When the Oilers drafted Anton Slepyshev 88th overall in 2013, it marked a clear shift in draft strategy toward selecting players with at least the possibility of becoming high-level NHL contributors. The key word there is possibility. Slepyshev has some incredible skills, but he certainly wasn't a sure thing when the Oilers took him in his second year of eligibility, and this season has been a bit of a mixed bag in terms of progress toward the NHL goal.
When I wrote about Slepyshev shortly after the Oilers drafted him, I noted several encouraging signs, one of which was his ice time in the KHL:
The fact that he played 12:04 per game suggests that he'll likely continue to get the ice time he needs to develop his game in Russia, which is important because he's already got a contract to play there in 2013-14 and may stay even longer.
Unfortunately, that hasn't really happened. Slepyshev has actually seen his ice time decrease to 10:19 per game this season, the lowest of any regular forward on his team. As you might expect, the rest of his numbers have also seen a corresponding decline. His shots per game total is down from 2.42 last season to 1.56 this year and his points per game has fallen from 0.35 to 0.25. This direction is particularly discouraging because it had seemed like the move to Salavat Yulaev close to the end of last season had done him some good (Metallurg gave up on him just a year and a half after selecting him first overall in the KHL draft). So that's the bad.
Thankfully, there's also been some good this season. Slepyshev performed admirably at this year's World Junior Championship (though but not all reports on his play were positive), captaining the Russian team to a bronze medal and playing on the team's top line, scoring seven points in seven games, including an outstanding performance in the quarterfinals against the United States. Craig MacTavish had some nice things to say about Slepyshev after the tournament:
He has a dynamic skill set. High-speed skill. He competes well. There’s plenty of tools there.
And that's basically where we are. He's got plenty of tools, we're just waiting on more in the way of results outside of international competition.
Most recently, Slepyshev has been playing in the MHL (Russia's junior league), which probably isn't ideal for his development. He has been very successful there with two goals and two assists through his first two games, but it's clear that he's a cut above most of the other players in the league, and dominating lesser players probably isn't going to help him much.
It will be interesting to where Slepyshev plays next season. If he's not relatively sure that's he's going to get consistent ice time in the KHL, he'd probably be better off long-term (whether he ends up in Russia or North America) spending a season in Oklahoma City. Will Slepyshev agree with that assessment? We'll find out soon enough.
Check out previous articles in the Top 25 Under 25 series in our