Unlike the NFL or NBA, which represent the NHL’s aspirations as North American sports leagues go, the NHL entry draft takes place sooner in a player’s development. For the most part the NHL drafts high school aged players, where all but the very best will see subsequent years in junior or lower professional leagues. As such, NHL teams will have a large prospect pool spread across the globe as a new season begins, the Oilers no different.
Though they might not factor into the Oilers NHL lineup anytime soon, checking in on prospects can be a great source of intrigue, premonitions that might well foretell the shape of the roster’s future. With that said, let us take a gander at where Oilers prospects will be suiting up this coming season.
With the Russian leagues already underway it seems a pair of Oilers prospects find themselves in Russia’s top level. Maxim Denezhkin, a 2000-born left-shot centre, suits up for Avtomobilost Yekaterinburg for what would be his KHL rookie season. He has steadily increased his production from MHL to VHL over the past few seasons.
Likewise, it is promising news that 2022 sixth-round pick, defenceman Nikita Yevseyev appears to be making an early graduation to KHL Ak Bars Kazan. That said, players in his position might find themselves bouncing up and down between the KHL and the VHL as the season progresses.
The third and final Oilers prospect playing in Russia is winger Maxim Beryozkin. The 2020 fifth-round selection—a right-shot winger—has been a force in the junior league MHL, so much that he has earned limited minutes in call ups to the KHL over the past three seasons.
KHL teams are not developmental programs, and it is not uncommon for young players to spend most of each game stapled to the bench, making any stats one might produce moot. That said, Beryozkin will finally graduate to the VHL for his rookie season in that league, for Molot Perm.
Aapeli Rasanen is a 2016 sixth-round pick. He’s an older prospect, going into his third straight season in the top Finnish league for KalPa. He is to serve as an alternate captain, perhaps telling that his time considered as a prospect has come to an end.
Jeremias Lindewall is a left-shot winger, an Oilers seventh-round pick from 2020. This will be his third season in the relegated portion of the SHL known as the Allsvenskan, but his first on his new team Ostersunds IK.
The Oilers 2022 fifth-round pick, goalie Samuel Jonsson, will suit up for Rogle BK’s U20 team, famously with an Oilers-inspired logo of their own. Having played all of last season in this league, Jonsson will be looking to continue gaining starter’s experience and improving his performance.
The Oilers will have three prospects in the WHL this season. 2022 first-round pick Reid Schaefer returns to the Seattle Thunderbirds, looking to build on his role for the reigning WHL champions.
2021 fourth-round forward Jake Chiasson suits up for the Brandon Wheat Kings, where his production has stalled after playing in only 43 combined games over the past two seasons.
Finally, 2021 seventh-round defenceman Maximus Wanner suits up for the Moose Jaw Warriors, where the right-shot defender will look to continue his growth.
The Oilers have four prospects in the NCAA ranks this season, including two on the same University of Vermont team that Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft’s brother, Todd, coaches.
2021 third-rounder, defenceman Luca Munzenberger looked strong at the cancelled winter version of the U20 World Juniors, and will look to show some of that strong two-way play for Vermont this season. Teammate Joel Maatta, a 2022 seventh-round pick as an over-ager, is a long shot at forward known for his work ethic, perhaps not dissimilar to Zach Hyman’s college profile.
Elsewhere, Skyler Brind’Amour is a centre for Quinnipiac. A 2017 sixth-round pick, Brind’Amour enters his fourth, and likely final, college season.
Finally, left shot centre Tomas Mazura has transferred to St. Lawrence University after one eight-game stint at Providence College last season. The big Czech was a sixth-round pick in 2019.
The lion’s share of the Oilers prospects will of course suit up for the Oilers’ AHL affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors. Here the lines between prospect and depth player can become blurred, as some of these players will no doubt see NHL action at some point this season.
We might be able to discern how likely or unlikely it will be for certain players to find themselves in the AHL or NHL, but for other players that task is very much up in the air.
Most are expecting both Philip Broberg and Dylan Holloway to be full time NHLers by season’s end, but it is possible for both or either of the 2019 and 2020 first-round picks to see some AHL action.
While forwards with 1998 or 1999 birth years, such as Tyler Benson, James Hamblin, and Noah Philip, might find themselves at the end of their prospect stages, there is a bit more hope for defenders Markus Niemelainen and Dmitri Samorukov. Both of these players are expected to legitimately fight for opening night roster spots.
Although the case for their NHL inclusion from the outset is unlikely, it is quite probable that we see one or both for the Oilers this season.
In that respect Philip Kemp and Michael Kesselring find themselves lower on the defensive depth chart, but might continue their efforts to continue rising. A deeper cut might be 6’6” defender Vincent Desharnais, who as a 1996-born is hardly considered a prospect at this point, if that. That said, every person has their own development path, and Desharnais has continued to rise up the ranks. Given his size there will always be those who seem to think more highly of the lanky right shot.
By far the most interesting spot to watch for the Condors will be a glut of well regarded forwards, many of whom will be making their AHL debuts. Matvei Petrov, Tyler Tullio, and Xavier Bourgault all graduate from the CHL after strong final campaigns to their respective junior careers.
Carter Savoie also graduates from the NCAA, who might well be the favourite to pace the group of rookies in scoring this season. This group joins the mercurial Raphael Lavoie as focal points of the Oilers prospect system.
Lastly, in net, Olivier Rodrigue will look to expand on his role from last season, potentially operating as the Condors’ co-starter alongside veteran Calvin Pickard. Not every goalie will have as expeditious a route through the AHL as Oilers backup Stuart Skinner has, but Rodrigue at last has earned his spot as presumptive backup. Ryan Fanti saw a game for the Condors last season after finishing his NCAA career, but is likely headed for the ECHL’s Wichita Thunder.
Clearly, the Oilers have no shortage of prospects all over the world. There will be plenty of action (some of which has already started) and following the play each prospect will be filled with new developments, excitement, and more.
Stay tuned throughout the season as The Oil Rig will provide in-depth updates and news on Oilers prospects and everything going on outside of the NHL.