Young players are one of the most important assets a team can have. In many, many ways, they're the future of a team. Either they will become NHL players, assets to be moved to the benefit of their team, or failed experiments. Whether or not a team will succeed in the future is often forecast through the lens of young player development and talent development.
The Oilers have a good number of young players in their development systems, at a variety of levels. Some of those prospects are highly touted, and others are less well known. Among those who have attracted a good amount of attention is Mitchell (Mitch) Moroz. Last year in the Top 25 Under 25, he just missed the cut, coming in at 27. Likewise, this year he missed the cut but saw his ranking drop to 31.
Previous Rank: 27
Moroz was drafted 32nd overall in the in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, leaving some observers confused about the Oilers choice. What were the Oilers thinking when they drafted him where they did? Moroz's ranking was by Central Scouting much lower than his final draft position. So what did the Oilers see in Moroz that lead to the team drafting him where they did?
The answer seems pretty simple, all things considered. The Oilers saw a power forward; Moroz undisputedly fills the role of power forward. He's a very physical player with the ability to drive to the net and score enough goals not to be pigeon-holed strictly as an enforcer. For a team filled with smaller, skilled forwards (see Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Pitlick, and others who are no longer Oilers), someone of a different mold isn't a bad thing to develop. After all, no one can be worse than Luke Gazdic, who is not a power forward but more of a pugilist on skates.
However, a dismal first year in the AHL has soured many on Moroz's potential. (Just look at the variation in the above rankings.) All the grit and determination in the world don't seem a fair trade for a power forward who spends most of his time in the box and doesn't score. Only managing to record 9 points in comparison to 169 PIMs seems to bear out the assessment of most of the Copper and Blue writers. At first glance, Moroz is a bust.
For all the Moroz does seem to spend a seemingly endless amount of time in the penalty box and none putting the puck in the back of the net, there are still a few reasons to consider him a viable asset for the Oilers to develop.
The first is pride. The Oilers took a chance on drafting Moroz much higher than was expected. Unless the team wants to throw in the towel and call their second round draft pick a wash, Moroz will see more time to develop his game in the AHL. Whether or not he ever makes the NHL depends him finding a different gear, and the back of the net, with more regularity, both of which are things Moroz showed himself capable of at the junior level. Moroz saw an increase in his junior production of 2.5 times between his first and third years in the WHL. If he can manage to something similar at the AHL level, he'll be in a much better position to make the NHL.
Moroz isn't a mistake (if he's a mistake) of the current management team and scouting staff, but he remains a player they will have to do their best to develop. Each team can only work with the talent they have. Whether or not the new management structure like Moroz, they must do their best to develop him for one of two reasons.
The first is the Oilers may yet get a player who fills a necessary role if Moroz's junior promise is borne out. They may yet get the power forward who lays big hits, isn't afraid to fight, and can still contribute on the score sheet.
The second is strictly business. If the Oilers want to offload Moroz (and earn something back for the three years they will have invested in his ELC), they need to develop him into something with trade value. Moroz needs to become a player of some value. He needs to become something for which other teams have a use even if the Oilers don't. Either way, current management must develop Moroz if they want any sort of return for a second-round draft pick.
The second argument in favor of Moroz is he is fairly early in his developmental trajectory. Moroz's major junior results show that he requires some time start producing points. His first two full seasons with the Oil Kings saw a point total that combined is less than his third year. Being a slow starter is not ideal, but it's not a reason to write Moroz off just yet. If Moroz's second year in the AHL doesn't show improvement on his first, it will be time for the Oilers to reassess their commitment to his development.
Finally, it's time to talk about the reason the Oilers drafted Moroz in the first place. They wanted a power forward, a player who would be able to combine physicality and secondary scoring into one package. The Oilers have struggled recently in finding players who combine these aspects of the game. In Moroz, it seems like they were hoping to add size and aggression. They can still do these things. Moroz's physical game--a major component of his draft year success--hasn't gone anywhere. With the addition of veterans like Hendricks and Klinkhammer, the Oilers have given Moroz more time to develop and see if he can fill a role other than that of enforcer. At the very least, the Oilers should find a use for Moroz's physicality as off season moves indicate a desire for size and toughness. Besides which, in the long term, Moroz can't be a worse choice as an enforcer than Luke Gazdic.
It's also worth noting that McLellan dressed John Scott for 38 games last year with the Sharks. Scott managed an unremarkable four points but a more impressive 87 PIMs in those games. His presence does indicate that McLellan is willing to dress players in a limited role simply to provide physicality. If Moroz doesn't improve, he may see limited ice time with the Oilers in an enforcer and agitator role.
Whether or not Moroz makes something of the opportunity given to him by the Oilers remains to be seen. A strong bounce back year at the AHL level should put Moroz's development in line with what was expected of him: development of secondary scoring and a strong physical presence. If there is no improvement, Oilers fans will be able to see how this new management structure reacts the perceived mistakes of their predecessors. Either way, writing off Moroz's potential right now would be a costly mistake for the Oilers.
Other Names to Remember
Miroslav Svoboda is a Czech goalie taken by the Oilers in the 7th round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Svoboda made an appearance on the Czech 2014-2015 U-20 World Juniors team, posting a 1.51 GAA, and has played internationally at various levels. Since Svoboda is only 20, he will be moving to the senior level of the Czech system, where the Oilers will watch to see if the flashes of talent that lead to his draft develop into something more.
Daniil Zharkov was drafted by the Oilers 91st overall in 2012. Since that point, Zharkov has returned to the KHL, where he played only 9 games in the 2014-2015 season for Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo. Unfortunately for the Oilers, as much talent as Zharkov displayed the junior level, it seems unlikely he'll ever wear an Oilers sweater or play in the NHL. It would not be unexpected to see the Oilers release Zharkov's rights. This is exactly what the Oilers are trying to avoid having happen with Moroz.
Zach Nagelvoort adds depth to the Oiler's prospects in goal. Committed to the University of Michigan, it would be unlikely to see Nagelvoort in an Oilers sweater in the next couple years while his less than thrilling .906 Save Percentage last year has him fairly deep on the depth charts. It would be wise for the Oilers to watch his continued development to see how he develops as goal has been a position at which the Oilers have struggled to maintain depth.
Kale Kessy was obtained by the Oilers from the Phoenix Coyotes. The 2011 draft pick has spent the better part of two seasons in the AHL. He managed only 17 games and 6 points before picking up a season ending injury in 2014-2015. Unfortunately for hopeful Oilers fans, Kessy managed to tie his career high points total in those 17 games. The Oilers will be looking to see how Kessy rebounds after this injury before they decide if they have a place for him in the depth charts.
Kevin Bouchard has been the backup goalie for the Val d'Or Foreurs for the last two years. He made one appearance in the 2014 Memorial Cup and was recently traded to the Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL. In the 2014-2015 season, Bouchard played career high of 36 games with an abysmal .872 SV%. The Oilers will be looking to see how Bouchard plays for the Drakker in the coming season to see if their seventh-round gamble will pay off.