After years of failing to draft and develop their own prospects beyond the first round, the Edmonton Oilers are finally on the right track. Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones and Kailer Yamamoto all graduated to the NHL this season, and they could be joined by the next group of Oilers prospects in the next year or two.
Since 2015, the Oilers have amassed one of the deepest pools of defensive prospects in the NHL. Even with Bear and Jones on the Oilers roster, they still have Evan Bouchard, Dmitri Samorukov and William Lagesson in the AHL and Philip Broberg in Europe.
In goal, the Oilers have several future options with Stuart Skinner with the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield Condors, Olivier Rodrigue still in the junior ranks and Ilya Konovalov in Russia. While the forward group is the thinnest in terms of talent in the organization, Tyler Benson has top-six potential. Kirill Maksimov and Ryan McLeod are solid bets to have NHL careers as well.
Here’s a closer look at Broberg, Skinner and McLeod.
LD – Philip Broberg (8th overall, 2019)
Broberg made the decision to stay at home in Sweden this season instead of playing with the Hamilton Bulldogs in the OHL. He has no goals and four assists in 29 games with Skelleftea AIK in the SHL in 2019-20. While his numbers don’t jump out at you, Broberg wasn’t expected to be a big point producer this season.
Broberg has primarily skated on the third pairing with fellow Oilers prospect Filip Berglund (91st overall, 2016). Broberg surely would have seen more ice time playing junior hockey in Canada, but he’s more than holding his own as a teenager in Sweden’s top professional league.
The 6-foot-3, 203-pound defender had one goal and no assists at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship, helping Sweden claim a bronze medal. However, when Broberg plays against his own age group, he shines offensively. He had a combined five goals and 10 points in 12 games at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and 2019 IIHF World U18 Championship as a 17-year-old.
Still just 18, Broberg has the potential to become a top-pairing defenceman at the NHL level, but the Oilers aren’t going to rush him. The Orebro, Sweden native could play another season with Skelleftea AIK or join Bakersfield in the AHL in 2020-21, where his entry-level contract would slide since he will still be under 20.
G – Stuart Skinner (78th overall, 2017)
After a strong showing in the 2019 Calder Cup playoffs, Skinner earned a spot with Bakersfield this season. He was expected to be the backup in Bakersfield, but was thrust into the starter’s job after Shane Starrett suffered a groin injury on Oct. 13 that kept him out of action for seven weeks.
Skinner has posted a 15-10-3 record with a 3.17 goals-against average, a .897 save percentage and one shutout in 30 games in 2019-20. The 21-year-old was named AHL Player of the Week on Tuesday after earning three wins in four nights. He stopped 77 of the 80 shots he faced in those three games and registered his first career AHL shutout on Jan. 22.
The Condors sit just two points back of the Ontario Reign for the final playoff spot in the Pacific Division. So, head coach Jay Woodcroft has to decide whether to give Skinner, the top goalie prospect in the system, the bulk of the games down the stretch or lean on former AHL all-star Starrett. It’s important for Skinner to play a lot, but I think having them split the starts would be the best decision.
C – Ryan McLeod (40th overall, 2018)
McLeod isn’t the flashiest player, but he could be a valuable member of the Oilers in a couple seasons. Keep in mind, he almost made the Oilers out of training camp in 2018-19, before returning to the Mississauga Steelheads in the OHL. Now, in his first professional season, McLeod has four goals and 16 points in 42 games with the Condors.
McLeod can rush the puck up ice with his outstanding speed and kill penalties, but he probably won’t be a regular scorer when he arrives in Edmonton. The 20-year-old brings to mind a young Todd Marchant, and if he can turn into that type of player at the NHL level, the Oilers could have their future third-line centre.
Normally, you want your NHL prospects playing higher in the lineup on the farm, but I’m fine with McLeod in an energy-line role, as it will better prepare him for how he will likely be used with the Oilers. If he can go to the dirty areas on the ice more consistently and hone his craft as a two-way centre, then he could be in the NHL as soon as 2021-22.
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.