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Oilers' top 10 prospects line up behind Yakupov

by Brian Hunter

Edmonton Oilers fans have grown accustomed to not having to wait very long before seeing their top prospects become NHL regulars.

By virtue of holding the No. 1 pick in three consecutive drafts, the Oilers have been able to select from among not only the most promising but the most NHL-ready players available. The past two seasons have seen Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins jump right into the lineup and put up impressive numbers.

That figures to continue this fall -- top pick Nail Yakupov and free-agent signee Justin Schultz, an Anaheim Ducks selection in 2008, are expected to win roster spots out of training camp.

Yakupov and Schultz are the prospects likely to make the biggest impact in Edmonton during the 2012-13 season, but they're only the beginning of a talented crop the Oilers hope will help turn things around in the standings over the decade to come.

Here's a look at Edmonton's top 10 prospects:

Nail Yakupov was the Oilers' third straight first-overall Draft pick. (Photo: Metcalfe Photography)

1. Nail Yakupov, F: Central Scouting's top-ranked skater among North Americans, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound right wing saw his final season in the Ontario Hockey League curtailed to 42 games as he battled several injuries, but the 31 goals and 69 points he compiled when in the lineup was more than sufficient in displaying the kind of dynamic offensive ability he brings to the table -- as was his performance at the World Junior Championship, where he led Russia with nine assists and a plus-5 rating. Yakupov posted 49 goals and 101 points in 65 games for the Sarnia Sting the previous season.

As much as the fans in Sarnia would probably love to have him back for another season, that seems doubtful with Oilers coach Ralph Krueger having said he expects Yakupov, who will be 19 by the time the season starts Oct. 13, to not only make the roster but be a significant factor on the power play. Yakupov has the skill it takes to compete with the big boys, and from the sound of things has the confidence as well.

"I think I'm ready for NHL," he said shortly after signing his entry-level contract in July. "I want to try. I have whole summer to train and work with Edmonton. This is a great team, a young team, and they play good hockey. It'll be good playing with those players."

2. Justin Schultz, D: When the Ducks took Schultz in the second round (No. 43) of the 2008 NHL Draft, he had recently completed his first of two seasons with the Westside Warriors of the British Columbia Hockey League. He went on to develop his game over the next three seasons at the University of Wisconsin and attended several Anaheim prospects camps, but never signed a contract. As a result he became a free agent this summer and Edmonton won the bidding for his services.

Schultz, like Yakupov, will be given every opportunity to start the season with the Oilers, who certainly have an opening on their blue line for someone with his kind of skillset. How quickly Schultz acclimates defensively to the challenges of NHL play may be a wild card, but the 34 goals he scored over the past two seasons with the Badgers suggest his shot will be a welcome addition from the point, particularly with the man advantage.

"We believe he can step in right away and contribute," general manager Steve Tambellini said. "How we mix and match, we'll have to see how that works."

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3. Oscar Klefbom, D: After taking Nugent-Hopkins at No. 1, the Oilers had another first-round pick in 2011 and at No. 19 selected Klefbom, a 6-3, 204-pound blueliner out of Karlstad, Sweden.

He spent the past two seasons playing for Farjestads in the Swedish Elite League, and at 19 is still developing his game. He signed an entry-level contract with Edmonton in June and attended the team's summer development camp, but will spend another season with Farjestads.

Klefbom is widely regarded as the franchise's top prospect who won't play in the NHL this season. His combination of size and skating ability has the Oilers eagerly anticipating his arrival, perhaps as early as 2013-14.

4. Martin Marincin, D: A second-round pick (No. 46) in 2010, the 6-5, 196-pound defenseman has gotten a taste of American Hockey League play with the Oilers' affiliate in Oklahoma City, logging seven games over the past two seasons. The bulk of his action has come in the Western Hockey League, however, where he scored 11 goals with 29 assists last season in 58 games split between Prince George and Regina.

Marincin, 20, has spent much of his career to this point as a power-play quarterback. He skates well but is not overly physical, and Edmonton is waiting for the defensive side of his game to round into form. He'll benefit from more AHL seasoning with the Barons.

5. Teemu Hartikainen, F: Though it figures to be grit more than scoring prowess that carries Hartikainen's career, he's already had a few big moments in a pair of NHL call-ups the past two seasons. The 6-1, 215-pound left wing scored goals in each of the final two games of the 2010-11 season and scored both Edmonton goals in a 2-1 win over Anaheim in last season's home finale.

A sixth-round pick in 2008, it's easy to overlook Hartikainen with the amount of high-profile young talent the Oilers have at forward, but his physical nature and ability to screen goaltenders and draw penalties could result in more playing time with the big club this season.

6. David Musil, D: There's no shortage of promising defensemen coming up through the Oilers' system, and this second-round pick (No. 31) in 2011 garners attention for his pedigree alone. He is the son of former blueliner Frantisek Musil, who played the final three of his 14 NHL seasons with Edmonton, and he is the nephew of longtime NHL forward Bobby Holik.

Musil, at 6-3 and 196 pounds, projects as a stay-at-home type who thinks the game well. He's averaged six goals and 28 points in his three seasons with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL, and at 19 is a few years away.

The Oilers drafted Daniil Zharkov in the third round, and it already appears he'll have a friendly rivalry with countryman and future teammate Nail Yakupov. (Photo: Getty Images)

7. Daniil Zharkov, F: With the final pick of this year's third round, which they acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in the Dustin Penner trade, the Oilers took the 6-3, 197-pound left wing who scored 23 goals in 50 games for Belleville in his first season in the OHL.

Zharkov told the Edmonton Journal after being drafted that his goal was to be better than his countryman Yakupov, so he's not lacking confidence. The 18-year-old can make things happen offensively with his skating, shot and creativity, and bears watching down the road.

8. Martin Gernat, D: After the Oilers took a flier on the Slovakian defenseman with their fifth-round pick (No. 122) in 2011, 6-5, 187-pound Gernat attracted attention with a dynamite first season with the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings, posting nine goals, 55 points and a plus-41 rating in 60 games.

There's little question about the 19-year-old's offensive abilities, but the jury is out on his play in his own end.

9. Tyler Pitlick, F: Taken with the same pick in 2010 (No. 31) as Musil was a year later, the 6-2, 195-pound center completed his first AHL season with underwhelming numbers -- seven goals and 23 points in 62 games for Oklahoma City. The 20-year-old added two goals and seven points in 13 playoff games.

Pitlick put up 27 goals and 62 points with Medicine Hat in the WHL the year after Edmonton selected him. He's a hard worker with an above-average wrist shot and plenty of upside.

10. Colten Teubert, D: Selected by the Kings with the 13th pick in 2008 and sent to the Oilers in the Penner deal, the 6-4, 195-pound defenseman got his first taste of the NHL last season and posted one assist and a minus-5 rating in 24 games.

With the signing of Schultz and seemingly bright futures ahead for several other Edmonton blue-line prospects, Teubert will have to push for playing time. His physicality is a plus, but his overall game has yet to live up to the hype that surrounded him coming out of juniors.

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