When Dylan Wells heard his name called by the Edmonton Oilers in the fifth-round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, he surely felt mixed emotions.
Selected by one of the NHL’s most highly respected and successful organizations, Wells joined an Oilers team which had long been in search of a true starting netminder. Of course, Cam Talbot has emphatically claimed the crease for the time being, however, given his age and Edmonton’s lack of organizational goaltending depth, the starting role appears to be very much up for grabs in the near future.
Yet, despite his potential ability to challenge for considerable playing time down the road, Wells likely felt like somewhat of an afterthought given the incredible events which unfolded during his draft day. With the Toronto Maple Leafs landing their franchise centre-ice man in Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine flying to the Winnipeg Jets and the Oilers shockingly nabbing Jesse Puljujarvi fourth overall, Wells’ selection at 123rd understandably flew well under the radar.
However, despite his late selection, Wells has continued to develop and strengthen his respective game. In fact, Wells’ play has become so sound and dependable that he has become, arguably, Edmonton’s top goaltending prospect.
A Well Oiled Machine
Considering his strong play and upside, why was Wells selected so late in the 2016 NHL Draft, you ask?
Well, Wells’ first two seasons with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League didn’t go exactly as planned and, as a result, his draft stock was significantly impacted.
As the 21st overall selection in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection, Wells entered the league in 2014-15 at the age of 16 with immense expectations placed upon him. Looked upon to seize the crease and act as a backbone for the Petes, such did not immediately occur, as Wells’ quality rookie campaign was highlighted by the inability to achieve consistency behind a poor Peterborough squad.
Following his rookie campaign, both Wells and the Petes looked forward to the 2015-16 season with incredible optimism. Despite a lacklustre first season, expectations for Wells were once again raised as the Petes looked to continue the development of their starting goaltender.
Unfortunately for both parties, Wells’ play hit a new low in his sophomore season. Beginning the campaign as the Petes’ starting netminder, Wells’ play was so poor, in fact, that he lost his role and was relegated to the bench for the majority of the year. Playing in only 27 games in his second season in the OHL – the same number of games as his rookie season – Wells’ development took a major turn as his inability to perform had many questioning his basic abilities as a goaltender.
Regardless, come the 2016 NHL Draft, the Oilers saw raw talent in the embattled Wells and made him a fifth-round choice. At the time, the selection was a curious one and especially so given the ugly numbers which Wells had produced in his first year of eligibility.
So, when the 2016-17 campaign began, the young netminder set out to prove his critics wrong.
Dylan Wells – Breaking Out
The first major change for Wells as the 2016-17 campaign began came off of the ice. Matthew Mancina, the goaltender who stole the Petes’ starting role from Wells one year prior, was traded to the Mississauga Steelheads. Moving Mancina not only thrust Wells back into the starting role but clearly indicated Peterborough’s commitment to his continued development with the team.
Perhaps this show of confidence, in addition to his low draft choice, was all the motivation Wells needed to shatter the ceiling which he appeared to have hit.
As his third season in the OHL progressed, Wells’ game both began and continued to strengthen. Not only was Wells now making the routine saves expected of him, but also those he appeared to have no business defending. Long known for his competitive nature and drive, Wells slowly but surely established a high-level of consistency in his game and one which allowed his team to compete with confidence on a nightly basis.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 10, 2016
In fact, led by Wells’ break-out play, Peterborough finished the 2016-17 season with the best record in the OHL’s Eastern Conference. As a calming presence between the pipes, Wells’ quiet demeanor yet fiery desire to win combined to drive the Petes on a long playoff run, yet one which was ultimately ended by Mancina’s Steelheads in the third-round.
Goaltender of the Future?
Prior to the arrival of Talbot, it had been roughly a decade since the Oilers last possessed a quality, dependable starting goaltender. In fact, you have to look back to the 2006-07 campaign to witness the last occasion in which Edmonton received a consistent contribution from their crease.
Over the past decade alone, the Oilers burned through an immense 15 goaltenders in their search for a legitimate starting netminder.
So, despite the presence of Talbot, it goes without saying that the Oilers must continue to develop strong goaltending prospects and especially those who possess a high level of raw skill and ability. With quality starting netminders extremely difficult to come by in the modern day NHL, possessing and grooming prospects such as Wells will bode extremely well for Edmonton and their potential success in the future.
— OilersNation.com (@OilersNation) April 14, 2017
Now, does Wells have the capability to seize the Oilers’ crease in the future and, in doing so, ensure long-term success for the franchise? Absolutely.
Given his highly athletic nature, flexibility and above all else, drive to compete and improve, Wells appears to be nothing other than a hidden gem for Edmonton at this point in his career. Of solid size standing 6’2″ and weighing in at 185 pounds, Wells has and will continue to become a more intimidating and powerful figure in the crease as he continues to strengthen his body.
However, the trait which perhaps stands out the most in Wells’ game is a quality which is shared by a number of current NHL stars: composure. In his third season with the Petes, Wells acted as a calm and reassuring presence in goal, much like Carey Price with the Montreal Canadiens. Not rattled by a bad goal and confident in his abilities on the ice, Wells’ demeanor, as previously mentioned, is one of his most underrated yet valuable qualities as it has the undeniable ability to influence his fellow teammates throughout the ice.
As such, Wells unquestionably possesses the abilities, drive, and raw talent necessary to garner significant playing time at the professional level.
Capable of playing an additional two seasons in the OHL, Wells will likely make the jump to the pro ranks following the Petes’ 2017-18 season with another season of strong development under his belt. Regardless of Wells’ timetable to reach the NHL, the Oilers should be extremely pleased with the play of their fifth-round selection, as he will undoubtedly play a major role in the team’s future success.
Brett Slawson is a four-year veteran of The Hockey Writers who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL prospects, and the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads.
Contact Brett on Twitter @brettslawson92, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.