Every team needs depth, skill, and a drive to win to be successful. This combination of success results from each individual within an organization possessing a unique skill set that allows them to be impactful. However, not every individual classifies as a star, nor is any NHL pathway identical to that of another organization member. This article sets out to provide a more in-depth analysis of current Edmonton Oiler prospects, who may not be household names, but who have begun to make noise with their play and could provide an impact soon.
The first individual requiring further examination is netminder Olivier Rodrigue. A left-handed catching 2018 second-round draft pick whom the Oilers traded to select with hopes that Rodrigue’s play can begin to elicit a similar meteoric rise exhibited by another recently extended Oilers goalie prospect, Stuart Skinner. Only selected a year after Skinner, Rodrigue is starting to show signs of play that motivated the Oilers to draft him.
Eye-popping stats do not headline Rodrigue’s QMJHL junior career, but his ability to steal the 2018 Ivan Hlinka starting job encouraged the Oilers to place a high value on his draft status. Rodrigue’s play profile has been compared to Philadelphia’s Carter Hart, though this is more due to his size and play style and does not represent equal talent levels.
Also regarded as an undersized goalie, Rodrigue profiles as an athletically-gifted athlete who possesses quick twitch ability, with strong positioning skills helping to cut down shooter angles and sharp stick, mitigating the impact of being beaten by dekes.
However, he does lack the size of regular NHL goalies, standing at 6’1″, which hinders his ability to gain full net coverage, transitioning into lower glove hand positioning, and allowing shooters to take advantage of upper net placed shots.
The transition to Rodrigue’s professional career could have gone smoother. In his first two years in the AHL, Rodrigue posted below .900 SV%. Yet, he has taken a step forward this year as he has stolen the net from presumed AHL starter Calvin Pickard by posting a 2.80 GAA and a very solid .918 SV %.
However, his win-loss record on a mediocre Bakersfield Condors team does not reflect his stellar play. Goalies initially take four to five years to develop, such as Skinner’s career track, and it could be expected to see Rodrigue follow Skinner’s path. Although Rodrigue will have to exhibit at least another year of solid stats to begin to push Jack Campbell, likely in the 2024–25 season.
There are currently two defencemen who require more significant in-depth analysis due to this season’s play. Mike Kesselring and Maximus Wanner’s 2022–23 season has exhibited returns management hopes to hit on with later-round drafts. Kesselring, a 2018 sixth-round pick, and Wanner, a 2021 seventh-round pick, have begun to see their prospect stock rise and find ways onto top-15 Oiler prospect lists.
Kesselring has the tools to be an impactful NHL defenceman. When drafted, Kesselring was regarded as a long-range, raw, and toolsy prospect with strong skating ability and a solid frame that could translate at the pro level. Kesselring’s time hitting the weight room has allowed his development and growth to enable his offensive and defensive upside to grow beyond that of an AHL-NHL tweener and contribute along the Oilers’ blue shortly.
He is behind on the call-up depth chart due to the defensive defencemen void the Edmonton Oilers roster currently has. Kesselring’s offensive ability sets him apart from the more defensive-minded Phil Kemp and Markus Neimaleinen. To date, Kesselring has chipped in 11 points in 24 games. Surprisingly, eight of those are goals, possibly due to him doubling his shot pace in the 2022–23 season, or also perhaps because Kesselring’s shooting percentage is now 9.5%, double that of his career high. Currently, though certainly there is room for regression to career mean, Kesselring is on pace to 24 goals and 33 points, both career-high marks.
Maximus Wanner has been a success story rivaling last year’s Matvey Petrov. A seventh-round pick, Wanner was described as a long-term, shutdown defensive player due to his physical ability, tenacity, and size that currently anchored the WHL powerhouse Moose Jaw Warriors. This team does have NHL-caliber talent he plays with on a nightly basis, such as Jagger Firkus. Wanner has extensively built upon his extreme athleticism profile due to his excellent skating ability, first stride and mobility, and encouraging first pass development.
Wanner’s offensive has developed alongside his capacity to provide smart outlet passes along with a deceptively more potent shot than what was initially viewed. Wanner is on almost point-per-game pace and is currently on track to shatter his career bests in goals, 15, assists, 44, and points, 59, nearly tripling his career totals. Though he was beginning to show signs of offensive capabilities during last year’s playoff run, the Oilers must be happy to yield the success of a long-term project defensive defenceman with some capacity for offense. A player with a likely ETA of three to four years, allowing for further development in the AHL.
Lastly, Jake Chiasson and Maxim Beryozkin are forwards requiring more significant discussion. Chiasson, a 2021 fourth-round pick, and Beryozkin, a 2020 fifth-round pick, are the results of the Oilers’ recent drafting strategy to select larger, big-bodied forwards with strong puck creativity and offensive awareness.
Jake Chiasson had an extensive range when broken down by scouts, from being ranked as high as 61st to 156th. Chiasson displays strong offensive awareness skills and a very adept passing ability when entering the oppositions zone, complementing his net-front presence. Additionally, his strong offensive capabilities, 24 points in 31 games, are further supported by his skating strength, allowing him to battle in the dirty areas and being a tenacious back checker, underscoring a solid two-way game. However, this is not reflected in the 2022–23 seasons plus-minus category due to the Brandon Wheat Kings basement dweller status.
As with most younger players, even though offensively gifted, one of Chiasson’s most significant weaknesses is his lack of consistency and patience to allow plays to develop. Both limitations impact his ceiling and capacity as his potential and playmaking profile him as a bottom-six forward with powerplay upside. For Chiasson to become successful during his pro career, which should begin after this WHL season, Chiasson will require further development of his defensive game as he currently does not even lead his own in any statistical category.
Beryozkin profiles similar to Chiasson in that he is a big-bodied forward possessing a large capacity for offensive potential, but also who contains an extensive unknown range of estimated value. Experts mock-drafted Beryozkin to be drafted as high as the third round to going undrafted, though that is not unusual for a power forward that possesses excellent hockey smarts, with good hands, creativity, and scoring ability. Beryozkin successfully proved in Russia’s junior league, the MHL, averaging almost a point per game.
However, Beryozkin lacks defensive capacity, as he does not use his size to his advantage when playing smaller-bodied players and does not use his body to his advantage against quicker, more agile players, limiting his upside.
Beryokin’s development has also taken a different route than North American players. Due to playing in Russia’s highest league, KHL, Beryozkin’s growth has begun to show this year, his fourth year in that league, that he has proven he can score and generate plays in Russia’s elite against men much older. However, for Beryozkin to further develop, it will be interesting to witness the transition to North America. His current middle six forward projection and ETA for two to three years away will require improved skating ability to continue his professional career. Hopefully his size may work to his advantage on a smaller ice surface.
The future for these prospects
Each prospect contains the ability and potential to play at the pro level, though the range of ETA and impact varies. First and foremost, Kesselring represents the most likely option to be called up to assist the Oilers’ defensive corps, whereas Chiasson, Wanner, and Beryozkin (depending on when/if the transition to North America occurs), could be the next wave of two to four years in the future.
The most significant unexplained variable is Olivier Rodrigue, who is beginning to show signs of playing to the potential of a second-round pick. Still, sustained success and randomization of goalie play can lead to an NHL career path, but one that could be blocked by the recently extended Skinner or long-term commitment to Campbell.