EDMONTON, AB — This time last year the Oilers were gearing up for the 2014 NHL Draft, in which they had few picks and one big decision at the top.
The Oilers had just six selections in Philadelphia, so they tried to make the most of them. The organization selected Prince Albert Raiders centre Leon Draisaitl with the third-overall pick. They then proceeded to select a defenceman, a couple of college-bound forwards and a pair of goaltenders. None had a 2014-15 season quite like Draisaitl.
|Photo by Getty Images. |
Draisaitl earned a spot on the Oilers out of training camp. He made his NHL debut on October 9, against Calgary. On October 24, he scored his first NHL goal. Draisaitl spent 37 games in the NHL before his junior rights were traded from Prince Albert to the Kelowna Rockets and he was sent down. It was a tough situation for a young kid who wants to be in the NHL, but how he handled it all is one thing that impressed the Oilers front office.
“He had a very mature approach to that whole situation. Took it like a pro,” said Oilers Sr. Director of Player Development Rick Carriere. “I think the messaging from the management and the coaches when Leon went back was perfect. Just go there, be a leader, put the team on your back and carry them into the playoffs. I think we saw a lot of that. He took that mature approach.”
Draisaitl not only joined Kelowna with a good attitude, he lit the WHL up. The centre posted 53 points (19-34-53) in 32 games and led the Rockets in scoring in the playoffs with 28 points (10-18-28) in 19 games. Draisaitl and the Rockets took home the WHL Championship and went on to represent their league at the 2015 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
“He had to integrate with new teammates fairly quickly and he did that well,” said Carriere. “I thought he took that whole thing in stride. He played a key role in Kelowna. The big thing with Leon leaving (Edmonton), from our perspective in Player Development, was we wanted to see him play with pace and keep his feet moving on the rush. He’s a big, strong guy with excellent playmaking ability but he needs to do it at high speed. He had a tendency to want to slow the game down a bit and so what happens when you do that is you kind of get consumed from behind. The other team catches up and they take away things from you.”
Carriere said Draisaitl really hit his stride in his development at the Memorial Cup. The Oilers prospect was named the tournament’s MVP and leading scorer, despite Kelowna losing in the final to Oshawa.
“He was a horse,” said Carriere. “He was ‘the guy.’ At the Memorial Cup, he was the MVP of the most prestigious amateur hockey tournament in the world. He’s the MVP. He was a dominant factor.”
Draisaitl recorded four goals and three assists in five games on his way to being awarded the Stafford Smythe Trophy.
“At the Memorial Cup, I thought you saw Leon Draisaitl at his finest,” said Carriere. “He was moving his feet, he was driving to the net, he was making plays at high speed and that’s what is going to carry him into the NHL here; his ability to make plays with his feet moving and his head up.”
At 6-foot-1, 210 pounds and still growing, Draisaitl brings more size and strength to the Oilers crop of young centres. When you look where he is after another year of development, it’s clear that he has more than an outside chance at making a quick jump to full-time NHL duty.
“You look at the future and the size down the middle, these guys are all hard on the puck. They compete and they’re heavy and they can win battles for faceoffs and that,” said Carriere. “Leon brings that element now and he’s got a lot of pace to his game. He’s going to be close. From my perspective, it was good to see him this season. He’s going to be a bonafide contender for a job in the NHL this year. If that doesn’t happen right away I’m sure that the time he spends in the American (Hockey) League will be beneficial to his growth.”
The Oilers were without picks in the second or the third round. This is when the scouts really had to do their homework and hit on the limited picks they had at their disposal. They dug deep, looking for some diamonds in the rough. In the fourth round, 91st overall, the Oilers selected defenceman William Lagesson.
Lagesson played this season for Dubuque in the USHL, gearing up for a jump to college this upcoming season where he will play for U-Mass Amherst. At the draft, the word on Lagesson was how he plays the game with aggression and physicality. He showed those elements this season.
Carriere saw Lagesson play a few times and liked some of the raw talent.
“Coming here (to North America) we hadn’t seen him yet because he wasn’t at development camp,” said Carriere. “When we got out and got to watching him, the biggest thing was his size. He’s willing to play physical, he’s strong on the puck, he makes a hard pass, skating needs a little bit of work. Those are things that he’s continuing to work on and he got better. He was making effective plays with the puck on the breakout. He gets up the ice on the attack, he has a good shot from the point and his defending the rush improved a lot where he was protecting the inside of the ice better, angling to the outside, finishing his checks and in control where at the start of the year he was running around a little bit. He became a little more composed that way defensively.”
Lagesson finished the season with 16 points (2-14-16) in 52 games. He represented Sweden at the 2015 World Junior Championship.
|Photo By: Richard T Gagnon |
With the 111th overall pick, the Oilers opted to go the goalie route. They selected Zachary Nagelvoort out of the University of Michigan. The Wolverines netminder played less games in his sophomore season than he did in his draft year. He finished with a record of 11-9-0 with a 2.63 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. Carriere says it’s hard to get a read on college goaltending prospects because sometimes they aren’t getting consistent starts and don’t get into a rhythm. He split the year with Steven Racine, who played 21 games. Luke Dwyer played two.
“It was tough because you’re splitting the net with another guy and sometimes they have three goalies on their team,” said Carriere. “Every once in a while the third one gets in. Sometimes you’re not getting necessarily all the starts you deserve but they’re trying to give everyone their starts. I think they both got a share of the net for the most part. Hopefully Zach now is going to have a good off-season, a good summer, come into their camp and establish himself as the number one guy.”
As a prospect, Carriere likes what the 6-foot-1, 209-pound Nagelvoort brings to the system.
“Very good. Very intelligent goaltender. Positions himself very well. I think he understands the attack and what’s coming at him. Overall, it would have been nice to have seen him as a starting goaltender to play a lot and develop. He’s got more time there and hopefully they get him to a position where in the playoffs he’ll play every game. This year he didn’t.”
Photo by Vernon Vipers, BCHL
In the fifth round, the Oilers selected Liam Coughlin 130th overall. The forward is committed to play at the University of Vermont next year. This season started off slow for the Vernon Viper in the BCHL. But once his academic issues and a coaching change were resolved, Coughlin was able to devote his focus to hockey and it showed on the ice.
“Slow start. I think he had a lot on his plate,” said Carriere. “The big thing was he had to do some upgrading of his classes to get into University. He had a lot on his plate at the start of the year. I think we didn’t see him in his true form until probably the second half of the year. They made a coaching change at the start of the year. A new coach comes in, Mark Ferner, and he did an outstanding job with that team. You’ve got to change their team structure, change some of the things that they do with their tactics and things like that. I think Liam took all that on with some of his academic challenges. It took a while for him to get comfortable there. But once he got going he was powerful. It would have been great to see him in the NCAA this past year but that didn’t happen. He worked on his skating. We still need to continue to work on that. It’s a big part of his growth. But he’s got some great hands for a big guy. He’s not afraid to mix it up, go to the tough areas, go to the front of the net, make some plays along the wall and things like that. He’ll get into Vermont, give him two or three years to develop and then we’ll see what we have.”
Coughlin led the Vipers in scoring with 60 points (20-40-60) in 54 games. The 20-year-old forward is 6-foot-3 and 201 pounds.
|Tyler Vesel |
With the 153rd overall pick, in the sixth round, the Oilers chose to take another forward. The University of Nebraska-Omaha-bound Tyler Vesel was the pick. On a young team, Vesel stuck out. He had eight goals and 15 assists in 36 games.
“They had nine freshmen on that team this year and Tyler was one of them,” said Carriere. “The coaches loved him. I remember going to watch him in February. I went and talked to the trainer and asked him how Tyler is going. He said, ‘you wouldn’t believe how many shots he blocks.’ That’s the first thing he told me. He loves blocking shots. He’s a shot blocker. We always talk about wanting guys to lay it on the line and sacrifice. There’s no hesitation for him. He’s a very good skater, good posture, good stride and can make plays. He’s got to work on his finish a bit around the net but another solid two-way centreman for us.”
Vesel is 5-foot-11 and 182 pounds. Carriere said the Oilers will need to see Vesel play for two or more years at that level while he continues to develop.
|Photo by Getty Images |
The Oilers, looking to bolster the depth in their system, chose another goaltender at the end of the draft. They took a flyer on a young Keven Bouchard, who had very limited playing time in his draft year.
At the start of the year, it seemed like Val d’Or was hoping Bouchard would run away with the starting gig, but his playing time grew inconsistent as the year moved along.
“I think he struggled a bit,” said Carriere. “They wanted him to be the number one guy but he just didn’t really take that role over like they thought he would. They split the net a little more so he was getting periodic starts the second half of the year. Confidence is always a fragile thing at times.”
Bouchard played 36 games, finishing with a record of 15-13-5. He posted a 3.85 GAA and .872 SV%.
The hope is that with a trade to Baie Comeau and more development, those numbers will improve.
“Hopefully he has a chance to be the number one guy there,” said Carriere. “He’s a year older. He was a young guy who didn’t play a lot the year before. You take a flyer on him. He’s a big kid and he’s a workout fanatic. He’s in the gym all the time. He’s very athletic. You hope you can create a goaltender out of that.”