As the season quickly approaches, there will undoubtedly be surprises in the coming months, especially concerning the growth of young players throughout the Edmonton Oilers system. With a summer of training behind them, these prospects will be looking to raise their stock with a strong training camp. Before they have a chance to change our minds and re-forge their place in the depth chart, let’s take a look at where these prospects stand heading into the 2023–24 schedule.
While the Oilers have no bonafide top tier prospects league-wide, they do boast some interesting players in the system. For our sake, the Oilers top 20 prospects will be divided into three tiers and ranked within them. More than anything, this should help give us an idea of where everyone is, what the strengths, weaknesses, and next steps of their games should be. Continuing today with the second half of our third tier, lets take a look at prospects ranked from 15th to 11th.
15. Ryan Fanti, G
Ryan Fanti spent most of last season with the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL, sprinkling in eight games in the AHL with the Bakersfield Condors. After a strong end to his NCAA career in 2021–22, there was some thought that Fanti might be the top goalie prospect in the Oilers system. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go according to plan for Fanti in 2022–23. His time in the AHL was underwhelming, a sign that his success in college did not translate well to the next level.
While Fanti still has work to do, there were some positive signs last season. Fanti took on the Komets starting job and was easily their top goalie in the playoffs. The Komets overall defensive game is a bit suspect, meaning that perhaps we shouldn’t read too far into Fanti’s raw stats, like goals against average or save percentage, and focus on the trust his team placed in him instead.
Still, at 24 years old, time is running thin for Fanti’s NHL prospects. We should hope to see much more even and consistent results from him at the AHL level this season, although with Stuart Skinner, Jack Campbell, Calvin Pickard, and Olivier Rodrigue ahead of him on the depth chart, Fanti still finds himself on the outside of an AHL job looking in.
14. Phil Kemp, RHD
Philip Kemp is returning to the Condors for his fourth AHL season, a 24-year-old right-shot who has continued to inch forward in his development. Steadily gaining more ice time, Kemp might well be as effective an AHL defender as Markus Niemelainen.
Kemp does possess the size and skating combination the Oilers covet, though his game is less physical and perhaps more well rounded than Niemelainen’s. If the two live up to expectations as the Condors top defenders, any potential call up will likely have more to do with handedness than anything.
There is some allure in Kemp, still. The unknown quantity, with him not having played an NHL game, provides a vision of uncertainty that Kemp might offer something more. Regardless, it will be savvy and soundness, perhaps even simplicity, that will keep Kemp in the NHL if he gets a look.
13. Markus Niemelainen, LHD
One way or another, this will be Markus Niemelainen’s final year being considered a prospect, ageing out. Of course, these things are more guidelines than rules, shown by Vincent Desharnais’ 2022–23 season. Niemelainen is a big left shot defenceman who played some NHL games in the 2021–22 season but did not last season. This apparent up and down had less to do with Niemelainen’s play and more to do with the circumstances surrounding the Oilers at the time, as in injuries to players above him on the depth chart.
Niemelainen’s game is not hard to describe, starting with his size and willingness in the physical game. Niemelainen is strong enough to battle in the corners or at the net front. On top of this, Niemelainen has deceptively good acceleration and is able to close gaps quickly. With a long reach, Niemelainen possesses many defensive qualities. To contrast, his in-zone defending is not nearly as impressive as Desharnais, but Niemelainen might be a bit more fleet of foot.
That being said, not much offence should be expected from Niemelainen. Overall, his skill seems to be that of a circumstantial depth defender. In 2021–22, Niemelainen made a good partner for Tyson Barrie as the pair covered each other’s weaknesses. In essence, there appears to be less room for growth in Niemelainen’s game compared to the others on this list, making him something of a known commodity, a barometer of sorts.
It is no doubt a possibility to see Niemelainen in action for the Oilers this season, with some poor injury luck. That said it is a near certainty that he clears waivers. Ultimately, Niemelainen is an ideal fifth or sixth left defenceman, a break glass in case of emergency option from whom we know what to expect.
12. Shane Lachance, W
A late pick, and a strange birthday, Shane Lachance is finally ready to make his NCAA debut in 2023–24 for Boston University. From a distance Lachance might be a long shot as a prospect, but upon inspection there is a lot to like about his profile.
A big winger, Lachance is more of a scorer than he is a punishing power forward. In fact, his scoring touch is the strength of his game, armed with a powerful shot, skilled hands, the speed to attack off the rush, and the size to operate in tight to the net. From nifty dangles to one-kneed one-timers, Lachance produced high goal totals, albeit in the USHL in this D+1 and D+2 seasons.
This season is a curious crossroads for Lanhance. If he is able to hit the ground running in the NCAA, carrying on a similar role and production as one of his teams top scorers it would be a huge boost to his profile. He is a bit older than the typical freshman, so despite moving to a better league Lachance has the chance to prove that his skills are scalable.
Granted, Lachance still has a lot to prove, and a lot of development left to go on his journey. With something of a breakout season, Lachance could shoot up lists like this headed into next season. It would be nice to see some added dimension from Lachance, an ability to win puck battles on the boards and make quick support passes. In some ways, most of all stylistically, his profile might be a bit reminiscent of Raphael Lavoie’s, though Lavoie has proven himself at much higher levels at this point. Both big wingers have an indisputable talent for scoring.
11. Luca Munzenberger, LHD
Luca Munzenberger is a left shot playing at the University of Vermont. The team and league are both quite low scoring, so as we will see with another prospect on this list, so we shouldn’t let low offensive totals discourage us entirely from the players on the team, much less so Munzenberger.
With a combination of size and skating, Munzenberger has a lot of physical tools to work with. As an organisation, the Oilers are clearly bought into the philosophy of coveting such players, a credence gaining in influence given the blueline of the reigning Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights. This profile gives Munzenberger something of a high floor as a prospect, so long as the rest of his came can continue growing.
In games outside the NCAA, Munzenberger has displayed a fair degree of skill, particularly in the truncated and delayed U20 World Juniors. Munzenberger controlled play, acting as Germany’s primary defenceman in all situations. Munzenberger is able to use his skating to evade forechecks and control gaps in rush defence. Although by no means the most prolific skater, Munzenberger can use his skating to his advantage.
Munzenberger is not necessarily an offensive dynamo, far from it, but is an effective passer. He should be able to help his team with passes from his own end, especially through the neutral zone off of regroups. Hypothetically, at the NHL level, Munzenberger might not be a power play option, or even the primary puck handler on his defence pairing, but he should be able to help his team in transition.
We might see Munzenberger sign with the Oilers after this college season, perhaps even getting into some AHL action down the stretch. In any case, we will track how his game translates to the professional level, as Munzenberger will have to thrive as a top AHL defender before getting any NHL consideration. The 2024–25 season might be his AHL rookie season, and it might be a bit much to expect dominance right away. Showing he belongs in the AHL will be the first step, and Munzenberger is quite a long ways from an NHL roster spot, but his progress is worth checking in on.
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