Part 3 of my summer feature, Prospect Profile, focuses on the Oilers draft class of 2015. Or rather, the players drafted in 2015 not named Connor McDavid. The significant aspect of the 2015 draft is that it was the last draft that Stu MacGregor and his staff had any input on. With so many middling prospects taken in the previous years, this was welcome news for many Oilers fans, as it signified true change continuing to happen throughout the organization. While McDavid may be the only guaranteed slam dunk of a pick, the Oilers selected some very interesting players this past June
If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The younger brother of Nashville star Seth Jones, Caleb may not have the same pedigree as Seth at the moment, but that’s not to say Caleb Jones doesn’t have potential. Jones is joining the Oilers organization after having a reasonable season with the US National U18 Development Team of the USHL, posting 8 only 8 points in his 25 games, but doing so while having a +/- of 14, alluding to some decent defensive play.
But it’s really the next couple of seasons that should set the stage for where Jones will rank as an Oilers prospect. The 2015-16 season will see him take the same path Seth did, with Caleb preparing to join an outstanding program with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. Along with Seth Jones, the Winterhawks have produced a significant number of stand out NHL defencemen, such as Braydon Coburn, Matt Dumba, Derrick Pouliot, and the Oiler’s own Andrew Ference. Jones should benefit greatly from the increased competition level the WHL has to offer, as I assume he will be playing top four minutes for the Winterhawks.
Jones also looks to be a big part of the US World Juinors squad for the next few years, having already been named to the camp earlier in July. The US has been building a very strong U20 program in recent years, and Jones should be prepared to take on the best the world has to offer this Christmas, as a strong showing in Portland will only help to cement his place on this year’s team.
Two strong years of increasing responsibility in major junior is going to be a huge factor in the development of Caleb Jones. While no one is going to go out and say the 4th round pick is going to match the skill level of his brother, the Oilers will be very happy if Caleb can develop into half the player Seth is. He has the pedigree for it, and comes to the team at a point where, when he is ready to compete for a spot, he’s going to have a very capable mentor in Darnell Nurse. Keep on eye on him as the 2015-16 WHL season starts up.
Taken in the 5th round of the 2015 Draft, Ethan Bear looks to be a solid prospect for the Oilers. He finished last season tied for 6th in scoring with the Seattle Thunderbirds, going 13-25-38 in 69 games. Expect those numbers to increase over the next two seasons in the WHL, as Bear should be counted on to play a bigger role with Seattle. I say two seasons, because even though he will be eligible to turn pro after this year, I really believe he would benefit from playing his overage year in junior, much as Ben Betker did. Of course, that could be contingent on how competitive Seattle is at that point, as well as how Bear progresses in his development. There is every chance the Oilers would prefer him to move into the AHL ranks to gain more experience.
While Bear isn’t the world shaking pick that McDavid was, or have the family pedigree of a Caleb Jones, I fully expect to see him with the Oilers in some capacity in the next 4-5 years. There are lots of bodies on the blue line, both on the Oilers and in the system. This gives the team the luxury of being patient with Bear, allowing him to develop his game at the major junior and minor league levels, and add the size he’s going to need to play professional hockey. He already has good strength, and a tremendous compete level, both of which I saw first hand at the development camp earlier this summer.
It could be a very long time, if at all, until Oilers fans see John Marino wearing Oilers colors anywhere but training camps. Taken in the 6th round, Marino will be heading out to the USHL this upcoming season, to play for the Chicago Steel after two years with the South Shore Kings of the USPHL-Pr league. In those two seasons, Marino managed to tally 45 points in 83 games, which isn’t exactly lighting it up, but is also fairly respectable for a defenceman.
While the USHL should be a step up in competition for Marino, time will tell if that factor is going to help or hinder his development. For those unsure by what I mean, think of the USHL as a comparable league to the BCHL, or the AJHL. It’s Junior ‘A’ hockey, a tier below the major junior level of the CHL. As of now, he seems a bit too small for my liking to really have a legit shot at becoming an NHL defenceman. Granted, he is only 18, and still has time to grow muscle mass, but I’m thinking he projects to be a depth player for the organization at the ECHL and AHL levels. Nothing would make me happier than to be proven wrong, as Edmonton desperately needs some of these late round picks to surprise, and not just be throw aways.
Even after the acquisition of Cam Talbot at the 2015 Draft, everyone knew the Oilers had to take a goalie on the second day. Enter Miroslav Svoboda. The 6’3″ goalie immediately jumped to 2nd on the Oilers goalie prospect depth chart in my opinion, behind Laurent Brossoit. He was easily the best goalie the Oilers had at the development camp this year, looking more ready for pro hockey than either Keven Bouchard or Zach Nagalvoert. The only question is, how ready is he?
I in no way expect to see Svoboda in North America until he’s ready to jump to pro, instead playing a handful of seasons in Europe to develop. There’s also a chance he could see an invite to the Czech world junior team this season, although there’s been nothing official I can find, and is just speculation on my part at this point.
As another overage draft pick, the Oilers should be watching Svoboda closely, and can hopefully get him signed to a contract sooner rather than later, and let him continue his development in North America. Like the defensive depth, the Oilers have time to let Svoboda develop properly as a prospect. Talbot is the here and now for this team, and Brossoit isn’t too far away from being a regular with the Oilers himself. Svoboda is a player the Oilers need to take their time with, after seeing Tyler Bunz fail as a prospect, and Keven Bouchard no exactly looking all-world at this point in his young career.
Taken in the 7th round this year along with Miroslav Svoboda, defenseman Ziyat Paigin joins the Oilers organization as another overage pick, with a year of pro hockey in the KHL already under his belt.
Standing at 6’5″, Paigin could be one of those late round picks that really turns into something. He gets the puck on the net, has a very good shot from the point, and is extremely aware in his own zone. He had an outstanding showing this past winter at the world juniors, helping Russia to a silver medal, and looks to be poised to return to the team this year as well.
The trick for the Oilers is going to be if they can intice him to come over to North America when his contract is up. Paigin is already a full time player of Ak-Bars Kazan, and with the lack of a transfer agreement between the NHL and KHL, there’s no guarantee he even sees ice time with the Oilers or their affiliates. My hope is that isn’t the case, as it looks like Paigin has the tools to be a very capable NHL player in the future.