Edmonton Oilers 2023–24 prospects part III: Tier B

While projecting prospects is far from a perfect science, there are still players who have shown more, or of whom more is expected, than others. While every NHL team has a number of lower tier prospects that might well find their way into the league one day sooner than we think, there is really only so much one can know about virtually every prospect in the NHL.

At a certain point, though, a prospect is worth keeping tabs on, even beyond the scope of their favourite teams. Today, we reach something of a “tier B” of the Edmonton Oilers prospect pool, featuring players who might have a path to the NHL on the horizon.

10. Olivier Rodrigue, G

A year ago things did not look quite as good as this for Olivier Rodrigue, but after a strong performance in the AHL, things are trending in the right direction. Over the winter of last season, Bakersfield Condors starter, Calvin Pickard, missed time due to injury. In his place Rodrigue showed well, carrying a starter’s workload and keeping the Condors in the playoff race.

Ultimately, the Condors elected to move Rodrigue back to backup duties late in the season when Pickard returned to health. Although it was but a small glimpse of the usage, seeing Rodrigue take on the role was a big step. His raw stats compared quite favourably to both Pickard and Ryan Fanti, with a .910 save percentage, 2.68 goals against average, and a 22–11–4 record.

A positive step forward this season would be to see Rodrigue push for the Condors starting job in earnest. The Condors should be a fairly strong team, which should help his cause, but seeing Rodrigue feature as the starter for multiple months, and even into the playoffs, would be an indication of consistency, binding his profile with the trust needed to move up the depth chart.

Perhaps it is reputation and experience that might keep Pickard as the Oilers preferred option as an injury call up, but Rodrigue has played himself into a shot at supplanting Pickard for that mantle. Still, given that Rodrigue has produced similar results, it might be best for the Condors staff to try to put more on his plate. If all goes well Rodrigue might position himself as a goalie deserving of a role as the “third string” option in net headed into training camp in 2024–25.

9. Maxim Beryozkin, W

Maxim Beryozkin is an interesting winger, in large part due to his playing in the KHL. With two years left on his current deal, it is possible that Beryozkin coming to North America will be a conversation point next season.

Beryozkin has lots of tools at his disposal, including a 6’4” frame, strong skating, and quality puck skills. Beryozkin is especially dangerous on the rush, as he’s able to attack the ice laterally with his agility. While his shot is notable, Beryozkin thrives off of the passing lanes that his skating ability opens to him, creating dangerous scoring chances for his teammates.

Beryozkin showed some growth in key areas last season, adding to his strengths. With his size and speed, he is becoming a more effective forechecker, pressuring opponents and creating turnovers. While Beryozkin has shown that his passing skills can create quick strike opportunities off of these turnovers, finding teammates in the middle from the scrums, he has the makings of a strong in zone attacker as well. While his size and strength should be advantageous on the boards, we have seen a growing effectiveness for Beryozkin at the net front as well, creating traffic, deflections, and corralling rebounds.

With 26 points in 52 KHL games last season, Beryozkin looked to be on his way to legitimate middle-six production in this, his age 22 season. Unfortunately, Beryozkin’s 2023–24 season is off to a slow start, with an assist in five games, though he has been buried on the fourth line.

The KHL is known for some curious deployment decisions that seem to be motivated by a player’s likelihood of moving to North America, but seeing as Beryozkin still has two years left on his deal, this might not be the case here. While the early production is concerning, it doesn’t mean much due to Beryozkin’s limited icetime.

Ideally, Beryozkin would show growth in his production and a bigger role in the lineup this season. Over the remaining two seasons of his KHL deal, if Beryozkin is able to achieve a 20-goal and a 0.6 points per game pace, there might even be talk of him forgoing AHL time completely. The start to his season is not encouraging, but there is still time.

8. Jayden Grubbe, C

The Oilers traded for Jayden Grubbe, the New York Rangers third-round pick in 2021, and he will now join a cluster of prospects forming on the Condors after graduating from the WHL. A big, right-shot centre, Grubbe was also the captain of his WHL Red Deer Rebels.

Though Grubbe’s offensive totals won’t jump off the page, with 67 points in 64 games last season, he does bring a lot of other dimensions to the ice. Grubbe has definite upside as a defender, at even strength and on the penalty kill, as well as in the faceoff dot.

The exciting news for Grubbe and his fans is that he will be well placed to grow alongside the other young Condors. On top of building chemistry together with his linemates their individual successes should cascade into each other, a core group that has the chance to learn to win as professionals together. A former captain, Grubbe figures to be a good teammate and a positive influence, even as a rookie. The opportunity is present as Condors had Noah Philp retire, leaving space for a big centre to take big minutes in the lineup. As many of the young Condors forwards are better suited for the wing, Grubbe will have the chance to centre some talented linemates this season.

Though we shouldn’t expect huge offensive upside from Grubbe, especially in his rookie season, there might still be some useful tools for Grubbe to build on. As a centre his support play will be crucial, meaning quick, decisive, and crisp puck movement will be areas we should hope to see emerge in the AHL. Moreover, Grubbe might be able to contribute on the power play, especially from the bumper or the net front, as his size make him an asset there, but so too does a mid range shot with some power to it.

While this season will be about surviving and contributing consistently as a pro, Grubbe’s eventual and hypothetical call up would be based on his viability as a bottom-six NHL forward. This means an impressive physicality and mobility, as well as a sound defensive game. Anything more than about 0.5 points per game might be considered found money, though eventually reaching middle-six production in the AHL would help earn a call up down the road.

For this season we should hope that Grubbe holds a regular middle-six role on the Condors by season’s end. Success in the faceoff dot and a key role on the penalty kill will be more important than surpassing 10 goals or 20 points in the AHL this season.

7. Raphael Lavoie, W

More than any other prospect in this tier, the time is now for Raphael Lavoie. Though with each veteran the Oilers sign PTO giving him more competition, Lavoie does have a real chance to make the Oilers out of training camp, or earning a call up at some point this season.

Lavoie is an intriguing prospect—a winger with size, speed, and skill. Lavoie has produced well since being drafted, although there have been some ups and downs. Most notably, Lavoie struggled to adjust to the AHL, or at least he struggled to find consistency. Though there were some stretches where Lavoie showed his abilities over his roughly two AHL seasons, in the dying days of 2022 he had yet to maintain a high level of play or lead his team offensively in the AHL.

As the calendar flipped to 2023 all that changed, and Lavoie seemed to put it all together, powering the Condors into a playoff spot as the offensive focal point of the team. No matter his linemates, Lavoie produced, the clear sign he had reached a new level.

Lavoie’s primary area of contribution is his offence. He is a talented shooter and was able to score from a distance in the AHL, including a good one-timer. Lavoie has the speed to threaten off the rush, where his shot is perhaps at its most effective. As a winger, he has the hands to control the puck, even in the corners or at the net front thanks to his size, and has the vision to make dangerous attacking passes in the offensive zone.

Lavoie has improved as a checker, but does not seem to project as much of a defensive contributor. His best work here might come from using his speed, especially as a forechecker. Though he is quite tall at 6 ’4’, Lavoie isn’t much of a bruising or punishing presence. To compare him to an Oiler of last season, Lavoie has a lot more skill and a far better shot than Klim Kostin, but is not as physically powerful.

There is not much time left for Lavoie as he enters his age 23 season. He is in a precarious position that befalls many an AHL scorer, where his play might not be suitable for a bottom-six NHL roster spot, yet not proven enough to have earned a featured offensive role. Still, with the Oilers often double shifting Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid with wingers further down the lineup, Lavoie might well have a chance to escape this uncanny valley.

Perhaps through injury or unexpectedly poor play, should the Oilers find themselves in need of more offensive firepower Lavoie might well be the best internal candidate for this season. The Oilers might appreciate another shooter, and at least from a stylistic perspective Lavoie might be an interesting option somewhere in the top nine.

Still, Lavoie will have to earn every minute of NHL ice he gets this season. Though Oilers Coach Jay Woodcroft seems to get the best out of most of his players, it should be noted that the most disappointing seasons of Lavoie’s career came with Woodcroft behind the bench. Though his early struggles in the AHL were surprising, as Lavoie produced at a high level in the Allsvenskan, this was a long time ago for both coach and player. If anything, it might show Lavoie’s slower adjustment to the AHL had more to do with specific circumstances rather than adjusting to change itself.

6. Beau Akey, RHD

Beau Akey joins the Oilers prospect pool as a 2023 second-round pick, a right-shot defenceman. Akey had a fairly strong season in the OHL, though he is very much in line for a bigger role on his OHL team in the next two seasons of his Junior eligibility.

A skilled puck moving defenceman, Akey’s greatest strength might well be his skating. Akey shows agility as a puck carrier, avoiding forecheckers and opening up passing lanes. Akey is a good passer in transition and should continue building that area of his game with more responsibility in the coming seasons. Akey was largely blocked from top power play minutes, as teammate Brandt Clarke commanded the role as one of the most skilled defencemen in the CHL last season. With this we should expect to see Akey’s point totals rise.

The less expected is that Akey’s defensive game will improve, but there is reason to think that Akey might have potential here. We should hope to see him use his skating to his advantage without the puck, particularly as a transition defender, where his range will help him close gaps and gain body or stick position. Though some added physicality and physical intensity would be beneficial, Akey is not small at 6 ‘1”, and should have the tools to develop as a defender.

Along with power play usage and a growing offensive game, we should hope to see Akey dominating as a transition defender through the remainder of his Junior career. In all, this recipe will have Akey standing out as a promising prospect for the Oilers. Though making a Canadian Junior team is no small feat, continued growth from Akey might see him in the mix over the next two seasons.

Akey will likely make the transition to the professional ranks after his junior career as an AHL rookie in 2025–26. While the Oilers may not need his services as a top power play option, Akey will have to prove himself a reliable defender in the AHL to earn any NHL consideration. With the focus of Oil Country so entrenched in the here and now, Akey is a bit out of sight, out of mind for most. That said, his talent and skill set are very much appreciated in the Oilers overall prospect pipeline.

The offseason is often a time of unrivalled optimism, as hope springs eternal, and we should be careful not to get too far ahead of ourselves. That said Akey has a legitimate chance to raise his profile over the course of the 2023–24 season.

5. Tyler Tullio, W

Tyler Tullio finished 2022–23 fairly strong, considering it was his AHL rookie season, scoring 26 points in 63 games. We should hope to see his effectiveness take a step forward this season, where merely surviving the AHL can change into thriving in it.

Tullio is by no means the biggest skater, but he has a solid frame and a fiery tenacity, combining to create a heavy game. In this way, we might expect to see his game drift closer to the net in the future. In the OHL, Tullio had success operating on the flank on the power play, though this has yet to and might not translate to the professional ranks. Still, Tullio found a way to produce at a decent level for an AHL rookie.

Already carving out a role on the Condors penalty kill, Tullio has the makings of a serviceable defender in general, which should help his case for an eventual NHL call up. Tullio has a long way to go yet, but all the makings of a player who leads with intensity, winning pucks, and responsible play, ultimately contributing to team success all over the ice.

Although he was listed as a centre at points, especially over his Junior career, Tullio might be destined for a place on the wing from here on out. It will be curious how the Condors elect to deploy him in the coming seasons, as any potential to play centre in the NHL will surely have to start with regular usage as a centre in the AHL.

Tullio is far more likely to be a factor on the Condors penalty kill than their power play, though a role on the second power play unit would certainly help his production. A promising step forward in offence this season might see Tullio flirting with 20 goals and 40 points. In general, we should look for steps forward in his passing game, particularly in transition. Short, deft passes will be crucial to his game, winning contested pucks in close quarters, and growing his playmaking abilities off the boards.

Offensively, Tullio is more functional than fanciful. He does have a good enough shot to be a threat from mid range, and enough offensive quality to warrant some upside. He did well to keep pace with another Condors rookie, Xavier Bourgault, in points last season.

4. Matvei Petrov, W

After back-to-back high scoring OHL seasons with the North Bay Battalion, Matvei Petrov is AHL bound for 2023–24, set to make an anticipated professional debut. Posting huge point totals over the past two seasons, Petrov is likely one of the better known Oilers prospects, backing it up with his fair share of high skilled highlights. Upon further examination, though, Petrov has shown an interesting trajectory. His point production in 2021–22 and 2022–23 were high, but somewhat stagnant. Of course, 90 and 93 points is hardly anything to scoff at, but it was instead how these points came that draws interest.

In Petrov’s first post draft season, or DY+1, he played on a line with Brandon Coe, a year older, who led the team in points. Petrov was most known for a deadly shot, often picking the top corners coming in on the rush. While a level of speed and puck skills was present, it was long range shooting ability that defined Petrov’s game. While the results were promising, they did raise some concerns, as perimeter shooters can struggle to translate their Junior level dominance to the professional ranks.

Last season was a different story, however. Petrov maintained his production, and paced the team offensively. The bigger difference comes in how he helped his team score, most evidenced by a drop in goal totals from 42 in 2021–22, to 26 2022–23. While less goals is hardly a plus, Petrov showed a whole different side of his offensive toolkit, relying on his playmaking instead of his shooting.

Though Petrov can use his speed and puckhandling to his advantage as a puck carrier through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone, the greatest description of his game comes from his work on the power play. Petrov operated from the flank on the power play, quarterbacking the unit with poise and skill. With puckhandling and mobility, Petrov can evade checkers, even manipulating coverage into opening up lanes. Petrov often found seams in coverage, leading to cross ice passes and premium scoring chances. In all the Battalion had seven 20-goal scorers, a fact in part due to Petrov’s control of the power play.

These playmaking skills were expressed outside of the power play as well, as Petrov took a step forward as a transition passer, springing teammates onto the attack with passes from his side of centre. Naturally, despite the drop in goal totals, Petrov showed flashes of something greater, as his skating, shooting, and passing skills played off of each other, opening up space for better plays.

Still, jumping into the AHL this season is a daunting task, and we should expect some adjustment period for Petrov. He might still get some production from the power play, as he seems destined for a role on the flank, even if only on the second unit. Instead, indications of his skills materialising against stronger competition will be the thing to focus on. In all likelihood, adding physical strength will be a big part of the conversation for Petrov next summer, and so like all the younger prospects on this list a pro body might still be a year away.

Hopefully, with some splashes of skill, and with more focus on how he finishes the season rather than how he starts, 2023–24 will be a strong year for Petrov. If he’s able to produce at about 0.5 points per game, even if only in the waning months of the season, it will be a very good sign.

While Petrov is not likely to feature heavily as a defensive player, there could be some good dimension added to his profile. While the size, skating, and stick work should be enough for Petrov to push play, or at least be in the right spots, his passing skills showing well in breakouts could be a help to his team controlling play.

Gregory Babinski

twitter: @axiomsofice

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