The Edmonton Oilers, under Ken Holland, have displayed a history of trading down in the NHL Entry Draft. The 2022 draft was no different. Instead of picking at #29, the Oilers packaged the pick along with future second and third round picks as well as Zack Kassian for the 32nd and last pick of the first round held by Arizona. With a variety of interesting prospects on the board, Holland selected Reid Schaefer from the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Schaefer is a big body left winger who had a coming out party this season scoring 32 goals and adding 26 assists for 58 points in 66 games. He completed his season scoring 6 more times in 25 playoff games while adding 15 assists taking a leading role in Seattle’s run to the WHL finals.
It is not hard to see why teams were enamored with Schaefer. Standing 6’3” and weighing 213 pounds, Schaefer brings an imposing physical frame and combines that with a goal scorer’s touch and very soft hands. A rare combination of skills that NHL GMs chase constantly. The most impressive element of this part of Schaefer’s game is that he scores in a variety of ways. He has a strong net drive instinct and often scores by cleaning up loose pucks. He also has a very powerful shot and an excellent release. So he has that lethal combination of being able to score in tight using his size, but also from distance with his shot.
In terms of skating, despite his size, Shaefer is at least passable. He can get up and down the ice with a strong stride, but he lacks an ability to adjust tempo with his skating and that will be an issue for him in professional hockey. He is a pretty simple player in this regard going straight up and down the ice at a relatively un-explosive pace. Right now his size allows him to fend off checks, but that will not be the case in
the pros. His edgework is not strong and that inhibits both his lateral mobility and transition skating. However, his mechanics are sound so I expect there is improvement that can be had here.
Probably the most underappreciated part of his game is his hockey sense. He has a terrific defensive conscience. He was often used in high leverage situations at game end and on penalty kill situations with great effect. Indeed, 3 of his 6 playoff goals were scored into the empty net defending late game leads.
Finally, Schaefer does have some playmaking ability. He makes a very nice pass and he often is correct in his reads of where the puck should go. That is not often seen in a big man, even one that has turned into a goal scorer.
All of this may sound like a ringing endorsement of the pick, but there are concerns. First, and foremost, his draft age needs to be considered. He was 6 days from being eligible for the 2021 draft. So his scoring totals need to be factored against his age. As an example, my personal favorite Jagger Firkus scored 36 goals this season, but is 8 months younger than Schaefer.
The other major concern is that Schaefer has never scored before this year. Even his AJHL numbers are incredibly underwhelming. So what happened this year? Do we have an older player that simply went on a heater for a full season? Or do we have a player who, due to Covid or late development or both, has now developed a scoring touch. It is far too early to be able to assess that concern.
Finally, as mentioned above, in a game that is getting faster each year, Schaefer will have to work very hard to develop his skating. He will not be able to use his size as a tool as effectively in the pros. This part will be critical to determining whether Schaefer has the makings of a middle 6 forward or a bit role player fighting for a NHL job.
Draft Expert Rankings
Corey Pronman, The Athletic, 16
Scott Wheeler, The Athletic, 83
2022 Elite Prospects, 102
Bob McKenzie, TSN, 37