It’s NHL Draft season once again, but things have a bit of a different feel for Edmonton.
While the team has bucked the trend of top-end selections, picking in the later half of the first round for the past several drafts, this will be the first time since 2006 that the Edmonton Oilers will not have a selection in the opening round and just the second time in franchise history.
Back then, the club’s first selection was Jeff Petry at pick #45, who went on to enjoy parts of five seasons with the Oilers before being traded to Montreal in 2015 and he currently plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
This year, the Oilers are primed to make their first selection at the #56 spot and, as the past indicates, they could still get a very solid prospect if they are smart about it. Perhaps even a player that could help add some legitimacy to an organizational weakness: goaltending.
Edmonton’s current goaltending situation
At the moment, Edmonton’s goaltending depth chart looks something like this:
NHL: Jack Campbell, Stuart Skinner
AHL: Calvin Pickard, Oliver Rodrigue
ECHL: Ryan Fanti
Prospects: Samuel Jonsson
Skinner and Campbell will be getting the bulk of the NHL starts. Pickard provides the team with an experienced backup to help in a pinch and Rodrigue showed legitimate growth in Bakersfield last year.
It starts to fall off from there. Fanti has struggled in his first full pro season in the ECHL while Jonsson is a longshot to make any significant noise in the NHL anytime soon. So, could the Oilers find a goalie at #56 that could inject some long-term life into the depth chart?
Enter Adam Gajan
Adam Gajan is considered to be among the top goalies in this year’s draft after backstopping the Slovakian World Junior team to a pair of shocking wins over both Canada and the United States all the while boasting a .937 SV%.
Gajan might’ve even eliminated the Canadians in the quarterfinals if it wasn’t for Connor Bedard being a generational talent.
Outside of international play, Gajan played for the Chippewa Steel in the North American Hockey League (NAHL). In 34 games with the Steel, the Slovakian netminder picked 19 wins alongside a .917 SV% which Corey Pronman with TheAthletic ranked Gajan as the second-best goaltender available in the 2023 draft but says that he was the top goalie at times this year.
“He’s the best athlete among the goalie crop…His game needs polish and he needs to make better decisions but he has the most potential of the tier-two goalies to elevate and at points throughout the draft process, I had him as the No. 1 netminder.”– Corey Pronman (TheAthletic)
Elsewhere in the scouting world, Steven Ellis with Daily Faceoff says he had scouts raving about Gajan’s play.
“He doesn’t give shooters much room to work with and is quick enough on his feet to adjust himself to where he needs to be. He doesn’t overthink things, either; he has a good head on his shoulders that allows him to bounce back after a bad goal.”– Steven Ellis (Daily Faceoff)
NHL teams will also not need to worry about Gajan’s size as he stands at a respectable 6’3″.
Where does he rank?
In most years the top goaltender in the draft would be a first-rounder, but that isn’t the case this time around.
There is no Yaroslav Askarov or Sebastian Cossa that will tempt teams to take an early flier on them in the 2023 draft. Though that might be more of a testament to the skill present at other positions this year.
Instead, you can expect the first goaltender to come off the board sometime in the second round.
Here is what some of the experts have Gajan ranked at:
Bob McKenzie (TSN): 60
Craig Button (TSN): 79
Corey Pronman (The Athletic): 56
Steven Ellis (Daily Faceoff): 49
Pronman actually had the Oilers drafting Gajan in his projection.
Gajan was looked over in 2022, making 2023 his second year of draft eligibility. Funny how a move to North America and a dynamite season can change things.
Gajan is certainly an interesting player for the Oilers if he is available come pick 56. His journey from a relative unknown to one of the top goalies of the draft has been incredible and it would certainly add a bit of intrigue to Edmonton’s crop of goaltenders.
Photo from @ChippewaSteel on Twitter