With Rookie Camps opened and the season just around the corner, let’s take a look at some of the notable players in the Oilers’ development system. Separated into general tiers, I’ll try to give some thoughts on the players and the road ahead for each of them.
Tier 1: Imminent and High Impact
Although Evan has already played in 21 NHL games over the past 2 seasons, he would still be considered a prospect by most accounts. He’s posted strong offensive numbers along the way during his time in the OHL and AHL which constitutes the focal point of his game. As with most taller players who skate well it can be deceiving how fast Bouchard is, meaning he should be able to carry the puck out of the defensive zone and through the neutral zone if the forecheck gives him some room. Bouchard also brings really strong passing abilities, from long stretch passes up ice to controlling the pace of play with support passes and hockey sense. On top of all this, the most unique part of Bouchard’s offensive repertoire is his shot, which he’s able to get through traffic and pick corners with velocity by way of either a wrist shot or slap shot. How much of an impact Bouchard will be able to impose on the play will come down to his balance and quick burst acceleration giving him enough of a platform to become a strong defender, especially off the rush and denying zone entries. With his length and speed there are attributes that suggest he could be an effective player in this regard as well.
Bouchard is all but penciled in to a regular spot on the blueline for the 21/22 season, and any best case scenario for the Oilers surely involves a big role for the young defender. The question is perhaps more about how high in the lineup can he play into, and it’s worth noting Holland was sure to mention the importance of giving him a lot of playing time last season during a post free agency availability.
Ahead of Bouchard on the depth chart is fellow offensively minded RHD Tyson Barrie, who had a great season paired with Nurse and was given 1st unit power play time. Because of his success in those areas, it’s likely we’ll see Barrie be used similarly this year. At some point over the next 2-3 years we should start to see Bouchard pass Barrie, perhaps even becoming the PP1 option at some point this year should the unit hit a dry spot.
Between Bouchard, Barrie, and Nurse, the Oilers have a depth of offensive abilities on the blueline that few teams can compete with. If Bouchard is ready to carry a pair at even strength it would go a long way towards making the Oilers less top heavy and more complete.
Holloway represents a great deal of hope for the Oilers, as the centre who plays a balanced game could add a lot of skill and dimension to the forward group. He’s put in 2 seasons in the NCAA with Wisconsin and both he and the team improved greatly over his tenure, and impressed with a strong World Junior U20 performance. He’s got good size and skating abilities, read a high floor, which he uses to pressure opponents all over the ice. He uses his stick to force turnovers and has the puck skills, puck protection, and offensive smarts to create chances for his team. Ultimately he figures to be a player that can positively impact the flow of play offensively and defensively.
It is fairly common to see players of a similar draft pedigree to take the path Holloway is on, 2 years in college, before making a significant impact on their NHL clubs, so that is certainly a possibility in this case. That being said, it would not be a slight on his viability as a prospect to get some time in the AHL this season, especially now that he’s slated to miss time with a wrist injury to start the season. If he does manage to get time in the NHL a role anywhere in the top 9 could be appropriate based on the balanced style he plays.
Whether it’s this season or next, Holloway figures to add a lot of versatility to the lineup. It’s easy to see how he could fill a role similar to Anthony Cirelli in Tampa Bay, as a young and probably over qualified 3rd line centre who can check other teams top lines and chip in offensively. He could also play higher in the lineup, and like Zach Hyman bring enough will and skill to compliment McDavid and/or Drasaitl well.
Broberg was among the first group of Oilers taking the ice together this September, which shows exactly where his mind is heading into this season. He already has 2 year of pro hockey in the SHL under his belt, which is an accomplishment for the 19 year old. He has a lot of high end tools, most notably his excellent skating ability, especially given his size. He may never develop into a high scoring defenceman, but Broberg is able to help the attack using his skating and passing skills, in either avoiding pressure, carrying the puck up the ice, or smart passes to his D partner. He has the potential to be a strong defensive player, with the range and stick to defend off the rush and deny zone entries, and the strength to break cycles or win net front battles.
Though his desire to make the team out of camp this year is admirable, the most prudent course of action is to let Broberg excel and help lead AHL Bakersfield to a strong season. It will be imperative that he play top minutes to continue to grow and refine his defensive skills through experience. Ultimately it wouldn’t be the worst scenario to start him in the minors the following season as well and let him spend as much time as possible growing his confidence. In other words, be patient, he’s not a bust or a disappointment if it’s still a while until he makes the jump.
His tantalizing potential will probably make it hard to ignore what he could look like in the lineup. As a left shot he’d give the Oilers a nice 1-2 punch at left D behind Nurse. To fully get ahead of my self his skillset could pair really well with Bouchard, whose breakout pass ability would be welcomed to the pair’s game just as much as Broberg’s skating. If the idea is that Keith is going to have a bounce back season or 2 to finish his deal it should align well with Broberg’s ascendance to the 2nd pair.
Tier 2: Imminent or High Impact
The time for McLeod to earnestly push for a roster spot is upon us, as the centre had a strong sophomore year in the AHL in the shortened 2021 season. At a point a game pace, this is by far a new offensive high for the two-way former 1st round pick. He is a fantastic skater, all but assuring that he should be able to have an impact of some kind at the NHL level. Although there are some flashes of offence McLeod’s path to NHL playing time will be his play without the puck. He might be afforded another opportunity to help lead the charge offensively for Bakersfield, but this would likely be the last year for that type of deliberate seasoning in the minors.
In his first pro season Lavoie split time between the AHL and the Allsvenskan. In Sweden he lead his team in goals and points at almost a point a game before 19 games with Bakersfield where he posted 5 goals and 10 points. A successful year might see him as a primary offensive option for Bakersfield. Having watched him a lot in his draft year I saw some stylistic elements similar to James van Riemsdyk and Jonathan Huberdeau, in that he’s a big, lanky winger with a nose for the net, a scoring touch, and enough puck handling to make moves in tight spaces along the wall or in front of the net. A strong AHL season would position him well for a spot in 22/23.
Samorukov is a big, defensively minded defenceman who has 2 full pro seasons already, 19/20 for Bakersfield, and most recently in the KHL for a strong CSKA squad. He has 4 total seasons in North America as well, meaning small ice and style of play shouldn’t be an issue for him (most of the KHL is on a smaller surface at this point). There are several names in ahead of him at this point, but at 22 years old it’s reasonable to say he has a shot of seeing some game in the NHL this season. Considering the cost of signing defenders of his profile (see Ceci), it would be hugely valuable for Samorukov to come into his own in the next year or two. On September 19th it was announced that he will be out 6 weeks with a broken jaw, which all but ensures his season will start in the AHL.
As the Oil’s most recent 1st round selection, Bourgault is probably a bit further away than most of the other prospects we’ve discussed so far. In my opinion, unless a prospect is so good that they should obviously be in the NHL, the plan should be to allow them to develop for at least 2 years before trying to throw them into the NHL. The goal in this time will be for Bourgault to expand his effectiveness in the QMJHL, post gaudy offensive numbers, and perhaps make the Canadian World Junior roster. With a late October birthday (an early birthday for his draft year), he’s almost a year older than you might think, meaning it will be his last chance to play U20 hockey, and he should be AHL eligible in his draft+2 season (22/23). He has a good shot and is a one-timer option. He sees the ice well and can be a good playmaker. There are some concerns with his skating and puck protection but he should be able to improve in those areas with age, strength, and experience. He could end up as a centre or a winger.
Tyler Tullio is a scrappy 2-way centre who won’t cheat you on effort. He will be Captaining the Oshawa Generals in his final junior season. After spending last year in Slovakia due to the cancellation of the OHL season he is set to dominate and push for a spot on Canada’s World Junior team. It’s likely that he’ll get a year in the AHL in 22/23 before having a real shot at the big club. If I had to rank them now, I’d say Tullio’s offensive potential is somewhere between fellow centres Holloway and McLeod, but there’s still lots of time for all 3 to improve.
I’ve long been a fan of Benson’s, starting with his 1st overall selection in the WHL draft, to his time as a Captain in the WHL and most recently as an Assistant Captain for AHL Bakersfield. Despite his long and successful stay in the AHL, the forward has yet to fully grab hold of an NHL spot, and at 23 years of age, the time to make the jump is now. Many have voiced concerns with his ability to skate well enough for the NHL, but should he overcome this Benson can bring a lot to the table.
Tier 3: Back-Burner
The elder Savoie brother (the younger to go very high in the 2022 Entry Draft), Carter is looking to build of a strong freshman NCAA season. He has a great shot and can pick corners and hit any small targets of space goaltenders leave vulnerable.
Petrov looks to have another strong season in Junior hockey, this year in North Bay of the OHL. Like Savoie he has a really good shot and has good offensive skills in general. As a 6th round pick in the 2021 draft, it should be at least 2 years until we start hearing about what his chances are to make the NHL. At that point he should be at least pushing for a job in the AHL.
Kesselring and Kemp
Both are big young defenders who made the jump to the AHL last season after spending time in the NCAA. Kesselring is a year younger (21 vs 22), but both will be looking to establish themselves in the AHL this season. At this point they are considered long shots, but signs of growth and strong play throughout this season might change their outlook.
Maximov and Safin
Maximov and Safin are both big 22 year old wingers with some pro experience. Any hope for their chances begin with a strong year for Bakersfield, where they figure to be focal points on the power play.
Konovalov has posted a couple strong seasons in the KHL already, and is definitely on track to challenge for an NHL role in 22/23 if he’s able to build off of those results in the AHL this year. He’s a smaller goalie, meaning he will have to rely on strong positioning and anticipation to succeed in the NHL. Goalies are of course a strange science, and often go through various twists and turns in their development. By this I simply mean that in 3 years Konovalov will still be at an age where many goalies finally round out their play and portfolio enough to earn a scarce role in the league, meaning some patience can be afforded despite the strength of his work so far.
Skinner is probably a bit further behind Konovalov at this point, largely due to having less pro experience. Regardless the netminder has been improving year to year and will look to be every step as good as his Russian crease mate in Bakersfield this season. More than Konovalov, Skinner is likely headed for 2 more AHL seasons before earning serious consideration for a call up. He was forced into an NHL game this past season which is not ideal, but it’s a good sign for the Oilers that Skinner is both improving and being passed on the depth chart, meaning the goaltending depth is better this year, at least now, with everyone healthy.
Rodrigue is the son of the Oilers’ goalie coach, but statistically profiles as the organization’s highest upside goalie prospect. He is the youngest on this list and is entering his first AHL eligible season. It will be interesting to see where each of the 3 end up playing and how much. Rodrigue had a really strong QMJHL career, which is a good start on the long road to becoming an NHL netminder.