lack of quality depth within the Edmonton Oilers prospect pool over the past few years. “The Cupboard is bare” was an all too familiar theme among pundits and social media last season, as Edmonton was ranked near the bottom of the NHL in terms of organizational depth outside of its NHL roster. However, after last season’s strong Draft results for the Oilers, what was once considered a weakness has now become a strength.

Edmonton is starting to reap the benefits of quality drafting under it’s current regime with the likes of Jesse Puljujarvi, Caleb Jones, Kailer Yamamoto, and Ethan Bear all cracking the lineup at some point over the last year. On top of that, guys like Tyler Benson, Cooper Marody, Cameron Hebig, William Lagesson, Stuart Skinner & Dylan Wells are all 22 or under playing in the minors currently while trying to develop their skills. That’s 10 quality prospects playing Pro hockey. Add a couple of talented players in Filip Berglund & Joel Persson who had really good seasons in Sweden, along with USHL players Phil Kemp & John Marino, and you’ve now got 14 prospects to get excited about.

It doesn’t end there either. Evan Rodrique and Ostap Safin are two excellent prospects currently playing in the QMJHL. Safin will be AHL bound next season, and Rodrigue the year after that. But this article will focus on the four OTHER prospects in the Oilers pipeline all playing in the OHLEvan Bouchard, Kirill Maksimov, Ryan McLeod & Dmitri Samorukov.

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Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Height: 6’3″ Weight: 194 lbs Shoots: R

15 GP5 goals, 13 assists, 18 Points

When you talk about EDM prospects the #1 player on most people’s lists is Evan Bouchard. “Bouch” as he’s known by many, is the RH Powerplay Quarterback of the future for the Oilers. He has terrific poise, a hard accurate shot, and is an excellent puck-mover. Plus, as mentioned he is a Powerplay specialist. One area he needs to continue to work on to get better is defensively. Evan can be guilty of puck watching at times in his own zone. He does a decent job at tying up opponents sticks but you’d like to see him be a bit more aggressive boxing out players & aggressively challenging shooters. He needs to bulk up a bit and be tougher to play against which is something you would expect him to do even more once he turns pro next year.

Bouchard currently plays for the London Knights who are one of the favourites to win the OHL title this year. They are loaded on defence led by Bouchard who plays regularly with Alec Regula (DET 3rd rd) at even strength, and Adam Boqvist (CHI, 1st rd) on the PP. London plays a fast paced style led by their Defence who like to routinely push the pace and jump up into the rush. Up front, they recently added OHL vet Kevin Hancock at the trade deadline to go with NHL draftees Liam Foudy & Alex Formenton. Hancock, has 32 goals and 66 points in 39 games so far. This year’s draft eligible Connor McMichael also plays in the Top 6. He has 25 goals in 37 games for London.

After starting the season in Edmonton, then getting sent back to London, Bouchard played for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship. His performance overall was a bit of a mixed bag as he showed flashes of brilliance, but also showed he needs to continue to work on his defensive intensity. Here’s examples of both:

Both clips show the strengths and weaknesses of the player pretty clearly. Bouchard has a very high offensive ceiling but is still young and needs to continue to get better in his own zone. He still projects as an eventual John Carlson type with experience & more consistency but Oilers fans need to be patient and let him develop at his own pace otherwise it may turn out like Justin Schultz did in Edmonton.

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Photo courtesy of Craig Abel/Getty Images

Height: 6’3″ Weight: 194 lbs Shoots: R

37 GP27 goals, 28 assists, 55 Points

Easily the most underrated and least talked about Prospect in the Edmonton organization, Kirill Maksimov is finally starting to gain recognition among fans as a big time scorer in the OHL. “Maksi” as he’s known by many, is the best natural shooter in the Oilers pipeline without question. His slapshot & one-timer are elite. His wrister which has almost no back swing is deadly and accurate. He is a threat to score every time he touches the puck in the offensive zone. He also have great vision and poise which allows him to set up his teammates if teams take away that shot. His 200 foot game is also a strength. He is physical and aggressive on the forecheck, he plays both PP & PK, and will sacrifice his body to make a play. Maksi is a hard-worker who keeps getting better.

The knock on Maksimov when he was drafted was his lack of speed & explosiveness. He has since worked extremely hard on getting stronger on his skates, something that EDM skating coach David Pelletier praised him for here. He can still be guilty of coasting at times but can really skate once he gets going. Acceleration and first step are better but can still be worked on. Something he should continue to focus on when he turns pro next year.

Maksimov currently plays for the Niagara Ice Dogs who are another popular choice to challenge for the OHL title this year. They are loaded up front with NHL draftees Jason Robertson (DAL 2nd rd), Akil Thomas (LA, 2nd rd), Jack Studnicka (BOS, 2nd rd), and Ben Jones (VGK, 7th rd). Their goaltender Stephen Dhillon is an OHL veteran who is very solid and capable of stealing a series himself. The defence will be the question mark moving forward. Are they good enough to get this team to the finals? Time will tell. As for Maksimov, check out these highlights from last season and pay attention to that one-time shot.

Highlights from last season

The future for Maksimov is in a Top 6 role at the NHL level. While he could fill in as a bottom 6 forward initially because of his strong defensive game, ultimately his career will make or break based on what he does in the Top 6. Simply put, he’s a scorer who plays better with talented centers. He’s not a driver so can be taken out of games unless he’s playing in an offensive role. He’s the perfect complimentary winger who a sports a legit NHL shot and release while maintaining a strong 200 ft game. Still a sleeper among pundits at this point of his career. Should be a LW as a Pro.

For a more extensive breakdown from earlier in the year, check out this article from The Cult of Hockey.

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Photo by Natalie Shaver/OHL Pucks & Stripes

Height: 6’3″ Weight: 208 lbs Shoots: L

35 GP13 goals, 29 assists, 42 Points

In today’s NHL, you need players who can really skate and Ryan McLeod might be the fastest prospect in the Oilers pipeline. Blessed with tremendous skating and agility, there is no question McLeod has the potential to be a solid NHL‘er. He has very good awareness, is defensively sound and can play in all situations. He has good offensive instincts but doesn’t always go hard to the net and still plays a bit of a perimeter game which can limit his effectiveness. His shot can be classified as good not great. He has a quick release and soft hands in close but tends to be more of a pass first type than a natural scorer.

McLeod currently plays for the Saginaw Spirit who loaded up at the trade deadline by acquiring he and former teammate Owen Tippett from Mississauga. He’s flanked by OHL vet Cole Coskey and this year’s draft eligible Cole Perfetti. They also have Bode Wilde on defence and a strong goaltender in Ivan Prosvetov. They’re in tough against some powerhouse teams in the OHL but they have a chance and should at least advance a round or two giving McLeod some much needed experience. Here’s a clip of him showing off his speed and soft hands:

McLeod is smart, fast & has an excellent 200 foot game. I just wonder about his hands at the next level. His shot is good not great. He could be a 15-20 goal scorer in the NHL eventually but seems destined to be a bottom 6 role player. When I watch him now I see so many similarities with a former Oiler Todd Marchant – a very solid, valuable #3 center who can win faceoffs and penalty kill while chipping in the odd big goal, which would seem to align up perfectly with Edmonton’s needs.

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Photo courtest of Terry Wilson/OHL images

Height: 6’2″ Weight: 180 lbs Shoots: L

33 GP3 goals, 17 assists, 20 Points

“Dima” as he’s known by many, is a very intriguing defensive prospect in that there are a lot of different tools in his toolbox. He is a very good skater who loves to rush the puck. He also has a cannon of a shot. He excels at retrieving the puck and making a good first pass out of his zone. He can also make that nice stretch pass tape to tape. Dima even has a little shake and bake in his game where he can walk a guy if they’re not paying attention. Defensively, he uses good positioning to keep guys in front of him and will sacrifice his body to block a shot. He also plays a lot on the Penalty kill unit. He hasn’t had a lot of Powerplay time in the past despite the big shot and does seem to be too tentative & unsure of himself when he does get an opportunity – something that can be worked on at the next level. Plenty to like about his game as he can be described as a “toolsy” player.

Despite the skill-set there are flaws in his game that need to be addressed. As mentioned, he has a cannon of a shot but really struggles with accuracy. If the hitting the glass counted as a goal he might have 50 by now. Also, the physical part of his game seems to have disappeared for long stretches. Dima has become more of a stick-checker defensively now than a punishing, physical defenceman even though he has shown flashes of that in the past especially in his draft year. His defensive awareness and play recognition appear to have improved over the course of this year which is a positive. Here’s that shot though when it does hit the target:

Samorukov currently plays for the Guelph Storm who absolutely loaded up at the trade deadline especially on defence. Markus Phillips, fresh off a Team Canada appearance was added. So was OHL vets Sean Durzi (TOR, 2nd rd) and Fedor Gordeev (TOR, 5th rd) giving Guelph a talented and experienced Top 4 D-core all of the sudden. That’s good for Dima as he has plenty of help, but it also takes away some PP opportunities and ice time. Up front they added Team Canada alums Mackenzie Entwhistle and Nick Suzuki too which means Guelph is going for it all this year. That will prove to be a great challenge for Samorukov who I feel needs to prove he can play tough, consistent, defensive hockey.

In the past, I have often referred to Good Dima vs. Bad Dima when describing his game as consistency seems to be one of his biggest weaknesses. I have personally witnessed games live where I thought he was one of the worst players on the ice. Questionable decision making, lackadaisical efforts and just not enough intensity. Then, there are other times where I think he looks fantastic and a looks like bonafide prospect. Take the World Junior Championship for example. Playing for Team Russia I thought he had a very strong tournament. I broke down his game versus Canada below:

Since coming back from that tournament, Dima has been very good. The defensive intensity appears to still be there and he looks fully engaged. It helps his team is loaded now as they make a run at an OHL title. He is certainly an intriguing prospect with some nice tools but ultimately if he does make it to the NHL after a few years of AHL seasoning, he probably won’t be anything more than a 3rd pairing guy. But, he can skate and move the puck so he has a chance. The skill is there but the big question still remains….does he have the will?

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So as you can see, there are plenty of prospects in the Edmonton Oilers organization to get excited about. Not all of them will make it obviously, and not all them will necessarily will be Top 6 or Top pairing guys. However, there are several prospects with interesting skill-sets that Edmonton doesn’t really have right now on their NHL roster which means some of these guys could end up being nice complimentary pieces. When you already have stars like Connor McDavid & Leon Draisaitl, sometimes that’s all you need. Cheap, young players on Entry-level contracts who can contribute and fill a variety roles. The cupboard is far from bare now folks. The prospect pipeline has now been built.

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