The Edmonton Oilers have started to build a stable prospect pool and allow players to develop, rather than rush them to the NHL. At the top of this list are three of the four most recent first-round selections by the club. All should be considered untouchable for at least the 2021-22 season.
The first is Evan Bouchard, an offensive defenceman who should be a part of the Oilers’ opening day roster. The second player, also a defenceman, is Philip Broberg, who has a lot of potential and plays the opposite side on the back end. The most recently drafted prospect is Dylan Holloway, who has developed faster than expected and may find playing time in the NHL at some point this season.
Drafted as the 10th-overall pick in 2018, Bouchard is the next best hope on the blue line for the Oilers. He will not only slot in on the right side on defence, but should get some looks on the top power-play unit, as he will be getting groomed to take over in the future. With his ability to get shots through and walk the line, that is exactly what a team should hope for from a power-play quarterback. At the NHL level, two of his three goals have come on the power play with very limited time.
The year Bouchard was drafted, he, like many other former first-round selections, got his regular-season tryout before being sent back to junior. In the seven games he played, he recorded one goal in just over 12:00 of average time on ice (ATOI). He played the rest of that season for the London Knights and finished 2018-19 on the Bakersfield Condors for playoffs with eight points in as many games. After an impressive season in 2019-20 with the Condors and half a season with the Swe-1 league, Bouchard ended last season on the Oilers for 14 games.
He really seemed to find his footing and was able to increase his playing time to just south of 15:00 ATOI. That is still the ice time of a third liner that doesn’t play in too many situations. Bouchard looks to jump even more this year as he has the opportunity to play on any of the three lines and will be put on the power play, whether it is the second unit or first. He is the one of the major future pieces on the back end, and with his offensive upside, the Oilers won’t let him go.
Broberg, who was drafted one year later than Bouchard, was selected eighth overall in 2019. Highly touted as more talented than Bouchard because of his better two-way game. Broberg will look to make an impact with the Oilers in the very near future. After the signings of Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, Slater Koekkoek, Kris Russell, the trade for Duncan Keith, and Bouchard being further along in his development, Broberg most likely doesn’t fit in the Oilers’ plans for 2021-22.
Broberg’s entry-level contract finally kicks in this year, as he is now 20 years old, despite not exceeding the nine-game pro-rated mark. This will mean that the Oilers may be looking to add him to the main roster with a year or two to spare on that contract. Stanley Cup contenders always have some players on team-friendly deals or entry-level contracts contributing to their success.
With the contracts of Keith, Klefbom, Russell, and Koekkoek all set to end by the finale of the 2022-23 season, this opens the perfect window for Broberg to step in and be inserted higher up in the lineup immediately. All four aforementioned defencemen naturally play on the left side, and fortunately, so does Broberg. Best not to push a young player ahead of schedule and stunt his development to the point where it wastes years of their skill and contract.
After a stellar season with University of Wisconsin, recording 35 points in 23 games, Holloway looks to take the next step in his development. He has been turning heads with his play, and should soon be making teams wonder why he went at 14. Drafted in 2020, the Oilers have a keeper here in Holloway; he is versatile, can move around the lineup, and is able to play special teams.
The best comparison I can give from the current roster is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. In more recent seasons, he has been able to showcase more offensive talent, but throughout his career has been known for his solid defensive style of play — a player that should be on the radar for the Selke Trophy but never is. Holloway should look to Nugent-Hopkins for mentorship once he arrives in Edmonton.
An injury will probably keep Holloway from fighting for a spot right out of training camp this season, but young players are usually given a chance with the big club out of the American Hockey League near the end of the season, whether the NHL team is out of it or still in it down the stretch. Just like how Bouchard and Ryan McLeod were given their opportunities last season to play up with the Oilers, Holloway may receive the same chance. A possible scenario is that the Vegas Golden Knights are sitting pretty at the top of the Pacific Division late in the season, and with a few games remaining the divisional matchup is already set. The Oilers should be wary of burning the first year of his entry-level contract, as they can just utilize him in a larger role in 2022-23.
A couple players who were just short of making this list are McLeod, Ilya Konovalov, and Dmitri Samorukov.
As far as the future of Edmonton goes, it could and has been a lot worse than what they have. They have a promising group of players set to help elevate the Oilers to the next level soon. These three main pieces in Bouchard, Broberg, and Holloway, who are on the cusp of breaking in, should be given ample opportunity to succeed before even considering bringing them up in trade rumours. High picks like these don’t grow on trees, and none of them have shown any signs of not living up to their hype.
Longtime Edmonton Oilers fan with a background in hockey analytics. Have enjoyed following and writing about the Oilers and the NHL for some time now.