The Top 25 Under 25 Returns! So Do These Losers!

The Oilers have lost 27 games and won 13. They're last in the division, are fighting for last in the league, and show no signs of snapping out of their funk. Everybody is hurt, and the few who aren't hurt are miserable. Our billionaire owner is trying to extort taxpayer money for a new arena that his losing hockey team can play in, and instead of fixing the Edmonton Oilers' problems, the brain trust prefer to hire a documentary crew to follow them around and say how great they are.

It's a pretty negative time, even by our standards, but the glass can't always be half empty. The bright side of finishing last all the time is that you get some pretty good prospects, and when we fans are tasting rock bottom, it's worth looking ahead to the bright joys of the future. So we dragged Jonathan Willis out of his undisclosed location, Bruce McCurdy out of the observatory, Derek Zona out of protective asylum, Scott Reynolds out of math club, and myself out of the bar, and set to work ranking the forty-two members of the Edmonton Oilers organization under 25 years of age from "suckiest" to "least sucky".

For those unfamiliar with the Copper & Blue Top 25 Under 25, it's our own spin on the de rigeur prospect rankings every blog for a draft lottery team runs to keep from hanging themselves. Rather than fuss about with number of NHL games played or whatever arcane and arbitrary criteria other writers use to set their prospect lists, we made our arbitrary criteria easy to understand. If you're under twenty-five years old, you're on the list, end of story. In the weeks to come, the Copper & Blue brain trust will get out the graphing calculators, the VHS tapes, and the sippy cups full of gin to bring you detailed analysis of the top 25 players in the Edmonton Oilers system under 25 years old.

"But Ben!" you're saying. "There are more than 25 players under 25 in the Oilers system! What happens to the other seventeen? What expert analysis of their strengths and weaknesses can we expect from the best hockey writers in the business?"

Well, they come to me. And while I won't analyze their strengths, I'll be happy to harp on sarcastically about their weaknesses.


Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
42 Jordan Bendfeld 2/9/88
193 2008
40 40 42 37 42

Pity poor Jordan Bendfeld. This particular palooka was dead last on our first Top 25 Under 25 ranking back in March of 2009 and here he is again, our first ever repeat chumpion. The hard truth is that, if the purveyors of the poison pen I call my co-writers and I are honest, Bendfeld is more likely than some of the guys on this list to make the NHL. Sure, he's big, useless, hasn't scored a goal since 2009, and despite turning twenty-three in February has precisely one career AHL point. But this makes him a better offensive prospect than Steve MacIntyre and his career is turning out okay. Bendfeld is fairly tall, pretty sturdy, punches guys in the face, and isn't as far into the minus column as you probably think. So here's to you, Jordan Bendfeld! You suck, and you suck outrageously, but I bet we'll see you in the show before half the guys ranked below you.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
41 Matt Marquardt 7/19/87
194 2006
39 42 38 38 40

The last time we ran these rankings, Matt Marquardt occupied the traditional goon's seat at the back of our Top 25 Under 25 bus despite not being a goon so much as a crappy player who fought once in a while so we'd notice him. Yet Marquardt, acquired from the Boston Bruins in the infamous Cody Wild franchise hissy-fit, is roaring out of the gate as an offensive dynamo with the Oklahoma City Barons. The 23-year-old has eight points in twenty-nine games, which won't put anybody in mind of Cam Neely, but he is outscoring Gregory Stewart and he was actually in the NHL once. Meanwhile, after a few promising minor league stops Cody Wild is now sucking bus fumes for the Reading Royals of the ECHL. So hats off, Steve Tambellini! You managed to trade almost nothing for almost nothing after all.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
40 Alexander Bumagin 3/1/87
170 2006
42 41 37 42 33

Ah, Alexander Bumagin. I remember you. 2006 winner of the Dragan Umicevic Award for Mediocre European Forwards We All Get Unreasonably Hyped Up About. As it turns out, not only is Bumagin not that good but the only way he's coming to North America is tied up in a garment bag. I rank him last because he's a single-digit KHL scorer, he was a sixth-round pick, he turns 24 in March, and I'm not entirely sure he wasn't sent to the Gulag in the summer of 2006 and replaced with his crappier twin brother. It would explain a lot, such as how you can score 23 points in the old Russian Super League when you're 18 and then five the next season. I can feel confident taking these cheap shots at Bumagin since, with his level of interest in North American hockey, it's certain he'll never read them.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
39 Cameron Abney 5/23/91
82 2009
38 39 39 41 37

Something very strange is happening to Cam Abney's career. This year, in twenty-nine games, Abney has only 33 penalty minutes. The hell is that noise? He's a little young to be getting Georges Laraque-itis, the well-known condition where goons convince themselves they're power forwards. He's also a little garbage for that particular disease, boasting a Rocky Thompson-esque six points with the Edmonton Oil Kings this season. That's not right. That's Abney-normal. This is a guy whose only marketable skill is "punches dudes in the face", like Mike Tyson without the charisma, and he's not even going to the box, taking good aggressive penalties that are easier to kill, and wrapping his stick so far around an opposing forward's waist that in Vermont they'd be legally married? I'm beginning to think that drafting a hockey player with no hockey skills in the third round was a bad idea.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
38 Gregory Stewart 5/21/86
n/a n/a
34 36 40 36 41

Weren't we just talking about Gregory Stewart? You'll recall he's the former Montreal Canadien who's being outscored by Matt Marquardt this season. I was so stoked when I heard we'd signed Greg Stewart, since I thought we were getting the one-time (and I do mean one-time) Pickering Panther by the same name. No, it was just some scrub of a winger who, with one point in 26 NHL games, could be considered the poor man's Jean-Francois Jacques. I gotta say, I think we let you down ranking Stewart as highly as we did. Sure, 38th is pretty bad, but he has six points this year! Six! I worry that we fell into the trap of saying "ah, he played for Montreal, the Eastern Conference is so far from here so I don't watch their games except when the CBC intubates them directly into my stomach every Saturday night, he probably can't be that bad." Apparently he actually is that bad. But it's okay, since he turns twenty-five in May so we'll never have to rank him ever again.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
37 Bryan Pitton 1/26/88
133 2006
29 37 41 40 38

Very quietly, and I do mean quietly, Bryan Pitton has put together a couple consecutive good seasons in the ECHL, not to mention brief appearances in the AHL that were less eye-gouging than usual. "Pretty good seasons in the ECHL" doesn't appear on anybody's path to the Vezina Trophy, though, and he is playing for an organization determined to be the first NHL franchise that has more goaltenders than wins. I will say that, with three assists at all levels this season, Pitton has a better chance of being a useful NHL scorer than Jordan Bendfeld.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
36 Troy Hesketh 7/5/91
71 2009
41 38 32 39 31

Troy Hesketh. Oh boy. Oh boy oh boy. He's an offensive defenseman who hasn't gotten a point yet this season. The NCAA school he committed to asked him to go play in the USHL his first year because he was too crappy, and the USHL team he played for traded him away because he was too crappy for the USHL. He's coming off a serious shoulder injury, and he was drafted because he put up pretty good numbers in high school hockey, even though you can count the number of professional players who played in high school as 18-year-olds on your fingers. It's like Troy Hesketh was put on this earth as a test for people like us, to see if we say "okay, he is an enormous, gaping black hole of suck at a level so far below the NHL you need the Hubble Space Telescope to find it, and he has injury problems, and he's thin enough that you spat out your milk laughing when I described him as 'enormous' up there, and the teams he's played for this year have almost fallen over themselves trying to get rid of him, but at least he's not Jordan Bendfeld." He turns twenty next year and will be eligible for a professional contract. Can you imagine Troy Hesketh in the ECHL? There wouldn't be enough left of him to put in a hockey bag. Basically he'd be a poor man's Taylor Chorney, except for the ECHL. Seriously, thirty-sixth is way too high for this kid. We should really have ranked him "ineligible: not a hockey player" since I don't know what he's doing but it isn't playing hockey.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
35 Kristians Pelss 10/9/92
181 2010 37 29 35 35 39

Are we being a little hard on young Kristians here? He's off to a mediocre start with the Edmonton Oil Kings but, well, the Oil Kings are a pretty mediocre team. Having spent the rest of his life in the Eastern Bloc, he only made his way to North America after being a somewhat surprising seventh-round pick, doubtless leading to a bit of culture shock. It might be significant that Bruce, the only one among us who actually goes to Oil Kings games, ranked Pelss much higher than the rest of us. Then again, Pelss is little, a very iffy scorer, and all the talk about culture shock and figuring out North America is often just code for a player not being that good. Out of all the players below the top 25, Pelss is the one I most suspect we're underrating. But, on the other hand... I mean, he's a Latvian midget with four goals in the WHL this year. That only gets you so far in life.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
34 Kellen Jones 5/21/86
n/a n/a
28 33 34 34 36

When we drafted him last summer, Kellen Jones was easily the second-best draft-eligible forward named "Jones" on the Vernon Vipers. A hellaciously undersized but tough and somewhat talented overager, you'd have to be a bold soul to predict him to achieve anything anywhere ever. Actually, he's off to a pretty good start in his American college career, racking up a point every two games for a school I've never heard of. Unfortunately, he hasn't grown three inches, magically become two years younger, or developed a wrist shot, so he still sinks down in the muck of these rankings.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
33 Drew Czerwonka 7/1/92
166 2010
35 30 31 33 35

You hear that "whoosh" like a thousand jet engines roaring past all at once? That's Drew Czerwonka soaring up our prospect board. Ranking a mere 39th last fall, Czerwonka is all the way up to 33rd on the January table thanks to an offensive performance with the Kootenay Ice that is less terrible than we've come to expect. The Ice are expected to contend for the Memorial Cup this season and Czerwonka is actually a contributing part of that, running eighth in team scoring as of this writing. Now let's not get carried away. He's still just eighth, which means that you better not be relying on him for goals, and as he's not a particularly tough customer or that much of a defensive specialist I still can't quite understand why the Oilers drafted him. All the same, he has moved from the realm of those who really suck into the heady lands of prospects who just mostly suck.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
32 Robby Dee 4/9/87
86 2005
36 31 25 30 32

Robby Dee is off to a fine start in his senior year at the University of Maine, roaring up past a point per game, kicking butt, taking names, and generally looking dangerous. It is, by far, his career year. This explains why he's dropped from twenty-seventh place in the fall to thirty-second. Actually, the real reasons are probably that Dee is 23, playing his last season of college hockey, and for all certain people's carping about NHL equivalences is having an outlier season, against less experienced competition, that isn't actually all that good anyway. Robby Dee should stick to what he's good at. I can't imagine what that would be, but I'm sure there's something.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
31 Kyle Bigos 5/12/89
99 2009
32 34 26 32 28

From the "gigantic dudes who don't take no guff" collection comes Kyle Bigos, a 21-year-old 6'5" leviathan of a man currently pulling his Andre the Giant act for Merrimack College. Think of Bigos as the modern Cory Cross: he's huge, and he hits hard, and he's almost good enough defensively to make up for his complete lack of athleticism, and if he played one game in snow boots you'd wonder why he was suddenly so much faster. In the BCHL, Bigos thrived by putting his big body into hard shots from the point, but unfortunately in the college ranks he's being foiled by Hockey East schools' brilliant strategy of having players who can skate. Not to take too much away from Bigos, for he is big and as the great Steve Tambellini tells us, that means he is certain to be a great player. But his tossing-guys-around-like-Andre-the-Giant act might not work in the AHL where players are liable to be as big as he is.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
30 Milan Kytnar 5/19/89
127 2007
31 32 27 29 26

Twice a season I do one of these, and twice a season I say "holy crap, that's right, Milan Kytnar is still around!" It feels like Milan Kytnar has always been around, always vaguely disappointing us. I thought I remembered him not quite meeting expectations in junior with Glenn Anderson a few years back. Now Kytnar is in the American league but he's still up to his old tricks, causing us to shake our heads and say "that's not quite where I imagined he'd be at this stage." Kytnar could probably be pretty good if he'd just apply himself, like some hockey bloggers I know. Running well into the minuses with fewer points than Chris Vande Velde, he's having the same generically disappointing Milan Kytnar year. I look forward to seeing Milan in the KHL in a few years time, listening to some Russian coach saying "boy, he's really not as good as I thought he'd be."

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
29 Philippe Cornet 3/28/90
133 2008
27 35 28 31 24

And speaking of disappointments! Remember when we all thought Philippe Cornet was going to be the bees knees? He had an outside shot at a World Junior spot, he was racking up the points in the Q, an offensive dynamo for the Rimouski Oceanic... hell, he was a regular Marc Pouliot. Unlike Pouliot, though, Cornet never made that next step. So far in the AHL, Cornet has one goal. One. Greg Stewart has three, and Philippe Cornet has one. But it's okay because at least Cornet isn't undersized, defensively inert, and completely devoid of grit or sandpaper... okay, he's all of those things. But when he's tending bar in Asbestos a few years from now Cornet will have some great junior hockey stories to tell, and that'll keep the tips coming in.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
28 Tyler Bunz 2/11/92
121 2010
35 20 33 24 34

If you're anything like me, you're viewing Tyler Bunz's recent burst of reasonableness with grave suspicion. "Your fancy .910 save percentage doesn't fool me," I sneer every time I see his name in the box scores. "You're Bryan Pitton with a prettier dress. I just know it. You've sucked every year but this one, what are the odds you magically turned good after a training camp with Nikolai Khabibulin and Jeff Deslauriers showing you the ropes?" It's all smoke and mirrors. Tyler Bunz sucked before we drafted him, he sucked when we drafted him, and it's too much to expect that he suddenly doesn't suck now. Tyler's natural spot is with a save percentage below .900 and a seat on the end of the bench. Remember this when he allows nine goals in a game to Kootenay come playoff time and people are wondering what the hell happened to Tyler Bunz. He came home, that's what.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
27 Ryan O'Marra 6/9/87
15 2005
22 25 36 27 30

Winning the coveted twin titles of Worst-Ranked Former First Round Pick and Worst-Ranked Player with NHL Experience If We Don't Count Greg Stewart, and We Probably Shouldn't, Ryan O'Marra is a positive bundle of questions. Why do the Oilers think so highly of this guy? How has he gotten a reputation as a defensive specialist when this is the first time in his professional career he's been a plus player? What did O'Marra do to Derek in a past life that he's ranked behind Kellen Jones and Troy Hesketh? When will he finally go away, the last shambling, zombified wreck from the Ryan Smyth trade, and trouble us no more with his poor skating and pathetic puck skills and "well, he can win faceoffs" as Tom Renney sends him out for three draws a night because he's so terrified O'Marra will get his skull caved in by the NHL's fourth-liners? And finally, if Ryan O'Marra plays enough and gets hyped up enough, will he eventually become a good player instead of being Tokyo's Jesse Niinimaki?

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Ben
Bruce
Derek
Jon Scott
26 Toni Rajala 3/29/91
101 2009
30 28 29 22 27

Toni Rajala is the sort of player who comes over from Finland, puts up a decent but not remarkable point-per-game season in Brandon of the WHL, then at age nineteen decides "nope, I've proven everything I have to prove here" and zips back to Finland. Yeah, Toni, that one mediocre junior season sure made me want you in my NHL foxhole. Now Rajala's scoring a couple goals in Finland and playing pretty average hockey. He's not terrible, but he's not good and he's already proven apprehensive to stick around in North America. Hard to believe he'll ever make an impact on the NHL. Now, hit the page up button and see how many Oilers prospects we thought were worse than this guy.

That's this organization in a nutshell, right there.

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