Copper & Blue’s consideration of the best young players in the Edmonton Oilers organization continues today, and we finally crack the top-10. Gilbert Brule had an incredible junior career, and at one time was considered Sidney Crosby’s chief competition for the right to go first overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
Suffice to say that there’s no debate over which of the two is going to be a better pro. There have been some bumps along the way for Brule, who almost certainly made his NHL debut too early and more importantly has had to overcome a ton of injuries to get to where he is today. When the Oilers acquired him from Columbus in exchange for Raffi Torres, he was a reclamation project, a guy who couldn’t score in the AHL let alone the NHL.
He’s more than that today. In our collective opinion, he’s one of the Oilers 10 best players under the age of 25.
I should start by saying that I’ve always considered myself a pessimist on the career of Gilbert Brule. I still consider myself a pessimist when considered against the majority of Oilers’ fans, but I’m in the optimistic minority here at Copper & Blue, as the rankings above show.
Any look at Brule should start with injuries. More than any other young player on the roster, injuries have shaped and limited Brule's career - and on a roster featuring Marc Pouliot, that's saying a lot. What I've decided to do is run Brule's NHL numbers and equivalencies over an 82-game season (in years spent in more than one league, a weighted average is used) since his draft year. Underneath those, I'll show where he was hit by injuries.
Brule's numbers fall off a cliff between 2005-06 and 2006-07, and there are a few different reasons for that. The first reason is that 2006-07 was the first full season Brule spent in the NHL, and as we've seen time and again, the jump from junior to professional hockey is a big one.
The other big reason is injury. In 2005-06, Brule suffered the following:
- Sternal clavicular sprain (18 games lost)
- Broken right leg (18 games lost)
I wouldn't be the same after suffering those injuries, either physically or mentally, and it's easy to picture those as contributers to Brule's struggles.
The story of 2007-08 is a simple one, and one that Oilers fans do well to keep in mind. One of the things I keep hearing from the optimists is that Brule has an elite-level shot - something that's contributed to his 13.2 SH% this season. Well, in 2007-08, Brule shot the puck 74 times and scored one lousy goal. One. That's a 1.4% shooting percentage over the course of 61 games, and while it's an unsustaianbly low number it's one we need to remember before we start projecting his pace this season over the coming years.
Last year, Brule's first with the Oilers, he spent most of the season playing for the woeful Springfield Falcons, and had a cameo in an Oilers uniform. It wasn't a surprise when he made the team out of camp this year, but his success since has been, given that he's in the middle of his best-ever season.
It's a season where Brule's finally surpassed those gorgeous junior offensive projections, a season where he's held his own playing with good players. It's also a season where offence hasn't been Brule's only strength; he's shown a penchant for vicious hits, such as ones that sidelined Detroit's Valtteri Filppula and Joel Perrault of the Phoenix Coyotes. He's been run out against lousy opponents (he ranks 14th(!) among Oilers forwards in QualComp), but he's also been out for a lot of defensive zone draws and he has both shiny offensive results and a positive relative Corsi.
Despite that modest success, I think the Oilers should trade him, for two reasons. The first of which is that they don't need players who can keep their heads above water playing against lousy players. They need players who can do it against good players, and Brule isn't there yet. The second reason is that Brule's success this season had been almost completely dependant on playing with Dustin Penner. The chart below shows goal and shot ratios with Brule and Penner on the ice for the Oilers at even-strength. Notice the difference between Brule with and without Penner.
|Player||Goals For (per 10 against)||Shots for (per 100 against)|
|Brule & Penner||14.4||107.1|
|Brule w/o Penner||7.2||80.2|
|Penner w/o Brule||9.6||102.5|
It's true that Penner's numbers are better with Brule than without him, although I tend to believe that has more to do with the quality of competition than with Brule himself (Penner ranks fifth in QualComp, so he's clearly facing far tougher minutes than Brule). Brule without Penner has been a trainwreck: outscored 18 to 13 and outshot 380 to 205.
Why do I rank him so high, then? Two reasons. The first reason is that complimentary players still have some value, and Brule can fill a second line role playing with Penner. The second, more important reason is that I believe there are a lot of general managers out there who see a sixth overall pick finally living up to his potential, both scoring and adding a physical element, and that has a lot of value.
Brule's a useful player. He's an even more useful trading chip.