Of their 2017 draft class, the Edmonton Oilers might have a few horses in the world juniors race. But just one player — Kailer Yamamoto — is a lock to be in the tournament.
Yamamoto and Phil Kemp, a defenceman out of Yale drafted in the seventh round by Edmonton, were each named to the Team USA preliminary roster of 28 announced Tuesday.
Here’s a look at the Oilers’ most recent draft, and how each player has fared in his 18-year-old season:
Kailer Yamamoto, 19, RW
Drafted: First round, 22nd overall, 2017
Season to date: 10 GP | 1 G | 8 A | 9 PTS
Yamamoto had four points in his first game back with the Spokane Chiefs, after hanging around Edmonton for nine games. Since, however, he has fallen into that hangover that besets so many young players who leave a National Hockey League dressing room for their old Canadian Hockey League digs.
Yamamoto is on an average Spokane team that, as it stands now, is not a threat to attend the Mastercard Memorial Cup. He has just 1-8-9 in 10 WHL games, and has to learn how to play above the level of talent surrounding him. How to play to win, even when his team doesn’t have a chance.
He’ll make this American world junior team based on his history in the U.S. Developmental Program, and the excellent summer camp he had with the club.
Then, if he’s lucky, upon his return to Spokane the Chiefs will find a deal that can send him to a contender for what might be his last year of junior hockey.
Stuart Skinner, 19, G
Drafted: Third round, 78th overall, 2017
Season to date: 11-11-0 | 3.45 GAA | .901 SP
Skinner was in the conversation for a chance at the backup job for Team Canada, particularly when starter Carter Hart was out with mononucleosis. But Hart is healthy again, and Skinner’s season has shown him to still be a work in progress in Lethbridge. As a result, he did not make Canada’s shortlist for the WJC.
Skinner has a .901 save percentage and a 3.45 goals-against average on a .500 Hurricanes team that should give him some playoff games. He has a few things to clean up: Better practice habits and work ethic; being set for shots, especially for the unexpected play and rebounds. He’ll have another season in Lethbridge to work out the kinks.
Dmitri Samorukov, 18, D
Drafted: Third round, 84th overall, 2017
Season to date: 27 GP | 3 G | 9 A | 12 PTS
Reason for optimism: Samorukov played for Russia at the recent CIBC Canada/Russia Series, on the strength of a decent campaign with OHL Guelph, where he has 12 points in 27 games. He has an excellent shot at making a Russian team that traditionally holds its main camp in Russia, then comes over the pond and picks up a few CHL players for the final phase of team selection.
He’s a two-way defenceman who is starting to learn pro traits like proper gaps, and taking the hit to make that accurate first pass that gets the puck moving in the right direction. He was also good at the under-18 for Russia, so even though the Russians prefer a team stocked with 19-year-olds, Samorukov may be an exception in Buffalo.
Ostap Safin, 18, RW
Drafted: Fourth round, 115th overall, 2017
Season to date: 30 GP | 11 G | 18 A | 29 PTS
This left-shooting right winger hails from Prague in the Czech Republic, and like Samorukov should get a look from his national team despite the fact Safin plays over here at CHL Saint John. Earlier this week he was invited to the Czech selection camp. He’s a 6-foot-5, off-wing playmaker who has 11-18-29 totals in 30 games for the Sea Dogs.
Like all young players he is tasked with working on his play away from the puck, and generally refining his European game into an effective North American style. He is said to have very good offensive skills, size, and can really skate.
Kirill Maksimov, 18, RW
Drafted: Fifth round, 146th overall, 2017
Season to date: 25 GP | 16 G | 12 A | 28 PTS
As we said, the Russians are pretty militant about using only 19-year-olds at the world juniors. Traditionally, they also shy away from guys who come over to North America and play minor hockey here, as Maksimov did. He was not asked to play in the CIBC Series.
The feeling inside the Oilers organization is that Maksimov could punch above his draft weight, eventually playing ahead of some of the guys drafted earlier. He can score, he can shoot it, and he makes plays. He’s got 16-12-28 totals in 25 games with the Niagara IceDogs, decent numbers for a 6-foot-2 winger drafted in Round 5.
Skyler Brind’Amour, 18, C
Drafted: Sixth round, 177th overall, 2017
Season to date: 32 GP | 8 G | 10 A | 18 PTS
Brind’Amour is at Chilliwack of the Jr. A BCHL, where he may need another year while sorting out an NCAA scholarship. He’s a steady two-way player with his Dad Rod’s defensive instincts and ability to compete, but needs to hone his skills and find offence. He’s a ways away.
Philip Kemp, 18, D
Drafted: Seventh round, 208th overall, 2017
Season to date: 7 GP | 1 G | 2 A | 3 PTS
How about a seventh round draft pick who gets invited to a world junior camp? That describes Kemp, who made Team USA’s 28-man preliminary roster released Tuesday.
Kemp is at Yale, which has only played 11 games this season. He’s only been in seven of those, but his summer camp with USA Hockey earned him a tryout anyhow. At 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds, he’d be wise to get that Ivy League degree, play in as many world juniors as he can, and walk out at age 23 when he is expected to be far more NHL-ready.