The Oilers announced earlier today via their twitter feed that they have agreed to terms with 2011 5th round pick Martin Gernat.
Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) April 20, 2013
Gernat is a big, skilled defender who represents some significant potential on the Oilers' back-end. The big Slovak blueliner is listed at 6'5" and recent reports have him bulking up to between 195-200 lbs. after being drafted at about 180-185 lbs.
For a big man, Gernat is not a Colten Teubert/Alex Plante type of player. He can skate, he can pass and he can put up points in big numbers in the CHL. In his first WHL season with the Oil , Gernat blew away expectations, posting 9g-46a-55p in 60 games.
The first big obstacle for Gernat came at the start of this season when he suffered a serious shoulder injury that required an extensive surgery to repair. He was only able to make his way back into the line-up for the final 23 games of the Oil Kings season and, as is perhaps to be expected, he took some time to get his game up to par from an offensive standpoint. In those 23 games, Gernat only posted 3g-10a-13p. In the WHL playoffs thus far, Gernat has begun to look like he is regaining his form posting 12 points in the team's first 11 games.
The timing of this deal is hardly a surprise. There's not much doubt that Gernat has shown enough promise that the team wants to see what he can do at the pro level next season and if he was not signed by June 1st he would have been placed back in the NHL draft. Getting the deal done now allows Gernat to focus entirely on his team's pursuit of the Memorial Cup and is another feel-good move for the early tenure of new GM Craig MacTavish.
The signing of Gernat now means that virtually all non-goaltending draft picks from the 2011 draft have yielded pro contracts. Obviously first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is just completing his second season with the Oilers, and fellow 2011 picks Oscar Klefbom and David Musil have both been signed previously. The team recently signed 3rd round pick Travis Ewanyk in a move that was questionable at best, but fit entirely with the decision-making history of former GM Steve Tambellini. The 4th round pick the Oilers' spent on Tobias Rieder has resulted in a pro contract for Kale Kessy, who was obtained in a one-for-one swap of prospects at this year's trade deadline. the lone remaining position player left unsigned is Dillon Simpson who is likely to return for his senior year at the University of North Dakota and is not eligible to be signed until he either graduates or elects to leave school and turn pro.
The two goaltending prospects taken in the 2011 draft, Samu Perhonen (3rd round) and Frans Tuohimaa (7th round) are the two remaining players who must either be signed before June 1st or be allowed to re-enter the draft. Given Perhonen's performance, I'd be somewhat surprised if he is signed, though he is still quite young and as well all know, the development of goaltenders is far from linear. Tuohimaa has performed better, but still far from outstanding, and is two years older. I could see the team sign one of these two, but likely not both. Tuohimaa would seem to have a slight edge at this point based on performance, but if one is signed, I could see a case being made for either choice.
Turning the attention back to Gernat, he joins a collection of the team's top prospects who will be young pros at the AHL level to start next season. In addition to Gernat, all of Martin Marincin, Oscar Klefbom, David Musil, Taylor Fedun as well as Colten Teubert and the yet unsigned Kyle Bigos could be battling for minutes in Oklahoma City this October. (Bigos can become a UFA this summer if he elects not to sign in Edmonton.)
The list above, and the team's needs for proven NHL talent on the blueline leads me to think that at least one of the names listed in that last paragraph will be moved as part of a package for an established player this off-season. I'd bet that Gernat, Musil and Marincin may be the most likely to move as I believe the team wants to see what Klefbom can do in North America (and when not injured) and the rest of those assets don't carry the same value as that trio. The team has done a good job at developing some depth of defensive prospects and taking advantage of that depth to address other needs is a reasonable move. These players on their own may not have enough value to obtain what the team needs, but the Oilers have the assets available to package multiple players in a deal to get the player they want.
That said, I'm excited to see what Gernat and the rest of this group (whichever players are still with the franchise in the fall) can do in the pro game. He certainly has the tools to be a top four Dman at the NHL level down the road, but will need to improve his play in his own and and continue to develop the tools that are already showing well.
Signing Gernat was a no-brainer, and by doing so, the team has further solidified their core group of blueline prospects, with now all but Simpson (among the highest rated group of young players) under contract going forward.
I continue to believe that this will be a volatile off-season that provides a significant shake-up to the look of the Oiler depth chart at all levels of the organization, so I don't know if we'll ever see Gernat dressed in an Oiler uniform for an NHL game, but getting him signed was a necessary move in the present-tense and one that gives them flexibility going forward.