The Edmonton Oilers are having arguably their best developmental season in more than three decades in 2019-20. Ethan Bear, Kailer Yamamoto, Caleb Jones, William Lagesson and Tyler Benson have all played games for the Oilers after spending the majority of last season with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL.
Bear made the Oilers out of training camp and has been one of the team’s best defenders all season. Yamamoto, who was recalled by the big club in December, has put up an impressive 21 points in 21 games while playing alongside Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Jones was also recalled in December and has shown the potential to develop into a top-four defenceman. Benson and Lagesson have yet to earn permanent roster spots, but they have each had some strong moments at the highest level.
The Oilers pipeline is producing NHL players at a rapid pace, and there’s a second wave of talent on the way.
RD – Evan Bouchard (10th overall, 2018)
Evan Bouchard is undoubtedly the Oilers’ top prospect and has been a shining star on a generally underwhelming Condors team this season. The 20-year-old has taken a massive step forward in the season’s second half and leads all AHL defenders in scoring since Jan. 3 with 17 points in 20 games. He leads the league in assists by a rookie defenceman (26) and ranks tied for second in goals (7) and second in points (33) through 50 games.
Bouchard earned an invitation to play for the Pacific Division in the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic in Ontario, California. In the 2020 AHL All-Star Skills Competition, Bouchard finished second in the hardest shot event with a blast of 103.0 miles per hour.
“The things I’m hearing about Bouchard are off the charts,” said NHL Network analyst Brian Lawton on 630 CHED Oilers Now on Wednesday. “This guy is good in all aspects of the game and he’s a great teammate. The Oilers have taken a long-term approach with him and I really believe he could come in sometime between now and the playoffs and have a very strong impact.”
The Oilers have been building a strong defensive core through the draft since 2015, and Bouchard could be the player to push this group to elite status in the future. His offensive ability is obvious, but Bouchard has worked hard to improve his defensive reads and urgency with the puck. Bouchard, who had one goal in seven NHL games in 2018-19, was recalled by the Oilers on Feb. 19 due to injuries but was sent back down without playing in a game.
As good as he’s been in Bakersfield, the Oilers would be wise to keep him with the farm club for the remainder of the season. Because he turned 20 after the Sept. 15 cut-off date, the first year of his contract is eligible to slide until 2020-21 if he plays nine or fewer NHL games this season.
Edmonton has a blue-chip prospect in Bouchard, and I expect he will be in the Oilers’ opening-night lineup next season.
RW – Raphael Lavoie (38th Overall, 2019)
After winning a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship, Raphael Lavoie was traded from the rebuilding Halifax Mooseheads to the surging Chicoutimi Sagueneens on Jan. 6. Lavoie, who lost in both the QMJHL championship series and Memorial Cup final last season, will have another shot to finish his junior career with a President’s Cup title.
The 19-year-old made an immediate impact with his new club, scoring just over three minutes into ins first game against the Mooseheads en route to an 8-3 victory. Lavoie has 13 goals and 27 points in 18 games since the trade, while the Sagueneens have gone 12-5-1. The Chambly, Quebec native is currently riding a 10-game point streak, where he’s amassed seven goals and 16 points. In addition, Lavoie is just one marker shy of his 100th career QMJHL goal.
If Benson sticks with the Oilers next season, then Lavoie will easily be the best forward prospect in the system. I think Lavoie needs at least one full season in the AHL, but as a late 2000-birthday, he’s probably closer to NHL ready than many other 2019 draftees. The Oilers need to be patient with him, but when he arrives, he has the potential to be a consistent 20-goal scorer.
G – Ilya Konovalov (85th Overall, 2019)
Ilya Konovalov had a tough start to the season, and briefly lost the starter’s job with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl to KHL veteran goalie Alexander Lazushin. However, Konovalov is back on track with a 5-2-0 record as well as a 1.73 goals-against average, a .940 save percentage and one shutout in his last seven appearances. Even more impressive, Konovalov has an outstanding 14 shutouts in his last 70 games going back to 2018-19 when he was named KHL rookie of the year.
The 21-year-old is under contract for another season with Lokomotiv, so he won’t arrive in North America until at least 2021-22. With fellow Oilers’ goalie prospect Stuart Skinner expected to be the Condors No. 1 goalie next season, there could be an internal battle for the backup job in Edmonton in a couple of seasons.
Eric Friesen is a freelance sports broadcaster and journalist in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Eric has diplomas in Broadcasting from Mount Royal University in Calgary and Sports Journalism from Centennial College in Toronto. A lifelong hockey fan, Eric has followed the Edmonton Oilers for more than 20 years. He cheers for the Oilers because of his hockey hero Wayne Gretzky, who played his more productive seasons in Oil Country.