The Top 25 Under 25 Returns

Will he get to pull it on for a game? - Bruce Bennett

We are now at the quarter pole of the 2013 season, and the Oilers aren't definitely on the outside of the playoff picture, which makes this their most successful year in a while! We've suffered through some awful hockey in these last several seasons, and have been promised a bright future. Well, the Copper and Blue panel has convened once again to gauge the brightness of that future by taking stock of each and every player in the organization under twenty-five years old.

As the Copper and Blue grows, the panel grows right alongside. This time around, we've added Michael Parkatti, to the eight holdovers: Alan Hull, Benjamin Massey, Bruce McCurdy, Derek Blasutti, Derek Zona, Jonathan Willis, Ryan Batty, and myself.

Many of you are already familiar with the Top 25 Under 25, so you'll know that there will be a detailed profile on each player ranked inside the top 25 coming soon. But before we get to those, we'll need to whittle our list of 42 players down to 25. Over the next three days, I'll introduce you to a bunch of players who, for whatever reason, just didn't make the cut plus one each day who did. Your job, of course, is to determine which guy made the cut.

Cameron Abney - Here's the only player on the list guaranteed to move up at least one spot. But beyond that, there isn't much good news. Abney probably wasn't drafted because he was a good hockey player, and definitely wasn't signed because he was a good hockey player. He does fight, though. He's had nine so far this year between OKC and Stockton to go along with seven points (having more fights than points is a pretty good indication that you're not around for your hockey skills). He's been on the ice for more goals-for than goals-against, but the biggest news for Abney is probably that Darcy Hordichuk was just waived: the (useless) role the team would have Abney fill is disappearing. Last Ranking: #43.

Travis Ewanyk - His scoring pace is only slightly better than Abney's at the same age - 0.43 points per game in his last season of junior compared to 0.33 for the fighter - but he is at least getting attention for his hockey skills. Ewanyk was drafted as a checking forward in the WHL and the thinking seemed to be that he could carry those checking skills to him into pro hockey. Billy Moores talked about what they were hoping for from Ewanyk in 2012-13 after he lost most of 2011-12 to injury:

His strength is his defensive play, but it doesn't limit him. He really understands the game and has a good level of toughness. He does all the things you need in a checking forward. It'll be great to see what he can do next year with a full season.

Unfortunately, Ewanyk has had more injuries to deal with this season. He was selected to play in the Subway Series against Russia (good), but injured his knee (bad), which made it impossible for him to try out for the Canadian Junior team (good that he was even considered). Overall, I don't think Ewanyk projects to be an effective NHL player because of his very poor offensive numbers, but I also expect him to get an entry-level contract and very real consideration for a third or fourth line job in the NHL even he continues to struggle offensively when he turns pro. Last Ranking: #40.

Erik Gustafsson - The Oilers drafted Gustafsson 93rd overall last summer even though the Swedish defender had passed through the draft completely in both 2010 and 2011. Gustafsson is playing with Djurgården in the Swedish Allsvenskan (Swedish second division). It's not a great league (Slava Trukhno is ninth in league scoring with 36 points in 42 games), but it is at a higher level than the Canadian Junior leagues, and Gustafsson is having a very good season. He leads the defensemen on his team in scoring with 20 points in 42 games, is second on the team in shots on goal with 111 (2.6 per game), and is +11 at even strength. That's a pretty good season. Given the crowded blueline, it probably makes sense to leave Gustafsson in Sweden if Djurgården gets promoted to the Swedish Elite League (they're currently fourth, so they have a shot), but if not, you probably need to get him over to the AHL where he'll be in a real fight for ice time. Last Ranking: #29.

Curtis Hamilton - The positives: he's got enough talent that he was drafted in the top fifty, he's healthy, and he's big. The negatives: just about everything else. Curtis Hamilton scored just 11 points in 41 games last season, so there was already some reason for concern. This season, his 5 points in 37 games is off that pace, and while I acknowledge that the NHL lockout didn't exactly help him see many offensive situations, he has fewer points on the season than nine different wingers (Eberle, Hall, Hartikainen, Paajarvi, Rajala, Cheechoo, Cornet, Byers, Pelss), is a team-worst -11, and was a healthy scratch less than two weeks ago. Not promising. Last Ranking: #22.

Mitch Moroz - The positives: he's got enough talent that he was drafted in the top fifty, he's healthy, and he's big. The negatives aren't quite "just about everything else", but Moroz hasn't been impressive. When I looked to find comparables for Moroz, there were two groups: one with a couple who developed into NHL players, and one with Dane Byers. The NHL group jumped to close to a point per game in junior in the year after being drafted; the Byers group was at about half of that. Mitch Moroz is currently sitting at 0.51 points per game. The season isn't over, but that's not the right group. Last Ranking: #34.

Daniil Zharkov - He was having an absolutely wretched statistical season before the World Junior Championships (30 GP 8-3-11, -3), and has been on a really solid run in the dozen games since his return (12 GP, 8-6-14, +11). If he can sustain this new pace through the end of the season, that'll be an encouraging sign, but it's not like those numbers are overwhelming for a player in his post-draft season. Tobias Rieder, for example, had better goals per game (0.72 > 0.67) and points per game (1.46 > 1.17) numbers than this hot streak over an entire year. Then again, Tobias Rieder isn't 6'4'' and 212 lbs. Last Ranking: #27

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