Thu. Apr 22nd, 2021

By Sean Patrick Ryan

_

We’re about a quarter way into the European hockey season, so I figured now would be a good time to give the fans on update on all your favourite prospects and update their ranking accordingly. I’ve been tracking all these players since before they were drafted by the Oilers. In some cases, up close since they were 16 years old (Evan Bouchard). Thanks to several resources including InStat (@InstatHockey on Twitter), I am extremely confident in this analysis having tracked all these prospects for many, many hours over the last few months.

It’s important to note, this is not designed to pit prospects against each other. The comparisons I use are simply to justify why I have a prospect ranked above another based on how their skillsets translate to the NHL. On top of speed & skill, you’ll find a put a great emphasis on work ethic. I believe if you’re not willing to do what it takes on the ice as an amateur, you certainly won’t be willing to do so once you’ve got a nice security blanket in the form of an NHL entry level salary in the bank.

_

TOP 10 OILERS PROSPECTS

#1.

_

No Oilers prospect possesses more elite NHL translatable qualities than Evan Bouchard. His poise, passing & puck moving ability are already high NHL caliber. His shot both in it’s release and accuracy, is elite. His ability to consistently execute a breakout to near perfection makes everyone around him better. He has a ton of experience quarterbacking the powerplay and is an offensive catalyst at even strength. His shot is a huge weapon but he’s also so dangerous as an outlet passer with that great touch he puts on his pass. Bouch has also put up impressive offensive numbers in every league he’s played in. Currently, he’s 2nd in the entire Hockeyallsvenskan league in scoring for defencemen with 16 points in 19 games.

NHL Outlook

Most importantly, Bouchard has shown the ability over several years now on many different levels that he is capable of logging big minutes as a #1 top pair defenceman. He’s not overly physical & won’t wow you defensively. He’s more of a finesse defender who relies on strong positioning, excelling at puck retrievals & quick puck moving to succeed. The former AHL all-star & OHL defenceman of the year is the top prospect in the organization. Trending nicely as an eventual #1 Dman.

Prediction: High scoring offensive defenceman & true PP quarterback. #1 D-man eventually.

_

~ ~ ~

_

#2.

_

If you were to rank all Oilers prospects just based on size & athleticsm alone, then Philip Broberg would be ranked #1. But, there’s more to playing defense in the NHL than just skating fast.

That’s not to say Broberg isn’t super talented because he is. He is a phenomenal athlete capable of going end to end on any given shift. His skating is outstanding & he has terrific offensive instincts. He’s a very good passer & is just as dangerous as a transporter of the puck as he is a distributor. However, Broberg’s game is still a bit too erratic & high risk at this point to be ranked higher. His decision making can be questionable at times and other than his speed & athleticism, he’s not really better than Bouchard in any area yet which is why he is ranked #2. It’s going to take time for him to pick his spots better & settle down defensively.

NHL Outlook

In terms of potential, Broberg may ultimately have the higher ceiling than Bouch if it puts it altogether. But at this point, he’s not nearly as polished and needs to prove he can handle the big minutes on top pair & run a powerplay as effectively to be a true #1. He’s kind of bounced around the pairings in Skelleftea this year as he’s struggled a bit in his draft+1 year. Meanwhile, Bouch won OHL defenceman of the year in his draft+1 year. That being said, Broberg is a year behind in terms of development so still has plenty of room to grow.

It’s not a competition between the two since they play LD & RD respectively, so the hope is for an eventual top pairing of Broberg-Bouchard down the road. Fans just need to be patient because there will still be some growing pains with this prospect but the potential is enormous.

Prediction: #3 D-man at least, similar to Darnell Nurse. Potential to be top pair D-man with Bouch eventually.

_

~ ~ ~

_

#3.

_

Dylan Holloway is without question, the #1 forward prospect in the organization. His combination of speed & power is very appealing. He also has an excellent work ethic (my favourite trait). He played Center in Wisconsin for a couple games before being called on from Team Canada, and was playing extremely well scoring in both contests. He’s already a load physically and should develop into a true power forward in the NHL eventually.

Holloway loves to drive the play and is a terrific 200 foot player. He also likes to finish his checks which should make him an immediate fan favourite. He likes to put a lot of pressure on defenders with his aggressive forecheck and makes them pay if they hold on to it too long. He’s also a zone entry machine. The best part of his game though, is he’s always moving his feet, and seemingly always gravitating to the puck.

NHL Outlook

There is some question as to what position Holloway will ultimately play in the NHL. There are also questions about how high end his skill is. I wouldn’t rule anything out at this point.

I don’t necessarily see Holloway as a highly skilled, playmaking center in Edmonton, but thankfully the Oilers already have two of the best in the league at that position locked up long term. What they need are big, strong, fast forwards capable of dominating along the boards, winning puck battles & getting the puck to McDavid & Draisaitl. Holloway should be able to take care of all of that himself. I really think he has the potential here to be a similar player to Blake Wheeler eventually.

Prediction: Top 6 Power forward.

_

~ ~ ~

#4.

No prospect has benefitted more by playing in Europe this year than Dmitri Samorukov. Last year, he played mostly 3rd pair minutes in Bakersfield. This year, he is cemented in a Top 4 role in arguably the best league outside of the NHL, and he is playing extremely well on a Top team. The most encouraging sign of Dima’s play is that he has seemed to settle down a bit and cut down a lot of the riskier plays he’s been renowned for in the past. He’s always flashed some high end skill but struggled with being too aggressive too often.

Playing with a steady veteran & former NHL’er in Klaus Dahlbeck has brought a certain level of stability to Samorukov’s game. His play is much more controlled & patient now. He still makes some questionable decisions at times but has made noticeable improvements in most areas. He’s still very capable of rushing the puck & has great offensive instincts, but seems to be more cognisant of taking care of his own end first which is encouraging.

NHL Outlook

Samorukov has the tools to be an solid NHL’er. He has excellent mobility, he moves the puck well, and is capable of playing solid 2 way game. I still think he’d be better served if he upped his intensity & physicality in the defensive zone more, being tougher to play against and more reliable as a shutdown guy – because he exhibits those traits periodically. But, he has that rover mentality that adds a dynamic component to his game. Unfortunately, that can also lead to too many mistakes.

Samorukov is likely going to be a mobile, puck moving, bottom pair guy who adds a bit of nastiness, but could surprise as a 2nd pair with further development. Still not convinced it will be in Edmonton as he has Nurse, Jones & now Broberg ahead of him on the depth chart. But he is progressing, and improving, which means he’ll likely push for a roster spot in the fall of 2021.

Prediction: #4 or #5 defenceman likely somewhere other than Edmonton.

_

~ ~ ~

#5.

Ryan McLeod is a fabolous skater, everyone knows that by now. If you’ve followed the player’s progression from Junior, you’ll also know he has been described quite often as a perimeter player who doesn’t go hard enough to the net. Which is why I’d say, of all the prospects playing in Europe on the big ice, it’s probably impacted him more in a negative way than anyone.

McLeod’s game can be best described as “safe”. He does not take a lot of chances offensively. He likes to operate on the peripheral with his speed and quite often looks to make the perfect pass instead of just shooting it on net. On the forecheck, he applies pressure with his speed but backs off into a zone so he doesn’t get caught (as opposed to Holloway who finishes the play with a bodycheck). He’s very aware positionally & always cognisant of his defensive responsibilities which is great – but really hurts his offense. In most games, you’ll see him cut it to the outside as opposed to taking it hard to the net – even though that option is there.

In terms of NHL translatable skills, McLeod has a very good wrist shot & is an excellent pass/playmaker. He has real quick hands in tight too. He drives the play and can give defencemen fits with that skating ability. But, he’s still a little too gun-shy & over-passes. It’s like he’s almost overthinking it or too afraid to make a mistake.

NHL Outlook

McLeod is basically Dylan Holloway – lite. He’s a terrific skater like him and is very responsible defensively. He’s capable of driving the play & is an aggressive forechecker capable of creating turnovers with his speed. The difference is, Holloway plays with more determination and isn’t afraid to get physical. Whereas, McLeod tends to shy away from contact and plays more of a zone, which limits his effectiveness.

McLeod’s ceiling still appears to be that of a Todd Marchant. Reliable, 2-way center who can win faceoffs, lead the PK & chip in a bit of offense here and there. But, he could also be another Oiler version of Ryan Spooner (skates for miles, zero offense) if he doesn’t fully commit to being tougher to play against. The physical tools & skills are there, just still waiting on whether he decides to go all-in mentally or not.

Prediction: Eventual 3rd line center & important role player.

_

~ ~ ~

#6.

The KHL is widely recognized as the 2nd best hockey league in the world behind the NHL. Edmonton currently has two skaters playing there (not counting goalie Konovalov) in Dmitri Samorukov & Kirill Maksimov – both of whom play on the same team CSKA. CSKA is the top team in the KHL currently.

Kirill Maksimov started on the team but wasn’t getting much playing time. So, he was re-assigned to the Tier 2 league (the VHL) to get more TOI but he was clearly too good for that league registering 4 goals, 6 pts in 5 GP. So he was recalled back to CSKA & has been playing well in spot duty since, albeit on the 4th line solely.

Now no Oilers prospect in this list has improved their skating & consistency more than Maksi. This was quite apparent in the VHL this season where he was getting top minutes and put in many offensive situations. Maksimov was able to drive the play and show off his skating & offensive skillset with the added ice time and responsibility. But even in the KHL as a 4th liner, he works hard every shift, battles along the boards & front of the net. He hustles back hard in the d-zone & makes good reads defensively. He’s proving he’s capable of succeeding in any role & is certainly becoming a very versatile & reliable player.

NHL Outlook

Maksimov isn’t getting nearly the TOI in the KHL as Ryan McLeod is in the Swiss league for example. Same thing last year in Bakersfield when McLeod was averaging nearly 20 minutes a game some night while Maksi was around 14. But, you can see Kirill improving significantly in several areas & can envision him as a future NHL’er based on his skill, determination, & versatility. Remember, he scored 74 goals & 159 pts in his last 2 years of Junior (McLeod had 45G, 132 pts).

So we know Maksimov has the natural scoring ability, but he has also morphed himself into a very effective bottom 6 type player who hits, forechecks, penalty kills, and works hard every shift. That usually translates well to the NHL and which is why he is 6th on list ahead of a guy like Raphael Lavoie. He’s more complete and works harder.

Prediction: Versatile winger capable of filling a variety of roles up & down lineup.

_

~ ~ ~

_

#7.

_

Raphael Lavoie is a very intriguing prospect. His numbers in his last two years of Junior rival Maksimov’s: 70 goals, 85 assists, 155 points in a couple less games, though he was one of the oldest prospects in his draft year just missing the previous draft by 10 days.

This season, he’s playing for Vasby in the Allsvenskan league which is considered Tier 2 hockey in Sweden. That’s unfortunate because it would have been nice to see him compete in a higher level to test his overall game. He was in fact invited to play for Rogle of the SHL but was mysteriously cut essentially at the last minute. Currently, he has 7 goals & 3 assists in 17 games for Vasby.

Having followed Lavoie a lot in the QMJHL, and now having watched almost every shift he’s played for Vasby, I definitely have concerns. His current team is very talented and he is clearly their best player. He’s a big guy with a long reach who definitely uses that to his advantage in puck protection & in front of the net. He also possesses a dynamite shot & release. In a league like Allsvenskan that should amount to a pile of goals.

But Lavoie’s work ethic (or lack thereof) is a huge concern and his 200 foot game is simply not where it needs to be if he’s going to make it as a pro. He takes plays off, he takes shifts off, and only seems real enthused when he’s in the offensive zone. Therein lies the rub. He has plenty of skill but not enough will playing on a team short on talent, and in a league he’s too good for.

NHL Outlook

There’s no question Lavoie has enough offensive ability to be a solid contributor in the NHL one day. If he can continue to work on his consistency, work ethic & play away from the puck, he should turn out to be a fine NHL’er one day. However, those are not easy things to teach and Oilers fans have seen many similar players with similar flaws fizzle as pros over the years. For now, it’s best to recognize the development required and remain cautiously optimistic. He dropped to the 2nd round for a reason, he got cut by Rogle for a reason. The bottom line is, he’s got bad habits he’s gotta shake if he’s going to make it. Still lots of time to make that happen.

Prediction: Top 6 Boom or Bust candidate

_

~ ~ ~

_

#8.

You might be a bit surprised to see Ty Tullio listed at #8, but I can assure you having followed this kid all year – he has NHL’er written all over him.

Ty Tullio has a big shot & release & a relentless motor. He’s fearless going to the net, fights for his space and has a knack for getting open. He’s basically your prototypical power forward minus the size, but he has all the other traits NHL teams look for. He has a powerful stride and shows good agility skating east-west. His one-timer might be the best in his class as he generates so much power even from one knee. He has excellent offensive instincts and is a sneaky good playmaker. He knows how and where to get open and will take it hard to the net and battle for rebounds if need be. He’s an energetic kid who can skate, shoot and gives you a 100% on every shift. That’s why he’s on this list.

He dropped in the draft due to his perceived lack of ideal size & speed. Make no mistake, he’s not a burner but skates well & should only get better based on his tremendous work ethic. Many draft analysts (myself included) had him ranked as a 2nd round talent so Edmonton really stole him in the 5th round.

NHL Outlook

Brendan Gallagher dropped to the 5th round years ago & Tullio had almost identical pts/game as him and similar styles (and size). Oilers fans would be ecstatic if Tullio became the next Gallagher and I could totally see it. They’re very similar type players (though Tullio likes to pattern his game after Brad Marchand). This kid’s an overachiever who’s attitude and relentlessness should rub off positively on his teammates.

Prediction: Top 9 forward who’ll bring energy & determination every night.

_

~ ~ ~

_

#9.

The once highly touted local product has slowly been passed on the depth chart despite his productive AHL seasons. He has 1 goal & 8 assists in 8 games in Switzerland’s 2nd tier league – a league he should be dominating (Ryan McLeod for example, is playing in the Top league in Switzerland above Benson).

Benson has quick hands and is a smart player. He’s also a pretty creative playmaker & passer. But I think there’s a reason he’s not playing in a more competitive league on the bigger ice. His speed & acceleration in particular are serious issues. He really struggles to create any type of separation in the offensive zone, & has a hard time keeping up with his man in the d-zone. He’s quick & shifty in short spaces, but gets exposed in open ice. Even in a Tier 2 league in Switzerland that is quite apparent.

Benson has got to this point in his career by working hard, using his high hockey IQ, excellent vision, along with his soft hands to generate offense at every level he’s played at. However, in the NHL everyone is bigger & faster so if a player really struggles with his skating, quite often it is too difficult to overcome. That is why Benson is ranked here.

NHL Outlook

There is a lot to like about Benson’s game but the reality is, his skating is just not nearly good enough for him to keep up in the NHL. That was more than obvious in his brief 7 game stint last year. He’s going to be 23 years old in a few months so the odds of it improving dramatically is highly unlikely now at this point. Knee injuries seemed to have stunted his development.

Much like Cooper Marody, Benson should be an excellent AHL’er but just doesn’t offer enough to hold down an NHL spot regularly. Even a guy like Anton Lander who was in a similar boat years back, was at least a center & excellent penalty killer. There are better candidates for bottom 6 roles, and Benson likely won’t be able to keep up in the Top 6. So while he might still be ahead in terms of pecking order right now, I don’t see him having a better career than the guys ranked ahead of him longterm. He’s considered a longshot NHL contributor unless that skating dramatically improves fast.

Prediction: Fringe NHL’er, AHL all-star.

_

~ ~ ~

_

#10.

William Lagesson of Vita Hasten

William Lagesson is another promising player who has slowly slipped down the rankings with more prospects added each year. He was playing for Vita Hasten of the Allsvenskan league but was just recently re-assigned to Kristianstads (same league) who just happens to have the worst record in the league.

There is not much flash in Lagesson’s game. Instead, he is just a steady, solid defenceman who doesn’t really excel at anything other than his consistency. Playing for Vita Hasten he did get plenty of opportunity on the powerplay which helped his offensive numbers. He also played a ton for them which has to help his confidence.

Lagesson moves the puck pretty well. He makes a good first pass and is mobile enough to skate out of danger if he has too. He does get beat occasionally with speed & puck gazing but overall is very solid positionally. He’s not going to score a lot of points at the NHL level, but can give a team solid minutes with his good hockey IQ and decision making. Overall, he looks like a safe, reliable depth player at the pro level.

NHL Outlook

Lagesson has some nice qualities but the reality is, he’s probably nothing more than a bottom pair defenceman at best in the NHL. Quality depth player who will likely bounce around the league a bit before his career is over.

Prediction: #6 or #7 depth defenceman

_

~ ~ ~

_

To comment, please do so via Twitter @TheOilKnight