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FEATURE: Oilers excited with early showings of 2017 draft class

Oilers Assistant General Manager Keith Gretzky says the team's 2017 selections are living up to expectations thus far

by Chris Wescott / Head Writer

EDMONTON, AB - The Edmonton Oilers made seven picks at the 2017 NHL Draft, hauling in three wingers, a goaltender, a centre, and two defencemen. So far, the picks appear to be very promising.

"We're happy," said Oilers Assistant General Manager Keith Gretzky. "You learn from each draft and you can't get too high or too low. They're kids."

Gretzky makes a good point. These "kids" are less than one year removed from being drafted, so it's hard to judge their value or promise this early, but it's hard not to like some of the early returns.

With their first-round pick, 22nd overall, Edmonton selected winger Kailer Yamamoto from the Spokane Chiefs. The offensively dynamic forward was coming off a 99-point season for the Chiefs in the WHL, and flashed his potential in the pre-season for the Oilers. He earned nine NHL games, before being assigned to Spokane, where he has 12 points in 13 games this season.

Yamamoto also represented Team USA at the 2018 World Juniors. There's a lot of potential with this pick, but he's got to search for some consistency.

"He's the one guy that's been up and down," said Gretzky. "You'll have a couple good shifts and then he'll go a little quiet. He needs to jump on the puck, be first on the puck, and use his quickness. That's how he scored the other night, by the second and third effort in front. He banged his own rebound in, and that's what he's got to do: jump on loose pucks. He's another guy who needs to be consistent and play hard every shift."

In the third round, Edmonton took goaltender Stuart Skinner, who has an .897 goals-against average for the Lethbridge Hurricanes. With their second third-round pick, Edmonton selected defenceman Dmitri Samorukov, who represented Russia at World Juniors.

"Sammy has done real well," said Gretzky. "I think as the tournament went along, he got better and better. He's another guy, for me, that is not a flashy guy. He's Steady Eddie. He moves the puck, his first pass is very good, he plays some power play and he gets the puck to the open guy. He's starting to come into his own too."

Ostap Safin stands out in terms of skill, and he's a fourth-round pick with a lot of intrigue. Gretzky took a look at the prospect in Buffalo, NY at World Juniors. Safin skated for the Czechs, scoring a goal and two assists.

"I only saw him play the one game (at World Juniors)," said Gretzky. "He's got to be consistent. He's big, he's strong, he can go to the net, and he showed that. But he's got to be consistent every shift and use his size to his advantage."

What's most promising about the mid-round pick is his tools

"His skill level is really good," said Gretzky. "He shoots the puck, but he's got to learn - as a young kid - to play every shift."

Safin has lit up the QMJHL in his first season of North American hockey, tallying 33 points (14-19-33) in 34 games for the Saint John Sea Dogs.

It's encouraging that the Oilers were able to find such a promising prospect in the mid rounds, and they continued their acquisitions of such talents in the fifth, selecting Kirill Maksimov 146th overall.

Maksimov has done nothing but impress since hearing his name called at the draft. Maksimov has 25 goals in 36 games for the Niagara IceDogs in the OHL so far this season.

"I've seen him a couple of times and know the other (scouts) have seen him," said Gretzky. "He's got a great shot. He gets penalty kill time, which is good. He's learning the two-way game, so I like that part of his game. That was one of his knocks, was his skating."

Edmonton's brass sent their Skating Coach David Pelletier to Niagara to work with the young forward on such skills.

"(Pelletier) came back raving how he was soaking it in," said Gretzky.

Progress has been made.

"He's a pleasant surprise with scoring the goals he's scored."

The club took Skyler Brind'Amour, son of Rod Brind'Amour, with a sixth-round pick. He's got eight goals and 13 assists in 21 games for Chilliwack in the BCHL. He'll take the college path to the pros.

And finally, the Oilers got another late-round potential steal in Philip Kemp. The defender was with Team USA until the end of roster cuts at World Juniors and there are tools in his game to be desired.

"I saw him play in an exhibition game," said Gretzky. "I really liked his game, where he's come, and where he's at right now. He was the last of the cuts. He's another guy that's not flashy. He's real smart with the puck. He moves it really well. He needs to get stronger, a little heavier, a little quicker, but with how he plays the game, he's done well."

As the hockey season rolls along, these young players will continue to develop. But so far, there are reasons to be excited about what's coming down the pipe.

"With the later guys, especially, there's some excitement with them," said Gretzky. "It takes time. It really does take time to get those guys going and get them into the system."

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