David Musil has broken his recent downward slide in our Top 25 Under 25 series. After falling from 11th to 17th to 21st over the last two seasons, Musil rebounds up to to the 17 position in our most recent evaluation of young Oiler assets.
After not reaching any higher than 20th on any of our panelists lists last time, Musil was able to secure a top 20 ranking from all but two our our group this time. His most notable critic remains Derek Zona, who has been Musil's harshest reviewer for quite a while now.
I could give you Musil's counting stats for his rookie AHL season (2g-10a-12p in 61 GP) but really, the success or failure of Musil as a prospect is not going to hinge on his ability to produce offence. At the end of the day, its going to be about his skating and whether he can improve that skill to the point where he can be effective at the NHL level.
As evidenced by this quote from Barons' Coach Todd Nelson in this excellent assessment of Musil recently done by Jonathan Willis for the Cult of Hockey, Musil's skating being the key to his long-term success is not news to anyone, including Musil himself:
"It all comes down to foot speed with David," Oklahoma City Barons coach Todd Nelson said in February. "He knows that, everybody else knows that."
There is no question that David Musil has an NHL-ready frame. While a need to add muscle and weight is a common criticism of fellow prospects Martin Marincin and Martin Gernat, Musil was a physical beast in the WHL and his size is more than adequate for the pro game at 6'4", 203 lbs. Furthermore, while he's no Paul Coffey with the puck, he's earned praise from his coaches and from those who have had the opportunity to see him play with some regularity for his ability to make calm, intelligent, simple plays with the puck. These are all good traits for an NHL blueliner.
The reason that his ability to bring his skating up to an NHL level will either be his key to success or his achilles heel is because it will likely determine whether Musil has the ability to be a Mark Fayne type of player or whether his game will more resemble that of Mark Fraser.
If Musil's skating will allow him to keep pace with the play and to execute on his good instincts with NHL-level quickness, then the Oilers have a player with a fairly unique skill set who may be able to play reasonably tough opposition and help push the flow of play in the Oilers' favour. However, if his feet can't keep up to his brain then Musil will likely find himself chasing the play more often than not and will frequently find himself in the position of having to choose between taking a bad penalty or surrendering a scoring chance.
If David Musil had come along five to seven years ago, his NHL career would almost be a given, but with the broader acceptance of puck possession and shot suppression as desired skill sets for NHL players, the traditional idea of a "defensive defenceman" is beginning to vanish from the game in favour of players who are more effective at pushing the play toward the offensive zone.
A quick look at the remaining UFA's who have gone unsigned this summer shows the likes of Doug Murray, Aaron Rome, Hal Gill, Mike Komisarek and former Oiler Theo Peckham. If David Musil wants to be an NHL player in this new environment where players who spend entire shifts in their own zone are now beginning to be seen as liabilities rather than "warriors" and the all important "character guys", then he will have to find a way to become more than just a physically imposing pylon as some of these players have been in recent years.
The upcoming season for Musil should see him have an excellent opportunity to play in the top four in OKC right away, but with Martin Gernat, Jordan Oesterle, Dillon Simpson and likely Oscar Klefbom all battling for those minutes, he'll need to continue improving or risk being quickly passed by on the depth chart.
While I don't think many would classify this season as "make or break" for Musil, one would hope that he would be seen by many to be knocking on the door of an NHL call-up by year's end. If not, then I suspect its likely that his stock will begin to fall again when we re-convene the Top 25 panel in early 2015.