As mentioned in part one of our update, the next edition of Copper & Blue's Top 25 Under 25 will begin shortly. In advance of that project, we are providing our readers with an update on the first half of all of the candidates for the list. See below for part two:
Alex Plante - Disappointment doesn't begin to describe Alex Plante's season. 2 assists in 27 games, a -6 rating, 85 PIMs and multiple healthy scratches that have been accompanied by less than stellar reviews all around. After being named an AHL all-star last season, there was some hope that he was at least catching on as a pro and could maybe serve as a depth defender/call-up option. He has apparently injured himself in a fight. AGAIN! If there is no turnaround before the end of the year, I'd wager there is a good chance that this July brings about the end of the Alex Plante adventure for the Oilers organization.
Jujhar Khaira - Perhaps the biggest star of the first half of the season among non-current NHLers in the Oiler organization, Khaira has shown extremely well in his freshman season at Michigan Tech University in the NCAA. Khaira currently sits in a tie for second in team scoring with 4g-12a-16p in 21 games. He has also added 41 PIM and 36 shots on goal in that time frame. Curtis Hamilton and Tobias Reider are recent examples of players whose expectations were raised after solid draft +1 seasons and then struggled in subsequent years, so nobody should get too far ahead of themselves with Khaira. If he stays in the NCAA to finish his education it will be a number of years before he is even a consideration to for the Oilers, however, after the Oilers dedicated significant resources to finding a big power forward at the 2012 draft, Khaira is out to an early lead (and a big one at that) among those from his draft class in terms of showing the potential to fill that role. For a player to take a step up in competition by going from the BCHL to the NCAA and immediately produce at a high level, Khaira is certainly giving Oiler fans reason to watch his progress closely over the remainder of his NCAA career.
Erik Gustafsson - One of the more unheralded prospects of the Oilers most recent draft class due to, above all else, a general lack of available information, Gustafsson is putting together a very nice statistical season this year in the Swedish league Hockey Allsvenskan with Djurgardens IF. He currently ranks 10th in scoring by all defencemen. Full disclosure, I didn't have as much time as I would like to properly research his season, so I'm leaning a little heavy on the stats right now, but a more detailed profile will be done if he ranks among our top 25 later this month. For now he has posted 5g-11a-16p and 36 PIM in 35 games. That's already more than double the 3g-4a-7p he posed in 41 games last season. Additionally, through those same 35 contests, Gustafsson has been a part of 27 goals for at EV while only being on the ice for 16 against. Good for a +11 and a place in the top 20 in the league in that category. Again, more detailed research is needed to fully determine the success of his season, but there are some positive indicators here.
Joey Laleggia - Undersized defender Joey Laleggia was drafted as an overage player and is therefore already in his 2nd season with the University of Denver. He knows how to produce offence. He posted 38 points in 43 games last season (11g-27a) and is on pace for similar numbers this year with 19 points in 23 contests (7g-12a). Laleggia certainly has some significant skill, though his true test will be to see if he can translate any offensive prowess to the pro game. at 5'9" 180 lbs. he will be hard pressed to be able to control the big bodies in the pro game at a level high enough to be able to earn a shot. His true test will come when and if the team believes he is ready for the challenge of pro hockey. Until that time, he is doing everything that can asked of him by producing at a high level in the NCAA and working on the defensive aspects of his game.
Brandon Davidson - What is there to say about Brandon Davidson? Diagnosed with testicular cancer prior to the start of the season, he underwent surgery and though the surgery is believed to have been very successful, he recently completed a round of chemotherapy in an attempt to earn a clean bill of health. He very recently began to skate with the OKC Barons in what is, above all else, the absolute best news the Oilers Organization can report this season. A credit to how Davidson is valued by his teammates, the Barons dedicated their Movember participation to his and many of his teammates shaved their heads as a show of support during his chemotherapy. On behalf of the team here at Copper & Blue, we wish Brandon the best in his continuing battle and we hope that by the next time we re-visit this list in the summer that we are talking about Brandon's on-ice abilities because he has defeated cancer and resumed his pursuit of an NHL career. Doing so would unquestionably make him the biggest winner on our list this year. Kick Cancer's ass Brandon.
Olivier Roy - Roy has been relegated to primarily back-up duty this year, and as a result, has not seen as much action as you would hope for the team's most advanced goaltending prospect. Appearing in only 13 contests this year, Roy has a record of 5-5 with a 2.85 GAA and a.896 SV%. Not terribly impressive, but for a first year at a higher level of competition, and while only seeing sporadic playing time, it's not a massive red-flag either. As noted many times on this site and others, the developmental curve for goaltenders is nothing resembling a straight line. Therefore, Roy's dip in save percentage could be an indicator of future struggles to come, or it could mean he's a future Vezina winner. Honestly, who really knows. All things considered, I'd rather that SV% was 20 points higher.
Tyler Bunz - See Olivier Roy, and double it. While Roy was very solid in his rookie pro season in the ECHL and has taken a step backwards this season, Bunz was sensational in his final junior season last year, being named WHL Goaltender of the Year, and has fallen off a cliff this season. His .878% is worst among qualifying goaltenders in the league this season and his 3.45 GAA isn't exactly lights out. The 11-9-2-1 record is certainly not a reflection of his play as I imagine with league average goaltending, the Thunder would have a better record. Once again though, is this an indication that Bunz cannot hang at the pro level? Or is it simply a hiccup on the road to a hall of fame career? It could be either scenario or any one of the million of shades of grey in between. His performance this year is disappointing, of that much we can be sure.
Daniil Zharkov - Zharkov got his first real National exposure to Oiler fans as part of Russia WJHC team this Christmas where he was frequently paired on a line with fellow Oiler prospect Nail Yakupov. Zharkov had 1 goal in the tournament. He plays for the Belleville Bulls of the OHL, but those games are only available regionally. For those not able to keep tabs, Zharkov as seen some offensive regression this year. After posting 23g-13a-36p in 50 games in his draft season (0.72 ppg) Zharkov has posted 9g-7a-16p in 32 games to date this year (0.5 ppg).
Ryan Martindale - Martindale was drafted due to his offensive numbers in his draft year. He produced very strong numbers again the following season. As a pro, Martindale has been unable as of yet to establish himself at the AHL level. He has once again spent time in both the ECHL and AHL this year, but may be with the Barons to stay for the rest of the season after the mass exodus to Edmonton. Martindale, who has battled criticism of his work ethic throughout his career but has begun to show an affinity for winning face-offs, a skill that no doubt takes a great deal of effort to develop. Martindale has 4 assists playing a secondary role in OKC, but it is worth noting that even with limited playing time and opportunity, he is tied in points with fellow 2010 draftee Curtis Hamilton and is a point ahead of Tyler Pitlick, another early round pick by the Oilers that season.
Antti Tyrvainen - Tyrvainen earned a contract almost a little unexpectedly and in doing so, earned his way into the good graces of some fans for his style of play. This season however, Tyrvainen has been relegated to spot duty, only appearing in 9 games and posting 1 goal.
Taylor Fedun - Fedun would have perhaps the greatest story of perseverance of an Oiler prospect if not for the difficulties endured by Brandon Davidson. Fedun overcame an absolutely horrific leg injury suffered at the end of last season's training camp. Many will remember that he had performed well above expectations and worked his way into the conversation for a roster spot. Fedun has made a full recovery and has finally begun his pro career in the AHL this season. Fedun has been inconsistent at times, but has been one of the more stabilizing presences on a blueline that has been erratic for the Barons this season. Fedun has 2g-7a-9p in 35 games and in a bit of a surprise, he was just recalled to Edmonton to participate in the Oilers' abbreviated training camp. I suspect that Fedun has put himself in the centre of the conversation to be a top call-up option for next season with players like Peckham, Plante and Potter possibly in their final year in the organization.
Samu Perhonen - Perhonen is playing for JYP-Akatemia in Finland's 2nd league. This is Perhonen's 2nd season at this level and in 10 appearances this year he has .909 SV% and 3.00 GAA. Those numbers represent an improvement over his performance last season though he is still serving a back-up role. Perhonen is certainly a ways away from being ready for a transfer to the North American game, but is making steady progress in his development. Certainly not a prospect on the immediate radar of the Oilers. It should be said though that while Perhonen and Frans Tuohimaa were both drafted in 2011, Perhonen is two years younger and is still only 19, so his development curve is expected to be longer.
Frans Tuohimaa -Tuohimaa appears to be further along in his development that Perhonen, at least in the sense that he has had the opportunity to play in Finland's top league, the SM-Liiga. Tuohimaa has split his time over the last two seasons between the SM-Liiga and the same Finland2 league that Perhonen is currently playing in. In both leagues, Tuohimaa's are pretty similar, 2.50 GAA/.901% and 2.60 GAA/.911% respectively. Overall, he is posting decent-yet-unspectacular numbers and still attempting to rise to the level of a starter in the SM-Liiga. Once again, a prospect who is not on the verge of being considered for a role in North America.
Mitch Moroz - I would suspect that most Oiler fans in Edmonton may be familiar with Mitch Moroz's season. Moroz is in the unfortunate place of being saddled with the expectations of a 2nd round draftee. The Oilers made Moroz an instant target for critics when they selected him in the 2nd round of the 2012 NHL Draft. Thus far, Moroz is doing little to silence those critics. With 9g-12a-21p in 41 games, Moroz is certainly not showing the signs of developping into that "Milan Lucic-type" of player that the Oilers dedicated essentially half of the 2012 draft to finding. There is still time, but Moroz is off to a rather morose start.
Philippe Cornet - Cornet had somewhat of a breakthrough 2011/12 AHL season. He had outstanding offensive numbers though he was helped significantly by some rather unsustainable percentages. That said, he got the job done and earned himself an AHL all-star birth. This season, Cornet fell victim to the numbers game created by the lockout and didn't just lose his top six role, he found himself out of a job all together and spent a significant time with Stockton in the ECHL. With the NHL season resuming, Cornet has been recalled to Oklahoma City and has immediately taken a top six role on the offensively anemic Barons squad.
Kristians Pelss - Pelss is making is pro debut this year and has split time with the ECHL Thunder and AHL Barons. Pelss has 5 points in 13 ECHL games and two assists in 5 games with the Barons. He was also the recipient of recall to OKC with the arrival of the end of the lockout. A longer term project, Pelss has a number of heads to step over if he wants to earn a shot with the Oilers and is still just getting acclimated to the pro game.
John McCarron - I'm probably a bit harder on McCarron than I should be. He actually wasn't terrible in his first season at Cornell, posting 19 points. This year, through 14 games he has 3g-3a-6p. The one thing he does have going for him is that he leads the team in shots on goal, which is an unexpectedly pleasant surprise. The guy is a beast at 6'3" 220 lbs., and as a late round boom or bust pick, I shouldn't really have a problem with him. He's just in a group of players along with Moroz, Ewanyk, Abney, etc. that are unlikely to succeed. This team loves their coke machines. I don't.
Travis Ewanyk - I like to call Travis Ewanyk the "We Already Had A Guy That Was Pretty Much Just Like Mitch Moroz Only A Little Smaller And We Wasted A Third Rounder On Him In 2011 So Why Did We Need To Waste A Second Rounder On Moroz The Following Year, Did We Not Learn Anything" guy. Ewanyk is a physical player in Edmonton with the Oil Kings, but does not provide a level of offense that would be expected to translate to the NHL level. He has 5g-8a-13p in 27 games for the powerhouse Oil Kings and is basically Mitch Moroz-Lite. That is not a compliment.
Kellen Jones - For the dimunutive Jones, this is his third year in the NCAA. He plays on a very strong Quinnipac Bobcats team that is ranked 5th in the NCAA this year. The downside is that his production seems to have slowed. After a strong 2nd year where he posted 36 points in 36 games, Jones only have 2-8-10 this year through 21 games. At 5'9" 165 lbs. He'll need much better numbers than that to earn a contract when his college career is done.
Toni Rajala - With Toni Rajala this season, it's a bit of a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that he is in the top 10 in scoring in the ECHL (18-20-38 in 29 games), the bad news is that it was the ECHL, and for an offensive player to be in that league three years post-draft does not speak well for his career potential at the NHL level. That said, part of the reason he was there was the lockout and Rajala has been called up to the Barons, likely for the remainder of the season, now that the young Oilers have left OKC. He has a goal and an assist in 5 games in the AHL this season.
Mark Arcobello - Sure to be making some upward movement in the next 25 Under 25, Marc Arcobello has done a very serviceable job with the Oklahoma City Barons this year. After RNH left to play for Team Canada, Arcobello was moved into the prime position between Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, where he did not disappoint. He has posted 31 points (9g-22a) in 33 games with OKC and will have an opportunity to prove if he can continue to produce without Hall and Eberle now that they have returned to Edmonton. Arcobello has pushed himself into the conversation for a potential NHL call-up as an injury replacement.
Cameron Abney - Everyone's favourite punching bag because, well...punching is all he's able to do. A frequent healthy scratch IN THE ECHL(!!!), Abney is among the most glorious wastes of a draft pick in recent memory (along with Mitch Moroz). With 2g-1a-3p in 15 games with Stockton, Abney is in serious danger of being outscored by Tyler Bunz. (Bunz has two assists).
Our esteemed panel of contributors will be back in the next few weeks with a more detailed analysis of the Oiler prospects with the next edition of the Top 25 Under 25.