In what is something of the beginning of NHL action in the 2023–24 schedule, even before training camps open is the rookie tournaments. As usual, the Edmonton Oilers joined the Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, and Winnipeg Jets in Penticton for their rookie tournament, a round robin of exhibition games.
While we should be careful not to drastically alter our thoughts, this tournament does set the stage for these young players heading into an important season of development. Without further ado let’s take a look at some of the salient details from the Oilers in the tournament.
A group of talented forwards
With a number of talented forward prospects, there was a lot to keep track of up front for the Oilers.
For the most part, Xavier Bourgault, largely thought of as the Oilers top prospect, was on a line with Carter Savoie, centred by Carl Berglund. The group had some flashes, but the most important takeaway might be the role entrusted to Berglund as a top line centre. It is unlikely we see him so high in the AHL Bakersfield Condors lineup, but he seemed comfortable at centre, using his strength and puck skills to a degree of effectiveness. Bourgault was a key part of both the penalty kill and the power play, a usage we might expect to see carry into the AHL regular season. All three of these players showed well as the Oilers top line in the tournament, and should be important players for the Condors this season.
A trio of interesting prospects were put on a line together, with Jayden Grubbe centering Matvei Petrov and Tyler Tullio. Their play styles don’t have much overlap, meaning all three bring a different skill set to the ice. This might be notable if they should continue to play as a line, with the potential that they can build enough chemistry to stay together as Grubbe and Petrov enter their rookie AHL seasons. Tullio’s competitive brand was certainly upheld, while Petrov was a force with the puck, perhaps the most consistently dangerous Oilers forward.
Jake Chiasson found himself deeper in the lineup, as did Ethan de Jong, who is signed to an AHL deal. It is quite likely that this will be the case on the Condors as well, as clearly there are a number of prospects still ahead of them on the depth chart.
Some unsigned forwards that stood out were Jake Sloan, a big centre who found success at the net front, as well as Brady Stonehouse who showed off his shooting.
Is defence still lacking?
There was not as much high profile talent present on the back end, though the Oilers were led by a pair of impressive right shot defencemen.
Max Wanner looked poised, capable, and very much in control of play. While a surprisingly strong performance at this tournament last season, where Wanner played on a pair with Philip Broberg, was a high bar to live up to, Wanner still showed well. His skating and puck skills looked up to par, and he should be able to use them to become a contributor to offence in the AHL in the near future. Wanner was paired with Xavier Bernard, a 2018 fourth-round pick.
Meanwhile, two years younger than Wanner, fellow right-shot Beau Akey had some highlight moments at the tournament. Akey showed off his offensive skills, making passes, deking defenders, and jumping up into the rush. While he is still not seasoned enough for the professional ranks, Akey showed real promise, setting the stage for a big season in the OHL.
True to form, the blueline featured a lot of size, including the pair of unsigned Noah Ganske and Josh Van Mulligan. Both Wanner and Bernard are in that group as well, and Akey is not as small as his skillset might suggest either.
Overall the team did well
In all the Oilers showed well in the tournament, often keeping up with teams that are likely thought of more highly in the prospects department. While there were no truly dominant performances, like the one Dylan Holloway displayed at last season’s rookie tournament, in general we saw good things out of some of the Oilers most notable prospects.
These prospects will all start to head elsewhere for their seasons, as unlike in past seasons there aren’t any players in this camp expected to make the opening night roster. For some it might be their last such camp, for one reason or another, while for other younger prospects there will be the chance for another rookie tournament next season.