Kailer Yamamoto has gone back to junior, and the Edmonton Oilers organization is taping its collective foot as Jesse Puljujarvi seasons in AHL Bakersfield while the Oilers struggle to score in Edmonton.
This is supposed to be an organization that no longer has to force prospects along, but have you seen the big club’s record lately?
Here’s a look into what is percolating inside Edmonton’s system:
Jesse Puljujarvi, 19, RW
Drafted: First round, 4th overall, 2016
Season To Date: 10 GP / 1 G / 4 A / 5 P / -2
The Oilers can’t wait for Puljujarvi to turn into that right-handed triggerman he looked like at the 2016 world juniors, where he was named Tournament MVP with 5-12-17 in seven games. But there is a process, and Puljujarvi is currently immersed in it at AHL Bakersfield.
He scored his first goal on Nov. 1 against Manitoba, a power play marker, and at the time of this writing was averaging six shots on goal per game over his past three games. Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli recently traveled to the farm and is said to have been happy with the scouting mission. But can a player be expected to come up and help an NHL power play if he isn’t filling the net in the minors? Probably not.
At age 19, what Puljujarvi needs more than anything is patience. Hopefully the Oilers’ poor start at the NHL level does not change the plan on this prospect. Having said that, the moment he appears to turn the corner in the AHL, he’ll be on the next plane for Edmonton, pronto.
Ethan Bear, 20, D
Drafted: Fifth round, 124th overall, 2015
Season To Date: 8 GP / 2 G / 3 A / 5 P / +4
How about a first-year professional defenceman among his AHL team leaders in scoring? That’s what Bear is doing, while posting a respectable plus-4 defensive rating. He’s been the best prospect in Bakersfield thus far.
The story on this former Seattle Thunderbird is that he has a fantastic shot from the point, skates the puck well and knows how to make plays. But like so many offensive-minded players, he’ll have to learn how to play a professional grade of defence before those offensive skills will be of use to an NHL club.
Reason for optimism…
It’s early days, but Bear still stands as the power play QB the Oilers are missing. He’s a ways away, but so far looking more like an NHLer than not.
Caleb Jones, 20, D
Drafted: Fourth round, 117th overall, 2015
Season To Date: 10 GP / 0 G / 3 A / 3 P / -8
Popeye Jones’ boy has, according to scouts, looked very much like a player who will play NHL games one day. He’s the stay-at-home type to play next to Bear, who likes to go — a nice pairing to have in the system.
It will take some time, however, and that’s what the farm is for. Jones is getting plenty of ice time, and he’s working on not being as impulsive to join the play, and holding his defensive posture. He needs to learn to keep professional gaps between he and the oncoming opponent, and play stronger inside the dots. Athleticism isn’t a problem. Just some refinement is in order.
Ryan Mantha, 21, D
Drafted: Fourth round, 104th overall, 2014 (Rangers)
Season To Date: 10 GP / 0 G / 3 A / 3 P / -2
This 6-foot-5 defenceman, who was a free agent signing by Edmonton, may be the biggest early season surprise in Bakersfield. He’s playing Top 2 or 3 minutes for head coach Gerry Fleming and defending well, but needs to work on using his big frame to be that physical defenceman the Oilers see in him.
He’s a right shot blueliner with a big shot who is already getting some power play minutes in his first pro season. Will he play? So far so good.
Ziyat Paigin, 22, D
Drafted: Seventh round, 209th overall, 2015
Season To Date: 6 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 P / -2
At 6-foot-6, 209-pounds, this late-round Russian came in with a lot of hype. Now, the problem is to live up to that while learning how we play the game over here.
Despite parts of three seasons in the KHL, Paigin is struggling thus far to master the differences involved in playing our game on a 200 x 85 foot rink. He has an NHL shot, but needs to learn that the game comes to him faster on the smaller surface. Hold position, don’t run around, and it will come to you.
There is big upside here, but he is still a project, to be sure.
Kailer Yamamoto, 19, RW
Drafted: First round, 22nd overall, 2017
Season To Date: 9 GP / 0 G / 3 A / 3 P / -2 (NHL)
The Oilers decided to send Yamamoto back to Spokane after playing nine NHL games, one short of burning a year of his entry-level contract.
He’s 5-foot-8 and 154 pounds, and coupled with the fact Yamamoto is still a teenager, it’s a tall order for him to get involved in hard, tight-checking games like the one Edmonton played against Pittsburgh last week.
As the losing Oilers intensity flared up, Yamamoto was on the outside of games looking in more and more often. He had a fabulous camp, but away from Connor McDavid’s wing he proved ineffective offensively, even if his defensive game is miles ahead of most players his age.
Tyler Benson, 19, LW
Drafted: Second round, 32nd overall, 2016
Season To Date: 4 GP / 2 G / 2 A / 4 P / +1
Benson hung around Edmonton after training camp as he recovered from hernia surgery, the latest in a long line of serious injuries that have severely limited his playing time. But he’s back with the Vancouver Giants now after missing 13 games, and he had 19 shots, two goals and four points in his first four games.
Benson is very good with the puck on his stick, but after missing as much time as he has over the past three seasons, he needs to work on his overall game.
Stuart Skinner, 18, G
Drafted: Round 3, 78th overall, 2017
Season To Date: 15 GP / 3.31 GAA / .904 SP / 1 SO / 7-7-0
With a .904 save percentage in Lethbridge, Skinner ranks ninth among all WHL goalies who have played 10 games or more. He played in 15 of the Hurricanes’ first 16 games, and depending on the health status of Everett’s Carter Hart (mononucleosis), Skinner could have an outside shot at Canada’s World Junior team.
Skinner and Hart were named as the two WHL goalies for the Canada-Russia Series. At age 18, Skinner still has a ways to go, but is nicely on track.
Dylan Wells, 19, G
Drafted: Fifth round, 123rd overall, 2016
Season To Date: 15 GP / 3.44 GAA / .898 SP / 0 SO / 9-5-1
Wells is a year ahead of Skinner, and it shows in his overall game. At the time of this writing the Peterborough Petes netminder was second only in OHL minutes played to Windsor’s Michael DiPietro, his chief rival along with Hart for a World Junior nod.
The Oilers are very high on this young goaler. He is mature beyond his years, already very routine oriented, and plays an economic game.
Chosen for Team OHL in the Canada-Russia series, that gives the Oilers two goalies in that series, as well as two of the Top 4 World Junior contenders in net.