The Edmonton Oilers are mostly known for continuously selecting top draft picks, drafting in the top 10 for the last seven years straight. They’re on pace to do so again in 2015-16, currently sitting dead last in the NHL standings with a 6-12-1 record.
But it’s been their late-round draft picks that have been a major let down, contributing in large part to the Oilers lack of success in their decade long rebuild. In fact, in the last 12 drafts, the Oilers have selected only two players outside the second round which are currently playing in the NHL. They are Tobias Rieder, who plays for the Arizona Coyotes, and Brandon Davidson (Thank you Justin Stone!) , currently proving his worth on the Oilers backend.
However, that trend could be coming to an end due to two spectacular picks from the 2015 NHL Draft. The Oilers selected two potential phenoms in the fourth and fifth round, both of whom are off to terrific starts in the 2015-16 season.
Caleb Jones – 117th Overall
Known as the younger brother of Seth Jones, budding superstar for the Nashville Predators, Caleb is beginning to make a name for himself after being drafted by the Oilers. Jones spent his draft eligible year with the U.S. National Under-18 Team, playing games in the USHL. It was there that he scored two goals and eight points in 25 games.
Jones decided to make a move into the WHL, where the Portland Winterhawks held his rights. He has transitioned his game well into the style of the league, scoring four goals and 16 points in his first 19 games. That point total currently ranks him 11th among WHL defensemen. With the Portland Winterhawks in the midst of a seemingly rare ‘rebuilding’ year, Jones may not get the opportunity to play in the Memorial Cup, or deep into the playoffs for that matter, but he is definitely getting one of the best experiences that any CHL team can offer.
The Texas native will likely spend his next two years with the Winterhawks, before transitioning into the AHL. As a fourth round draft pick, Jones has the advantage of being able to play under the radar, without the constant watching eye of media and scouts. However, if he keeps up his early season play, that may not last.
One hope for Jones will be the opportunity to represent the United States in the 2016 World Junior Tournament. He earned an invitation to the World Junior Evaluation Camp in June, and due to his fantastic play to begin the year, he may have already moved himself up a few spots in the depth charts. He should be a fringe defenceman for the U.S., and my bet is that he will crack the roster, especially with Noah Hanifin sticking with the Carolina Hurricanes.
It’s due to be an exciting year, so keep your eye on Caleb Jones, Oilers fans.
Ethan Bear – 124th Overall
Ethan Bear was selected 25th overall in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft by the Seattle Thunderbirds, and is now in his third season with the team. After scoring 13 goals and 38 points in his draft eligible year, Bear’s offensive game has found another level in the 2015-16 season.
The Ochapowace, Saskatchewan native has been on a tear to start the year, scoring five goals and 22 points in his first 20 games, ranking him third in the WHL in points among defensemen. The Thunderbirds have one of the elite teams in the league this season, currently sitting in third in the Western Conference. Like Jones, Bear an the Thunderbirds will be hard-pressed to make it into the Memorial Cup, and a deep playoff run seems more imminent for Bear, who has gone to the second and first round in the last two years, respectively.
Bear will also likely return to Seattle for the 2016-17 season, but will hope to move on to professional hockey after that. As the Detroit Red Wings continue to prove, the AHL is an important step for young prospects to take in order for a smooth transition into the NHL. That is a step the Oilers must begin to emphasize as their rebuild continues to drag on.
Unfortunately for Bear, his dreams of representing Team Canada at the 2016 World Junior Tournament may be a bit more farfetched than Jones’ chances. With such a deep and talented back end, Bear was unable to earn an invitation to the Summer Evaluation Camp. With Bear’s play so far this season, he has certainly caught the management’s attention, but cracking the Canadian roster is much harder said than done.
Regardless, Bear has already proven to be one of the top defensemen in the WHL. Oilers fans should remember the name Ethan Bear, and keep track of him throughout the year.
Contributor for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Prospects. Scout with the Oakville Blades of the OJHL. For questions, concerns, or comments, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @SlawsonTHW.