It must be an odd thing to be an Edmonton Oilers prospect right now. You may simultaneously be in the system of one of the worst performing teams in the NHL and also be light years away from a job with them.
One of the only bright spots of being an historically bad team is that you get to stock the cupboard with top-end talent who have a reasonable expectation of filling out your top 6 forward positions. Since 2007, the Oilers have drafted Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi (whom they turned into David Perron), Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov in successive years, all of whom are, were turned into, or are expected to be top 6 players. So when you're an offensively-capable forward like our #16 ranked player, you're probably not quite sure what to make of the whole thing.
In 2013 the Oilers went off script at the draft, taking a defencemen with their first rounder and a forward with their second rounder, the implication being that their core was sugar high on high scoring forwards and lacking on first-pairing potential Dmen. They took Marc-Olivier Roy (whom I'll call Marco for typing efficiency) with one of the last picks in the 2nd round, after they turned their earlier 2nd round picks into many mid-round picks.
As a general rule, I think it's good to target players in all rounds of the draft who have the potential to be above-average NHL players, meaning they can potentially turn into a non-4th line forward or a regular NHL defencemen (goalies we'll simply assume are the work of black magic and move on). You want to stay away from guys who at best can be fringe AHL players or Pawtucket High superstars. Taking a point-per-game CHL player who's not 5'5" is a pretty smart use of a 2nd round pick.
In his draft year Marco went 29-38-67 in 65 games on a good Blainville-Boisbriand squad, and subsequently put up 19 points in 15 playoff games (his 2nd consecutive strong playoff showing). I liked him for a few reasons. Firstly, he's variously listed between 6'0" and 6'1" and put together a good scoring season in his first eligible draft season. Check. Second, he was not being dragged along by a league-leading scorer. 1st line linemates Cedric Paquette and Christopher Clapperton were ranked 18th and 32nd in points per game in the QMJHL at 1.32 and 1.15 respectively. Marco's total of 1.03 points per game put him within range of those older first line players without the feeling that he was getting dragged along for the ride. Third, I found in my research that playing on good teams actually negatively handicaps first-year draft eligible players. The Armada were in the top 5 teams in the league last year and won their division. The fact that Marco was able to fight his way onto a top line of a good team is surely a good thing, but we can make the additional assumption that if he were to have played on a bad team, he would have gotten much more ice time and therefore, more points.
After being drafted he was invited to both the summer prospect camp and the pre-season Young Stars tournament. I actually managed to make it to the rink to watch some of the prospect camp. In skating drills, Marco was clearly the best forward in tests of balance and agility, with only Oscar Klefbom being noticeably better. In scrimmages, I thought he stood out along with Jujhar Khaira as being the best drafted forwards on the ice.
From what I and others saw at the Young Stars tournament, this pattern repeated itself. Bruce McCurdy commented after the Young Stars was over:
Roy, the highest-pedigreed forward on the team (#56 overall) had his moments in all three games and was Edmonton’s most consistent offensive threat. His 13 shots on goal more than doubled any teammate up front (Jujhar Khaira, Austin Fyten, and Travis Ewanyk had 6 each).
In one preseason game against men, Roy had a Corsi of +12/-14, a one-game rate of 46%. Everything seemed to be going well. And then, well, we waited. And waited. During an awkward silence from his QMJHL team as to exactly why he was out, it came out that he had suffered an elbow injury during the Oilers preseason, which was causing a delay to start his junior season. He was out a full 6 weeks, not seeing his first game action until November 1st (a game in which he posted 4 points). He started incredibly hot, posting 14 points in 10 games.
Then, another setback. On December 1st he sustained a concussion, an injury which would keep him out for almost another 6 weeks. Since his return January 8th he only has 11 points in 16 games. Who knows exactly why there's been a dip in play -- probably some combination of getting over a head injury, a team peeling back his ice-time to be cautious, but also the emergence of a legit 2nd line in Blainville, meaning the top 6 players are all sharing the load a bit more evenly than his top line had to last year. There's a fair amount of players scoring at or near a point-a-game for the Armada this season.
They're also in the conversation as the best team in the QMJHL right now, leading the stacked West Division and still having the best winning percentage in the Q. What's interesting is that there's not really another "name" player on his team -- most of the other high scoring players are small skilled forwards who were passed over in the NHL draft. This team obviously scores by committee, not relying on any superstars. Also interesting is that Marco is shooting 2.45 shots on goal per game this year, identical to his mark last season, so perhaps there is some bad luck creeping in here.
So, what's next for Marco? Well, hopefully he can have a positive last month to his season and get back to his pace of last year. After that, the Armada have a legitmate shot to be Memorial Cup contenders, and Roy's shown an ability to step up his scoring pace in each of the last two playoff seasons.
He's also an early birthday, meaning that he is technically eligible to be signed and to play in the AHL or ECHL next season. From the Oilers perspective, there are either one of two realities. First, the AHL team is sorely lacking in scoring punch, especially from blue chip NHL prospects. The scoring forwards they've drafted are all either in the NHL already or have (or are very near to have) busted. There's a calm blue ocean for Marco to fill in terms of organizational scoring depth, especially given a player of his speed and puck skill. If and when the day comes that the Oilers trade one of their scoring forwards, it would certainly be nice to have already developed a top-9 capable forward to plug into the breach.
Alternatively, the Oilers have shown a sensitivity to the 50-man contract limit in recent months, shedding dead deals to gain flexibility. They may look at a stagnant offensive season from Roy and ask him to return to junior for an overage season to prove that he deserves a professional contract. This may be one of those situations where they wait until the playoffs and subsequent summer prospect camp or Young Stars tournament to make a decision on where they want him to play.
One thing is for certain: this is a player that deserved the bet at the slot he was taken. He's got offensive ability, is lauded for his 2-way awareness, seems to be a genuinely enthusiastic young turk, and is one of the only forwards in the Oilers system that one could make a straight-faced case for being a real NHL prospect. The Oilers haven't drafted a forward after the 1st round that played over 150 games in the NHL since 2003. Help us Marco Roy. You're our only hope.