The Top 25 Under 25 is a list of the Copper and Blue contributors' evaluations of some of the Oilers most promising young talent. Found in the Top 25 Under 25 are both proven NHL players and prospects at various levels of development. Among the prospects looking to prove themselves is Martin Gernat.
Gernat slides into the Top 25 Under 25 in position 19. The lanky 22-year-old Slovak finds his ranking sliding from last year's ranking of 11 to this year's 19. Objectively, the 19th position is probably a more accurate assessment of where Gernat currently ranks in both the Oilers defensive depth charts and developmental readiness.
Martin Gernat started the 2014-2015 season at the centre of an unwelcome drama. Cut earlier than expected and the recipient of some harsh words from Dallas Eakins, Gernat was sent back to the Oklahoma City Barons for further development. Gernat played 54 games with the Barons and by season's end had amassed a lackluster 9 points, not exactly the blockbuster year for which the Oilers organization was hoping. This unimpressive AHL showing and his early dismissal from Oilers camp help to explain Gernat's slide from 11 to 19 in the rankings.
What then justifies his continued presence on in the Top 25? The rationale for continuing to include Gernat is partly due to the potential seen in Gernat's game and partly due to his physical attributes. It also has to do with the Oilers' handling of young defensemen during the off season. These factors come together to keep Gernat in the top 20 despite his less than impressive year on paper.
Gernat's game can be something beautiful to watch. He's able to make plays, has good vision, and is able to pass well. He's able to jump up into the play and contribute offensively without looking completely out of place. Defensively, Gernat is able to use his size and wingspan to break up plays and force attacking players into the less dangerous areas of the ice.
Gernat is also a fluid skater with a considerable stride, which is advantageous to his game because it allows him to transition from the offensive areas to the defensive areas of the ice without the noticeable problems players struggling with foot speed exhibit. This fluidity is one of the most heralded aspects of Gernat's game, standing in contrast to prospects like Musil who have issues with skating. With his skating as a strong starting point from which to build his defensive game, Gernat has advantages on many of the Oilers other defensive prospects such as Marino, Musil, Bear, and Betker.
Gernat's game has become more defensively minded over the course of his time in the AHL. This modification partly explains his lack of offensive production, which in comparison to his junior production is unimpressive. This more complete game sees Gernat struggling offensively but will allow him to play a greater role as it has greatly improved his defensive positioning.
Gernat's defensive positioning started as an area requiring improvement and through consistent effort has improved considerably. Gernat's ability to improve in areas which he struggles also provides some hope that his game may eventually progress to a level where concerns around physicality are also minimized, and he is able to live up to the potential of his considerable physical form.
Physically, Gernat is quite large. He's a 6'5" defenseman, which garners attention in and of itself. It's impossible not to see Gernat and think of what could be possible with a frame that size. The promise of Gernat's size and physical abilities (if only he could get stronger) is still enough to excite some fans. When the ability to make plays is added in, Gernat seems like a solid defensive prospect. He has the potential to become a more physical player, he skates well, and he has decent vision. Adding these attributes together gives a picture of a defensive prospect who might just have what it takes to stick in the NHL. If the potential of Martin Gernat can be brought out over the next year, he'll be well worth the fifth round draft pick the Oilers used to acquire him.
Finally, the Oilers shook up their defensive depth chart this summer, especially in relation to this list. They've added some players in Sekera and Gryba (not under 25) and moved out a player who had previously ranked ahead of Gernat in Marincin. With Schultz aging out of the rankings, Gernat saw half of the defensive prospects ranked ahead of him last year disappear. The additions of Griffin Reinhart and Jordan Oesterle and Ethan Bear (who jumped Gernat in the rankings) mean Gernat has now dropped to sixth on the depth chart, but it does allow him to remain within the top 25 despite a less than impressive year.
The 2015-2016 season is key for Gernat. Not only is this season the end of Gernat's ELC, but it will also tell where he can expect to find himself on the Oilers defensive depth charts (the complete one, not the under 25 one). If Gernat finds himself passed over as a call-up for David Musil again this season, the future looks rather bleak for him ever playing for the Oilers.
Gernat's 2015-2016 season needs to start well right out of the gate with a stronger camp. Gernat needs to show he can play physically and with "consistent intensity." Todd Nelson believes Gernat has come to understand the intensity required of him during the 2014-2015 season, and that's a positive sign for Gernat's development. However, Gernat still needs to prove he understands what it takes to Oilers management and coaching staff.
If Gernat can continue to play a defensively responsible and professional game, it would not be unexpected to see him start to play a larger role for in Bakersfield with the potential to be an emergency call up to the NHL.
A great deal of how the coming year is going to progress will be determined by his performance at training camp in the fall. If Gernat wants to better his spot in the Oilers defensive depth charts (and his Top 25 Under 25 ranking), he better he prepared to show up and work.