Monday, July 5, 2010

Top 10 Fantasy Prospects: Edmonton Oilers

The first entry in my Around the League in 30 Days series lands with an up-and-coming Oilers franchise who could, in a few years, ice their most offensive team since their hay-day in the 80's.

I didn't mention this in the previous post, but I will also include my top 3 personal favourites who have the abilities to become NHLers down the road if things fall into place.

Personal Favourite #1: Martin Marincin, D
I'm a huge fan of the Oilers picking the big Slovakian blueliner, as can be found here. He may not have top-pairing ability at this point, but the potential is there to develop into one much like a fellow Slovakian did.

Personal Favourite #2: Teemu Hartikainen, C
Hartikainen came up through KalPa's system in the Finnish leagues and made his SM-Liiga debut in '07-'08 as a 17 year old. He stuck with the club's men's team for the past two seasons, scoring 32 goals and 24 assists in 104 games. His rookie numbers put him 7th on the team and won him the title of SML Rookie of the Year, while his numbers last year placed him 5th in team scoring.

Where I was very impressed with Hartikainen was with Finland during the past two World Junior Championships. While he hasn't been the key source of offense on these teams, he put up 15 points in 12 games while playing with fellow Oiler prospect Rajala. Hartikainen provided Finland with a very good two-way center and played physically.

Hartikainen is set to make his North American debut this year with Oklahoma City in the AHL, where the aforementioned Rajala will be playing as well. The Oilers seem to be big on chemistry, so perhaps the Finnish duo will work their way into the Oilers' club in a few years.

Personal Favourite #3: Curtis Hamilton, LW
Hamilton, one of the Oilers' second round picks in the 2010 draft, is a big bodied power winger on a team needing big-bodied power winger prospects. While the team is set skill-wise with the likes of MPS, Eberle, Omark and company, Hamilton will make his gravy in the NHL smashing people. He needs to work on his skating a bit, but Saskatoon will be relying upon Hamilton for offense much more this season than in the past.

#10. Anton Lander, C
Lander is a solid, two-way forward entering his 4th season with Timra of the Swedish Elitserien. Chemistry was definitely in mind when the Oilers selected Lander as he played with Oiler first round pick Paajarvi-Svensson, both at the club-level and the international level.

Lander probably should be ranked higher than this, but I'm not sold on his upside. He'll be a NHLer if he wants to be, I just don't see him being any higher than a second-line player - no matter how much chemistry exists with Paajarvi-Svensson.

Lander is a solid, two-way forward who has improved upon his point totals for Timra each year he has played in the Elitserien - and I would expect him to do the same this year in a bigger role with the team.

Lander has also been awesome for Sweden internationally. He played a depth role as a 17 year old with their U18s and stepped into a scoring role the following year, putting up 9 points in 6 games. At last year's World Junior tournament, Lander played a key role on a powerhouse Swedish team and scored 5 goals for 8 points in 6 games in the process. Anton should be the team's #1 center with Sweden's 2011 World Junior team.

The potential is definitely there for Lander to improve his fantasy stock, but we'll have to wait and see what happens with the Swede come January.

#9. Olivier Roy, G
Roy had a lot of hype leading up to the 2009 NHL draft after being named the QMJHL's Rookie of the Year in '07-'08 and being ranked as the #2 North American goalie by the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau; however, the goalie fell to the Oilers' selection in the 5th round, likely due to his mediocre size.

Luckily for Roy, the '09-'10 season fared much better for him. After a hot start to the season hot with Cape Breton, Olivier was invited to the selection camp for Team Canada's World Junior team: he was one of only four goalies invited and the only '91 born of the group. Roy was cut but went back to the Q continuing to play great hockey, finishing the year with a 2.62 GAA and .908 SV%, good enough for 7th and 10th for QMJHL goalies with over 20 games played. More importantly though, Roy was third in the Q in games played with 54 and only '90-born Kevin Poulin had similar numbers (and he played for a very good Victoriaville squad).

After being beaten out of the QMJHL's playoffs, Roy suited up for 3 games with Edmonton's AHL affiliate in Springfield, posting a 2.57 GAA and .913 SV% - very good numbers even if they are from a small sample.

'10-'11 should be an even better year for Olivier Roy. He was recently traded twice at the QMJHL Priority Draft and ended up landing with Lewiston where he will carry a hefty workload yet again. Roy also received an invite back to Team Canada's World Junior camp and, in my opinion, has a grasp on the starting job for them at this point in time. Roy's stock is going to go up big-time and, with some of Edmonton's top-end prospects graduating to the NHL this year, don't be surprised if Roy climbs toward the top of this list very soon.

#8. Ryan Martindale, C
Martindale is a big two-way player who has quietly put up very solid numbers over the past two years for the OHL's Ottawa 67's. In 114 games played during the past two seasons, the 6'3" center scored 42 goals and 65 assists for 107 points. Ottawa should be a big-time contender in the OHL this year, so look for Martindale to end up in the 85-point range, barring injury.

...OR barring Martindale's inclusion on Canada's entry for the 2011 World Juniors, as much of a long shot as it may be. Martindale's teammate Tyler Toffoli was invited to the Canadian team's Development Camp. If Martindale plays well enough with Toffoli to force himself into the mix he has a legitimate chance as he can play a depth role, if needed.

Right now I see Martindale having upside as a possible second-line center, but I also feel he possesses greater scoring potential than Lander.

#7. Toni Rajala, RW
The inclusion of Rajala on this list is based on pure upside, which I am a huge believer in. Listed at 5'10" and 163 lbs., Rajala will have to make a career in the NHL with his offense - something he hasn't had a problem creating in the past.

As a 16 year old in the Finnish U20 league, Rajala scored 35 points in 33 games for Ilves. He returned to the U20 squad as a 17 year old, ending the season with 31 points in 31 games, but his play throughout the year earned him 21 games with Ilves' SM-Liiga club. Internationally, Rajala finished tied for 5th on a dismal Finnish team, but his real claim to fame came at the U18 tournament. Rajala was named the tournament's Best Forward after scoring 10 goals and 9 assists in 6 games, breaking the tournament's scoring record previously held by Alex Ovechkin.

After being drafted by the Oilers in the 4th round of the 2009 draft, Rajla made the move to the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings, who were also Memorial Cup hosts. He finished the year with 63 points in 60 games on a deep Brandon squad - in my opinion, he easily could have scored more on a team giving him more responsibility. He went on to have a sub-par playoff performance, but led the Wheat Kings in scoring at the Memorial Cup with 7 points in 5 games.

Rajala will spend the '10-'11 season with Edmonton's new AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City, and should spend another two or three seasons there before he is ready to put his game to the NHL test.

#6. Tyler Pitlick, C
Pitlick is another center with good size drafted by the Oilers in the 2010 draft, barely slipping to the second round at #31. The 6'2" right-hand shot is known for playing a solid two-way game, but possesses some crazy potential as far as scoring goes.

Pitlick dominated the Minnesota high school ranks where, in his senior year, he scored 31 goals and 33 assists in 25 games. As a late '91, he moved on to the NCAA's Minnesota State University at Mankato and was one of the few first-time eligible freshmen in the league. Pitlick put up solid, but unspectacular, numbers with the Mavericks, finishing with 19 points in 38 games.

I've heard "Tyler didn't care much for school", so his hockey plans changed gears for the '10-'11 season after signing with the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers. Pitlick is a dark-horse right now, as he hasn't really proven anything against top-notch competition, but my bet has him blowing up in a key role for the Tigers and making the USA's World Junior team due to his versatility.

#5. Jeff Petry, D
Petry's been somewhat of a long time coming for the Oilers after being a second round pick in 2006. After playing in the USHL in his post-draft year, Petry spent three years are Michigan State University. Last season with the Spartans he racked up 29 points in 38 games, good enough for third in team scoring and behind second place by only one point.

The offensive defenceman has big-time pro potential: he's a right-hand shot, he can skate and, oh yeah, he's a whopping 6'3" and 200 lbs.! He's probably a bit of a longshot to make the Oilers out of camp, but he should definitely see some ice at Rexall Place at various points throughout the season before becoming a full-timer in '11-'12.

#4. Linus Omark, LW
Omark would be higher on most teams' lists, but it seems the Oilers are going to be quite a team in the near future. The 5'10", 185 lb. Swedish winger burst into the NHL scene in 2007 after a stellar performance with his country's World Junior team, posting 5 points and 7 games while getting his hands dirty when needed and showing flashes of brilliance. He finished the '06-'07 season with 17 points in 50 games for Lulea in the Elitserien, but Omark pushed things forward nicely.

Omark almost doubled his production in the SEL each of the next two seasons, scoring 32 and 55 points (a number which led Lulea by 6), but lots of hockey followers were still questioning his size. Well, Omark raised the bar yet again at the 2009 World Championship where he scored 10 points in 9 games for Sweden - good for second on the team.

After the '08-'09 season, Omark wanted a one-way deal in Edmonton but couldn't get it, so he made the move to Dynamo Moscow in the KHL. With Moscow he finished third in team scoring, behind Mattias Weinhandl and Jiri Hudler, with 20 goals and 36 points in 56 games.

The sky is the limit with Omark, but it's just a matter of getting there. If he adjusts well to the North American game, Omark has sleeper written all over him. A lot of fantasy leagues probably don't have him owned, so keep an eye on him as he should be a staple for the Oilers!

#3. Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, LW
Another immense talent, Paajarvi-Svensson would be #1 prospect on a lot of teams' lists. The good-sized winger is listed at 6'1" and 198 lbs., but what makes him so great is his combination of size, skill and speed.

Paajarvi-Svensson has been on a lot of peoples' radars after debuting with Timra's Elitserien squad in 35 games as a 16 year old. He is definitely one of Sweden's best products over the past decade, playing in three SEL seasons and three U20 World Junior tournaments before reaching the age of 19 (his birthday is at the end of April so, yes, this works).

'09-'10 was definite proof of Paajarvi-Svensson's potential. He finished third in team scoring with Timra after netting 29 points in 49 games. He finished tied for second in team scoring with his World Junior team with 10 points in 6 games. Most impressively, Paajarvi-Svensson stepped into the World Championships for Sweden as a 19 year old and finished third in tournament scoring with 5 goals and 4 assists in 9 games. He led the Swedish team in points and did so with a 3 point gap between him and second place.

MPS should be an absolute star in the NHL and the next two names on this list should form quite the power-play unit with him in the not-so-distant future.

#2. Jordan Eberle, RW
How is the player with possibly the greatest resume with Canada's World Junior teams ranked #2? Eberle is another rather slight player at 5'10" and 185 lbs., but all the kid does is score.

In '07-'08 he was a WHL First Team All-Star after 42 goals and 75 points in 70 games for Regina. He was also named the league's Scholastic Player of the Year, showing his smarts. He won a gold medal with Canada's U18 team and was a Top 3 player for them after netting 10 points in 7 games.

'08-'09 got much better for the young talent. Though the numbers on paper don't seem like much of an improvement, Eberle missed his point total from the previous season by 1 but played in 9 less games. More importantly, Eberle was a stud for Canada's gold medal WJC team scoring 6 goals and 7 assists in 6 games. The numbers there are great, but what was even better was Eberle's clutch performance in the most critical situations.

If it was even possible to do, Eberle pushed his stock through the roof during the '09-'10 campaign. CHL Player of the Year after scoring 50 goals and 56 assists in 57 games. WJC MVP, leading the tournament with 8 goals in 6 games: 4 of these goals came on the powerplay and, while the IIHF doesn't keep this stat, I know Eberle was responsible for numerous game-tying goals in clutch situations. After the WHL season was over, Eberle made his AHL debut and racked up 14 points in 11 games. Team Canada brass was impressed enough with Eberle's pedigree to give him a chance with the World Championship team, where he eventually earned a spot and scored 4 points in 4 games.

As a Canadian, I will never be able to cheer against Eberle after all he has accomplished while dealing with the same old "he's too small" arguments a lot of players face. He should be in the team's top 6 as soon as Edmonton's opening face-off and should be good for a lot of points over the years.

EDIT: It was brought to my attention that Eberle debuted in the AHL after the '08-'09 season, not the '09-'10 season. So that means before he turned 19, Eberle still managed 9 points in 9 games against pro competition: even more impressive if you ask me!

#1. Taylor Hall, LW
Quite possibly the only player who could have usurped Eberle is Taylor Hall. The kid's 6'0", 185 lbs. He hits, he flies, he scores, he wins.

In his 16 year old season, Hall was named CHL Rookie of the Year with 45 goals and 84 points in 63 games. He led the OHL in plus/minus at +40 and went on to win gold medals with Canada's U18 and U17 teams.

In his 17 year old season, Hall was not as dynamic individually on the scoresheet; however, he still scored 90 points in 63 games, and upped his physical game with 60 PIM. He was the key cog of Windsor's playoff run in becoming OHL Champions, being named Playoff MVP with 36 points in 20 games. Moving on to the Memorial Cup, Hall was once again crowned champion, winning MVP honours.

'09-'10 brought even more accolades for the young star: he tied for the OHL lead in points with 106 in 57 games, including a league-leading 66 assists. In the midst of his season, Hall represented Canada at the World Junior Championships where he scored 6 goals and 6 assists in 6 games and won a silver medal. Moving into the OHL playoffs, Hall finished with the league's most points (35 in 19 games) en route to another OHL Championship. Yet again, Hall stepped up during the Memorial Cup, winning MVP honours for a second time after 9 points in 4 games.

Hall is definitely a generational talent, in my opinion, though he may not have the skills to match an Ovechkin or a Crosby. He's a guy that's already become the face of the Oilers franchise and will be the heart and soul of this team in its successes and failures.

Hall should be on the team's top line as soon as opening night, but Oilers brass may slide him into a second-line role in order to get acquainted with NHL hockey.

Thanks for reading: next stop, Toronto!

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