As the summer continues, so does my weekly feature, Prospect Profile. This week, Part 4 takes a look at 5 players who are going to be jumping to pro for the Oilers this upcoming season. While they have taken different paths to get top this point, I feel like all these players have a chance to make an AHL roster that finds itself in Bakersfield, California this year.
With four years of college hockey behind him, defenseman Joey Laleggia can now turn his attention to the start of his professional career. A smooth skating player, Laleggia displays the ability to jump up in the play, and find open ice. Much like Justin Schultz, Laleggia’s biggest strength may be his offensive abilities. Over his 156 games played with the University of Denver, Laleggia piled on the stats, going 49-83-132 with over a point per game pace. Prior to joining the U of Denver, Laleggia put up impressive numbers with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL as well, with 147 points in 114 games.
I brought up Justin Schultz. I find him to be the comparable for Leleggia moving forward in his career. We all know what Schultz is capapble of on the offensive side of the puck. The issue is his defensive play. It’s hard to say if this will be a detriment for Laleggia as well. He’s a vary capable college player. However, as has been the case with most players coming into professional hockey from the college ranks, it’s a very different experience. Players in college are accustomed to playing half of what a player in the NHL or AHL will play, and that can be a difficult adjustment for many of them.
On the positive note, however, Laleggia won’t be making the leap to the NHL full time for at least a year, if not two. While Schultz was able to get in half a season in the AHL during the lockout, he could have benifited from a whole year with Oklahoma City to learn the pro game. With the glut of defencemen currently under contract with the Oilers, that shouldn’t be an issue with Laleggia, who should be able to establish himself as a top four player in Bakersfield this season.
Another player coming out of college, John McCarron will be looking to come in to camp trying to earn an AHL job with Bakersfield. He’s a big player, listed at 6’3″ 219 lbs. on the Oilers site (although hockeydb.com has him at 230). While the size is there, it would be wrong to classify McCarron as a power forward, in the sense that he doesn’t have a lot of offensive flare to his game. In his 131 games with Cornell, he put up only 74 points, his best year being the 2013-14 season, in which he had 7-17-24.
Being a sixth round pick in 2012, the Oilers didn’t draft McCarron for his offense. Instead, they were looking to add a prospect with size, who isn’t afraid to play with an edge, as evident by his 216 PIM over his college career. More importantly, McCarron is a player with leadership capabilities. He captained Cornell for two seasons, from 2013 to 2015. In that time, he helped lead Cornell to the Ivy League Championship in 2014.
McCarron has all the tools to be able to make in impact with Bakersfield next season if he can make the team. Barring that, a year or two in the ECHL will be of a major benefit as well. As mentioned before, college players historically take some time to adjust to the longer grind of professional hockey. If the Oilers take their time with McCarron, he has the potential to be a very effective bottom six forward for them in a few years.
Ben Betker is a prospect that I’ve personally been very high on. Standing at a towering 6’5″ and weighing 204 lbs., Betker looks like he could be a pillar on the blue line for the Oilers in the next few years. He was an anchor for the Everett Silvertips over the past three years, playing in all situations for them. While not an offensive defensemen by any means, Betker makes up for that with his defensive skills. A big body that pushes players off the puck, Betker also has an active stick, and Chara like reach. He saw his plus/minus last season jump to +19, after going -3 and -21 in previous years.
It’s hard to saw where Betker will start the year this season. The Oilers have so many defensemen coming into camp, it could be hard for Betker to land a position in the AHL, especially with the very real chance that both Darnell Nurse and Griffin Reinhart will be starting the year in Bakersfield, based on the numbers alone. Add in AHL veterans like Brad Hunt, Martin Gernat, and David Musil, along with Joey Laleggia, who most likely makes the Condors, and Betker could be the odd man out, finding his minutes in the ECHL this season.
Whatever road Betker takes, I’m excited to watch his development as a pro. He has all the tools to become a solid shut down guy for the Oilers, and could be hitting his stride at the right time, when the Oilers are looking to bolster their bottom three on the blue line to compliment Nurse, Reinhart, and Oscar Klefbom.
For the last few years, the Oilers scouts have not had too much success outside of the 1st and 2nd rounds. It was a scouting staff that gained, in my opinion, too much credibility on their ability to draft 1st overall, apart from Jordan Eberle, who the stole at 22nd overall. The success of any franchise, especially in the cap era, depends on the ability to draft and develop players, and keep the team competitive through player turnover. It helps when you have later round success. Enter Greg Chase, a 7th round pick from 2013. He’s exactly the kind of player the Oilers need to develop.
A highly skilled player, Chase also brings an agitator element to the game, much in the way a Brad Marchand does. Following his draft year, Chase lead the Calgary Hitmen in points for the 2013-14 season, finishing with 25-50-85 in his 70 games played that year. The previous season, he only had 49 points 69 games. However, the same year he finished with 85 points also saw Chase rack up 83 PIM, something that it was rumored the Hitmen organization wasn’t overly happy with. The issues culminated with a healthy scratch last season when Chase had family in attendance, followed by Chase being sent home for what the Hitmen deemed “on-ice discipline”, and Chase requesting a trade. Following the trade to the Victoria Hitmen, Chase picked up right where he left off, adding 44 points to the 15 he picked up in Calgary, and helping the Royals to a playoff spot, where they would have been heavy favorites to come out of the West, if not for the acquisitions the Kelowna Rockets made, including Oilers prospect Leon Draisaitl.
Chase looks to make an immediate impact with the Bakersfield Condors this year. His high offensive skills, combined with an ability to get under his opponents skin, is an aspect the Oilers have been missing since Raffi Torres in 2006. With a few years of development in the AHL, there could be a spot on the Oilers 2nd or 3rd line in 3-4 years, that Chase would fill nicely.
The problem with being on a team loaded with front end talent, is that sometimes players don’t get to live up to their billing. This was the case with Kyle Platzer, who was a member of a highly talented London Knights team when he was drafted. His first full year with the Knights saw Platzer score a paltry 22 points in 69 games. The next season, Platzer registered 14 points in 39 games, before the Knights traded him to the Owen Sound Attack. It was during the 2014-14 season that Platzer established himself in Owen Sound. His 81 points was good for the team lead, and helped Owen Sound secure a playoff berth.
While he has the skills needed to be a solid junior player, the one knock against Platzer is he fits the mold for a mid round pick during this era of scouting for the Oilers; skilled, but relatively small. Because of this, as well as the depth the Oilers now have at center, Platzer, along with John McCarron, is my pick to start the year in the ECHL. Maybe I’m wrong, and he can crack the Condors lineup. But I’m not entirely sold on Platzer making the NHL in the near future, at least with the Oilers.