Oilers Prospects Performances at 2018 WJC

With the 2018 World Junior Championships (WJC) now over, it’s time to reflect. The Edmonton Oilers had four players participate, highlighted by Kailer Yamamoto earning a bronze medal. Ironically, Yamamoto’s medal came at the expense of fellow Oilers prospect Ostap Safin and the Czech Republic.

Dmitri Samorukov (Russia) and Aapeli Rasanen (Finland) played on squads that finished fifth and sixth in the tournament respectively. Statistically speaking, Rasanen, a sixth-round pick in 2016, may have had the best tournament. The 19-year-old posted four goals in five games as Finland went 2-2-1 through the tournament.

Oilers Prospect Scoring at 2018 WJC

Player Team GP G A PTS +/-
Aapeli Rasanen Finland 5 4 0 4 +1
Kailer Yamamoto USA 7 2 2 4 +3
Ostap Safin Czech Rep. 7 1 2 3 +1
Dmitri Samorukov Russia 7 0 1 1 -3

The above stats are courtesy of our friends over at Edmonton Prospect Watch on Twitter, and they’re an excellent follow if you’re not already following them. They also have an impressive YouTube channel that has a collection of highlights related to Oilers prospects.

Secondly, Nathaniel Oliver at THW did a fantastic job in covering the 2018 WJC and he’s another noteworthy follow. Anyway, here’s how the four future Oilers did and what we can expect from them down the road.

Aapeli Rasanen

Team: Finland Age: 19
Draft: 153rd (6th Round) in 2016 Stats: 5 GP – 4 G – 0 A – 4 PTS – +1

Finland had a balanced roster despite not having any player finish among the Top 20 scorers of the 2018 WJC. With high-end talents like Kristian Vesalainen (Winnipeg Jets) and Eeli Tolvanen (Nashville Predators), it’s a shame they didn’t medal. Then again, they were almost relegated a year ago after winning gold in 2016.

Rasanen was on last year’s team as well, and both the team and Rasanen played to erase that embarrassment from everyone’s memory. The 19-year-old might’ve had two fewer points this year, but his four goals led Finland.

All in all, he finished third in team scoring behind Vesalainen and Tolvanen who both had six points. He earned trust from the coaching staff as the tournament went on — Rasanen earned his minutes on the power play and got a look with Vesalainen and Tolvanen.

YouTube player

In the quarterfinals against the Czech’s, Rasanen scored a power play goal early in the second. The game eventually went to overtime where Rasanen was one of Finland’s five shooters. He missed, but Josef Korenar (San Jose Sharks) was sharp stopping four of five shots from Finland.

Related: Tyler Benson, 2018 WJC & the Oilers 2016 Draft Picks

He’ll return to Boston College (NCAA) to finish the rest of the season where he has 10 points in 18 games. Rasanen is a prospect worth tracking and one that could eventually develop into a reliable depth player for the Oilers.

Ostap Safin

Team: Czech Republic Age: 18
Draft: 115th (4th Round) in 2017 Stats: 7 GP – 1 G – 2 A – 3 PTS – +1

The Czech’s were terrific this year, despite finishing sixth last year. They went 3-0-1 in the round-robin losing only to Sweden who went undefeated until the final. Ostap Safin got a taste of each of the other three Oiler prospects along the way. He played against Samorukov in the round-robin, and then faced Rasanen and Yamamoto in the quarter-final and bronze medal games respectively.

This was Safin’s first WJC, and he’ll be eligible for next year’s tournament as well. With another year of experience, he’ll likely get a more prominent role next year. His overall skill level is hard to ignore.

Being the big-body guy who can skate and make space for skill guys is a unique quality. He’s also got a playmaking ability that had spurts of shining through all tournament.

YouTube player

He finished 11th in team scoring but also got some time next to the two leading scorers for the Czech’s. Having Safin play next to Martin Necas (Carolina Hurricanes)

and Filip Zadina (2018 eligible) was a treat for Edmonton fans. Safin now returns to the QMJHL and the Saint John Sea Dogs who are the second-worst team in the league.

With 33 points in 34 games, Safin leads his team in scoring followed closely by Joe Velano (2018 eligible). He’s a future power forward with decent foot speed that can eventually be a top-nine forward.

Dmitri Samorukov

Team: Russia Age: 18
Draft: 84th (3rd Round) in 2017 Stats: 7 GP – 0 G – 1 A – 1 PTS – -3

Samorukov’s a big defenseman who the Oilers are high on. The 18-year-old’s had a season with plenty of noteworthy moments, including the CHL Canada Russia Series, and now the WJC. He may have had just one assist, but it’s the subtleness in his game that makes him a valuable prospect.

He plays well defensively, he can skate, and he’s incredibly mobile for a left shot defenseman that can play both sides. As mentioned by THW’s Nathaniel Oliver, this was going to be a challenging tournament for the Russian’s who didn’t have a lot of top-tier talent.

Samorukov did get second-pairing minutes at times but didn’t have the boxcars you’d think he might. That’s not to say there weren’t some promising moments for Oiler fans. With the game against the United States on the line, Samorukov played the second-most minutes (6:08) for Russia in the third period. The only player that played more than Samourkov in that third period was the Russian captain Yegor Zaitsev (New Jersey Devils).

YouTube player

Samorukov’s already back with the OHL’s Guelph Storm and has 18 points in 34 games. He’s the No. 3 defenseman on the depth chart behind Ryan Merkley (2018 eligible) and Garrett McFadden (undrafted). That team’s offense ranks 14th among the 18 OHL teams and will need their top three defensemen to contribute.

Down the road, there’s potential for Samorukov to become a No. 4 for the Oilers. He’ll need a few years to put it all together, but there’s something to be excited about here.

Kailer Yamamoto

Team: United States Age: 19
Draft: 22nd (1st Round) in 2017 Stats: 7 GP – 2 G – 2 A – 4 PTS – +3

Admittedly I had Team USA as my favorites to win the 2018 WJC. It would’ve been their first back-to-back Gold Medals in their country’s history. It didn’t exactly pan out that way. They blew out Denmark 9-0, were upset by Slovakia, and needed a shootout to beat Canada. They held off Finland in a 5-4 win to finish second in Group A.

There was some disappointment with Yamamoto being held off the scoresheet in back-to-back games against Slovakia and Canada. His four points were spread out over the rest of the tournament, and he was one of head coach Bob Motzko’s most used forwards.

He finished seventh in team scoring on a loaded Team USA that was led by some dominant performances. Casey Mittelstadt (11 points) and Kieffer Bellows (10 points) were absolute stars at the 2018 WJC. Bellows was a stud with nine goals. Some fans might be disappointed Yamamoto didn’t have that type of performance, but a majority see this as a very good showing.

YouTube player

The 19-year-old was heavily involved in the play most nights and was creating scoring chances. However he did look a little snakebit at times. The ugly moment was when Oskar Steen (Boston Bruins) delivered a nasty slash during the final seconds of the semifinal. Yamamoto played limited minutes in the bronze medal game and sat out the entire third against the Czech’s.

Related: November Update – Oilers 2017 Draft Picks

It was a welcomed decision by Motzko to rest Yamamoto after the American’s built up a 7-0 lead. The Spokane Chiefs will play Tuesday, and Yamamoto will likely be a game-time decision. He has 12 points in 13 games in the WHL as the Chiefs sit eighth in the Western Conference. Once healthy he’ll be a key addition to Hudson Elyniuk, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Ty Smith and Filip Kral.