Welcome to the 2018 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2018 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. We 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, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2018 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed.
What we 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 2018-19 roster of the NHL team in question. We 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 we pick as our dark horse 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 (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Edmonton Oilers Prospects
Coming off a strong 2016-17 season, much was expected of the Edmonton Oilers last season. Unfortunately, the team never lived up to those lofty expectations. They got off to a slow start and just could not recover. Despite another Art Ross Trophy season from Connor McDavid, the Oilers always felt like they were spinning their wheels.
After such a tough year, most were expecting the Oilers to make big changes. So far this summer, that hasn’t happened. The team did pick up some depth with the acquisitions of Tobias Rieder and Kyle Brodziak, but neither is the type of player that is a real game-changer. Instead, the Oilers hope to rebound from the tough year with internal growth. That means looking to their prospects.
2018 Draft Picks: Evan Bouchard, Ryan McLeod, Olivier Rodrigue, Michael Kesselring, Patrik Siikanen
Graduations: Jesse Puljujarvi, Jujhar Khaira, Pontus Aberg, Laurent Brossoit (signed by Winnipeg)
Top Prospect: Evan Bouchard
The Oilers drafted Bouchard with the 10th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Bouchard. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#2 Prospect: Kailer Yamamoto
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born September 29th, 1998 — Spokane, Washington
Height 5’8″ — Weight 154 lbs [173 cm / 70 kg]
Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1st round, #22 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Yamamoto impressed in last year’s training camp, making the Oilers roster. He was sent back to the WHL after scoring three assists in his nine-game audition. Yamamoto again dominated with Spokane, putting up 21 goals and 64 points in 40 games. He also helped Team USA to a bronze medal at the World Juniors with two goals and four points in seven games.
While he is undersized, Yamamoto makes up for it with his tremendous skating. His top-end speed is excellent. Yamamoto creates odd-man rushes with his speed and can beat defenders to the outside and cut to the net. He also is very quick to get to loose pucks with great acceleration and a really quick first step. His ability to change speeds is a weapon, that can be used to fool defenders on the rush and in the cycle game. Excellent edgework and great agility also allow him to be extremely elusive in one-on-one situations. Yamamoto has a low centre of gravity, which helps him maintain his balance. He can get stronger so that he is not pushed around along the boards.
Yamamoto has tremendous hands. He is a great stick-handler and can bury goals in tight to the net. He can make quick dekes in very tight spaces, helping him to beat defenders as well as goaltenders. Excellent hand-eye coordination allows Yamamoto to tip pucks on net. He has developed a harder shot, but it could still use a bit more power. Added muscle in his upper body, could help this happen. The release on his wrist shot and snapshot is very quick, and this helps him to fool goaltenders. He can release the puck without much of a wind-up.
Yamamoto is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. He uses his quickness and stickhandling to open up passing lanes. He has tremendous vision, and once an opening presents itself, he has the skill necessary feather a tape-to-tape pass to a teammate. Yamamoto has very good hockey IQ. He sees plays developing and takes advantage of those openings as they present themselves. His ability to extend plays in the offensive zone allows his teammates to get open.
Yamamoto’s defensive game is a bit of a work in progress. His smaller size can be a bit of a liability as he can be pushed around by bigger, stronger players. This will likely always be an issue but can be improved with some added strength. That said he is not afraid to battle for loose pucks as well as become involved along the boards. He is an extremely hard worker who is involved in his own zone. Once he does get the puck, he can transition quickly to offence.
Yamamoto will look to make the Oilers in training camp. The Oilers really lacked speed last season, and that is an element that Yamamoto can provide. He is also a talented winger, another area that was a weakness. Yamamoto will be given every opportunity to make an impact in Edmonton this season.
#3 Ethan Bear
Defence — shoots Right
Born June 26th, 1997 — Ochapowace, Saskatchewan
Height 5’11” — Weight 205 lbs [180 cm / 93 kg]
Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 5th round, #124 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
Bear had a strong first pro season split between Bakersfield and Edmonton. He put up six goals and 12 assists for 18 points in the AHL. He also scored his first NHL goal and added three assists in 18 games with the Oilers.
Bear is a great skater, with outstanding speed in both directions, great edgework, quick, crisp pivots, excellent agility, and very good balance. He can lead the rush, or make a pinch at the line and still get back defensively. He uses his lateral agility to walk the line and create passing and shooting lanes. It also helps him maintain gap control. Bear’s balance helps him to win battles on the boards. While he lacks height, he has plenty of muscle on his frame and competes hard with bigger forwards.
Bear’s offensive game is very straightforward. He has an absolute cannon of a shot and is not afraid to let it go from the blueline. He has a knack for getting it through traffic and on the net. Bear uses his excellent agility, and the ability to walk the line in order to open up passing and shooting lanes. He improved his puck handling skills and poise over his junior career and this has paid dividends.
Bear is also a very efficient playmaker. With the puck on his stick, he is looking to make a quick pass up to the forwards, and then join the rush as a trailer. His passing skills are sublime, as he makes a great first pass out of his own zone, and he can quarterback things on the power play. While he can skate the puck out of danger in his own end, and get the rush started, he does not seem to be the type of defender who will take the puck end-to-end often. Instead, Bear is more likely to wait to move the puck and then be the trailer. He will wait for a drop pass to get a shot off, or make another pass to a teammate.
He may not be the biggest defender out there but that does not stop Bear from playing a very physical game, as he loves to hit, and is very good along the boards and in clearing the front of the net. He can sometimes get himself out of position looking for those big hits. Going forward, it will be important for Bear to learn when to pick his spots in looking to play the physical game.
Bear is a fearless defender who is not afraid to take a hit to make a play, or to block shots in the defensive zone. He also understands positioning and has a good knack for keeping himself between his opponent and the front of the net, when he isn’t looking to throw that huge hit.
Bear will likely spend a bit more time in the AHL. Expect to see him in Edmonton as well, as one of the first call-ups when injuries hit. He is not quite ready for full-time NHL duty, but he is close. He could be an NHL regular in 2019.
#4 Prospect: Ryan McLeod
The Oilers drafted McLeod with the 40th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on McLeod. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#5 Prospect: Kirill Maksimov
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born June 1st, 1999 — Concord, Ontario
Height 6’2″ — Weight 192 lbs [188 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 5th round, #146 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Maksimov had a strong season with the Niagara IceDogs putting up 34 goals and 80 points in 62 games. He added four goals and 10 points in 10 playoff games, but the IceDogs fell in the second round to the eventual OHL Champion Hamilton Bulldogs.
Maksimov is an outstanding skater. He has very good speed, a quick first step, and the acceleration to reach that speed in just a few strides. He is dangerous off the rush. If Maksimov gets a step on a defender, he can turn up the speed and cut to the net. He also has excellent edgework and agility. This makes him shifty and allows him to get by defenders both with and without the puck. Maksimov has a strong lower body and great balance. He can fight through checks and get to the net. He also wins battles along the boards thanks to his leverage. It can still be even stronger before he moves to the pro ranks though.
Maksimov combines his skating ability with good hands and the ability to control the puck in tight spaces. He can make plays with the puck while moving at top speed. This ability is difficult to defend when he is carrying the puck in transition. He has decent vision and passing skills which allow him to take advantages of the openings that his skating and stickhandling can create. Maksimov can get the puck to an open teammate to set up a scoring chance.
Maksimov is just as good a goalscorer as he is a playmaker. His wrist shot is strong and accurate and features a good release. He also has an efficient one-timer. Maksimov’s soft hands also allow him to score in tight. While Maksimov is not a big hitter, he is also not afraid to take a hit to make a play and is willing to battle along the boards. This past season he showed more consistency in his game-to-game play, at least in the offensive zone.
Maksimov must still work on his defensive game. He often flies the zone early, looking to create an offensive chance. This can leave his teammates in a bad spot if the puck does not get out of the zone. His effort level in his own end is also still a bit inconsistent. There are times he is dogged on the puck, and others that he looks lacksidaisical. This is an area that he must improve.
Maksimov will likely head back to the OHL for his final season in junior. If the IceDogs are not looking like a Championship contender come December, he could be traded at the OHL trade deadline. Maksimov, born in Canada, has played for Russia internationally and could be considered for their World Junior Team. Maksimov has some high-end skills, but his development will hinge on his ability to iron out the flaws in his game.
#6 Prospect: Tyler Benson
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born March 15th, 1998 — Edmonton, Alberta
Height 6’0″ — Weight 203 lbs [183 cm / 92 kg]
Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2nd round, #32 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Benson missed Oilers training camp and the first 12 games of the WHL season after undergoing surgery on a sports hernia. Unfortunately, injuries have been a common issue, as Benson did not complete a full season in his four years in the WHL. Once he was on the ice, Benson played well. He put up 27 goals and 69 points in 58 games with the Vancouver Giants. He added 11 points in seven playoff games. Benson finished the season playing five games in the AHL for Bakersfield picking up three assists.
Benson is a strong skater and plays a very gritty and physical game. He has very good speed and quick acceleration. He has a great first step, which helps him to get to loose pucks, or to transition quickly when a teammate creates a turnover in his own zone, creating breakaways and odd-man rushes. Benson has a powerful stride which allows him to fight through checks and get to the front of the net. His agility and edgework are also good, with the ability to manoeuvre through traffic.
A natural goal scorer, Benson can hurt the opposition in a variety of ways. He has a hard and accurate wrist shot with an excellent release. Benson also has a very good one-timer. He is willing to stand in front of the net and take punishment to get tip-ins and rebounds. Benson does well in protecting the puck in the cycle game. His excellent lower body strength gives him good balance, and he has the frame to protect the puck in battles. He has the stickhandling ability to take the puck off the wall, and get around a defender to create a play, but is not one to make a huge number of fancy moves in transition. Benson does have the ability to be a playmaker as well, with strong tape-to-tape passes and good vision.
Benson gets in quickly on the forecheck and forces defenders to make plays quickly or be plastered into the boards. When the puck does get turned over, he gets himself into good positions to let go a strong wrist shot or a blistering one-timer.
Benson’s defensive game is also ahead of the curve. He helps on the backcheck, applying back pressure to support his teammates in defending against the rush. He is willing to work down low and help in containment against the cycle game and uses his grit and tenaciousness to fight for loose pucks. Benson plays a physical game and can throw big hits in all three zones. He is also not afraid to drop the gloves to protect himself or a teammate. He sometimes needs to keep his temper in check though, as he can take some bad penalties.
Benson heads to Bakersfield this season. After missing so much development time in his teenage years, he needs all the ice time he can get. Benson should be an effective middle-six winger in the NHL if he can get that development time. The key here is staying healthy this season. He had a good run after returning from hernia surgery in November and has to hope that luck continues.
#7 Prospect: Caleb Jones
Defence — shoots Left
Born June 6th, 1997 — Frisco, Texas
Height 6’1″ — Weight 205 lbs [185 cm / 93 kg]
Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 4th round, #117 overall, 2015 NHL Entry Draft
After a stellar junior career, Jones struggled a bit in his first pro season. He put up two goals and 17 points in 58 games with Bakersfield. While the offensive numbers were a little lower than hoped, they weren’t that bad. However, Jones had some concerns in the defensive end of the ice.
Jones is an outstanding skater. He has very good speed and acceleration in both directions. He also has strong edge work, pivots, and agility. Jones transitions quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. His mobility is a key factor in his ability to play a two-way game. He also has good lower body strength, allowing him to win board battles.
In junior Jones showed good vision and strong passing skills. He starts the transition with accurate passes out of the zone, and can also make the long breakaway passes. Early in the year, Jones struggled with adjusting to the quicker speed of opposing players in the AHL. He thought he had more time than he did, leading to some giveaways. This got better as the season went on, but can continue to improve.
He has good stickhandling ability and avoids forecheckers well. Jones can quarterback the power play, setting up teammates, and using his vision and hockey sense from the point. He has a good shot. He understands that if he keeps it low and on the net, he sets up opportunities for teammates to get rebounds, and tip-ins.
Jones plays an aggressive and physical defensive game. He throws big hits if an attacker comes down his side of the ice with his head down. This aggressiveness sometimes got him into trouble if he misjudged the speed and the quickness of the opponent and got himself in trouble looking for that big hit. He also battles hard in the boards and clears the front of the net. When he is a bit more patient, Jones shows good positioning using his long stick to cut down passing and shooting lanes.
Jones will head back to the AHL this season. Things got better for Jones as the season went along. The Oilers hope that the early growing pains are behind him. If he can continue his adjustment to the pro game he could see some call-ups if injuries occur. However, it is unlikely that Jones becomes a full-time NHLer before 2019.
#8 Prospect: Stuart Skinner
Goalie — shoots Left — catches Left
Born November 1st, 1998 — Edmonton, Alberta
Height 6’3″ — Weight 205 lbs [191 cm / 93 kg]
Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 3rd Round, #78 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
When Skinner was traded from the Lethbridge Hurricanes to the Swift Current Broncos at the WHL Trade Deadline, it transformed his season, as well as the teams. Prior to the trade he was playing on a weak Lethbridge team and had a 0.897 save percentage in 31 games. After the trade, he put up a 0.914 save percentage in Swift Current. This was even better in the playoffs as he put up a 0.932 save percentage. The Broncos were a middle of the pack team before the trade. After the deal, they became one of the league’s hottest clubs in the second half of the season and rode that momentum all the way to the WHL Championship.
Skating and Talent Analysis
At 6-foot-3, Stuart Skinner has the type of size that NHL general managers are looking for in goaltending prospects now. He combines that size with excellent athleticism. Skinner is a butterfly goalie who gets up and down very quickly. He has quick legs that take away the bottom of the net. For a young goalie, Skinner is ahead of the pack in terms of his rebound control, however, there is still some room for improvement as well. He is strong to the blocker side and has improved his glove hand, but could still get a bit quicker there.
Skinner loves to come well out in his crease, using his size to cutting down angles and give shooters even less to look at. He had some issues with being a bit off on his angles earlier in his junior career but has cleaned that up. Skinner moves well side-to-side, tracking the puck, as well as keeping his shoulders square to the shooter. He also recovers quickly to get into position for second chance opportunities.
Skinner handles the puck well. He can retrieve pucks and get them to his defencemen to start the breakout. He also can make the long pass to beat a team making a bad change, especially when his club is on the power play.
Skinner is calm and composed in the net. He recovers quickly from goals against and is ready to make the next save. His steady play inspires confidence in teammates. Skinner understands when to cover the puck to get his team a whistle, as well as when to keep the puck moving and let his team launch a counter attack. He is good at communicating with his defensemen and making sure that his teammates are on the same page. Skinner does not seem to get rattled when there is traffic or players crashing the net, instead, working to find pucks through the massive of humanity that can develop in front of him.
With Cam Talbot, Mikko Koskinen, Al Montoya, Shane Starrett and Dylan Wells all under contract, the competition for goalie spots will be fierce. Expect Talbot and Koskinen to be in the NHL. Montoya will likely be in the AHL unless the Oilers can trade him or he is claimed on waivers. This leaves the question of what is best for a developing goalie. Skinner and Wells are both eligible to be sent back to junior for an overage season. Skinner seems to be ready to move past junior hockey though, and so Wells likely heads back to the OHL.
This leaves Starrett and Skinner looking at the role of second AHL goalie, or ECHL goalie. It would not be a surprise to see Skinner starting in the ECHL where he can get more ice-time than he would get in Bakersfield.
#9 Prospect: Cooper Marody
Centre — shoots Right
Born December 20th, 1996 — Brighton, Michigan
Height 6’0″ — Weight 190 lbs [183 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 6th round, #158 overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft
Traded to the Edmonton Oilers, March 2018
Marody had mononucleosis during his freshman season and was suspended for half of his sophomore season due to poor academics. However, he broke out in his junior season, scoring 16 goals and 51 points in 40 games. Marody helped Michigan advance to the Frozen Four, where they lost to Notre Dame in the national semi-final. Following that heartbreak, he went to Bakersfield and put up three points in three games.
Marody is a very good skater. He has a quick first step and good acceleration. His top speed is also well above average. This is combined with good agility and edgework. Marody is a very shifty player. He is able to change directions quickly, fooling defenders and creating space in the offensive zone. Marody needs to put on muscle though. He is knocked off the puck a bit too easily and struggles in battles along the boards and in front of the net.
Marody is a skilled playmaker. He sees the ice very well and anticipates the movements of teammates. Marody can make a pass through tight spaces, and can also land a saucer pass on a teammates’ stick. He is a smart player who makes the right play on most occasions. He is at his most dangerous in transition when he can use his skating and stickhandling to create openings. Marody has soft hands and can make a quick move to open a passing lane.
Marody has an accurate shot, and his release is decent but his wrist shots lack power. He also has trouble on the boards and in the dirty areas of the ice. One criticism is that Marody plays a bit of a perimeter game. He is most effective in transition and on the power play, but struggles to maintain possession down low in the offensive end.
Marody works hard in the defensive end, providing support to the defence and maintaining good positioning. However, his lack of size can be an issue as he is overpowered by stronger forwards. He is good at cutting down passing lanes and creates turnovers. Once he gets the puck, Marody is good at transitioning from defence to offence.
Marody will likely start the season in the AHL. Its a bit hard to judge how quick he will progress. He was very good last season. However, he did miss a bit of development time due to the issues in his first two college seasons. He needs to continue to bulk up and to play a bit grittier game. Marody is likely a year or two away from full-time NHL action.
#10 Prospect: Dmitri Samorukov
Defence — shoots Left
Born June 16th, 1999 — Volgograd, Russia
Height 6’2″ — Weight 180 lbs [188 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 3rd round, #84 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Samorukov had a strong season with the Guelph Storm, increasing his offensive numbers across the board. He scored 11 goals and 34 points in 62 games. He also put up two points in six playoff games. Samorukov played for Russia at the World Juniors, picking up an assist in the five-game tournament. He also got a five-game audition in Bakersfield, scoring two points.
Samorukov could use some work on his skating. His speed is decent and the acceleration is above average in both directions. However, his pivots and edgework need a bit of work. He must get quicker in transitioning from offence to defence and vice versa. He could also work on his lateral agility. One area where he excels is in his lower body strength. He is strong on the puck and has very good balance. This is useful in winning battles in corners and clearing the crease.
Samorukov has a rocket of a slap shot. However, he must work on being more accurate, as he has some issues with getting it on the net. His vision and passing skills are also good, but the lack of lateral agility, gives him some issues in opening up passing and shooting lanes in the offensive zone, or in skating the puck out of his own end. He makes crisp passes coming out of his zone and gets the transition game started quickly and effectively.
Samorukov loves to join the rush as a trailer and can unleash a good wrist shot when doing so. He also likes to pinch in from the line to try and keep the play alive.
Samorukov’s defensive game continues to improve. He is better at picking his spots and avoiding being caught trying to generate offence. His positioning in his own zone also improved as he continues his adjustment to the size of North American ice. He seems to have his angles and gap control down now. Samorukov loves to play physical and will look for the big hit in open ice. He battles hard in front of the net and in the corners. Samorukov can struggle with quick, shifty forwards though. Overall his defensive game is good for the junior level, but he can still improve.
Expect Samorukov to spend another year in Guelph. If he can improve his footwork, he can really take the next step as a prospect. Once he is done in Guelph, he likely needs a year or two in the AHL. Samorukov is a bit of a long-term project at this point, but one with very good potential.
Sleeper Prospect: Ostap Safin
Right Wing — shoots Left
Born February 11th, 1999 — Prague, Czech Republic
Height 6’5″ — Weight 191 lbs [196 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 4th round, #115 overall at the 2017 NHL Draft
Safin made his way to North America last season, putting up 26 goals and 58 points for a rebuilding Saint John Sea Dogs team. He also played for the Czech Republic at the World Juniors, helping the team to a fourth-place finish with a goal and three points in seven games. Safin played nine games in Bakersfield and scored a point.
Most tall teenage prospects have some skating issues. Safin is ahead of the curve compared to other players this height. He has a very good stride. It is long and gives him good top end speed. The acceleration is also decent. He also has power in his lower body, helping him to fight through checks and get to the front of the net. Safin uses this skating to take opponents wide and drive to the net. His edgework and agility are outstanding for his size. He can slip past defenders by using quick turns as well as stops and starts. This really helps him to avoid defenders, maintain possession and open up lanes in the cycle game.
A talented sniper, Ostap Safin can score goals in a variety of ways. He has the hands to finish in close to the net. He also has a hard, and accurate wrist shot. It features a quick release and can fool goaltenders. Safin also has a good one-timer. His offensive game also features Safin getting in quickly on the forecheck and playing a physical game. He is not afraid to battle in the corners or to get to the front of the net.
Safin is not much of a playmaker. He has the reach and stickhandling skills to keep the puck away from defenders and extend plays. He also has the passing skills to make hard and accurate passes to teammates. There is something missing here though. While he shows the raw skill necessary and has flashes of good playmaking ability, Safin does not do it consistently. Perhaps he does not have the on-ice vision to make the necessary plays. Perhaps he lacks the confidence to make creative plays. Whatever it is, the concern is that it will hold him back from maximizing his offensive potential.
Safin has a well-developed defensive game for his age. He has very good positioning. He also anticipates well and can see plays developing and then break them up. A long, and active stick helps Safin cut down passing lanes. He is also willing to put his body on the line to block shots.
Safin seems to have completely transitioned away from the middle of the ice, and appears to be a winger going forward. Given his playmaking struggles, and goal scoring ability, this is likely a good choice. He should be back in Saint John next season, looking to help the Sea Dogs move back up the QMJHL standings. He is a couple of years away.
The Oilers system injected another elite prospect when Evan Bouchard fell to 10th at the NHL Draft. He leads a good group of defencemen that includes Bear, Jones, Samorukov, and Phil Kemp. The Oilers defence could use a few more quality prospects though. It remains to be seen how much upside players like Ryan Mantha, Markus Niemelainen, Matthew Cairns, Filip Berglund, Michael Kesselring and William Lagesson have. In net, the Oilers added Oliver Rodrigue to Skinner and Wells, while also trading for Hayden Hawkey. There is potential here, but no one close to NHL ready.
Up front, Yamamoto is a very good prospect. McLeod, Maksimov, Benson, Marody, and Safin add nice depth. Josh Currie was the top scorer in Bakersfield but is also 24. Cameron Hebig also moves from the WHL up to AHL hockey this year. Most of the Oilers talented young forwards are already in the NHL, and improvements are needed from players like Jesse Puljujarvi to bring the team forward.
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