We've reached what I consider the to be the most important part of the Top 25 Under 25. Why you ask? Well, those who don't make the list at all are the extreme long shots and those who land anywhere from about #18 or lower honestly aren't all that much more likely to have meaningful NHL careers. As for the top of the list, I suspect you could name all 10 of our top 10 ranked players without hesitating as they are all either full-time NHLers, in the process of breaking into the league or recent top 10 overall draft picks.
The picks from about #17 up to #11 are where you really want to look, because if the Oilers are going to find a diamond in the rough, or someone who pleasantly surprises and exceeds expectations, this is the place you're most likely to find them.
The best example of that, and the prospect who has done the most so far to surpass expectations is Greg Chase.
If you follow Oiler prospects, you're no doubt aware of Chase's impressive first season since being draft by the Oilers in the seventh round of the 2013 NHL Draft. Chase took a major step forward offensively, producing 35g-50a-85p in 70 games (1.21 ppg) with the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL. That represented a 70% increase in his year-over-year counting stats, which is something you like to see from CHL players as they transition from being one of the younger players in the league to one of the older ones.
Chase is likely to continue to endear himself to Oiler fans over the next few seasons because he's considered a bit of a pest on the ice and plays with an edge to his game. That may not make him better or worse, but it should make him a little more entertaining for people who like that sort of thing.
Chase is starting to earn some recognition for his strong play. He was invited to Hockey Canada's WJHC summer evaluation camp and will be attending the main camp in the fall with what many consider a decent shot at making the team this year if he gets off to a good start again with the Hitmen. (That could give the Oilers two players on Team Canada along with Darnell Nurse, who was snubbed last year but most consider a lock for this season if he is not in the NHL).
The Oilers have also obviously taken note of Chase's performance as they have been placing him in very desirable positions in the lineup both during their rookie camp, and now in the team's main training camp where he shared a line with Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the team's first pre-season game against the Flames.
While I consider Chase to be THE feel-good story on this countdown from a developmental standpoint, its important not to get carried away. Unless he takes another major step forward this year, Chase still likely projects as having an upside of being an effective middle-six winger. So we're not likely talking about the next Jarome Iginla here. That said, an effective middle-six winger coming from the 7th round would be an excellent result for the Oilers and for Chase.
Fun Fact: Can anyone name me the last Oilers-drafted forward to legitimately occupy a top 9 role in the NHL who was taken outside the first round?
Linus Omark had a famous run of 50 games or so for one season in Edmonton, but if you're talking about a player who has had legitimate longevity in the league (a good barometer is frequently cited at 200 games) then you would have to go way back to 2003 to find Kyle Brodziak, with Jarret Stoll one year behind him back in 2002. That's right folks. Its been a full decade since anything outside the top 30 picks in the draft has produced a meaningful NHL forward for the Oilers. Tobias Rieder may yet get a shot in Arizona, but hey...Kale Kessy!
Greg Chase has got a long way to go...afterall, Curtis Hamilton put up similar number to Chase in his draft +1 season (26g-56a-82p in 62 GP, 1.32 ppg) and came with a higher pedigree and things haven't worked out well for Hamilton to date. Still, if Chase continues on his current path, he could be a tremendous late-round find for Edmonton.