EDMONTON — The trap in Edmonton starts with a National Hockey League roster that has taken so long to stabilize, every time a decent prospect comes along the temptation is to rush him into an NHL lineup that needs immediate help.
Add to that a paucity of decent draft picks in Edmonton — underneath the No. 1 overall slot, of course — and you get a team whose developmental system has not exactly been the envy the Nashvilles of the world.
Slowly, however, the ability to draft and develop has found this club, a seldom acknowledged, positive aspect of the Peter Chiarelli era. There are actual players in AHL Bakersfield now, after years of starvation, and the 2018 draft class has at least two sure-fire NHL players, to our eye.
Give us two players per draft who play, and we’ll give you a head scout who will never be out of work. In a five-man draft class from 2018, it appears the Oilers have fulfilled that mandate:
Evan Bouchard, 19, D, London Knights
Drafted: First round, 10th overall
Season to date: 9 GP | 4 G | 8 A | 12 P | +16
Bouchard is not only Edmonton’s lone first round pick from the 2018 draft, he is already their top prospect — ahead of Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto despite the fact he was sent back to London to finish his junior career.
Bouchard has a Shea Weber-like mix of size, shot, skill and skating stride, at six-foot-three and 195 pounds. He used that to lead the entire Canadian Hockey League in points from a defenceman last season, with 25 goals, 62 assists and 87 points. He’s that big man who can move, for whom the game slows down when he has the puck. He wasn’t NHL ready this October, but he wasn’t overwhelmed either. We’d be mildly surprised if he didn’t get every chance to stick on Edmonton’s blue line next fall.
In junior, Bouchard runs the Knights’ power play, can one-time a puck and skates it out of trouble if there’s no forward to hit on the tape. Honestly, there are the usual things for a 19-year-old to work on here, but the sky’s the limit for this player, whose size will allow him an easier graduation into the pro ranks.
Ryan McLeod, 19, C, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
Drafted: Second round, 40th overall
Season to date: 22 GP | 6 G | 18 A | 24 P | -5
You just read our thoughts on Bouchard, and after seeing McLeod for the first time at the Oilers’ 2018 training camp, we’d bet you our World Hockey Association pennant collection that Edmonton will reap two above average NHL players with their first two picks in the 2018 draft.
McLeod is a big, rangy centreman with a quick, powerful stride. He hung around camp longer than expected based on excellent vision and a hard wrist shot. He’s six-foot-three, 208 pounds, and through the first quarter he is on pace for his second consecutive season at a production rate of better than a point-per-game.
Bullish? We think McLeod has “NHL second line centre” written all over him, and with his size he can start as a No. 4 and climb the lineup based on merit.
This club has finally started to consistently find players below the first round. In case we haven’t been clear, we like this prospect a great deal.
Olivier Rodrigue, 18, G, Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)
Drafted: Second round, 62nd overall
Season to date: 14-4-0 | 2.30 GAA | .909 SP | 1 SO
Rodrigue was one of four goalies on Canada’s roster at the World Junior Showcase this past summer, and has the second-best GAA and sixth-best save percentage among QMJHL starters this fall. Those numbers should get him an invite to Canada’s pre-tournament camp in December, where he’ll fight for playing time with Michael DiPietro (Canucks), Matthew Villalta (Kings), and perhaps the undrafted Matthew Welsh.
Rodrigue was the second goalie chosen in the 2018 draft, grabbed at No. 62 after the Rangers took Swede Olof Lindbom with the 39th pick. So far this season his numbers stack up with his Team Canada competitors, but all things being equal DiPietro enters the competition knowing the No. 1 job is likely his to lose.
Look — drafting goalies is a crap shoot. Look at Carter Hart — the Flyers draft pick who absolutely dominated at WHL Everett is struggling along with an .884 save percentage early in his first pro season.
The last pick in Round 2 is considered a fairly high pick to use on a netminder, and that’s where the Oilers got Rodrigue. So far Rodrigue is on schedule, but even if he pans out quickly he’s likely four or five years from donning an Oilers uniform.
Mike Kesselring, 18, D, Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL)
Drafted: Sixth round, 164th overall
Season to date: 20 GP | 1 G | 5 A | 6 P | +4
A sixth round pick out of the New Hampshire high school system, Kesselring is a six-foot-four, 200-pound, right-shot defenceman.
Kesselring is committed to join Northeastern in the NCAA’s Hockey East next season. He’s a lanky D-man with what is described as “offensive instincts,” but with one goal in 32 USHL games we’d need to watch him more closely before attaching the qualifier “offensive” to this player.
Whatever Kesselring can bring to the table however, he’ll have at least a couple of years to simmer in that NCAA hockey hot bed that is Boston. Chosen 164th overall, the percentage chances of that player becoming a top four defenceman is 4.4 per cent.
He’s a long shot, but sometimes those long shots come home to pay.
Patrik Siikanen, 18, LW/C, Espoo Blues U20 (Finland Junior)
Drafted: Seventh round, 195th overall
Season to date: 26 GP | 7 G | 15 A | 22 P | +3
For now, this seventh-round pick still qualifies for the nickname “Hide and Go.” As in, Patrik “Hide and Go” Siikanen, chosen 195th in a 217-choice draft and still playing his junior hockey in the land of the Suomi.
Siikanen is a six-foot, 198-pound LW/C who sits fourth in scoring on Espoo’s junior club, where he won’t turn 19 until April 16. He doesn’t appear to be national team caliber at this point — Siikanen was not at the World Junior Showcase and does not appear destined for the WJC in Vancouver and Victoria this Christmas, though those selections certainly are not finalized as of yet.