With the calendar turning to September, hockey season is finally upon us. The Edmonton Oilers started their fall activities with a showing in the Young Stars prospect tournament over the week. Edmonton’s squad, which was coached by Bakersfield Condors Coach Colin Chaulk, went 1–1–1 on the weekend in their games against Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver.
After selecting Ilya Konovalov as an overager in the 2019 third-round, the Oilers did not select a goaltender in two consecutive drafts. Last year, they used a fifth-round pick to select Swedish product Samuel Jonsson before selecting Flint Firebirds’ goaltender Nathaniel Day in the most recent draft. While Jonsson attended prospect camp in the summer, he’s currently in Sweden with the start of the Allsvenskan season coming soon. As a result, the Oilers extended two PTOs to fill out their crease. Zachary Bowen of the London Knights and Swift Current Bronco Joey Rocha made up the group of goaltenders with Day that played in Orange and Blue in Penticton.
Here’s a break down of how they did.
As the only actual draft pick at camp for Edmonton, Day was given the start on Friday against Winnipeg and Monday against Vancouver, winning the first game while dropping the second. The Oilers did a great job at limiting chances against the Jets, but the Canucks stronger lineup was able to generate waves of offence.
The OHL product gave up one goal in his first start, which started with the Jets’ attacker driving wide and throwing a puck to the middle which was then directed to the far side just above the pad in a shot that was partially tipped by the defender. Day’s error on the play was that he slid back towards the post instead of settling on the angle of the blade, opening up the far side,
For the remainder game, Day looked solid. He had smooth transitions into and out of the posts, feeding into his strong skating ability. This led to Day consistently appearing in position. He was also eager to play the puck, attempting to cut off most rims but was a little tardy on some of the harder ones. An area improvement was the rebounds that he gave up on some clean shots from distance, often coming off his body back into the slot. This matches the scouting report from junior, where open shots would beat Day but he’d be able to make high danger saves.
Day faced more struggles in the game against the Canucks. In the first, Day got caught following puck carriers on the rush outside of the post and improperly recovering into his post. The result was the first goal being a put back play to the short side after he tried to chase a recovery to the far post, in addition to a bank play that just missed for the Canucks. Outside of the posts on the rush, Day’s trend of strong skating combined with unrefined save execution kept him in plays, with some scrambles coming after the shot. This also showed up in the game winning goal, where Day was beat clean from distance off the rush.
The Canucks were also able to beat Day twice with shots from the point. Both goals came from the right point with the shots going to the far side through traffic. This is a reoccurring learning curve for junior goalies who graduate, as the layers of traffic become more intense in pro. Even with these struggles, Day was able to show his strengths in the second period of the game. There were repeated slot line pass from the Canucks where Day was able to beat the pass and make an easier save with the use of his position on the dynamic play. If his ability to make dynamic saves with his movement continues to improve, this will be a major asset moving forward.
Overall, Day showed much better than a typical sixth rounder with minimal junior experience would. His large frame and excellent skating ability show promise, while his weakness in tracking matches up well with the developmental strengths that Dustin Schwartz and Sylvain Rodrigue bring to OEG.
Coming into the prospect tournament on a camp invite, Zach Bowen was limited to a half game of action, which saw him take the start in the game against Calgary. Bowen backed up Brett Brochu in London last year, who’s now signed to an ECHL contract with the Oilers affiliate, the Fort Wayne Komets. He finished last year with a .899 SV% and 3.10 GAA in 26 games.
Bowen plays a compact style, with his gloves held low and tight to his body with small rigid movements. Additionally, a lot of his movement on in zone movement was drifting, which won’t necessarily play up as he progresses levels. On shots from distance, Bowen’s reactions were first down and in, before reacting outwards. Combined with his low glove position, Bowen looked vulnerable to the high corners. Bowen looked the part of a solid junior goalie, but likely lacks the upside that an NHL team will be looking for in a prospect.
Joey Rocha was the second camp invite goaltender for the Oilers this fall. Rocha only has one year of junior experience, posting a .908 SV% in 18 games after playing all three eligible seasons of midget hockey. The camp invite appeared to be more of a shot in the dark. Rocha’s game time came in the second half of the Calgary game, giving up two goals in the overtime loss.
The two goals that Rocha gave up both came from point shots with traffic. The Overtime winner from Klapka included a net front tip, while the regulation goal came from a shot getting through traffic. By observation, Rocha looked like a smooth skater with decent tracking. He rarely looked out of place and was able to follow the vast majority of the puck movement Calgary created in the Edmonton end. His junior sample size is even smaller than Bowen’s, but with both of the Broncos’ other goalies moving on to the pro ranks this season, Rocha will have runway to show more in the WHL and may be a draft target come next offseason.
Goalie prospects for the Oilers
The Oilers haven’t spent a lot of draft capital on goalies since drafting Stuart Skinner, Olivier Rodrigue, and Ilya Konovalov in consecutive drafts. With that, their group of netminders consisting of Nathan Day, Zach Bowen, and Joey Rocha lacked prestige at the Penticton tournament. Day, the lone draft pick, showed his strengths and weaknesses in his appearances, with the Oilers being set up well to help him develop. The two camp invites definitely showed their draft pedigree, but with increased junior opportunities, they may develop into players to watch in the future.
Unless there is some unexpected development from someone in their prospect, the Oilers are going to be looking at a large gap in goalies behind Skinner and Rodrigue on development timelines, and may need to invest more capital in the coming years.