Sunday, September 19, 2010

Controlled expectations: forward prospects

Having completed my series of NHL controlled expectations, I thought it’d be a good idea to take on the rest of Edmonton’s prospect pool. We have a very diverse group of prospects in the system, and it’s important to not judge them against each other, but rather based on their unique career paths. It’s both impossible and illogical to compare the exploits of Magnus Paajarvi and Anton Lander even though they were on the same team. We can’t point to Lander’s stat lines and then to Paajarvi’s and say that Lander is not as likely to impact the roster at the NHL level. Anton’s defensive responsibility and leadership qualities are as important, perhaps moreso to this particular team than Magnus’ offensive wizardry.

But in order for us to say that our kids are progressing we have to set the bar somewhere, right? That’s where this guideline comes in. Keep in mind that this is only one person’s opinion, but it’s a start. With our three wunderkids already taken care of, I’ll continue with the rest of our forwards today. All stats are taken from except those of Kristians Pelss and William Quist, which take from

*EDIT: Sonofabitch! I just learned how to hyperlink! That only took two years of reading comments. Damn!


Cameron Abney RW Everett/Edmonton WHL; 2009/10 stats: 68GP 6-7-13 123PIM

Abney saw his goal total increase by a factor of 6 last year, but we shouldn’t be expecting a meteoric rise this year. We know what we’re going to get in the big man, and that’s fists. I was impressed by his skills in the Oilers rookie tournament, and think we might have a legitimate heavyweight prospect on our hands. The OilKings are still a developing team, so we shouldn’t expect that he’s going to be playing with the best linemates or surrounded by the best team. Controlled expectations for Abney are:

- Play a full season in the WHL, scoring in the range of 20 points.
- Cut down on bad penalties while becoming one of the most feared fighters in the WHL
- Improve skating in order to succeed at the next level

Phillippe Cornet LW Rouyn-Noranda QMJHL; 2009/10 stats: 65GP 28-49-77 32PIM

Cornet actually saw his points-per-game totals fall from last year. He’s a bit hard to project accurately because of this, it’s hard to tell if he’s already hit a wall or whether it was the team that had issues. Reports suggest he isn’t the most reliable two-way player (his +6 was among the worst on his team), so unless he has a career changing epiphany a’la Liam Reddox, we’re looking at an undersized, moderately offensively talented forward here. Controlled expectations for Cornet are:

- Play 40+ games in the AHL, scoring in the range of 20 points.
- Improve his two-way game, +/- within a reasonable range of -5

Drew Czerwonka LW Kootenay WHL; 2009/10 stats: 54GP 4-9-13 106PIM

Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory were picked up this past draft with little fanfare, and that’s a positive for the tough guy from Saskatchewan. Expectations are markedly lower for a 6th round pick than a comparable player-type in Cameron Abney (3rd round the previous year). At 166th overall, Drew is a longshot to make the show but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. The Kootenay Ice look to be losing a lot of veterans this year, so either the team and Czerwonka take a step back in competition, or they look to Drew to be a team leader and offensive contributor. You know which one I’m betting on. Controlled expectations for Czerwonka are:

- Play a full season of WHL hockey while improving his all-around game
- Score in the range of 20 points with a +/- around -10

Robby Dee C Maine NCAA; 2009/10 stats: 33GP 13-12-25 32PIM

Robby had the kind of year that puts a prospect back on the map. The question is, can he build off this year or is it his high-water mark. Dee will return to Maine for his senior year where the Oilers hope that he proves last year was not a flash in the pan. He’s playing for his contract now, so you’ll expect him to be motivated. Injuries remain a very big concern for the adequately-sized centerman who would only add to the depth at C in the AHL. Controlled expectations for Dee are:

- A full, healthy season for Maine providing a veteran presence on the top-2 lines
- Play with enough passion to earn a contract from the Oilers
- Score at a level on par with last season’s totals

Curtis Hamilton LW Saskatoon WHL; 2009/10 stats: 26GP 7-9-16 6PIM

If Hamilton didn’t have bad luck last year, then he wouldn’t have had any luck at all. Enduring freak injuries one after the other hampered his games-played total, and you’d have to think that he wasn’t 100% healthy in the games he did suit up for. A healthy season is a must in order to sell the expenditure of a 2nd round draft pick to the fanbase. Saskatoon is a perennial Eastern Conference contender with some key pieces set to return to the club, meaning that if Hamilton remains healthy they should challenge once again. Controlled expectations for Hamilton are:

- A relatively healthy year (65 games) and a return of his offensive skills (25 goals, 60 points)
- An invite to Team Canada’s U20 camp would be a bonus
- Continued development of a two-way game to accompany his size, suitable for 3rd line NHL duty

Teemu Hartikainen C/W KalPa SM-Liiga; 2009/10 stats: 53GP 15-18-33 22PIM

The Finnish steamroller makes his way across the Atlantic for this year after completing his nationally required military service. He showed a nice increase in offensive output the 2008/09 campaign, made more impressive because he was serving in the military by day and playing hockey by night. His footspeed has been addressed and is now no longer thought of as a weakness, and his power game is a thing of beauty. I said during one of the Oilers rookie games that his low-post game reminds me a lot of Jaromir Jagr when he was at the peak of his game, and I stand by that. He’s very dominant on his feet and has the hands to turn heads in Oklahoma this year. Controlled expectations for Hartikainen are:

- Play a full season (70+ games) in the AHL, scoring 20 goals.
- Continued work on skating and defensive play, becoming a valuable two-way winger.

Kellen Jones LW Vernon BCHL; 2009/10 stats: 41GP 12-41-53 18PIM

Jones and his twin brother were both 20-year olds last year playing in a low-tier hockey league. Take these stats for what they’re worth, as they don’t imply there’s a lot to get excited about. Truthfully, I’m not expecting much from Jones as he transitions to NCAA hockey. I’m unsure where he’s attending and don’t have a lot of info on this player. Controlled expectations for Jones are:

- Become more recognized for playing hockey

Milan Kytnar C Saskatoon/Vancouver WHL; 2009/10 stats: 45GP 14-26-40 42PIM

Kytnar returned to the WHL this year as both an import and an overager, a lethal combination in Saskatoon, but turned his career around in Vancouver. Just as he was expected to contribute the previous season in Saskatoon, Kytnar was a consistent point producer and shutdown center for the Giants as they made another deep run into the playoffs. He’s not likely to bring much of that offensive game to the pro ranks, but a true shutdown center is always handy to have in the system. Controlled expectations for Kytnar are:

- Be a constant presence in Oklahoma’s lineup, contributing around 30 points
- Continue to excel in a shut-down role while improving faceoff percentages

Anton Lander C Timra SEL; 2009/10 stats: 49GP 7-9-16 14PIM

Stats don’t tell the whole story of Anton Lander. When he was drafted 40th overall in 2009 the words that ran from every scouting report were the same; two-way, defensive, leader. He’s the shut-down 3rd line C of the Oilers future. He may even be captain one day. But for now he returns to Timra where he will continue to develop his already above-average checking and two-way abilities. Let’s hope he scores some too. Controlled expectations for Lander are:

- Take on a leadership role (an A) for Timra, Captain Team Sweden’s U20 squad
- Establish himself as the 2nd line center for Timra, scoring in the neighbourhood of 20 points

Ryan Martindale C Ottawa OHL; 2009/10 stats: 61GP 19-41-60 37PIM

I haven’t much respect for Martindale’s supposed lack of interest from game to game, but if this kid ever gets his head fully into hockey he’ll be fun to watch. He impressed me in the rookie tournament, and I hope he can translate his strong showing into a career year with Ottawa. He’s returning to what looks like a re-building 67s team, as three of the top-5 scorers and three of their best defenders would figure to be moving on. It will fall to Martindale and Tyler Toffoli to pick up the slack offensively. I’m very worried about Martindale’s one-dimensional game, he was the owner of one of the worst +/- stats on the team, and that’s one area that further development is essential. Controlled expectation for Martindale are:

- Establish himself as the #1 center on the 67s, scoring at a point-per-game clip.
- Dedicate himself to becoming a better two-way player (as evidenced by an improved +/-)
- Eliminate “disinterested” and “uninspired” from his scouting report.

Linus Omark W Moscow KHL; 2009/10 stats: 56GP 20-16-36 34PIM

The little engine that could finally makes his way across the Atlantic, and is in tight to secure a roster spot at the NHL level due to the influx of more highly-touted rookies. An impressive training camp might secure him a roster spot, but he’s more likely to spend time in the AHL acclimatizing to the North American game. His game appears quite one-dimensional (the dreaded +/- stat again) but our scouting reports also say that he’s a pesky bugger to knock off the puck. We know he’s the most creative player in the organization since The Hockey Jesus (that’s Rob Schremp for those unfamiliar with the BofA glossary), but like Schremp taught us offensive ability gets your waived to Long Island PDQ. Controlled expectations for Linus Omark are:

- Strong performance in the AHL, scoring at or near a point per game
- At least one call-up to the big club where he does not embarrass himself like Taylor Chorney’s minus-column

Tyler Pitlick C Mankato NCAA; 2009/10 stats: 38GP 11-8-19 27PIM

Pitlick was the only teenager to play anywhere close to a full season for Mankato this season, but is transferring out of college life for the bus-tour of Western Canada. I’ve always seen this kind of direction as meaning he didn’t take well to the educational setting that University is supposed to be about, but I could be wrong here. Pitlick’s game is definitely better suited to the crash and bang of Dub hockey, he was very impressive in the Oilers rookie tournament for both his offensive ability and his physicality. Hockeydb doesn’t list +/- statistics for the NCAA as far as I can tell, so I’m not sure if he was playing in a sheltered role, or getting killed by everyone, or whatever. As a result, his two-way ability is still up in the air, but we’ll know soon enough based on who he’s thrown out against with the Medicine Hat Tigers. He’s going to a team that figures to be strong in the coming year (also featuring 2010 Oilers pick Tyler Bunz and 2010 first round sniper-in-the-making Emerson Etem), so my expectations might be a little high. Controlled expectations for Pitlick are:

- Assume the role of #1 center playing alongside Etem for a full season
- Dominate offensively, posting numbers similar to a 30-50-80 mark.
- Challenge for a spot on Team USA’s U-20 squad

Kristians Pelss LW Riga Juniors Belarus; 2009/10 stats: 46GP 6-3-9 28PIM

He’s coming to Edmonton in the WHL this year, so we’ll be able to get a much better read on this prospect in the coming months. There haven’t been many Latvians to play hockey at the NHL level so the odds are stacked against him, but then again those odds were even higher for Anze Kopitar or that Japanese goaltender the Kings employed a couple seasons ago (Fukufugi?), it can be done. Controlled expectations for Pelss are:
- Play a full season in the WHL
- Score a goal, get credit for an assist.

William Quist LW Nybro (Div1 Sweden); 2009/10 stats: 33GP 10-12-22 44PIM

I have no idea if he’s still Oilers property, but Willy is still apparently playing hockey and I’m as shocked as anyone. His point totals are nothing special, but his size (6’5”) certainly is. Controlled expectations for Quist are:

- To not fall as far off the prospect map as he did last year.

Toni Rajala RW Brandon WHL; 2009/10 stats: 60GP 26-37-63 24PIM

Rajala stats last year came on an absolutely stacked Wheaties team, so take that PPG with a grain of salt please. He also played part of the season through various injuries, so there’s that angle also. Any way you look at it, it’s hard to deduce whether Rajala’s season was a good one or not. He’s returning to Finland this year to complete his required military service, and has already started his season with Ilves of the SM-Liiga with one assist in two games (-2). I expect he’ll have a hard time this year due to his military requirements eating up his down-time, but will still be productive. Controlled expectations for Rajala are:

- Play a full season in the Finnish Elite League on Ilves’ top-two lines, scoring 15-20 goals.
- Manage his time effectively between hockey and military life as Hartikainen did last season
- Be a key piece of Finland’s U-20 team (he was on the top-line last year).

Chris VandeVelde C UND NCAA; 2009/10 stats: 42GP 16-25-41 22PIM

Last of the forwards (alphabetically speaking) is a late-blooming center with size and faceoff skills. He was a go-to guy in college hockey and played with very talented players on his wings, so it’s unlikely to think that the offensive game will follow him to the next level. What we’re getting in VandeVelde is a large body who knows how to exceed in defensive hockey. He’s also a whiz in the faceoff dot, a rarity among Edmonton Oilers in general the last few years. His special talent might even get him noticed by the NHL club before long. Controlled expectations for VandeVelde are:

- Play a full season in the AHL, scoring 30 points on the second/third lines.
- Continue to impress with faceoffs and defensive skills
- Earn a late-season call-up to the Oilers.

Forwards done, we look at the controlled expectations of the defensive crew and goalie corps in the next instalment.

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