The Top 25 Under 25 Returns! (These Guys Aren't In It)

Jeremie Blain's teammates hid him behind that curtain to keep him from giving up another odd-man rush. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The marvelous thing about the Copper & Blue is that it can provide so many things to so many people. We have marvelous articles for fans of the history of hockey as well as those who admire its present. Those who like a bit of an apocalyptic bent to their hockey reporting will find themselves well-served (although the Oilers sure make it easy). We've had interviews galore, and more than our share of field trips to games, combines, and other events. But we've always had a special place in our hearts for the future Oilers, the prospects bubbling under the surface and just waiting to rise to the big show. Is it because the Edmonton Oilers are so unbelievably terrible, or is it simply the natural human urge to look ahead rather than behind, to convince ourselves that no matter how good or bad things are now they cannot help but get better.

But because we write so many different things enjoyed by so many people, it's rare for us to have a consistent series of opinions, analysis, and information on any topic, including the prospects we can look forward to once the current batch of Oilers moves on. So we compiled, listed, and wrote our Top 25 Under 25, a ranking of every player in the Oilers' system under the age of twenty-five as of the date we started the project. Sam Gagner, you will be unsurprised to hear, came in first, but it was below him that the real action played out, and each of our intrepid authors defended some of his choices in articles that were either brilliantly written or written by me.

Since then, we've had trades, free agents, a few players aging out of the prospect tag, and of course a little thing called the NHL draft. The Oilers' prospect cupboard looks nothing like it did five months ago, and even among the holdovers, some have elevated themselves while others have fallen. Plus, it's the dog days of summer and topics are harder to come by than a Fernando Pisani contract rumour.

What does that mean for you? The Top 25 Under 25 is back.

Actually, I'm a liar already. The series will kick off in earnest tomorrow, when Scott writes about our twenty-fifth ranked prospect. However, the Oilers have a lot more than twenty-five players under twenty-five in the organization. It would be unseemly to condemn the seventeen leftovers to obscurity without at least acknowledging them, and condemning them far more openly.

Some of these men are Coke machines, some are cinder blocks, some are goaltenders. A few have NHL experience, a few others have never played for a team you'd recognize the logo of. They run the gamut from old to young, from goal to forward and back again, from short to tall and from fast to Cory Cross after being trapped in a cement truck. They have only one thing in common: they stink.


Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
42 Matt Marquardt 19/7/87
194 2006
41 42 38 41 38

Here's all you need to know about Matt Marquardt. The Oilers traded for him, giving up Cody Wild. Cody Wild's best position is defense, whereas Matt Marquardt's is press box. The Oilers partially traded Wild because he had a brain and thought it was a bit odd that he was being yanked between the AHL and ECHL despite being virtually the only Springfield Falcons' defenseman who knew what a puck looked like. The Oilers traded for Marquardt because he's 6'3". Perhaps he reminded them of a young Geoff Paukovich, except not all that young. Also, to be fair, Paukovich scored five AHL goals last regular season, and between four teams in two leagues Marquardt only managed three. The Oilers trading Wild for Marquardt is like a boss confronting an angry employee, saying "I'll show you!", then punching himself really hard in the testicles.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
41 Cameron Abney 5/23/91
82 2009
39 38 40 39 42

Cameron Abney. I'm not sure what to say about him. He reached a career high in points last season, but that career high was thirteen. But you have to take that in the context of the draft class - the next Western Hockey League player drafted after Abney was Cody Eakin and he only had ninety-one. Plus two more in the American Hockey League. Abney had less than half the WHL offense of Boston draft pick Ryan Button, an Edmonton native who was picked four spots after Abney.  And plays defense. But, hell, he can fight! Not particularly well but he is physically capable of getting his gloves off his hands even though they're made of cement. Maybe we can just punch the puck into the goal! If you can't beat them in the alley, then really the rest of the game is irrelevant so why play it?

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
40 Jordan Bendfeld 2/9/88 193 2008 40 36 42 36 41

Last year's Tail-End Charlie, Jordan Bendfeld moves up to prestigious Not Last Place on the strength of the acquisition of Matt Marquardt and the existence of Cameron Abney. Moreover, by all accounts Bendfeld was a moderatly effective member of the moderately talented Stockton Thunder last year and in a cameo role with the Springfield Falcons didn't look completely out of his depth. Praising a twenty-two year old defenseman for not looking "completely out of his depth" in the AHL isn't on anyone's road map to the Norris Trophy, but that's the difference between being garbage and just being on the trash podium.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
39 Drew Czerwonka 7/1/92 166 2010 38 39 39 42 37

Rounding out the Loon Goon Trio is bewildering nobody Drew Czerwonka. Actually, that's not really fair to Drew. Goons are known for their ability to fight and injure people and generally make lives worse, but the only lives Drew Czerwonka makes worse are those of fans who cheer him on. Okay, yeah, he scored sixteen goals in 2008-09 in the WHL, but he also added two assists, which might have been a sustainable score line back in Cyclone Taylor's day but in the age of the forward pass seems a bit of a fluke.

Actually, maybe we're looking at Czerwonka the wrong way entirely. Perhaps he's a time traveling hockey player, launched into our era from the distant past when sticks looked like they were made from plywood and Eddie Shore was still paralyzing people. Confused, he signs on with the Western Hockey League confusing it with the old professional circuit of the same name. His coach struggles with a brash young man who keeps showing up on the team photo in sepia tone and insists that he play at rover, loping on long runs from his own goal line and deftly handling the puck all the way down the ice before tucking the puck past the wicketkeeper and expressing bewilderment to the referee that no penalty was called when the goalie went down to make the save.

I guess last year, when Czerwonka's statistics adjusted to a far less interesting four goals and nine assists, his coach finally got it through Drew's head what year it was and turned him into yet another tweener with not enough skill to be notable for it and not enough muscle to be notable for that either. While it'll be interesting to see how Czerwonka adjusts to wearing a helmet that isn't made of leather, I'm not too hopeful we'll get to see his tube skates flashing in the NHL anytime soon.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
38 Alexander Bumagin 3/1/87 170 2006 42 41 37 34 35

Oh, god, not this bum again. I put Bumagin last on my list because even though he's obviously a better player than the likes of Matt Marquardt it would be hard to think of anybody less likely to ever play in the NHL, except maybe John Goodman. The others have placed him a little higher because he does know how to play hockey and was a lofty ninth in team scoring for the KHL's Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik (English: HC Gesundheit). The player who was ninth in scoring for the Oilers was Andrew Cogliano. So think of Bumagin as the Andrew Cogliano of Copy-Paste Hockey Club, except without the skating (i.e. the only thing that makes Andrew Cogliano even marginally bearable). Aren't you ready to hand this kid a seven-figure contract?

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
37 Bryan Pitton 1/26/88 133 2006 30 35 41 38 40

Yeah, now we're talking. Bryan Pitton. Hockey nomad. Wherever there was a bench that needed warming, there was Bryan holding down the fort. Scouts raved at his opening-the-door sense and his uncanny ability to limply glove jellied donut wrist shots in the pre-game skate. When Pitton was obliged to borrow his seat in Edmonton during one of his too-frequent trips to an NHL crease, Devan Dubnyk said that he'd never seen a bench kept so toasty and welcoming. Also, he posted a save percentage above .900 for the first time in his professional career, which would have been a lot more impressive if this weren't his third professional season and he hadn't done it in the ECHL. He may, however, have been the first NHLer considered so not valuable that he was called up as an NHL backup goaltender because it didn't make any difference whether he played AHL games or not.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
36 Tyler Bunz 2/11/92 121 2010 37 34 33 37 39

Hey, Tyler Bunz is from my old home town of St. Albert! I did not know that.

What I do know is that being ranked above Bryan Pitton in the Top 25 Under 25 is easily the most significant praise Tyler Bunz will ever receive in his career.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
35 Kellen Jones 8/16/90 202 2010 35 37 34 40 32

Kellen Jones Speed Scouting Report

Cons: Only 5'9". Slightly worse than a point-per-game player in a tier II junior league. Turns twenty years old in August despite just being drafted a couple weeks ago. Have I mentioned that he's only 5'9"? Not actually all that fast, that skilled, that good a stickhandler, that excellent a defensive player, or frankly that interesting. At all. If Kellen Jones can make the Oklahoma City Barons they should probably save time and run the "2010-11 American Hockey League Basement" t-shirts right now.

Pros: Still better than Tyler Bunz.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
34 Kristians Pelss 9/9/92 181 2010 31 33 35 35 36

Here's the great (read: horrible) thing about cheering for the Edmonton Oilers. Kristians Pelss was a seventh-round pick last year. He's small enough that he makes Sam Gagner look like he strides amongst skyscrapers. Prior to last season he played for teams none of you have heard of, whereas last season he played for a team just most of you haven't heard of. When he was drafted he was so obscure that not only did the NHL not have a little insert for him on the draft board, but when they handed out the lists of draft picks about forty-five minutes later his birth city was shown as "Latvia" and his team was left entirely blank. And we think that eight prospects on this team are worse than him.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
33 Robby Dee 4/9/87 86 2005 36 40 25 33 34

Robby Dee completed his third year at the University of Maine last year, where he scored a career-best 25 points in 33 games and seventh in team scoring behind (as I never tire of observing) a kid named "Spencer". At 23 years old and with as much professional hockey under his belt as I have, it's safe to say this kid isn't replete with either experience or potential. That's a relatively polite way to say that Robby Dee sucks so hard British Petroleum is trying him on the oil spill. But he's a finance major and a successful one with two appearances on the Hockey East Student-Athlete Honor Roll, so he doesn't have to rely on hockey. Like Ned Braden. Except, you know, shit.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
32 Ryan O'Marra 6/9/87 15 2005 27 31 36 29 33

Coming in at number thirty-two (or: "Robby Dee territory"), Ryan O'Marra is our lowest-ranked participant who has actually played in the National Hockey League. He got in three games with the likes of Colin McDonald and eighteen other gentlemen who were probably horrified to fall far enough they were playing hockey with Ryan O'Marra and Colin McDonald. But those three games weren't bad! O'Marra played with nobody against nobody, got an assist, and managed not to defecate all over himself at centre ice (high praise for the 2009-10 Edmonton Oilers). His NHL points-per-game of 0.33 is easily better than his career AHL points-per-game (0.24), which clearly means that he rises to big occasions. Also, he has a reputation as a big-time defensive player in the American league, one hell of a trick for a guy who went -19 last year and -12 the year before. Clearly he has the rare ability to influence people's minds with some sort of space ray. You can't coach that.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
31 Troy Hesketh 7/5/91 71 2009 34 32 32 31 26

Yes, Troy Hesketh is really surging in these rankings. Thirty-first, guys! He's ahead of a guy who has played in the NHL and hasn't suffered debilitating joint trauma! What possibly could have sent Hesketh shooting up like a French rocket in that tenth of a second before it explodes all over the countryside? Perhaps it was the way his team abused a bunch of overwhelmed Minnesotan high school students to the tune of a state finals appearance. Maybe it was the fact that Hesketh, who turned nineteen three days ago, is going to play in the United States Hockey League in hopes of playing college hockey later and getting his first taste of even modestly equal opposition after he turns twenty. Perhaps it's because he's just got to fill out his frame, even though we've been saying the same thing since the day he was drafted and it looks like the only way he can fill out that frame is with donuts. Maybe it's the way he tore his labrum (playing against, remember, high school kids), which is a very manly sort of career-affecting injury. Troy Hesketh was easily the most utterly indefensible draft pick of the Tambellini regime, a record that lasted for maybe half an hour until they took Cam Abney.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
30 Milan Kytnar 5/19/89 127 2007 32 29 29 32 30

Every single one of Milan Kytnar's seasons is exactly like the previous one, except just a liiiiittle bit worse. He's not so much deteriorating as eroding.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
29 Kyle Bigos 5/12/89 99 2009 33 30 28 30 25

Cracking the top thirty may seem like an immense achievement for an immense defenseman who was drafted in the fourth round as an overager from a tier II junior team, who plays for a not really good college hockey program, and who can't, strictly speaking, skate. And it is. But unfortunately for Kyle "Top 30 Under 25" didn't have a ring to it, so he must take my mockery for his reward. He's big, slow, penalty-prone, not actually that effective a player, and is a business major, which at Merrimack seems to rank just behind "Undeclared Arts" on the scale of "well, we have to pretend that you're taking something".

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
28 Toni Rajala 3/29/91 101 2009 29 28 30 27 31

Toni Rajaaaaaalaaa! Na-na-na-na-naaaaa! Toni Rajaalaaaaaa! Na-na-na-na-naaaaa! Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na naaa-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na, Toni Rajaaaaalaaaaa! Na-na-na-na-naaaa!

But seriously, he stinks.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
27 Jeremie Blain 3/19/92 91 2010 28 27 31 25 27

I was so stoked when we drafted Jeremie Blain! At least, after I figured out who he was. But he's 6'2", which is good! He got a few points for a QMJHL team, which is even better! He went -22 on that same QMJHL team, which is so terrible I burst into non-stop hysterical laughter and had to change my pants afterwards! Now, Jeremie gets some points for the sheer horribleness of the goaltending - their starter was Guillaume Nadeau, owner of an .875 save percentage and a goals-against average above 4, which I'm pretty sure you could improve upon by putting in the Shooter Tutor. It doubtless hurt his numbers and prepared him for life as an Edmonton Oiler. All the same. -22. It's hard to imagine a defenseman who's in that -20 range ever ranking better than twenty-seventh no matter what league he's in and how bad his goaltenders are. No. Impossible to imagine.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
26 Taylor Chorney 4/27/87 36 2005 24 22 23 26 28

Taylor Chorney. Forty-two NHL games last season. Minus twenty one, which over a full season pro-rates to "it's adorable that you let that disabled kid take an everyday shift on your blue line". No introduction is required, and yet none will suffice.

Do you know who the twenty-sixth player in the Top 25 Under 25 last year was? The now ineligible Jean-Francois Jacques. Fitting, isn't it? This seems to be fast becoming the slot for the player who you know is terrible, who we know is terrible, who everybody including the player's mother knows is terrible, and who keeps getting run out for an NHL shift. He fails, and he fails so egregiously it's like a plea to the hockey gods: "Please, rain lightning down upon me and smite me into the earth for my blasphemy against this beautiful sport, please tear out my eyes and cast me down the Gemonian Stairs, please do anything to take me off the ice and put me out of my misery."

Well, Jean-Francois Jacques got his back injury, which just goes to show that the hockey gods grind slow but exceedingly fine. Taylor Chorney has so far been spared, and I think we can safely put down to the hockey gods abandoning the Oilers entirely for a while there. Now, however, he has been given the mark of death, the Sign of the Least, two-six branded on his forehead in white-hot letters.

Actually, we probably should have put him lower. You really think he's better than Jeremie Blain? Come on.


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