Welcome to the 2017 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. During the summer, I will feature a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). 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 this year. There have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed.
I will link 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 2017-18 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as a dark horse to make the NHL. 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old is the cut-off for prospects. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Edmonton Oilers Prospects
The Edmonton Oilers finally ended the NHL’s longest streak without a playoff appearance. Led by 100 points, and a Hart trophy season from Connor McDavid, the Oilers finished second in the Pacific Division. They also defeated the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs, before falling to the Anaheim Ducks in round two. Even with the loss, the season has to be seen as a success. The Oilers have finally turned the corner, and the future appears bright.
The off-season led to more change. McDavid and Leon Draisaitl got huge new contracts. The team also traded Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders for Ryan Strome. They also added Jussi Jokinen, and Ty Rattie.
2017 NHL Draft Picks: Kailer Yamamoto, Stuart Skinner, Dmitri Samorukov, Ostap Safin, Kirill Maksimov, Skyler Brind’Amour, Philip Kemp,
Graduates: Connor McDavid, Drake Caggiula, Anton Slepyshev, Matt Benning, Tyler Pitlick (signed by Dallas),
Top Prospect: Jesse Puljujarvi
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born May 7th, 1998 — Alvkarleby, Sweden
Height 6’4″ — Weight 203 lbs [193 cm / 92 kg]
Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1st round, #4 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Puljujarvi made the Oilers out of training camp, but struggled in the NHL. He had just one goal and eight points in 28 games. Puljujarvi was eventually sent to the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, where he was one of the youngest players in the league. He put up 12 goals and 28 points in 39 games.
Puljujarvi is an excellent skater. He has the balance and power in his skating stride to fight through checks and take the puck to the net. Puljujarvi also has the speed and acceleration to beat defenders to the outside on the rush, or to get by them when he gets a small opportunity in the cycle game. He has good agility and can weave through traffic to create opportunities.
Puljujarvi has very good size and plays a game based on his size and strength advantages. He is not a huge hitter, but he uses his body to protect the puck and his strength and leverage to win board battles or to position himself in front of the net. Puljujarvi is excellent in the cycle game controlling the puck on the outside and looking for opportunities to pass to a teammate or to drive the net. He also is extremely skilled with soft hands, good stickhandling, and an excellent wrist shot and release. His long reach is a real asset in protecting the puck. He has all the skills to be a top power forward and goal scorer.
Puljujarvi can do it all, also playing the role of play-maker off the wing. He has excellent vision and the ability to thread tape-to-tape passes through the tightest of openings. Puljujarvi has excellent hockey sense, making smart plays both with and without the puck and finding openings in the opposing defence get his shot off.
Puljujarvi is already a strong defensive player. He understands positioning in both ends of the ice, and works to cut down on shooting and passing lanes. He is willing to battle along the boards for loose pucks, and provides good back pressure to support his defense when playing against the rush. Puljujarvi is willing to put his body on the line to block shots as well.
Puljujarvi should make the Oilers out of camp. With a year of pro experience under his belt, expect him to take a big leap forward. It may not be this season, but it is only a matter of time before he is playing with one of McDavid or Draisaitl in the Oilers top six.
#2 Prospect: Kailer Yamamoto
The Oilers drafted Yamamoto with the 22nd overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Yamamoto. No games were played since that report; so we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#3 Prospect: Ethan Bear
Defense — 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 an outstanding season with the Seattle Thunderbirds. It was his second monster season in a row after being drafted. He had 28 goals and 70 points in just 67 games. He was even better in the WHL Playoffs with six goals and 26 points in 17 games, as the Thunderbirds won the WHL Championship.
Bear is a great skater, with outstanding speed in both directions, great edge work, 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 is small, 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 on net. Bear uses his excellent agility, and ability to walk the line in order to walk the line. Add to this improved puck handling skills and poise, and he terrorized goalies all season long.
Bear is also a very efficient play maker. 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 that 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 doesn’t 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 moves up to the AHL this year, to acclimate to the bigger forwards and faster pace of the pro game. Expect him to spend one to two years there, before seriously challenging for a spot in the NHL. He has the potential to be worth the wait.
#4 Prospect: Caleb Jones
Defense — shoots Left
Born June 6th, 1997 — Arlington, Texas
Height 6’1″ — Weight 190 lbs [185 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 4th round, #117 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
Jones had a big season for the Portland Winterhawks, putting up nine goals and 62 points in 63 games. He also had two goals and 10 points in 11 games. Jones played for Team USA at the World Juniors and won gold. He is the younger brother of Seth Jones of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
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 strong two-way game. He also has good lower body strength, allowing him to win board battles.
Jones has excellent vision and passing skills. He starts the transition with good passes out of the zone, and can also make the long breakaway passes. He has good stickhandling ability and avoids forecheckers as 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 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. He also battles hard in the boards, and clears the front of the net. Jones has good positioning using his long stick to cut down passing and shooting lanes.
Jones will also head to the AHL this season. He seems a bit closer to NHL ready than Bear, but falls just a smidge below Bear in terms of potential offensive ceiling. He could be and injury call-up this year, and a full timer in the NHL in the 2018-19 season.
#5 Prospect: Tyler Benson
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born March 15th, 1998 — Edmonton, Alberta
Height 6’0″ — Weight 190 lbs [183 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2nd round, #32 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Benson put up 11 goals and 42 points in 33 games for the Vancouver Giants last year. It was yet another injury plagued season, as Benson missed the start of the campaign with a shoulder injury. Following the season, he had surgery for a sports hernia. Benson is productive when he is on the ice, but simply has not been healthy enough the last several years.
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 edge work are also good, with the ability to maneouver 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 stick handling 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 play maker 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 position 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 back check, 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. While he can be very good when he applies himself, there is some criticism that his defensive effort is not consistent game to game. 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 needs ice-time. He heads back to Vancouver where he should be one of the best forwards in the WHL, if he can stay on the ice. He is a potential top six player at the NHL level if things come together.
#6 Prospect: Laurent Brossoit
Goalie — shoots Left — Catches Left
Born March 23rd, 1993 — Surrey, British Columbia
Height 6’3” — Weight 200 lbs [191 cm / 91 kg]
Drafted by the Calgary Flames, in the 6th round, #164 overall at the 2011 NHL Draft
Traded to Edmonton in November 2013
Laurent Broissoit had another solid season in the AHL. He put up a .908 save percentage over 21 games with the Bakersfield Condors. He also got called up and played eight games for the Oilers, putting up a 1.99 goals against average and .928 save percentage.
Skills and Style
At 6’3″ tall, Brossoit takes up a lot of net. He maximizes his size with his strong work on playing angles. He comes well out of his net to challenge shooters, giving them very little space to shoot at. Brossoit is a strong skater who can move backwards quickly to avoid dekes, and who can get side-to-side quickly to take away the cross crease pass. He has quickly legs which take away the bottom of the net when he drops into the butterfly. Like many young goalies, Brossoit could stand could stand to work on his rebound control. Brossoit takes away the top of the net with a quick glove hand and strong blocker.
Brossoit’s biggest issue is his consistency. He can run red-hot, or he can get cold, allowing a number of bad goals at a time. Every bad goalie will allow a bad goal from time to time, but with Brossoit, it seems that this can sometimes spiral on him. Learning to shake off those goals, and come up with the next big save will allow Brossoit to take the next step in his career.
Brossoit heads to camp as the Oilers backup goalie. He did a good job late last season, and the Oilers hope he can continue to provide reliable goaltending and allow Cam Talbot to take a rest now and then.
#7 Prospect: Jujhar Khaira
Center — shoots Left
Born August 13th, 1994 — Surrey, British Columbia
Height 6’3″ — Weight 214 lbs [191 cm / 97 kg]
Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 3rd round, #63 overall at the 2012 NHL Draft
Khaira bounced between Bakersfield and Edmonton last season. In 10 games with the big club, he picked up his first NHL goal. Down on the farm he had eight goals and 12 assists for 20 points in 27 games.
Khaira is a decent skater. He has a powerful stride and good lower body strength. This allows him to fight through checks in the cycle game, and win battles along the boards. His agility and edge work are a bit of a work in progress, but have improved in recent years.
Khaira has good size. He uses it effectively on the forecheck, pressuring defenders and creating turnovers. He also does a good job of battling for pucks in the corners. Khaira plays a very straightforward game. He is not one to make a lot of fancy one-on-one moves or creative plays. Instead he gets by with hard word, going to the net and grinding in the corners. He also has a decent wrist shot.
Khaira brings his hard working game to the defensive end of the ice as well. He supports the defence down low, and works to contain the cycle. His positioning is pretty good, and he is decent in the faceoff circle.
At 23-years-old, the time for Khaira to become a full-time NHLer is here. He needs to win a spot on the fourth line, or even as the extra forward in the press box. His upside is limited, but he can be an effective bottom line player for the Oilers.
Sleeper Prospect: Ziyat Paigin
Defense — shoots Left
Born February 8th, 1995 — Penza, Russia
Height 6’6″ — Weight 209 lbs [198 cm / 95 kg]
Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 7th round, #209 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
After spliting time between AK Bars in the KHL and Bars Kazan in the VHL, Paigin signed his entry level contract with the Oilers. He came to North America and got in five games with the Bakersfield Condors at the end of the season.
Paigin is a very good skater for his size. Most 6’6″ tall defencemen have issues with mobility, but he does not. He has good speed, and strong edge work, pivots and agility. This helps Paigin get around the ice, and play a strong two-way game.
There simply is not much offensive production here to speak of. Paigin has a hard slap shot, but struggles to find shooting lanes and get it on net. A stay at home defender, Paigin is not one to join the rush. He does have a decent first pass to start the transition game. He also has the stick handling ability to skate the puck out of danger before making a play. There could be some unlocked potential, as he shows decent puck skills. However, Paigin just does not get involved much in the offensive end.
Paigin has great size. He uses it effectively, cutting down passing lanes with his long stick. His positioning is very good. This comes in especially handy on the penalty kill. Paigin also has the power to clear the front of the net and win battles on the boards.
Paigin will need time in the AHL in order to adjust to North American rinks. Taking a few more chances and driving the play more would really help him to take the next step.
Coming into the off-season, the Oilers system was extremely shallow. After the first few prospects it really fell off a cliff. However, they had a very strong draft this year. Stuart Skinner is one of the top goalies in the draft. His numbers may not be great, but he played behind one of the weakest teams in the WHL. After that come some potential high reward picks. Dmitri Samorukov is a big and talented defenceman, who must gain consistency. Ostap Safin has size and skill up the middle, but again must put it together on a consistent basis. Kirill Maksimov is an outstanding skater, with great hands. He also has defensive and consistency issues. If even one of the three works out, the Oilers will have gotten a high end talent in the middle rounds of this draft.
Dylan Wells and Nick Ellis give the Oilers plenty of depth between the pipes. Wells was outstanding for Peterborough in last year’s OHL playoff.
Centre Joe Gambardella signed as a college free agent. He plays a very gritty game, winning his battles along the boards, and getting to the front of the net where he can get tip-ins and pounce on rebounds. On defence, the Oilers inked former New York Rangers draft pick Ryan Mantha. The Rangers gave up on Mantha following a lack of progression in his 2015-16 season. A strong overage season with Niagara last year put him back on the NHL radar.