3 Players the Oilers Could Draft With Their Top Pick

The Edmonton Oilers will not be selecting on the first day of the 2023 NHL Draft, which takes place June 28 at Bridgestone Arena, home of the Nashville Predators. That’s because Edmonton’s first-round pick, 24th overall, belongs to the Predators, who acquired it as part of a blockbuster trade on Feb. 28 that saw Mattias Ekholm dealt to the Oilers while Tyson Barrie got shipped to Nashville.

Edmonton’s first opportunity to select a player will come on Day 2, at No. 56 overall. It’s in the second round, but because the Oilers won’t be drafting anyone earlier, that pick might as well be considered their first-rounder.

Related: 2023 NHL Draft Guide

With Edmonton’s next selection not coming for another 96 picks (152nd overall, fifth round), No. 56 takes on even greater significance. So, what can the Oilers hope to acquire when they make their first choice of the 2023 NHL Draft? Could they unearth a future star, or will it be someone who never even suits up for a regular-season game at Rogers Place? Here’s a look at three prospects that have been mentioned as options for Edmonton at No. 56.

Jacob Fowler

Goalie – Youngstown Phantoms (United States Hockey League)

The last season has been nothing short of spectacular for Jacob Fowler, who won two championships and three major individual awards. Fowler was voted the USHL Goaltender of the Year for the 2022-23 regular season, during which he ranked first in the league with 27 wins, a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.28, save percentage (SV%) of .921, and five shutouts.

Then he backstopped the Phantoms to their first league championship, while being named Most Outstanding Player of the 2023 Clark Cup after going 8-1 with a 1.36 GAA and .952 SV% during the playoffs. Meanwhile, the native Floridian took time to make a splash internationally, too, going 4-0 with a sparkling 1.75 GAA and 918 SV% as he helped the US Junior Select Team capture the World Junior A Challenge title in December 2022.

It all culminated last week with Fowler being recognized as the year’s top-American born junior hockey netminder when he received USA Hockey’s Dave Peterson Goaltender of the Year Award for 2023. Several prior Dave Peterson Award winners have gone to become NHL All-Stars, including current Oiler Jack Campbell, John Gibson, Jimmy Howard, and Cory Schneider.

Fowler is committed to Boston College for next season. He is fifth among North American goaltenders in the final edition of NHL Central Scouting’s Draft Prospect Rankings, up two spots from his midterm ranking.

Adam Gajan

Goalie – Chippewa Steel (North American Hockey League)

One of the breakout stars of the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championships, Adam Gajan made scouts take notice with his performance between the pipes for Slovakia in Halifax and Moncton during late December and early January.

Adam Gajan Team Slovakia
Adam Gajan, Team Slovakia (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

The Slovakian stopper was the best goalkeeper selected by the directorate after going 2-2 with a GAA of 2.40 and tournament-leading .936 SV%. He very nearly backstopped Slovakia to a monumental upset over Canada in the quarter-final round, making 53 saves in a 4-3 overtime loss.

This past year has been all about Gajan proving himself. After being passed over in the 2022 NHL Draft, he came over from his native country to play junior in North America. He posted a 19-12-3 record with a 2.57 GAA and .917 SV%. In December he was loaned to the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL, where he went 5-1 with a GAA of 2.48 and a .906 SV%.

Gajan was graded sixth among North American goalies in Central Scouting’s final ranking, sliding two spots from his midterm ranking of No. 4 in January, just following the conclusion of World Juniors.

Timur Mikhanov

Center – Omskie Krylia (VHL)

Playing in his home country of Russia, Timur Mikhanov started in major junior and finished in the pros last season. He had 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) in only 15 MHL games with Omskie Yastreby, then totalled eight points (four goals, four assists) in 31 games with Omskie Krylia of the VHL, the second-highest level of Russian hockey. He also suited up for one game with Avangard Omsk in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).

Mikhanov wins praise for his speed and intelligence. The knock on the diminutive forward is his size. At just 5-foot-7, he would be the shortest player on almost all NHL rosters. That might not fly in Edmonton, where the Oilers have long been criticized for having too many undersized forwards. It’s also worth noting that Mikhanov isn’t even yet 18 (his birthday is June 17), so his body may not be completely finished growing.

Following the season, Mikhanov was dealt by Avangard Omsk to Severstal Cherepovets. He should have an opportunity in 2023-24 to get more opportunity playing with men of high calibre in the KHL. In Central Scouting’s final list, Mikhanov was graded 27th among European skaters, unchanged from his midterm ranking.

This will be just the second time in franchise history that the Oilers select 56th overall. Previously they drafted George Breen in 1991 and Marco Roy in 2013. Neither played a single game in the NHL. There have, however, been a few instances of a player selected 56th going on to an NHL All-Star career. That includes Mike Liut (1976), Mike Vernon (1981), Kevin Dineen (1982), and most notably, Zdeno Chara (1996), who Is a surefire Hall-of-Famer when he first is eligible in 2025. If the Oilers land a prospect who becomes even half the player that Chara was, this draft will be a massive success.