This year’s NHL Draft, which takes place at the Bell Centre in Montreal on July 7 and 8, will be the fourth Ken Holland has overseen for the Edmonton Oilers since getting hired as the team’s general manager (GM) and president of hockey operations in May 2019.
When it comes to trades and free-agent signings, opinions of Holland’s work are mostly split. But even his biggest detractors would have to acknowledge that the Oilers have performed very well at the draft under his watch.
Already two players selected by the Oilers in the last three drafts have made their NHL debut, and others who have shown great potential may not be far behind. Here’s a look at the best picks during Holland’s Edmonton tenure.
Philip Broberg (Drafted 8th in 2019)
The first draft pick Holland made as Oilers GM might not actually get that high of a grade relative to where he was selected. But even though Philip Broberg probably shouldn’t have been taken as high as eighth overall, the blueliner from Sweden is still one of the best prospects that Edmonton has acquired in the past three drafts.
After spending 2019-20 and 2020-21 in the Swedish Hockey League, Broberg split his time last season between the Bakersfield Condors in the American Hockey League, where he played 31 regular season games, and in the NHL, suiting up for 23 regular season games with the Oilers.
The 6-foot-3, 200-plus pound blueliner showed significant progress at the NHL level after Jay Woodcroft replaced Dave Tippett as Oilers head coach in February. Broberg, who had a dreadful minus-8 rating in eight games under Tippett, posted an even rating in 15 NHL games after Woodcroft took over.
Having just turned 21 on June 25, Broberg is still nowhere near his ceiling and should continue to make major strides under Woodcroft and assistant coach Dave Manson, provided he can find an opportunity on Edmonton’s crowded back end.
Dylan Holloway (Drafted 14th in 2020)
Formerly a standout forward for the University of Wisconsin, Dylan Holloway saw his first action at the pro level in 2021-22, recording eight goals and 14 assists in 33 regular season games for Bakersfield.
Holloway had been on the fast track to the NHL last year but was sidelined from spring 2021 until this January with a wrist injury that required multiple surgeries. His much-anticipated NHL debut finally came last month, as he suited up for the Oilers in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final series against the Colorado Avalanche.
The 20-year-old left winger only skated seven shifts, totaling less than four minutes, in Edmonton’s 6-5 overtime loss, but the experience of being with the Oilers at a time of such high stakes should provide Holloway with a leg up for 2022-23, feeling more comfortable and ready to contribute in the NHL.
Carter Savoie (Drafted 100th in 2020)
Carter Savoie also made his pro debut this year, suiting up for a pair of games with Bakersfield. He might have played more had he joined the Condors earlier, but the Edmonton area product was busy leading the University of Denver to the NCAA National Championship.
The 20-year-old forward scored in overtime of the National Semifinal against the Michigan Wolverines, propelling Denver into the Frozen Four Tournament final, where the Pioneers defeated Minnesota State 5-1.
As a sophomore in 2021-22, Savoie appeared in a total of 39 games, registering 23 goals and 22 assists, giving him 45 points, which was the sixth-most in the nation. Savoie was second in NCAA Division 1 with six game-winning goals, including two in the Frozen Four Tournament. He was also named to the All-NCHC Second Team, as well as the All-Tournament Team for both the NCAA West Regional and Frozen Four.
Xavier Bourgault (Drafted 22nd in 2021)
Having signed his three-year entry-level contract (ELC) with the Oilers, Xavier Bourgault will be going pro next season, almost certainly spending time in the AHL and maybe getting an NHL look at some point in 2022-23 too.
The 19-year-old forward had a tremendous season with the Shawinigan Cataractes in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), helping his team to its first QMJHL championship and a Memorial Cup appearance. He had 36 goals and 39 assists in only 43 games, ranking fifth in the league with an average of 1.74 points per game. Bourgault also added 22 points, scoring five game-winning goals, in 16 QMJHL postseason contests.
The L’Islet, Que., product was part of Team Canada’s roster in Edmonton last December at the World Junior Championship, which was ultimately canceled because of COVID-19, and will be eligible to play for his country when the tournament restarts in August at Rogers Place.
Matvey Petrov (Drafted 180th in 2021)
The offensively gifted Matvey Petrov could turn out to be the steal of the entire 2021 NHL Draft. The winger from Russia, who the North Bay Battalion selected first overall in the 2020 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, came to North America last summer and proceeded to light up the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) throughout the 2021-22 schedule.
With 90 points and a plus-32 rating in 63 games, Petrov’s stats are not out of line with what you would expect from a player that was selected in the first round of the NHL Draft, as he was the only player in the OHL last season with at least 40 goals and 50 assists and a rating of plus-30. The 19-year-old still has a distance to go on his path to the NHL, but Petrov is definitely someone the Oilers see as a potential part of their future, as Edmonton has inked him to an ELC.
Honorable mention goes to another sleeper pick currently in the OHL, Tyler Tullio of the Oshawa Generals. The Canadian forward, who Edmonton selected 126th overall in 2020, had 42 goals and 44 assists in 65 outings with the Generals this past season.
There’s a theme here of Holland and his team unearthing hidden gems in the draft’s later rounds. Their ability to do so will be imperative this year, given the Oilers have traded away their second, third, and fourth-round picks, meaning that after selecting 29th overall in the first round, they won’t be back on the clock again until pick No. 158, in the fifth round. The Oilers will also pick at No.’s 190 (sixth round) and 222 (seventh round).
That is, of course, provided they don’t make a draft-day trade or two. And that’s certainly something Holland hasn’t not proven afraid to do. Stay tuned.
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Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.