When Peter Chiarelli made his rounds earlier this week to talk with Edmonton media, he said a number of different things that weren’t much of a surprise. One thing he said, to Sportsnet’s Mark Spector, really caught my eyes however. Instead of talking about the current group, Chiarelli referenced his prospect system.
“I see the situation we’re in. I see levels of improvement, but I also see the losses piling up,” he said. “There’s a plan in place, and a plan to bring up through the ranks, at the proper time, younger players.
This quote hit me like a ton of bricks when I first read Spector’s piece, and I’ve been trying to digest it for a few days now. In fact, I’m stunned at the lack of press and verbal this line has gotten from Oiler fans and bloggers alike. Chiarelli’s plan is to bring in younger players through the system over time.
Sure, drafting and developing are the lifeblood of an organization and Edmonton has to do a better job of that than they have in recent years. That said, the Oilers have zero forward prospects at the AHL level and only two in juniors that are anywhere remotely close to the NHL.
Jesse Puljujarvi emerged this season, and he’ll likely be at the NHL level full-time next season, but outside of that there isn’t much bubbling under here.
Is Peter Chiarelli content with two or three more years of being a mediocre-to-bad team as he tries to draft and develop players, or is he just trying to put a somewhat positive spin on this season and worded things poorly? The answer to that question really could tell us a lot about the Oilers moving forward.
Waiting To Develop Isn’t A Solid Idea:
First, let me say this: The Edmonton Oilers absolutely have to draft and develop players better than they have in recent seasons. No one will ever argue that point, nor should they. That said, the Oilers have Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom, Andrej Sekera and Adam Larsson locked up long-term. They should be gunning to win now.
It’s fine, in fact it is needed, for players like Jesse Puljujarvi and eventually Kailer Yamamoto to make the jump to the NHL and contribute in a meaningful way. That said, it isn’t smart for Chiarelli to bank on those players being the solutions for this team moving forward. It already backfired when Chiarelli banked on Drake Caggiula, Anton Slepyshev and Ryan Strome to handle a big role when they have no track record of doing so at the professional level.
Edmonton has the core in place to challenge for a Stanley Cup. Regardless of how this season has went, I still very much feel that way. That said, in order to take the first step all over again and eventually the next step, Edmonton will need to add NHL proven scorers to the roster, among other things. Peter Chiarelli will need to win a trade, and he’ll need to dip his toes into the free agent waters.
Drafting and developing is key, the 2018 draft is going to be an important one for Edmonton after this debacle of a season. That said, the plan should not be for Edmonton to sit back and wait while their young players below the NHL develop. That’s a poor plan and it is wasting precious time from Connor McDavid’s career.
Jesse Puljujarvi is a fine player and will eventually develop into a legit top-six NHL’er. I’m confident in saying the same about Kailer Yamamoto, who is currently with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs. That said, after those two, the forward cupboard is bare. Edmonton has zero forward prospects at the AHL level with legit NHL aspirations, while their ECHL club offers very few realistic options as well.
Kirill Maksimov, Tyler Benson and Ostap Safin are all in juniors currently and all have nice arrows, but Safin and Maksimov both have another year of juniors left and Benson will likely need an entire season of AHL seasoning before we can deem him ready for the NHL.
Whomever the Oilers draft in the upcoming entry draft will be a solid prospect and jump towards the front of this list, but there is no promises that the player will be a forward or that he will ever make it to the NHL.
Again, Edmonton should be drafting well and developing if they want to succeed, but Chiarelli’s plan right now can’t be to default to his prospects. There simply aren’t enough impact ones right now and the holes at the NHL level are glaring.
Is Edmonton on a crash course with a mini-rebuild due to their horrible track record with trades the last three summers? Amazingly, Chiarelli’s quote leads us to believe there is now a non-zero chance of that being the case.