Oilers’ Great Farm System Growing Even Stronger

Ken Holland has done a very good job drafting since becoming general manager of the Edmonton Oilers. He has managed to keep all of the team’s first-round picks, but hit on many later ones to build up a strong farm system. Some areas are stronger than others, but the future in Edmonton looks very bright and could start to be a good problem to have sooner rather than later. Let’s dive into the three areas of the Oilers’ farm system and who is graduating.

Oilers Prospects Graduating to the NHL in 2022-23

There are three players who have consistently been brought up as prospects that should make the Oilers this fall. Listed as prospects currently, Philip Broberg, Dylan Holloway, and Stuart Skinner won’t be for much longer. Holland has come out and stated that Broberg will have to play his way off the Oilers next season. It is Skinner’s time to finally take the backup position in Edmonton as well. But Holloway won’t have it as easy. Missing a good portion of last season with an injury suffered before the season, he lost a bit of time to develop, thus setting him back in his development. There is no rush, though, as he will soon enough be a factor for the Oilers.

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Whether Broberg will spend most of next season on the third pairing or even second, he projects to be a top-four defender with even higher upside. He had a strong season in 2021-22 for the Bakersfield Condors and got a trial run filling in for an injured back-end during last season. He still needs some work defensively, but that will come in time, as the young defenceman can start a breakout and join the rush with ease.

Philip Broberg Edmonton Oilers
Philip Broberg, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

As for Stuart Skinner, he showed exactly what the Oilers had hoped in his limited time last season. They have their goaltenders set in place for 2022-23 and the 23-year-old will be Jack Campbell’s understudy expected to get into at least 25-30 games. He played at a .913 save percentage (SV%) before the coaching change occurred. Seeing as both Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen improved and so did the team defence, Skinner should only get better with more experience and a better system.

Oilers Boast Strong Forward Group

The Oilers have used their last three first-round draft picks to select forwards. There hasn’t been enough time passed to make a judgement on Reid Schaefer yet since he was taken with the 32nd overall pick in 2022 by Edmonton, but Holloway and Xavier Bourgault have been making great strides. I mentioned Holloway as a prospect expected to graduate to the NHL, but in the words of Ken Holland, “he (Holloway) will be in Edmonton if he is in the lineup every night. I don’t want him to be the 13th or 14th forward. In my mind Dylan Holloway is fighting for one of 12 spots.”

So I don’t believe Holloway spends the entire season with Edmonton, but a good portion to end the 2022-23 season. That being said, the young forward is still considered a prospect and will be until he starts playing enough NHL games. He will also help the Bakersfield Condors and get lots of playing time to finish refining his skills.

Bourgault had a very impressive season in 2021-22 proving just how skilled he is. He wasn’t able to play the full season due to injury but scored 36 goals and 75 points in 43 games playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). The production didn’t stop in the postseason either, as he put up 12 goals and 22 points in 16 playoff games and took his team to the Memorial Cup. He will without a doubt be a force in the American Hockey League (AHL) next season and some have suggested even earning a spot in the Oilers’ lineup, as he leads a number of prospects turning pro next season (from “Xavier Bourgault leads strong group of Oilers prospects graduating to pro hockey this fall”, The Athletic, 8/13/22).

Xavier Bourgault Shawinigan Cataractes
Xavier Bourgault of the Shawinigan Cataractes (Jean Levasseur)

The next group of forwards who should all be playing in the AHL next season are Raphael Lavoie, Carter Savoie, Tyler Tullio, and Matvei Petrov. Lavoie is the oldest of the group and was a high 2019 second-round pick. He was a bit streaky at times last season with a rough start but came up big in the second half of the season. He isn’t ready for the NHL just yet, but his size, shot, and power around the net could change that narrative by 2023-24.

Savoie, Tullio, and Petrov are all expected to make the jump to the AHL from University and the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) respectively. All performed very well last season and will create some great internal competition in Bakersfield with the players that are already there. Savoie scored 23 goals and 43 points in 39 games for the University of Denver in the NCAA and got a very small taste of two AHL games in 2020-21. Tullio put up 42 goals and 86 points in 65 games in his final season in the OHL for the Oshawa Generals and finished 13th in scoring in the league. Petrov actually finished higher (ninth) in OHL scoring and is highly skilled. All of these players project to be NHL talents and will make the AHL squad very formidable next season.

Noah Philp, one of the Oilers’ latest signings from college, has been a pleasant surprise in training camp while there is some hope for 2021 fourth-round pick Jake Chiasson. All in all, the forwards in the system are very high-end along with some surprises that have recently emerged.

Oilers’ Defensive Prospects More Refined

Behind Broberg, the defensive prospects of the Oilers aren’t top tier and are a bit older. They have Markus Niemelainen who has come into his own and should be pushing for a roster spot on the Oilers soon. He had a great showing last season and provided the team with a ton of physicality, something they have generally lacked on the back-end in the past. He will be in competition for a spot next season, but will likely play top minutes in the AHL unless someone gets injured. He is 24 years old and wouldn’t be of great use to sit out a lot as the seventh defenceman in Edmonton.

Markus Niemelainen Edmonton Oilers
Markus Niemelainen, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Similar to Niemelainen, Dmitri Samorukov and Vincent Desharnais have performed well in the AHL and bring different elements to Bakersfield. Desharnais is 26 years old and a former seventh-round draft pick by the Oilers. He is 6-foot-6, well over 200 pounds and has made significant strides last season. He went from splitting time in the AHL and ECHL in 2020-21 to playing a full-time role for the Condors and recording five goals and 27 points in 66 games while being a physical force.

Samorukov’s NHL debut didn’t go as planned, but it also wasn’t handled the best by the Oilers in the first place. He continued to perform in the AHL and is the youngest of the 3 with the most offensive upside. Niemelainen should be the next in line for more NHL playing time, but both Desharnais and Samorukov could easily surprise in training camp where they will get a legitimate shot to make the lineup. At his age, don’t think Desharnais won’t be considered for the spot as the Oilers’ seventh defenceman.

A few other younger names to keep an eye on and who give hope down the line are Luca Munzenberger, Mike Kesselring, Maximus Wanner, and Phil Kemp. I’ve ordered the three in terms of likeliness to make the NHL at some point. Munzenberger is currently performing well at the 2022 World Juniors and continued right where he left off when the tournament previously got shut down. He is the Oilers’ third-highest defenceman drafted since Samorukov in 2017. Finally, Kesselring has shown promise as a potential third-pairing defenceman in the NHL. But for right now, the hope is that he just continues to grow in the AHL.

Luca Munzenberger Edmonton Oilers
Luca Munzenberger, Edmonton Oilers 2021 Draft Pick (German Ice Hockey Federation)

Wanner took big steps from 2020-21 to 2021-22, and even throughout the season, to put up seven points in nine playoff games. He has good mobility and reliability defensively, and the aspect of his game that had criticism was offence which has since been silenced. Kemp is a long shot to make the NHL, but he is described as a very reliable and consistent stay-at-home defender, as he can always be found in the right places and is constantly in the way of shots and passes. Munzenberger can surely develop into a solid player in the future, but overall, the Oilers have a pretty good group already in the AHL and on their way to the big leagues.

Competition in Net

Since Skinner is graduating to the NHL and Konovalov returned to the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) after his time in North America didn’t go as planned, the Oilers were left with just Oliver Rodrigue, a former second-round pick. That was until the team signed Calvin Pickard as the third goalie in the system who can jump between the AHL and NHL if needed and top college free agent Ryan Fanti.

Rodrigue is coming into a big season where he must prove himself after a bad 2021-22 season split between the AHL and ECHL. He has slowly dropped down the Oilers’ prospect ranks, finishing his AHL season with a .886 SV% and ECHL season with a .907 SV%. He should be third on the AHL depth charts since the Oilers are understandably high on Fanti after his last season. He may not be a draft pick of the Oilers, but he is young and could very well be better than Skinner and push for an NHL spot in the future.

Drafting has been a major reason why the Oilers have such a strong prospect pool right now. It may not be the best in the league since they’ve now made the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, but players from all positions will soon help the team and help them stay competitive long term.

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