Oilers Prospect Report: Blue-line future bright with Bouchard, Broberg

Oilers top prospect Evan Bouchard discusses how important this preseason is to showcase his talents, but knows it’s even more important to show that he's a team player first.

Before you can start talking about the Edmonton Oilers prospects, you have to decide who is in and who is out. Namely, Jesse Puljujarvi.

Can you be a prospect when you’re very likely never going to wear an Oilers jersey again? Or, are you a prospect in that general manager Ken Holland will most likely recycle Puljujarvi into a draft pick and someone else’s under-performing draft asset?

Today, Puljujarvi is flaunting that wicked wrister in the Finnish Liiga for Oulu Karpat, a league that falls somewhere slightly below the American Hockey League on a competitive level, playing out mostly on the larger, European-sized rinks that poorly mimics the way the game is played on this side of the Atlantic.

He is "re-gaining his confidence" folks say, though the problem with that theory is that the problems encountered by Puljujarvi in Edmonton had nothing to do with his wrist shot. What kept him off the first line was hockey sense, awareness and the ability to play within a system in Edmonton.

So, to rate Puljujarvi either as a prospect or a tradeable asset, we’d need to know if he is solving those issues over in Finland. Or is he simply rifling shots past sub-AHL goalies, creating a false confidence that will crumble under the weight of NHL stoppers, or the first few shifts where his team is pulling the puck out of their net, because someone didn’t take the right guy in the defensive zone?

For now, we won’t count Puljujarvi as one of Edmonton’s top five prospects. Maybe one day whatever Holland gets in return for the big Finn will make such a list.

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Evan Bouchard

Age: 20

Drafted: 10th overall in 2018

Team: Bakersfield Condors (AHL)

GP: 8 | G: 2 | A: 2 | Pts: 4

Bouchard was in a small group of top prospects who were sent down to Bakersfield with a good week left in Oilers training camp, and told to find an apartment and get comfortable there. The assertion was, with a new manager in town, the Oilers won’t be bringing you up any time soon.

In his first full season as a pro, Bouchard has settled in nicely in Bakersfield, tasked with picking up his urgency when it comes to puck retrieval and defensive zone work — two areas that became less of a challenge the more dominant Bouchard became at OHL London.

Bouchard has 2-2-4 in his first eight games at Bakersfield, and is second on the team in shots on goal with 22. He’s playing a lot, playing all the important minutes, and learning how to become a pro in the minors.

There is a spot on the right side of the Oilers’ D-corps waiting for Bouchard, and with Ethan Bear, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning and Joel Persson, Edmonton is well-stocked on the starboard side of their blue line — almost certainly foretelling a trade in the not-too distant future.

Philip Broberg

Age: 18

Drafted: 8th overall in 2019

Team: Skelleftea AIK (SHL)

GP: 14 | G: 0 | A: 2 | Pts: 2

A defenceman chosen at No. 8 overall in 2019, Broberg stayed at home to play for Skelleftea this winter, with the Oilers’ blessing. Why mess with a good thing, with a Swedish system that is both historically adept at churning out NHL defencemen, and one that gave Edmonton a player who may just have the smoothest gait since Paul Coffey roamed the Edmonton blue line back in the ’80s?

We recently listened to an Eastern Conference GM gush over Broberg’s skating, after having watched him play on a summer team with one of that GM’s prospects. Broberg only has two assists in his first 14 games in Sweden’s top league, but the six-foot-three, 203-pounder doesn’t even turn 19 until June.

There is no hurry here for a left-shot D-man who is seen as a big part of a blue line that will help Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl contend for Stanley Cups down the road.

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Kailer Yamamoto

Age: 21

Drafted: 22nd overall in 2017

Team: Bakersfield Condors (AHL)

GP: 8 | G: 4 | A: 2 | Pts: 6

Here’s what we forget about right-winger Yamamoto, yet another Oilers prospect who was given nine NHL games the September after his draft year (2017), and then another 17 games last season.

He is still only a second-year pro, he only turned 21 last month, and has just 35 AHL games under his belt.

The problem with placing kids on the team when they’re not ready is, when you finally see the light and send them down to start the season, it can be perceived that they have regressed.

Yamamoto played just 27 games last season due to a wrist injury, and was not cleared to play an NHL pre-season game this fall. So he’s in the AHL where he should be, and lo and behold, is tied for the team lead in points (six) and goals (four) after eight games.

As of today, he is the first young forward to get called up if the Oilers get some injuries on the wing.


Tyler Benson

Age: 21

Drafted: 32nd overall in 2016

Team: Bakersfield Condors (AHL)

GP: 8 | G: 0 | A: 6 | Pts: 6

Like Yamamoto, Benson’s inherent value comes in the fact that Edmonton is dying for offence in their bottom six, and productive wingers on any line.

Benson was due for another year in the minors this year, even after finishing second in AHL rookie scoring last season (15-51-66), simply because of all the developmental time he lost between the age of 15-19. He needs to find a half a step to become a guy who gets called up to the NHL and never goes back down, but for Benson — the rare pass-first winger — that shouldn’t be too tall an order.

Once he gets to the NHL, the Oilers will have a left-winger who could pair very well with a shoot-first linemate — say, on the left side with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and James Neal?

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Ryan McLeod

Age: 20

Drafted: 40th overall in 2018

Team: Bakersfield Condors (AHL)

GP: 8 | G: 1 | A: 2 | Pts: 3

We put McLeod ahead of defenceman Dmitri Samorukov simply because of Edmonton’s acute need for a big, third-line centre who can give them a physical presence up the middle, with some skill thrown in.

Sure, that player may be a few years away, but in McLeod the Oilers have a six-foot-three, 200-plus pound centreman who can really skate. His professional journey is just beginning, and we’d wager he gets two full seasons in the AHL, meaning Holland will have to trade for the 3C required to bridge the gap between now and the day McLeod is ready for the job.

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