What a difference a year can make. Just when the Edmonton Oilers seemed to be trending in the right direction after a strong season last year making the playoffs and going on a little run, many pundits had them pegged to take a big step this year and compete for the Stanley Cup. Well, they took a big step, but in the opposite direction.
Here we are just over halfway through the season, and the Oilers are closer to the best lottery pick again than they are to winning the Cup.
They have a very talented core to build around with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Jesse Puljujarvi up front. Defensemen Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson and goalie Cam Talbot are taking much of the blame for the team struggles this season, but remain a part of the future.
Another high end draft pick will help bolster the roster and there are still some intriguing prospects in the Oilers pipeline.
1. Kailer Yamamoto, RW – Spokane (WHL)
Drafted: 22nd overall in the first round of the 2017 draft by Edmonton
When the Oilers drafted Yamamoto I thought he could be scary good on McDavid’s wing in about four or five years. Yamamoto is a dynamic offensive winger with speed. He has the speed in skating and how he thinks the game to keep pace with McDavid, and the skill to make some potential magic. He is very undersized and I thought he would need several years to add some strength and bulk to play at the NHL level. After making the Oilers out of his draft and playing up to the nine-game threshold, it seems he is far closer to the NHL than originally assumed.
2. Tyler Benson, LW – Vancouver (WHL)
Drafted: 32nd overall in the second round of the 2016 draft by Edmonton
In his third year as Captain of the Vancouver Giants, the story with Benson has unfortunately been injuries. Limited to just 30, and 33 games the past two seasons, he has finally been healthy playing in 32 games already this season. Benson is promising prospect with a full tool box in size, skill, and leadership. Benson is a strong skater with a high hockey IQ. All he needs is to stay healthy and to gain some traction as his development has not regressed due to injuries but has somewhat stalled. If he can stay healthy, he should project as a top six player. Benson would likely benefit from at least one year of AHL development, possibly more depending on injuries.
3. Caleb Jones, D – Bakersfield (AHL)
Drafted: 117th overall in the fourth round of the 2015 draft by Edmonton
The younger brother of Seth Jones, Caleb is a solid prospect in his own right. After continual development in his three years of junior hockey in the WHL, and winning the World Junior Gold Medal in 2017 with USA, Jones is in his rookie year in the AHL. There has been a learning curve as his 13 points in 37 games is good, he has but one goal and is a minus -16. The offense in Jones game is a bonus. He is an excellent skater, has great acceleration and mobility for a big man, and plays a physical game. Given more development time adjusting to the play in the AHL is all Jones needs and he should soon play his way onto the Oilers blueline.
4. Ethan Bear, D – Bakersfield (AHL)
Drafted: 124th overall in the fifth round of the 2015 draft by Edmonton
Drafted seven spots after Jones in the ’15 draft, the Oilers found two future stud defensemen late in the draft. Bear posted just over a point per game in his final season in the WHL, but don’t think that because he scored a lot and is only 5-11 that he is just an offensive defenseman. Bear plays a very physical game, he delivers plenty of hits, blocks shots and has a cannon for a shot. He plays a solid game and can impact a game in a variety of ways. Bear will need some time to adjust in the AHL to be sure, but he projects as an NHL player.
5. Laurent Brossoit, G – Edmonton (NHL)
Drafted: 164th overall in the fifth round of the 2011 draft by Calgary
After an impressive junior career in Edmonton with the Oil Kings, Brossoit has been developing for the last four years in the AHL and may have finally won a roster spot with the Oilers. Cam Talbot has had his struggles this year giving an opportunity for Brossoit to step up, but his numbers this year are his worst in his NHL career as well. With several prospects coming down the pipe, this is a key year for Brossoit, as well as a contract year. If he wants to secure a financial hold on the backup position and have some term, he needs a strong second half.
6. Aapeli Rasanen, C – Boston College (NCAA)
Drafted: 153rd overall in the sixth round of the 2016 draft by Edmonton
Another late round find by the Oilers scouting staff could pan out to be Rasanen. Rasanen made the move to North America last year to play in the USHL where he posted 25 points in 38 games and committed to Boston College. As a freshman at B.C. Rasanen has ten points in his first 18 games with seven assists as a playmaking center. He found his scoring touch at the World Junior with Finland scoring four goals in five games. Playmaker or goal scorer, Rasanen is an offensive player that is making the Oilers scouting staff look good.
7. Dylan Wells, G – Peterborough (OHL)
Drafted: 123rd overall in the fifth round of the 2016 draft by Edmonton
Wells will challenge to be the Oilers goalie of the future as he has established himself as one of the premier goalies in the OHL despite seeing a slight dip in stats in his final year in the league. Wells was a borderline goalie for Canada at the World Junior in 2017 and won Gold with Canada at the 2016 Ivan Hlinka. Wells is a hybrid goalie who uses his size well to fill the net and has excellent positioning and mechanics. He is also very athletic with quick feet and a glove hand and competes hard to make second and third saves. He gives up few rebounds and has the puck stick to him often giving up few second chances. His play in the net is that of a calming presence that seems to give his team confidence. Wells will need some AHL time like Brossoit had to feel out the pro level.
8. Stuart Skinner, G – Swift Current (WHL)
Drafted: 78th overall in the third round of the 2017 draft by Edmonton
After being traded from the Lethbridge Hurricanes recently to the Broncos, Skinner played stopped 49 of his first 50 shots posting a 2-0-0 record and a 0.50 GAA to earn CHL Goalie of the Week recognition. Skinner is an Edmonton native and will give Wells solid competition for the future starting position.
9. Ostap Safin, LW/RW – Saint John (QMJHL)
Drafted: 115th overall in the fourth round of the 2017 draft by Edmonton
The Oilers may have too much size on the roster in Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, and Zack Kassian, but Safin is another hulking winger in the system. Safin is more than just big. In his rookie season in North America in the QMJHL he is producing close to a point per game offense on a weak Sea Dogs team. He was a key member of the Czech Republic World Junior squad, posting a goal and three points. Safin will see another year in the CHL before he turns pro. Bigger players tend to develop slower, so the Oilers hope his skill continues to develop and after a year or two in the AHL can find a role in Edmonton.
10. Joe Gambardella, C – Bakersfield (AHL)
Drafted: Undrafted, signed as a free agent in 2017
The Oilers don’t always rely on the draft to acquire prospects. They signed Gambardella as a college free agent last summer. At his first NHL Rookie and Development Camps, Gambardella made an impression. During the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, he wore the Captain C and was a force for the Oilers. As a 24-year-old you would expect him to stand out and he did. He was assigned to the AHL, and the points have not come easily with four goals and seven points in his first 20 games. At 24-years-old the window for him to adjust to the pro game and earn a spot on the NHL roster is a short one.