It is the dawn of 2018, and the Edmonton Oilers find themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff race. Their current record, a pedestrian 18-22-3 is good for only sixth in the Pacific Division and 26th overall. They closed out 2017 with an ugly 5-0 beating by the Winnipeg Jets, followed up by starting the new year with an uglier 5-0 loss to the Los Angles Kings. While they beat the Anaheim Ducks, they couldn’t capitalize on the momentum taking big losses to the Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks this weekend. Just a few games before that the Oilers had to scratch and claw their way to a .500 record. Yet the Edmonton Oilers prospects and their continuing development means all is not lost for the team.
The shadow of another losing season hangs heavily over the team and its fans. Call-in radio talk shows are replete with accusations, laments, and dire predictions. This is in contrasts to just a few months ago when everyone, media, and fans alike, claimed the team was ready to take that next step and become NHL Champions. Yet all fans of the Edmonton Oilers have learned to live a double life to a certain extent. On the one hand, they are a well-informed fan base who can dissect a hockey game with the skill of a surgeon. On the other they teeter on the edge of hysteria, every missed assignment or bad game by their favourite player cause for a trade or even, god forbid, another teardown and rebuild.
This love/hate relationship between fans and their favorite hockey team is the result of a decade of abuse by the organization. Ownership conceived of a strategy that empowered former Oiler players and placed them at the highest levels of management, resulting in the team failing to qualify for the playoffs for 10 consecutive years. In spite of season after season of futility, the fans were asked to trust these legendary figures in their new positions and to wait for the fruits of a painful but supposedly short-lived rebuild. This trust, so vital to keeping a fan base engaged, was wasted by the club in a series of poor draft picks and dubious free agent signings.
A New Beginning
It was only an amazing stroke of luck in the 2015 draft lottery that brought back fans from the brink. Drafting Connor McDavid heralded a new beginning for the Oilers. Today, the team might be struggling in the standings but the old adage that things are not as bleak as they seem applies very well here.
Under Peter Chiarelli, the Edmonton Oilers have begun to restock a very bare cupboard of talent at the junior and minor league levels of the organization. The addition of Keith Gretzky as assistant general manager added a wealth of experience, having been a director of amateur scouting with both the Arizona Coyotes and Boston Bruins.
Keith Gretzky and other additions to the scouting staff has had an impact on the quality of players drafted to the roster. However, the team had already started to turn the corner in player development. The best of these are listed below:
Edmonton Oilers Prospects
Jesse Puljujarvi, 19, Right Wing, 1st Round, 4th Overall 2016 Draft
Weighing in at a respectable 203 lbs and 6’4”, Jesse Puljujarvi is exactly the type of forward NHL teams love to draft. He took some time to adjust to North America both in terms of the game and culture but eventually put the pieces together and landed a spot with the big club. Possessing a heavy shot and the size to battle with NHL caliber defensemen, Jesse has scored a respectable 11 points in 24 games. He is the most developed of the top Edmonton Oilers prospects. He is not just a top Oilers prospect, but should be considered one of the top prospects in the NHL.
Kailer Yamamoto, 19, Right Wing, 1st Round, 22nd overall 2017 NHL Draft
The Oilers media guide states Kailer Yamamoto is 5’8” and 154 lbs, not a towering rookie by anyone’s measure. However, the diminutive forward is very quick and plays with an aggressive edge of a much larger skater. His talent level is off the charts, and the Oilers have big hoops for the dimunitive American. Yamamoto started the season in Edmonton but was returned to junior. He is currently playing for the Spokane Chiefs and sports 12 points in 13 games. He also appeared for the U.S. Team at the recent World Junior Hockey Championship.
Caleb Jones, 20, Left Defence, 4th Round, 117th overall 2015
Caleb Jones is the brother of Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Seth Jones. He is also one of two top defensive prospects in the organization. A former Gold Medalist in the World Junior Championship, Jones has an offensive flair that led him to 53 assists with the Portland Winterhawks. Drawing into the line-up of the Bakersfield Condors every night this year has seen the young defenceman develop his game accordingly. He has 10 points in 33 games in his rookie season in the AHL.
Ethan Bear, 20, Right Defence, 5th Round, 124th overall 2015
The 2015 draft continues to surprise as the Oilers found another late round gem in Ethan Bear. Perhaps the most gifted offensive defenseman in the system, Bear registered 65 and 70 points in each of his last two years playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds. Graduating to the AHL team affiliate in Bakersfield has shown he needs some polish to his game, but the big club remains bullish on his development. Bear has eight points in 17 AHL games this year.
Tyler Benson, 19, Left Wing, 2nd Round, 32nd overall 2016
A young player with tons of talent, Tyler Benson could be the steal of the 2016 draft – if he can stay healthy. In seasons plagued by injuries, Benson has still managed 42 points in 33 games last year with the Vancouver Giants. This year he has maintained that torrid pace scoring 40 points in 28 games after recovering from a shoulder injury suffered in his junior training camp.
It should be reassuring to Oilers fans and media alike that the best of the Edmonton Oilers prospects have only recently been acquired by the organization. It may be difficult, but patience is the key to this young NHL team. With the likes of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins along with a stable of good prospects the future of the Edmonton Oilers seems very bright indeed.
View the original article on Last Word On Hockey: Edmonton Oilers Prospects: Things are not as Bleak as They Seem