The Edmonton Oilers have signed young left-winger Kristians Pelss to a three-year entry-level contract. Pelss, like most of the other players drafted in 2010, needed to be signed before this June's draft for the Oilers to retain him, so this contract is likely the first of several (the others who will either be signed or sent back into the draft are Jeremie Blain, Brandon Davidson, and Drew Czerwonka).
I haven't seen any of the financial terms, but it's safe to say that the seventh-round pick in 2010 didn't get the same bonus structure as Taylor Hall. Pelss is only the fifth player from the seventh round in 2010 to get a contract. The others were Patrick Holland ($640,000 salary, $900,000 cap), Joonas Rask ($600,000 salary, $662,500 cap), Riley Boychuk ($567,500 salary and cap), and Zach Trotman ($665,000 salary, $900,000 cap). Trotman is a defender and Rask was signed out of Finland, and Boychuk is an enforcer, which leaves Holland as the only similar player-type signed out of the CHL. Of course, Holland scored 109 points in 72 regular season games and that's difficult to ignore.
So given that Pelss scored a measly 50 points in his 63 games, it can't possibly be the offense that stood out to them. That being the case, why did they give him a contract?
It would be interesting to hear from Steve Tambellini on the issue, but there are a couple of key things that I think help Pelss. First off, he's not getting a lot of opportunity on the power play, or if he is, he's not getting much in the way of results. With just nine power play points and four more while short-handed, Pelss has scored 37 even strength points in his 63 games, which isn't blowing anyone away - for reference, last season Curtis Hamilton had 50 in 62 and Tyler Pitlick had 41 in 56 - but it's at least respectable.
If you add that respectable offense to his tools, you can see why the Oilers might be inclined to give Pelss a chance. When I saw Pelss play during the pre-season, two things stood out: his ability to win battles for the puck and his excellent skating. Even if his offense is marginal, that's the kind of player that can be molded into something useful. Looked at in that light, I can understand why the Oilers decided to sign Pelss to a contract, and I'll be cheering for him like crazy.
With that godawful quasi-positive stuff out of the way, I must say that I can't help but disagree with the Oilers from a larger more philosophical perspective. What I mean is, does it really make sense to be developing this kind of player? Wouldn't the Oilers be better off making three consecutive one-year commitments to more veteran players out of Europe (like Lennart Petrell) than one three-year commitment to a 19-year-old? It seems likely to me that the first option will give you a better chance at finding capable NHL players for the role and it would give you more flexibility too.
But signing Pelss isn't the mistake; for me, it's the larger development philosophy that's in error, and the Pelss signing is just the natural manifestation of that perspective. If you think that developing this kind of player from the WHL straight through to the NHL makes good sense then Pelss seems like a pretty decent bet.