Welcome to the 2014 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2014 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. I will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2014 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2014-15 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
The Edmonton Oilers rebuild continues. They were expected to finally take steps forward, and improve on the 2012-13 season that finally saw them get out of the Western Conference basement. Unfortunately for Edmonton, Devyn Dubnyk fell apart to start the season, and the defensive game overall wasn’t very good and the team was left scrambling. They ended up at the bottom of the Western Conference (and 28th in the NHL) and once again had a high draft pick. The pick was used on Leon Draisatl, making him the highest drafted German born player ever and the Oilers hope that he and former first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will become an elite one-two punch down the middle.
Fans in Edmonton seem to be growing impatient with the perpetual rebuild, and its time that Oilers did take a step forward, if not to make the playoffs, they at least need to challenge for a spot. Another finish at the bottom of the league could finally lead to a major house cleaning in Edmonton management. Would president Kevin Lowe finally be given the boot or will the Oilers young players make an impact and bring the team back to relevance?
2014 Draft Picks (Reviewed by LWOS): Leon Draisatl
Graduates: Mark Arcobello (age 25)
Edmonton Oilers Top Prospects
Top Prospect: Darnell Nurse, Defence
Born Feb 4 1995 — Hamilton, ONT
Height 6.05 — Weight 205 — Shoots Left
Drafted in the 1st round, 7th overall by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2013 NHL Draft.
The offence that Nurse showed in his draft year, continued to improve this past season, as he set new career highs in goals, assists and points despite playing four less games. Nurse continued to show off his big-time point shot and one-timer, scoring 13 goals. Nurse is extremely effective at keeping his shot low, getting it through and on net, and generating opportunities for rebounds and tip-ins in front of the net. He also effectively utilizes a good wrist shot and release when he doesn’t have time to load up the slapshot. Nurse has also improved his puckhandling skills, and shows more poise and patience in controlling the play at the blueline. He walks the line well, and uses his lateral mobility to open up shooting and passing lanes. The biggest area of improvement this year though was in his playmaking. Nurse improved his first pass, and his ability to quarterback the powerplay, making smart passes and setting up teammates. With Ryan Sproul gone to Grand Rapids, Nurse took over the number one offensive role in Sault Ste Marie and really thrived with the increased responsibility.
A fantastic natural athlete, coming from a family of athletes, Nurse’s skating is elite given his size. He has excellent edgework, pivots, and agility. This allows him to transition quickly and cover all areas of the ice. He can change direction very quickly, allowing him to close space in an instant, and throw big hits. Nurse has good speed moving forward and backwards, and an above average first step and acceleration.
Nurse has terrific size and uses it effectively in his own end. He’s a big hitter who can strike fear into opposing players as they come down his end of the ice. He wins board battles and effectively leans on opposing players and clears the front of the net. His mobility makes him very difficult to beat one on one off the rush. He uses his size and an active stick to cut down passing lanes, and willingly sacrifices his body blocking shots. Nurse has been seen as a shutdown defence prospect and has continued to improve this aspect of his game. Going forward, he can stand to bulk up and add muscle to his frame, allowing him to be even more effective physically.
The question now will be if Nurse will be better off in Edmonton or spending one more season in Junior. I’m of the belief that he will get a few NHL games to start the year, but I expect to see him spend one more year in Junior before making the jump in the 2015-16 season. Regardless though, Nurse looks like the future franchise defenceman that the Oilers have lacked for years.
#2 Prospect: Oscar Klefbom, Defence
Born Jul 20 1993 — Karlstad, Sweden
Height 6.03 — Weight 212 — Shoots Left
Drafted in the 1st Round, 19th overall by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
Oscar Klefbom came to North America for the first time this past season. He played in 17 games with the Oilers and even scored his first NHL goal. He did see more icetime in the AHL though. Things didn’t always go as planned though as some lingering shoulder issues from the 2012-13 season did cause him to miss some time, and he is still adjusting to the more physical North American game.
Klefbom’s biggest asset is his skating ability. He has excellent edgework, and the ability to quickly pivot and change direction in all 360 degrees. This skill is extemely valuable in both the offensive and defensive ends of the ice as mobility is key in the NHL. He is extremely difficult to beat off the rush as he adjusts to an attackers movements and cuts them off. He closes gaps quickly and efficiently which allows him to line up the attacker for a big hit. He hasn’t thrown these hits as often in North America as he did in Europe, but they should come as he adjusts to the different angles he needs to take on the smaller rink and as he becomes more confident in that shoulder. Klefbom is also able to quickly recover if something does go wrong on a pinch or with a hit. Offensively Klefbom is able to use his mobility to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes when he has the puck. He also adds good top end speed and this allows him to both lead and join the rush, though again he needs to find the confidence to do so in the AHL.
Klefbom has a BOMB of a slap shot. When he played in Sweden he was known for setting up at the point on the power play and unleashing his howitzer at opposing goalies. He also has a very hard, very accurate wrist shot, and an excellent release. Klefbom’s puck control, vision and passing are assets, however they are not at the level of his shot, and he projects as more of a trigger man than a QB on the powerplay. As his confidence grows, I expect his offensive game will come to the forefront.
Klefbom will be given the opportunity to make the Oilers out of training camp, but I believe he will end up starting the year with Oklahoma City in the AHL. He might be able to finish the year in Edmonton if things go well. Even if he doesn’t become a full-time NHLer this season though, he isn’t far off and should be a good one going forward.
#3 Prospect: Martin Marincin, Defence
Born Feb 18 1992 — Kosice, Slovakia
Height 6.05 — Weight 196 — Shoots Left
Drafted in the 2nd Round, 46th overall by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2010 NHL Draft.
Martin Marincin had a solid second pro season, even playing in 44 games with the Oilers this year, and nearly reaching the point of being considered “graduated” in our series. At 6’5″ he has the type of size that will help the Oilers blueline, and while he has bulked up since his draft days, he has the type of frame where he should be able to continue to add upper body strength and become even better.
Marincin is a very good skater, much better than most players 6’5″. He has a long, powerful stride which gives him good speed and decent acceleration. His edgework and pivots are crisp and quick, and he shows good agility. He does need to work on his strength and balance though those are all part of the bulking up process.
Offensively, Marincin has very good vision and good passing skills. He plays with his head up and usually makes crisp breakout passes, and good plays with the puck in the offensive zone as well. However, like many young defencemen, he does have a habit of making the odd bad giveaway and will need to mature away from this. His shot is good but not great. Ultimately he projects as more of a defensive defenceman but that passing skill to start the breakout is valuable.
Defensively he uses his long reach to full advantage in cutting down passing lanes, poke checking attackers, and generally being pretty tough to get by one on one. He does need some work on his positioning in his own end at times, especially when facing a team that is cycling the puck. He battles hard on the boards, and occasionally throws a big check, but will need to get more physical. This should be something he can do with the added bulk though.
Overall Marincin had a solid year, and I expect him to break camp with the Oilers next year, continuing his improvement into a key piece of the Oilers future blueline.
Super Sleeper: Martin Gernat, Defence
Born Apr 11 1993 — Kosice, Slovakia
Height 6.05 — Weight 191 — Shoots Left
Selected in the 5
Another tall and lanky Slovakian defender, Martin Gernat scored 21 points in 57 games in his first pro season with Oklahoma City in the AHL. Coming up with the Edmonton Oil Kings, he’s a player that Edmonton management is very familiar with. Like Klefbom he missed most of the 2012-13 season with a shoulder injury and was set back a little in his development because of it, but has recovered well.
Similar to Marcinin we see a standout skater in Gernat. He has good speed, good edgework and pivots, and is agile. He is very mobile on the blueline and this helps his game in all areas. Gernat is also an excellent passer, who quarterbacks the powerplay with calm and cool efficiency. He also makes great breakout passes, but can be comfortable rushing the puck himself as well. A good wrist shot with a quick release, and a decent slapshot as well.
Defensively the mobility and size are Gernat’s best assets and he’s hard to beat one on one. However his game really lacks polish. He can sometimes be two offensive minded and needs reminders on proper positioning. Its something that has come a long way in two years at the WHL, but there is still some room for improvement. Expect to see him in the AHL for more seasoning this season.
As we can see above, the good news for the Oilers is that defensive help is on the way. Add in David Musil and Dillon Simpson and the team clearly has a good group of prospects on the blueline. Most of the Oilers best forwards are already very young and playing in the NHL (or in the case of Draisatl just drafted) so a lack of high end offensive talent in the minors shouldn’t be a huge concern. In Tyler Pitlick and Mitch Moroz the Oilers have a pair of forwards who look like they will be able to fill out more of a grinding, defensive role going forward. Anton Slepyshev is a wild card with high end offensive potential, but playing in Russia, and has some concerns as to if he will come to North America. In goal Laurent Brossoit was acquired from the Flames in the Ladislav Smid trade and dominated in the ECHL in his first pro season; but struggled in the AHL. He’s the Oilers best bet in goal, but he will need time.
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