Prospects, by our definition here at the Oil Rig, are players who are both under 25 years of age and have less than 65 games NHL experience. This means that counting down the top prospects in the Edmonton Oilers organisation will include some current Oilers in key roles with the team.
How does one measure and rank these prospects? By proximity to the NHL? By their perceived upside? Somehow we’ll sort it all out, with a brief profile and update on each to accompany a general order of the top 15 prospects in the Oilers system. In truth, a somewhat tiered system might be more useful in quantifying these players and their relative standing, but regardless it’s important to remember that nothing is set in stone.
At the end of the day, Oilers fans should hope to see all of these players succeed, living up to and surpassing their respective expectations. The hard salary cap makes entry level contributors essential to maintaining a competitive roster, a difficult and seemingly contradictory balance to strike between lack of experience and readiness to win.
To preface our list with these broad tiers, within this top 15 we find ourselves with three relatively distinct groups. First, are a group of three prospects with tremendous upside, already impressing their skills upon the day to day of the NHL roster. Next is a mixed group of promising youngsters who have improved their stocks since draft day, rocketing closer and closer to a leap to the NHL. Finally, the list is topped off with a group that is at least a few years out from the NHL, but have authored promising trajectories nonetheless.
15. Markus Niemelainen
Markus Niemelainen makes an appearance, barely qualifying as a prospect by our standards. Perhaps the Oilers most physical option on the blueline, Niemelainen’s size and skating are easily identifiable assets to his game. His best moments in the NHL have come from his ability to close gaps quickly in defending the rush and breaking up defensive zone cycles, elements that lean into these strengths.
What has held Niemelainen back from a larger role has been his limited offensive skills, not to mention his lack of usage on the penalty kill. The Oilers penalty kill efficiency has been abysmal, a desperation that has not led to a role on special teams for Niemelainen to this point.
Without such contributions it is unlikely Niemelainen will be able to assert himself as an NHL regular. With time running thin, Niemelainen is likely cast as a fourth or fifth option down the left side, a depth player, who can bring a little something to the team in a pinch.
14. Matvey Petrov
Matvey Petrov is coming off of a strong production in his last OHL season, and to some extent a drop in production should have been anticipated. Most notably, Petrov is scoring at a greatly reduced rate this season compared to last.
Many of Petrov’s highlights last season came off of his wicked wrist shot, picking corners to beat goalies from distance, or dancing in off the rush. While spectacular, there were some concerns such styles of offence would not translate to the next level. Despite being in the OHL again this season, Petrov has shown a different side to his offensive game.
This season, Petrov has done a lot of his best work as a distributor on the power play. Petrov is able to fire seam passes with grace, operating in a strong North Bay Battalion power play on his weak side flank, around the top of the circle.
Though it would be nice to see Petrov increase his scoring rates this season, it is near certain that next season will see him take on the AHL as a rookie. Petrov’s path to the NHL will rest on his ability to produce as a scorer in the AHL, at least, and we should expect Petrov to have a chance at doing so in his first couple AHL seasons.
The Oilers are stacked with offensive talent up front, and the NHL power play personnel offer few potential roles for hopefuls like Petrov. Still, scoring is always a useful talent to add to a team, and as such Petrov will be an interesting name to watch over the next few seasons.
13. Olivier Rodrigue
Goalies are notoriously the most difficult for us to project, but Olivier Rodrigue is turning some heads with his strong play as the Bakersfield Condors starter. Heading into the year Rodrigue’s raw stats were not exactly promising, with some worry about his progression stalling out, all while being a clear backup option behind Stuart Skinner.
While sustained success will see his stock continue to rise, Rodrigue has already elevated his profile with his play this season. The Condors are far from an AHL powerhouse at this point, giving their goalies a lot of work. Rodrigue has shone consistently, making big saves and posting great numbers.
At least once per game Rodrigue seems to make stops off of great chances, cross-seam one-timers, breakaways, and you name it. There is a definite power and agility to Rodrigue’s game, but now we are seeing him combine that explosiveness with strong tracking and awareness as well as sound, sealed, and controlled positioning.
A nice path forward for Rodrigue would be to ride out this season as the starter, followed by another similar performance in 2023–24. From that point, it might be injury or circumstance that see Rodrigue get his first game or two in the NHL. In other words, headed into next season we might be considering Rodrigue a legitimate third string goalie for the Oilers.
12. Carter Savoie
Carter Savoie is in his AHL rookie season with the Condors, and has briefly battled injury time. It can be difficult to make the jump to higher leagues, and Savoie has shown some flashes coming out of the NCAA. At the very least, these flashes give some hope for Savoie’s long term outlook.
Savoie has a degree of explosiveness to his game, able to change speed and direction with the puck. There is a level of offensive flair as well, passing, shooting, deking, all with a quality of deception. His strong skating, agility, and edges allow him to attack the ice laterally.
It might be said of the three foremost AHL rookies on the Condors – Carter Savoie, Tyler Tullio, and Xavier Bourgault – that Savoie has had the toughest transition to the professional ranks. This might be surprising, given Savoie was thriving in a tougher league than the other two (NCAA vs CHL), but it is still quite early. Perhaps more than the other two, Savoie’s contributions should be coming predominantly from offensive production.
We should hope to see Savoie continue to progress in the AHL this season. With continued momentum, Savoie could figure into the Condors top six next season. With legitimate production in this role a path to NHL play might open with either a call up in 2023–24, or pushing for a spot out of training camp in 2024–25.
11. Tyler Tullio
Tullio is one of the Condors forwards in their AHL rookie seasons. After a strong OHL career, some twists and turns were likely ahead for the forward with centre/wing versatility.
Although the junior scoring numbers were impressive, the burden of expectation to be a top six scoring forward are not exactly entrusted upon Tullio’s evaluation. There are some offensive tools that could continue to grow, no doubt, including some success shooting from the high slot in junior.
Already his AHL career is off to a promising start, showing flashes of top level play, exemplified by his winning player of the week honours once already this season. The next two years or so we should hope to see these high end results more consistently, a reasonably optimistic potential path to an NHL call up.
There is strength and tenacity, energy and stamina, a general vigour about Tullio’s game. This is likely his most reliable path to the NHL, as Tullio does have the vague profile of an ideal checking forward at the NHL level. There is hope that he can produce at a top six level in the AHL, but more than likely it will be an intent and attention to detail that eventually seals his promotion.
10. Klim Kostin
Games away from crossing our prospects threshold, Klim Kostin makes his final appearance on such lists. Due to his recent stretch with the Oilers, fans are certainly more familiar with Kostin’s game than they were at the time of his being acquired.
As such, there is a degree of immediacy involved in discerning the level of Kostin’s NHL viability. He does possess some decent puck skills, a sign of his once being a first round selection, and the size and speed are a lot to work with. However, Kostin should not be relying on his offensive skills much, instead allowing them to be a pleasant surprise to a more straightforward game.
Coach Jay Woodcroft has noted as much, Kostin’s icetime yo-yoing up and down more than any other forward through the team’s injuries. No doubt that the coming months, if not weeks, will determine whether or not Kostin has done enough to earn a spot in the lineup when more options return from the proverbial infirmary.
9. Maxim Beryozkin
Maxim Beryozkin is a 6’2” right shot winger, 21-years-old, playing in the KHL. It’s been a steady climb over the past couple seasons, now showing flashes of offence in a middle six role in the KHL.
Beryozkin is a big body, but his speed and agility truly make him a presence on the ice. His best moments come attacking laterally into the middle with the puck, where he’s able to get into dangerous shooting positions or, increasingly, finding teammates with daring cross seam passes. In all, Beryozkin has legitimate offensive upside.
However, Beryozkin has shown some signs in other aspects of his game. His size, speed, and skill are tools that profile a dangerous forechecker. If he’s able to hone the puck hungry hound inside him, it won’t be long until Beryozkin finds himself climbing such lists, and eventually, in the NHL.
If or when he’s able to jump might be murky at this point. The best case scenario would be for Beryozkin to work his way into a top six KHL role, backed with increased production over the next year or two. With two years left on his current deal, where he signs next could go a number of ways, including him signing in the KHL again instead of going to AHL Bakersfield.
8. Michael Kesselring
Michael Kesselring is a 6’5” right shot defenceman who might not have had much buzz heading into the season. That said, Kesselring has put Oil Country on notice with a breakout AHL season.
At this point, his goal totals are more than simple luck. Leading the Condors with ten goals in 28 games, Kesselring’s current pace might be unsustainable long term, but the results are borne of a high level of play.
The two most frequent manners that Kesselring has scored this season have been screaming into the zone with speed, firing a hard shot from long range, or finding a lane through traffic from the point, with accuracy and a quick release. While we shouldn’t expect Kesselring to lead his team in goals very often, the skating, the shot, and the offensive mindset are notable positives.
With only two assists on the season, it does indicate that Kesselring’s offensive contributions come more in the form of skating with the puck rather than distributing to teammates. Despite this, there is certainly a lot to like about Kesselring’s game, and without much competition at right-handed defencemen (RHD), Kesselring might find himself quickly rising up the organisational depth chart.
Although it would be nice to see Kesselring see this season through as a key AHL defender, there is a chance for him to see NHL action sooner rather than later. If he is at all ready to earn a look as a penalty killer, the Oilers might be within one lineup change of giving Kesselring a look in the NHL. It would certainly be bold to turn to an NHL rookie to turn around the Oilers glaring need of a penalty killing RHD, but theoretically if Kesselring were ready to do so, nothing would be holding him back from an NHL audition.
More modestly, some reasonable next steps for Kesselring will be to come into next season’s training camp and compete for a lower spot. More than likely he will begin next season in the AHL, where visions of a mid season call up will be firmly in play.
7. Nikita Yevseyev
Perhaps the biggest surprise on the list, the 2022 sixth rounder, Nikita Yevseyev, has somehow found himself as a contributor in the KHL. Making such a quality league at 18- years-old is quite notable, let alone as a defenceman, but Yevseyev has found a way to be a contributor at this level as well.
With four goals and five points through 33 games, Yevseyev is far from a top point producer in the KHL, but his accomplishments are notable nonetheless.
Yevseyev clearly has a degree of comfort in one of the world’s top leagues, sneaking down towards the net during in zone offence, using his strong edges to evade opponents all over the ice.
At the best of times, projecting across the Russian leagues can be difficult, and these are far from the best of times. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has only increased tensions between the country and the west, where the majority of the hockey world lies. Time will tell how the geopolitical situation evolves at all, not to mention how it affects NHL prospects, but at the very least Yevseyev has exceeded all expectations Oilers fans might have had of him.
We won’t be able to see Yevseyev at international tournaments, like the U20 World Juniors, where he would most certainly be included on team Russia, for the time being. Footage and viewing of his play will be rare, perhaps even hard to come by, but make no mistake Yevseyev is making a name for himself and surely looks to have a possibility as an NHLer whenever, if ever, he comes to North America to play.
The next steps for Yevseyev will likely be to continue and expand upon his role in the KHL. After his current contract of three years including this one, if he’s able to do so, we might see the player try to forgo the AHL entirely, honing his skills and, theoretically, growing into his frame. Yevseyev would do well to become an imposing defensive force, onto an offensive game with some bright spots, a profile that seems to be in range for the left shot.
6. Max Wanner
Max Wanner is in his final WHL season, playing a key role for a strong Moose Jaw Warriors team, operating at about a point per game.
In the context of top offensive prospects, even among defencemen, a point per game in one’s final CHL season is not particularly elite, but considering the rest of Wanner’s profile his offensive progression is quite notable.
After making his surprise debut for the Warriors in a COVID-truncated 2020 season and his subsequent selection in the NHL draft, Wanner’s rise has been meteoric.
Initially it was Wanner’s size, strength, and relative mean streak that saw him included in the bubble roster as a WHL rookie, where his having a role gave him the confidence to start building out his game. Over the seasons his role and impact have grown on the Warriors, as have his puck skills.
This year we’ve seen a whole new level of confidence from Wanner. In rookie camp he formed a formidable partnership with Philip Broberg, acting as the top pairing in dominant fashion, complimenting each other quite nicely. In the WHL his game has gone from bruising defensive presence to complete two-way effectiveness, deftly deking to his backhand, screaming down the wing for scoring chances in zone, and firing quality passes laterally to teammates.
His skating and ability to handle the puck in stride has improved as well, with Wanner executing top end moves with both grace and confidence.
Next season will likely see Wanner make his debut as a professional in the AHL, but it might not be long until Wanner finds himself as the Oilers top non-NHL option on the right side of the blueline.
5. Reid Schaefer
Perhaps the brightest riser of the Oilers prospects this year is 2022 first round pick, Reid Schaefer. A surprise pick at the back end of the first round, Schaefer had a relatively muted performance lower in the lineup for a deep and successful WHL champion Seattle Thunderbirds team. Since then the trajectory for Schaefer has been steeply upward, now with his inclusion on team Canada’s U20 World Junior team.
Schaefer has stepped up his role on the Thunderbirds as well, now a top six forward, not to mention one of the WHL’s leading goal scorers in both raw goal totals and even strength scoring rates.
A big body, armed with speed, puck skills, and a big shot, Schaefer profiles as a classic power forward, an archetype the current Oilers front office clearly values given their targeting and acquisition of several players fitting of that mould in the past year or so.
A strange birthday for a Canadian hockey player, between the cutoff dates of the draft and the calendar year, Schaefer will find himself eligible for AHL action next season. This represents a logical and reasonable next step for the forward, where Oilers fans will be hoping he replicates his ascension from lower roster player to top six forward.
No doubt the optics surrounding his draft selection have improved since that fateful day, and so far it is safe to say the choice seems like a good one for the Oilers.
4. Xavier Bourgault
In his rookie AHL season, Bourgault has quickly asserted himself as a key piece of the Bakersfield Condors. Hovering near the team lead in goals and a contributor on both special teams, Bourgault is not only surviving as a pro but thriving.
Bourgault can play at centre, but has spent more time on the wing in recent years. Regardless, Bourgault is an effective player in transition, offering support to his teammates, enough speed to carry the attack, effectively distributing short passes, and capitalising off the rush.
In the offensive zone, Bourgault is known as a volume shooter, adept at finding quiet ice and firing home one-timers with an accurate half-clapper. Defensively, Bourgault has shown off an active stick and keen awareness, creating turnovers and pressuring opponents into mistakes.
Bourgault has been on the radar as a prospect to watch for some time, not surprising given being a first round draft choice in 2020. The praise has not necessarily been universal, as through his post-draft seasons in the QMJHL there was some thought most of his success was owed to linemate Maverick Bourque. Even beyond that, Bourgault’s shoot first, volume shooting style, raised concerns that it might not translate to higher levels.
Early into his pro career, Bourgault seems to be proving the doubters wrong. With his AHL rookie season going about as well as one could imagine, it seems Bourgault might not be long for the NHL. Finishing this season as one of the Condors top offensive producers would be a fantastic step towards pushing for an NHL spot in next year’s Oilers training camp.
3. Dylan Holloway
After being drafted, Dylan Holloway had some middling seasons in a confusing Wisconsin NCAA program, where even Cole Caulfield failed to exceed expectations, followed by a long injury layoff, eventually returning to make his pro debut last season. Holloway held up well in his first half season in the AHL, parlaying his momentum into a strong training camp this season. Since then, Holloway’s momentum has stalled, as he finds himself firmly near the bottom of the Oilers lineup earning scarce minutes in a limited role.
While there might be some merit towards arguing if it is not better for Holloway’s long term development to be playing more minutes in the AHL, where he has not yet surpassed having nothing to prove, the current results are but a bump in the road for his otherwise positive trajectory. While the Oilers flurry of injuries up front left ample opportunities for forwards to step into bigger roles, Holloway was unable to grab hold of any such opportunities. As such the time for Holloway’s ascension to a top nine role on the Oilers might not be in the cards in the immediate future.
Regardless, Holloway’s positional flexibility and multi dimensional play style will afford him ample opportunities to make an impact on the Oilers roster in the future. With a notable prowess in forechecking, Holloway does have a functional offensive tool kit that might see him equal or better the offensive contributions of Kailer Yamamoto or Jesse Puljujarvi. In all, it is reasonable to expect that Holloway will find himself as a useful middle six forward sooner rather than later.
2. Philip Broberg
The long touted defenceman is the highest draft selection of this group, an investment steep enough to earn him a higher level of scrutiny than his counterparts on this list. The second defender, and sixth player, selected in the 2019 draft, Philip Broberg saw the top of his draft class descend upon the NHL last season, as fellow classmates Mo Seider and Trevor Zegras asserted themselves as top options on their (weak) teams. In pointing this out it should be noted that last season would have been the absolute best case for Broberg to make the leap to an impactful NHLer.
Purely from a scouting perspective it might be understandable that certain fans might have preferred other prospects, such as Zegras or Caufield, over Broberg, but in evaluating the player himself or the decision to draft him itself such a standard is unfair and quite frankly unproductive. The truth is that Broberg has a tantalising set of talents, and has continued to develop towards becoming an impactful NHL player, if not a top four defenceman. In some ways Broberg is exactly the player Oilers fans have been clamouring for in the hopes that their blueline might become strong enough for legitimate contention.
Over the past few seasons Broberg has held down the top spot on the Condors blueline, helping the team perform at a high level and ultimately qualify for the playoffs. This season, during his brief appearances in the AHL, he has proven himself to have all but outgrown the league, dominating play with bold spin moves and end to end rushes, all while being the team’s foremost defensive option.
Now injured, Broberg hasn’t asserted himself as much at the NHL level, which is to be expected. With so many offensive options occupying the spots ahead of him on the Oilers defence corps, the challenge for Broberg will be to assert himself as a defensive option amidst the veteran laden group. Paired with Evan Bouchard in limited 5v5 minutes, Broberg has not exactly found himself in a cushy situation to do so as a rookie.
Either way, Broberg is on the cusp of proving himself as an NHLer, a massive development for the Oilers long term contending plans. Even if the metamorphosis takes another year or two to fully materialise, the steps to the world’s top league is a steep one, and not one that can be rushed. Broberg has been a top prospect for the Oilers since his being drafted, a number of years that might have festered some impatience that is not warranted.
1. Stuart Skinner
As the Oilers unquestioned starting goalie, for now, it should come as no surprise that Skinner finds himself atop this list. Quickly racking up enough NHL experience to remove himself from prospect status, the Edmonton-born goaltender is one of the Oilers most important players outright. Without any kind of projection Skinner is already an impactful NHLer, the ultimate goal of all the players who are profiled in this ranking.
The past three seasons have seen Skinner follow a fairly continuous progression, building his game year by year. From a solid AHL starter, Skinner kept improving his numbers in the league, consistently playing to an elite level. Last season saw Skinner perform well in a handful of NHL starts, his numbers holding up well against both Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen, leading some fans to suggest he was the team’s best option in net even at that time. Ultimately, this progress has continued this season, where Skinner has been exactly that.
His multiple years of handling a starter’s workload give us promise that he should be able to do so at the NHL level. Now at 24-years-old, Skinner is well ahead of where most would project even the top rated goalie prospects. Quite simply, Skinner has played himself into being one of the top goalie prospects league wide, if not a premier young starter, and should have consideration for representing his country in any best-on-best tournament.
It might not be smooth sailing from here on out, and all of us will have our ups and downs. Skinner has most definitely earned some leeway and patience if and when struggles arise. Workload can wear down a goalie, even in a longer term, season to season sense. Though he did not enter the season as the Oilers starter, of late Skinner’s games played have started to climb at a borderline reckless rate. Yes, Jack Campbell has had his struggles, but as coach Woodcroft was happy to point out in last season’s playoff series against the Calgary Flames, running a goalie into the ground over the course of a regular season will only rear its ugly head later down the line, in the playoffs, or even into the next regular season as we might be seeing with Jakob Markstrom. A similar situation might have occurred in recent Oilers history with the ballad of Cam Talbot.
Ideally, Campbell will regain some of his form, and he should be more than capable of handling 1B duties over his contract. A slow month or two, an inevitability, for Skinner would be allowed to breathe when spelled by a stretch starter. In all, Skinner is the main reason Oilers fans can look at their tandem for the next four seasons and be content. Without squinting too hard for the specifics, their combined cap hit of $7.6M is a great value for the Oilers.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire