There is a degree of uncertainty to life and the future is impossible to predict. That doesn’t stop anyone from trying, even in the particularly volatile and specific arena of projecting NHL prospects. Experts in the field hardly agree on anything and even the most consensus of opinions can be upended, bucked, or otherwise proven to be incorrect for one reason or another. The infinite rising staircase of expectation and projection often leads to optimism among the future or upside of prospects, a rose coloured lens from which to view a future that often does not fully come to fruition.
We cannot know for sure who among this list of top ten Oilers prospects (with honourable mentions) will end up making an impact for the Oilers, or even in the NHL as a whole. Placing them in a ranking is even stranger still, as it adds another layer to disagree on. What does one value in a prospect? Proximity to the NHL? Potential upside? Positional or stylistic fit? Perhaps trade value across the league? In any case, we will work our way through the list of Oilers hopes and hopefuls with a brief description on their standing.
10. Tyler Tullio
Tullio graduated from the OHL after putting up a very respectable 40+ goals and 80+ points in the swan song of his junior career. As an AHL rookie, it is quite unlikely that he should see himself with such an impactful individual offensive contribution. Instead, Tullio might look to assert the main facet of his game, a dogged and responsible two way effort.
To some extent, Tullio could continue down a similar path that fellow Oshawa General alumnist Anthony Cirelli has taken through his post junior progression. Such a comparison would represent a very optimistic projection, yet function as a stylistic comparison that could be helpful to Oilers fans looking to familiarise themselves with Tullio’s game. The player himself once stated that he likens himself to Brad Marchand’s style of play. It is a good thing for us all to reach for our best and Tullio does have a degree of skill to his game, but as each league up the ladder gets tougher and tougher, we will await to see how well Tullio can translate these skills to the professional ranks.
Given that some of his AHL teammates will be of similar age and circumstance, it would do well for Tullio to start building chemistry with some of his more offensively inclined teammates. It may not be gaudy offensive totals that see an eventual Tullio call up. A good progression would see Tullio assert himself as a reliable option for the Bakersfield Condors over the next two seasons.
9. Reid Schaefer
The Oilers first round pick in 2022, Schaefer is the newest addition to this list. By this point it is clear that Holland felt a power forward presence was lacking upon his taking over the team, with the addition of Evander Kane standing as the foremost example. To an extent both Warren Foegele and Zach Hyman might be thought of in this light, as is Justin Bailey. Reid Schaefer very much embodies this archetype, profiling quite similarly to Kane stylistically. A big body, a powerful skater, a heavy shot, a north-south type of game, Schaefer checks many of the boxes one would expect for such a player.
His production in the WHL last season doesn’t quite leap off the page, yet his role should be considered, playing largely on the third line of the WHL champion Seattle Thunderbirds. His play seemed to grow throughout the year, a trait that scouts value greatly in a player’s given draft season. It is with the same scarcity of size and talent that make Kane’s play so valuable that makes Schaefer’s potential so tantilising.
Schaefer is at least two years away from NHL considerations and four years is a more reasonable expectation. There is a long way to go, the first step of which will be earning a bigger role in the WHL. With two more seasons of junior eligibility, we should expect Schaefer to increase his production and also show effectiveness outside of his size and strength. Honing his game and developing complimentary skills should be his focus.
8. Matvei Petrov
Petrov returns to the OHL with the North Bay Battalion. He has already produced at an extremely high level in the OHL with more than 40 goals last season. It might be unlikely that Petrov will eclipse his offensive totals from last season, but that shouldn’t sway our vision of his progress.
Spending last season with the strong play of Brandon Coe as his linemate, Petrov will now see himself as his team’s foremost offensive option. A strong season might see him score a similar amount of goals and points as the last season. Once again he should lead the team in such categories and also should see him continue to develop his overall game. Strength and mass are always obstacles that teenage prospects will need to develop, as is defensive skill and will for junior level scorers. If his OHL Battalion are to have any success, Petrov will certainly be a big part of it.
For now Petrov’s foremost attribute is his shooting talent, a theme throughout GM Holland’s Oilers draft record. Petrov might have the most dangerous shot of all the players on this list.
7. Carter Savoie
Savoie comes in at 20 years old from the NCAA, where he continued improving over his two seasons and became a top option for his team. His experience will give him a leg up on the rest of his fellow AHL rookies and we should expect to see him feature heavily in the Condors offence this season. The NCAA is a stronger league than the CHL, for example, and Savoie might be more well equipped to make the transition to pro.
A goal scorer with a good shot, Savoie will likely see his best path towards a roster spot come with strong production, not only as a shooter but also as an offensive play driver in transition. Savoie is an interesting blend of skill, power, and craftiness, a degree of dynamism that often has him seeming bigger than his 5’9” listed height. There is an intensity that Savoie is able to channel at his most effective.
An injury in rookie camp took him out of any potential training camp spotlight, but Savoie can still build his resume towards an NHL opportunity by helping lead a Condors team that will see some key players graduate from last season.
6. Xavier Bourgault
Xavier Bourgault will be making his AHL debut after some strong seasons in the QMJHL. Though he has a strong resume, draft pedigree and U20 World Junior experience, some opinions remain tempered due to context. Most of these concerns would be towards Bourgault not driving play as much as his junior linemate Mavrik Bourque.
That said, Bourgault provides an interesting skill set. Noted for strong positional play, lending itself to defensive ability and as transition utility as a bump passer, Bourgault seems to be making a name for himself as a shooter. It is the same hockey sense or positional awareness that allows him to find quiet ice in the slot, where a functional shot has allowed him to be a good trigger man during in zone offence.
Bourgault took himself out of contention for a spot on the rescheduled Canadian World Junior team this summer, electing instead to train for the upcoming season. He looks visibly stronger, which is a great first step as a pro and bodes well for his progression. There should not be an expectation to see him with the Oilers this season. As a contending team, the Oilers are unlikely to be featuring young players in their lineup much in the near future, which will do less favours for an expeditious route to the NHL for Bourgault.
Unlike the names higher than him on this list, Bourgault is not quite ready to push for an NHL spot. His path will be in translating his game to the professional ranks, proving that his skills can continue to impress at higher levels. It won’t be the end of the world if Bourgault is not a top option for the AHL Bakersfield Condors, but it would be quite encouraging to see him show growing glimpses of such as the season unfolds.
Even next season, it would be expected that Bourgault still faces an uphill battle to make the NHL roster out of camp. The focus for Bourgault will instead be to prove he can be an elite AHL player by the end of the 2023–24 season, positioning himself as a strong contender for a spot by the start of 2024–25.
5. Markus Niemelainen
Niemelainen is as old as it gets for these types of lists in his age 24 season and Oilers fans might remember some of his work in a brief NHL stint last season. His being waiver exempt, the Oilers depth at left defence, and the Oilers lack of cap room might make it difficult to imagine an opening night roster spot. It is quite likely that through injuries we will see him suit up for the team at some point this season.
Niemelainen stands out in both stature and style, a big body quite effective at using his size thanks to strong mobility. Though he will not be earning call ups for his offensive prowess, Niemelainen plays to the strength of his game. It’s easy to see how he and Tyson Barrie might once again form a strong unit, as the pairing held up well in their time together last season. Just as Barrie appreciates size, physicality, and a defence leaning partner, Niemelainen appreciates a partner who can handle the puck moving aspects of the game.
By no means should we expect Niemelainen to be an all star for the Oilers, yet the time of his being an NHL level contributor is now. If nothing else, Niemelainen gives the Oilers a quality option deep on the depth chart.
4. Dmitri Samorukov
Samorukov’s time is upon us. No longer waiver exempt, the Oilers will run a risk by sending him to the AHL this season. Although waiver claims are not too common, the possibility exists that another team might cover his services.
A third round pick in 2017, Samorukov has since played in the OHL, KHL, and AHL. Although an injury prevented him from making the team out of camp last season, the left shot defender impressed down the stretch for the Condors becoming a top option. Taking strides in his offensive game and decision making does well in rounding out his two way game as a whole, though he will make the team on the basis of his profile as a physical and defensive minded presence.
Although he may not possess the upside of others on this list, defensive depth, especially at such a low cost, is crucial to the Oilers contending hopes.
3. Dylan Holloway
Holloway has had a preseason for the ages, showing that the hype surrounding the forward since he was drafted in the first round of 2020 was completely justified. Many thought that Holloway would have had a strong case to make the Oilers last year were it not for a wrist injury that lingered and eventually set back deep into last season.
Holloway is a well rounded and versatile player, with positional flexibility at centre or on the wing, as well as a robust amount of off puck abilities to go with some skill. Regardless of how much Holloway is able to translate his scoring successes in the NCAA or AHL to the NHL, it is clear that his checking and positional play are at a high enough level to see his “floor”, or worst case scenario, is one of an effective every day NHLer. Holloway uses his speed and size very well on the forecheck, but also has ample amount of offensive talent in his own right.
Quite frankly, Holloway has the upside to be the Oilers third best forward, behind McDavid and Draisaitl, at some point in the coming years. Expecting such this season would be a bit much, but Holloway is already at a level where his inclusion in the lineup would greatly increase the Oilers overall quality.
2. Stuart Skinner
After a strong showing in his time with the Oilers last season, Stuart Skinner has built enough of a resume in his young career to be handed the reins to the Oilers backup job without much question. Skinner has continued to grow since his draft year, surpassing every test laid before him. With several seasons as a true number one goalie at the AHL level, there is not much left for Skinner to prove in the minors. Having done so under current Oilers head coach and previously Condors head coach Jay Woodcroft makes the experience that much more meaningful, as Skinner has earned the trust with this group specifically, on top of the general strength of his resume.
Woodcroft has been specific in stating that he prefers a more modern approach to sharing the crease, keeping the starter fresh, especially come playoff time. Even before any injuries come into play, this means that Skinner is in line to start 30-40 games this season. His continued excellence, with such a workload, would see Skinner’s stock continue to rise to that of a true 1B. It’s rare enough for everything to end up in the best case scenario, but there is a legitimate possibility that Skinner could push starter Jack Campbell for the lead role towards the end of Campbell’s current five year deal.
An RFA at this season’s end, Skinner will likely earn another contract with the Oilers one way or another. It might be crucial to commit to Skinner at such a point, rewarding his play with a fair salary, locking in the Oilers tandem for the next three to five years.
1. Philip Broberg
The crown jewel of the Oilers system, Broberg might as well be the best prospect the Oilers will ever have going forward in the McDavid era. Broberg has the coveted package of size, skill, and pedigree at the defence position that can only come at the high cost of a losing season.
Once again we see great utility to Woodcroft’s time coaching the AHL Condors, as Broberg has starred for his current NHL coach, an amount of trust that is hard for a young player to earn. For these reasons it would be assured the Oilers valuation of Broberg would be well informed, both in the potential of making the team as well as in any certain hypothetical trade scenarios.
In his brief time in the NHL last season, Broberg showed much of the skills he is known for. Strong skating and poised puck movement are the foremost structures that define his game. From a raw skill perspective, Broberg would compare more closely to Darnell Nurse than Evan Bouchard. Although all three have a degree of size, Broberg is a contributor to both offence and defence more similar to Nurse as opposed to the rare offensive skill set that Bouchard possesses.
Last year we also saw the areas in which Broberg still needs to grow. The most notable is the common and understandable issue of handling NHL size and physicality. For Broberg to have any shot of reaching his potential, he will need to improve in this area. This season he might see himself paired with Tyson Barrie, a player who requires a partner that can handle and win in zone defensive battles. Luckily for Oilers fans, this area of development is one of the most reliable to improve as the young Broberg grows into his body.
Broberg has been quite committed to his training and has spent a lot of time with the Oilers top players in this year’s training camp as well as last year. His time spent in a leading role over the past two seasons have hopefully done enough for Broberg’s decision making and experience. In all, it’s easy to see why his NHL ascension is upon us and how a defence corps built around Nurse, Bouchard, and Broberg is a fantastic starting point for any team, let alone this McDavid and Draisaitl era Oilers team.
Wanner’s journey so far represents challenges the pandemic related shutdowns might have affected the development of young hockey players. Drafted in the seventh round of 2021, Wanner managed to generate some interest during his brief appearance as a rookie in the abridged WHL bubble season. Last season under a more regular schedule, Wanner was afforded more support and a more defined role which he used to take massive leaps forward in his development and to earn the trust of his coaches. This momentum carried into the Oilers development camp where Wanner shined.
A big body who is a physical presence, Wanner certainly appreciates a defence partner who is adept at moving the puck, well illustrated by his pairing with Philip Broberg during Oilers development camp. Though he is continuing to make strides in his defensive game, there are signs that he might add NHL level offensive skills to his repertoire. In short, Wanner is a prospect who might find himself much higher on lists such as these in years to come.
As he finishes up his junior career, we should expect to see Wanner push his upside beyond what it is seen as at this moment. Defenders can take a while to earn promotion to the NHL, and it would not be concerning to see Wanner start two or three seasons in the AHL. He might be years away from cracking the roster but Wanner is an intriguing prospect who might prove to be a strong succession plan for defensive usage on the Oilers right side as Cody Ceci’s current contract expires.
Though scouting prospects in Russia might be harder to judge than most other systems around the world, Beryozkin has produced some noteworthy results. He has totaled 62 KHL games over the past three seasons but these have largely been in very limited minutes. With the Russian leagues already underway, Beryozkin finds himself in the much more suitable VHL level (the KHL’s AHL, if you will) as opposed to the Junior league MHL where he has been spending his non-KHL time over the past three seasons.
Beryozkin is a presence on the ice, a fairly big winger with a powerful stride. He is quite adept at attacking space with the puck and appears to have value as on zone entries and rush chances. More so with power than trickery, Beryozkin still has enough puck skills to attack the middle ice, crossing laterally off of the rush. He is able to use these skills for in zone offence, circling the zone and boxing out defenders along the boards. Perhaps foremost in his offensive repertoire are his passing skills, as Beryozkin is daring and capable of dangerous seam passes, both off the rush and in zone offence.
A strong season for Beryozkin to produce as one of his VHL team’s leading scorers, but also to see a continuation in applying his skills. There are shades of an effective forechecker, as Beryozkin has the size, speed, and puck skills to create takeaways and convert those into dangerous offensive chances for his side.
Lavoie likely represents a prospect that has seen his stock fall over the years. The tall and lanky winger has always possessed an intriguing tool kit of skills. He is seen mostly as a net front scorer, his manoeuvres in tight likely project him as an option best suited for in zone offence. With good vision and passing skills the most optimistic appraisals of his game might see him as a strong compliment to the Oilers forward group.
That said, the hiccups in Lavoie’s development so far have never been about upside, rather those of consistency. The points have come in bunches, often between long droughts of production. Lavoie’s overall game might be characterised as equally mercurial, as inconsistency has seen him lost in the shuffle of the Condors lineup too often. A positive improvement would see Lavoie with a bigger effect on the flow of play overall by improving with loose puck win rate, pressuring opponents on defence, and leveraging his skills to be more effective in transition, through breakouts and neutral zone attacking.
With an influx of forward talent descending upon the Condors, the time is now for Lavoie to start leading the pack or see his standing fall as Oilers futures go.
Munzenberger is a lanky 6’3” left shot, a third round pick as a DY+1 prospect in the 2021 entry draft. In his post draft year he seemed overmatched in his NCAA freshman season, yet showed promise in the brief and postponed winter edition of the U20 World Juniors for Germany.
For Germany he showed a glimpse of his potential, with enough speed and strength to be a good defender, but also manning top offensive duties. He showed degrees of poise, passing skills, shooting skills, and even power play usage. Though such a lofty role might never be in Munzenberger’s NHL future, it would be encouraging to see him take that step in the NCAA this season. Similar to Max Wanner, Munzenberger is still at least three seasons away from truly contending for an NHL spot.
Although many prospects will not reach their full on ice potential, some will find themselves surpassing the expectations that the general prospecting population assigns them. Only time will tell if these players will earn a permanent spot on the Oilers lineup.