Each NHL season sees a new wave of talent taking the league by storm, filing in for the waning careers of those that came before them. Often, the intrigue and potential of young players is what can propel teams to new heights, all the more in a hard cap world where their cheaper contracts make any contributions even more valuable.
Contenders and rebuilders alike will feature some new faces to the league, rookies who might help change the winds of fate for their franchise. This year will be no different, yet the Oilers find themselves in a rare and enviable situation, reigning conference finalists with several key prospects at the cusp of their graduation to the big show.
Although there are plenty of talented players throughout the Oilers prospect system, there are four that stand above the rest when it comes to the imminence of their coming of age. Filling significant roles in the lineup, the plays of Stuart Skinner, Philip Broberg, Dmitri Samorukov, and Dylan Holloway might improve the Oilers chances from last season.
Blurring the line between prospect and graduate, Skinner is all but assured the backup role for the Oilers this season. Given coach Jay Woodcroft’s familiarity with Skinner, built over their time in the AHL, and Woodcroft’s openly held beliefs of a more modern and even timeshare in the crease, Skinner will be a significant piece for the Oilers this season.
To this point, 23–year–old Skinner has continued to pass every test put before him, authoring a strong AHL career, not to mention leading the Oilers in SV% over his 13 NHL appearances last season. The 6’4” Edmonton native has the tools, pedigree, and resume to have thoroughly earned his opportunity as a full time NHLer.
In 23 games with the Oilers last season, Broberg has already shown flashes of being a strong NHL player. Though some fans might bemoan the fact that other players could have been selected with the 2019 eighth overall pick, we saw last season in the Western Conference Final that the biggest disparity between the Oilers and the eventual champion Colorado Avalanche was the strength of the blueline. Put plainly, Broberg’s development into a strong top four NHL defenceman and beyond might be the Oilers best chance at winning the cup.
Although his offensive production does not leap off the page, Broberg has the skills to be a strong puck mover in transition, controlling play with his passing and puck handling. That said, Broberg will have to show continued growth in his defensive game, a task he appears to be well underway in, adding about 12 pounds of muscle. Increased strength and balance will go a long way towards his in zone defensive abilities, giving Broberg a chance to leverage his size in breaking up cycles and in net front coverage.
Of note, Broberg has been taking reps on his opposite side (on the right side versus his natural left shot) early in camp. Having done so circumstantially during his time in the SHL, the potential flexibility is likely to play a factor in his usage this season; although the best case and end game scenario is still on the left. If anything, this shows Broberg earnest determination to make the NHL and to help his team however he can. This is a theme for Broberg, as even last season he was among the first arrivals at Oilers camp, putting in work with all the top players.
There is still a lot of time for Broberg to continue growing his game, and this season should not be a make or break referendum on his top four viability as a whole. That said, we should expect Broberg to have a big role as a two-way defenceman in the near future.
A 2017 third round pick, Samorukov’s ascension to an NHL regular has been long underway. It hasn’t been as quick a transition as some might have hoped, yet he has a legitimate opportunity to do so this season. In last year’s rookie camp Samorukov suffered a broken jaw, an injury that put him behind the pace of making the team last season.
Profiling as a defensively minded left shot, Samorukov’s skill set would certainly be appreciated on the Oilers blueline. He made the most of his time in the AHL last season, rising up the depth chart as the season wore on. Playing in a lead role helped him showcase his ability to contribute offensively in the transition game to some extent. Although it won’t be a role he will be asked to play much for the Oilers this season, it does speak to the optimism surrounding his potential.
At 23 years of age, the time for Samorukov to start building his NHL resume is upon us. Especially considering coach Woodcroft’s willingness to dress seven defencemen, on top of his no longer being waiver exempt, we should consider it more than likely that Samorukov plays a significant number of games for the Oilers this season.
After a turbulent couple of seasons since his draft year, between the pandemic and his own injuries, Dylan Holloway is finally in his first Oilers training camp. The opportunity comes at a great time, as Holloway is largely expected to earn an NHL roster spot, but will still need to put together a strong camp to reach that goal.
The 14th overall pick in 2020, Holloway has shown solid production during his time in both the AHL and the NCAA. Despite this, the strengths of Holloway lie predominantly in other aspects of the game. A bigger body with good skating skills, Holloway is a noticeably effective forechecker and backchecker, and is likely to develop into a strong overall play driver if he can leverage those skills into strong in zone defensive play as well.
Due to this versatility in his play style and potential positional utility as a winger or a centre, Holloway could have an inside track on a spot in the Oilers opening night lineup. As a first round pick there will always be some lingering ideas of his being a top six option offensively, but at this point he could be effective in a checking role lower in the lineup too. Having already played in an NHL playoff game (against the Colorado Avalanche), Holloway is quite probable to suit up for the Oilers this season, and might push his way up the depth chart by season’s end.
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