Part 7 of Prospect Profile takes a look at a few players of European nationality that should provide the Oilers with some significant depth this upcoming season.
It’s no secret that the Oilers have found great success with European players in the past, having the likes of Jari Kurri, Ales Hemsky, and hopefully Nail Yakupov pull on the sweater. Here are five players the Oilers are hoping can follow in those footsteps.
Contrary to popular belief at the time, Roman Horak was not the focal point of the Ladislav Smid trade from a few seasons ago. That doesn’t diminish his potential as a depth player for the Oilers, however, if he decides to come back to North America.
While it may seem like Horak has been around the professional ranks for some time, he’s actually only dressed for 84 NHL games, with most of his career taking place in the AHL, with his best season being in 2013-14. That was the year he was acquired by the Oilers along with Laurent Brossoit, with Ladislav Smid and goaltending prospect Olivier Roy going to Calgary. Following the trade, Horak would pile up 48 points in 53 games, including 21 goals. That production was enough to get Horak a brief 2 game look with the Oilers, registering 1 goal.
It could be that lack of consistent production at the NHL level that seems to have side tracked Horak a bit, as he spent the last 3 years bouncing between the NHL and AHL. Along with that, he’s already been featured in two trades in his brief pro career, as the Flames originally acquired Horak from the New York Rangers in 2011, before he even played one pro game. Last season saw him sign in the KHL with Chekhov Vityaz, where he went 18-13-31 in 53 games. While he remains Oilers property, it doesn’t look like they will be able to access Horak this season, as he’s already begun the year with Vityaz.
Upon the announcement earlier this year that Anton Slepyshev had signed his ELC with the Oilers, social media lit up with excitement in regards to the Russian winger. Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft, the 21 year old has remained in the KHL, and is coming off his 5th professional season, which was also his third season with Ufa Salavat Yulayev. It’s the fact that he’s already played five years of high end hockey against men that has fans excited to see what he can bring to the Oilers.
Last year saw Slepyshev put up some modest numbers in the KHL, with 15-10-25 in 58 games. While those aren’t all-world level numbers, he’s still young. More than likely, Slepyshev will find himself counted on for secondary scoring in Bakersfield when he makes his North American debut. It’s not out of the question to see him put on a line with fellow Russian countryman, Bogdan Yakimov, to see if the two can build some chemistry.
Speaking of the big Russian, Bogdan Yakimov is healthy, and ready for his second season in North America. Another player from the 2013 Draft, Yakimov is a center with size. Appearing in 57 games with the Oklahoma City Barons last year, Yakimov put up a respectable 12-16-28 while playing mostly a checking role. He should be looked at to provide more this season, and help with the transition of Slepyshev to the North American game.
Fans are anxious to see Yakimov play for the Oilers on a more consistent basis, if only for the hope that he can find some chemistry with Nail Yakupov. While there would have been a chance he could make the team out of camp if this was a few years ago, organizational depth has improved by leaps and bounds since 2013. Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid have come up more than a few times while I’ve done this series. That depth has pushed Yakimov down the chart, much like it has for many players that may have had a chance to make the Oilers before. And again, depending on what happens in training camp, specifically where the Oilers feel Draisaitl benefits most from playing, is going to have a big impact on Yakimov’s development. The plus side again, is now there is no rush to get him to the NHL, and he can learn to thrive in the AHL.
It was at the trade deadline in 2011 when the Oilers moved Dustin Penner to the LA Kings for Colton Teubert and a couple of draft picks. The 1st rounder became Oscar Klefbom. And if you’re having trouble remembering who the Oilers drafted with the 3rd rounder, the answer is Daniil Zharkov.
While Zharkov has been plying his trade in the KHL the last two years, he is no stranger to the North American game, having played a year in the USHL with the Tri-City Storm, before moving to the Belleville Bulls of the OHL. Following a brief junior career that saw him total 48-31-79 in 109 games, Zharkov opted to return to his home country of Russia, signing with Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo of the KHL. His first season of professional hockey couldn’t quite be labeled a success, as Zharkov could only muster 2 goals and 5 points in 49 games. The following season was no better for Zharkov, as he was limited to only 9 games.
I assume Zharkov will probably play in the KHL again this year. He very much seems like a player the Oilers could be willing to walk away from at this point, unless there’s a team interested. At this point, Zharkov could be earmarked to fill out the roster in Norfolk of the ECHL if he elects to come play in North America again.
Drafted with the 4th round pick the Oilers acquired from Minnesota in the Ilya Bryzgalov trade, William Lagesson is the only other European player on this list not from Russia, with Horak being the other.
The general consensus on Lagesson is that he has good defensive play, but his foot speed can be suspect. He played last season in the USHL with the Dubuque Fighting Saints, registering 2-14-16 in his 52 games with the club. The stat that I like is the +18.
More than likely the 19 year old is going to continue play in the USHL this upcoming season, following the prospect tournament and mini-camp coming up in a few weeks. I’m curious to see how Lagesson looks against other teams top prospects. I remember him catching my eye when he was at development camp in June. The log jam of defensive prospects is a situation that should play out very well in Lagesson’s favor, affording him the time to continue to develop as a player. While I would personally like to see him follow in the steps of Caleb Jones, and choose to go to the CHL this year, there is nothing wrong with getting top minutes in USHL, which is a very competitive league in its own right.