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Oilers 2011 draft picks developing strong

by Ryan Frankson / Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton, AB - The 2011 NHL Entry Draft has to be reflected upon as a successful one for the Edmonton Oilers, as almost all of their selections went on to post exceptional 2011-12 seasons, keeping them on the right path towards becoming impact players on hockey's elite stage.

Nine young hockey players became property of the Oilers during the 2011 Draft on June 24-25 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Senior Director of Player Development Billy Moores is encouraged by the progression each of those players experienced during the recently concluded season.

"It was a really good draft year for us; great job by our scouting staff picking those guys," Moores said. "They're all good young men who are receptive to coaching and have good attitudes. They understand us when we tell them they must take responsibility for their own development. They're willing to work hard to be the best they can be, and that's what it's all about."

C – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Round 1 – 1st overall)

Taylor Hall welcomes Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on stage after being chosen with the 2011 No. 1 overall pick.

Following up their first-overall selection of Taylor Hall at the 2010 Draft, the Oilers made Red Deer Rebels Western Hockey League standout Ryan Nugent-Hopkins their 2011 first-overall selection.

During training camp, exhibition play and the opening weeks of the regular season, there was still a possibility the team would send RNH back to junior for another season, but the crafty centreman quickly established himself as an NHL-ready player.

Nugent-Hopkins scored his first NHL goal — the game equalizer, no less — in the Oilers' opening night 2-1 shootout victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, and followed that up with his first NHL hat trick just six days later against the Vancouver Canucks. Nugent-Hopkins was selected as the NHL's Rookie of the Month for both October and November.

A shoulder injury suffered Jan. 4 in Chicago against the Blackhawks kept him out of the lineup for a month, but RNH recovered and persevered to finish the season third in team scoring with 52 points in 62 games. He was also tied with Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche in the NHL's rookie scoring race, though the Oiler played 20 fewer games.

Fittingly so, both Nugent-Hopkins and Landeskog, along with Adam Henrique of the New Jersey Devils (51 points, 74 games), were picked as the three finalists for the Calder Memorial Trophy, to be awarded to the Rookie of the Year at the NHL Awards next Wednesday in Las Vegas.

Once the Oilers' regular season concluded, RNH added some valuable experience to his rookie campaign by competing for Team Canada at the 2012 World Hockey Championship. He contributed for the national team as well, scoring 4 goals and 2 assists with a +2 rating in 8 games.

"The whole organization would say they're extremely pleased with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins," Moores said, looking back on the impressive rookie campaign. "You couldn't ask for anything more for what he did last year. He had a great year and just recently going to the World Championship was another good step for him. Exceptional pick, exceptional young man."

Moores attributed RNH's well-rounded skill-set and natural hockey intelligence as the main reasons for his ability to be effective in the NHL at just 18 years of age, adding he sees no limit to what the Burnaby, B.C., native can achieve in his budding career.

"Everything just looks easy for him, but that's because he's put in a lot of time for development," Moores said. "He's a very complete player. He's got impeccable habits, both offensively and defensively. He's always on the right side of the puck."

"His high-speed skills are strong. His ability to think the game is strong. And his toughness component, though he's not running over people, he doesn't back away from situations. As he gets bigger and stronger, he's just going to become more dominant. His potential is unlimited."

D – Oscar Klefbom (Round 1 – 19th overall)

Oscar Klefbom will play one more season in Sweden before coming over to North America in 2013-14.

With so much hype and so many rookie accomplishments for the first-overall selection Nugent-Hopkins, lost a bit in the 2011 Draft shuffle was the Oilers' other first-round pick (19th overall), Swedish defenceman Oscar Klefbom.

The 6-foot-3, 204-pound rearguard has spent the last two seasons competing for his hometown Swedish Elite League squad, Farjestads BK Karlstad. Despite typically playing with and against older, more fully-grown players, the 18-year-old was steady on the back end, chipping in with a pair of goals in 33 regular season games and adding an assist in 11 playoff games.

Klefbom's coming-out party on the North American hockey stage came during the 2012 World Junior Championship in Edmonton and Calgary, as he played a significant role in helping Sweden capture the gold medal. Klefbom scored 1 goal and 1 assist in six games and maintained an impressive +8 rating, despite consistently matching up with opposing teams' top forwards.

"He had a very impressive World Juniors," Moores said. "He played against teams' top lines and handled it well. He showed he's a pretty good two-way defenceman who can defend well but also move the puck offensively and contribute offensively. I think his development is coming along nicely. It looks like he's got real good NHL potential."

Klefbom inked his three-year entry level contract with the Oilers on Tuesday, but that doesn't guarantee he'll make the move to North America for the 2012-13 season. GM Steve Tambellini said last week Klefbom will remain with Farjestads BK Karlstad, provided he is receiving top-four minutes.

D – David Musil (Round 2 – 31st overall)

David Musil got an opportunity (like Klefbom) to play in Rexall Place during the 2012 World Junior Championship.

Another defenceman who competed at the 2012 World Juniors in Edmonton and Calgary was the Oilers' 2011 second-round draft pick David Musil. The 6-foot-3, 196-pound blueliner suited up for his native Czech Republic, and though he didn't score any points, Musil posted a +5 rating in 5 games, also matching up against other teams' top forward lines.

Musil's club team is the WHL's Vancouver Giants, with whom he scored 27 points (6 goals, 21 assists) with a +9 rating in 59 regular season games this year before suffering a season-ending wrist injury, preventing him from competing in the playoffs as well. The 19-year-old son of 14-year NHL defenceman and former Oiler Frank Musil now has 84 career WHL points and an impressive +43 rating in his 192-game major junior career to date.

"He couldn't play in the playoffs, which was unfortunate, but in terms of development, he made really strong gains," Moores said. "We're very pleased with his ability to achieve the things we've asked him to work on. He's taken full responsibility for his own development. His skating has improved, he's quicker, he's really strong and he's able to move pucks up the ice quickly. He's also a shut-down defenceman who really takes away time and space. He's become very hard to play against."

G – Samu Perhonen (Round 3 – 62nd overall)

General Manager Steve Tambellini welcomes Samu Perhonen to the Oilers organization/NHL at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

With a prolific forward and two highly-touted defencemen secured, the Oilers selected their first of two Finnish goaltenders with the 62nd overall pick at the 2011 Draft, calling Samu Perhonen's name. Perhonen was coming off a 2010-11 campaign that saw him post 24 wins, including two shutouts, in 41 regular season and playoff starts in the Finnish Junior League.

The 19-year-old split his 2011-12 season between JYP Jyvaskyla (5GP, 4-0, 3.13 GAA, .923%) in the Finnish Junior League and JYP Akatemia (11GP, 3-8, 3.81 GAA, .887%) in the Mestis league, which is the second-highest professional circuit in Finland behind SM-liiga.

"He's a big goalie and I think he's just catching up with his physical maturity, getting bigger and stronger to support his frame." Moores said of the 6-foot-4 puck-stopper. "He had a bit of an off-year, due to the fact that he suffered a few injuries, but he's a really good prospect. He doesn't have the (English) language yet, so that's one of the things he's going to have to continue to work on."

LW – Travis Ewanyk (Round 3 – 74th overall)

After recovering from his shoulder injury, Travis Ewanyk returned in time to help the Oil Kings win the 2012 WHL Championship.

The Oilers went local with their second pick in the third round, selecting St. Albert native and Edmonton Oil Kings WHL forward Travis Ewanyk in the 74th overall position. Ewanyk played an integral role for the Oil Kings recently as the team captured the WHL championship and competed at the Memorial Cup.

The 2011-12 campaign wasn't all trophies and triumph for the left-winger, though, as he participated in Oilers Rookie Camp but was then forced to undergo shoulder surgery. The rehabilitation process kept him out of the Oil Kings' lineup until March 23, but he returned to tally 9 points and a +11 rating in the final 11 regular season games and ensuing 20 playoff contests.

"He took a year with a lot of adversity and turned it into all positives, which takes huge mental strength," Moores said. "Because of his injury, his goals this year became all about rehab. He did a great job on his physio and got back quicker than anybody expected. He did all the work we asked him to do off-ice and came back really strong and ready to play. He was really effective for the Oil Kings."

Judging Ewanyk on his offensive statistics alone would be doing the prospect a huge disservice. The 6-foot-2, 189-pound power forward has only scored 36 points in 127 career WHL games, but his defensive abilities are what has Moores and the Oilers excited about his pro potential.

"His strength is his defensive play, but it doesn't limit him," Moore said. "He really understands the game and has a good level of toughness. He does all the things you need in a checking forward. It'll be great to see what he can do next year with a full season."

D – Dillon Simpson (Round 4 – 92nd overall)

Dillon Simpson will return to the NCAA in 2012-13.

Musil wasn't the only player Edmonton drafted in 2011 with paternal ties to the NHL, as they used the 92nd overall pick on defenceman Dillon Simpson, the son of former Oilers forward and two-time Stanley Cup champion Craig Simpson.

Simpson completed his sophomore season of NCAA Division 1 hockey with the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux, appearing in all 42 games during the 2011-12 schedule and chipping in with 2 goals, 16 assists and a +10 rating.

"He didn't play as much in the first half of the year, but some injuries allowed him to get much more playing time in the second half and he kept playing better and better," Moores said of the former Spruce Grove Saints AJHL standout. "He got quicker, he moved the puck better and got much more involved in North Dakota's offensive play. It was a good year for him."

C – Tobias Rieder (Round 4 – 114th overall)

Tobias Rieder surprised many with sensational season in the OHL, posting 42 goals and 84 points in 60 regular-season games with the Kitchener Rangers.

With their second selection in the fourth round, the Oilers picked centre Tobias Rieder from the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers, and the German went on to have a breakout season at the major junior level. Rieder tallied 42 goals and 42 assists in 60 regular seasons games, following that up with 27 points in 16 playoff games, leading the OHL in post-season scoring.

The 19-year-old also led Germany in scoring with 5 goals and 8 assists in five games to lead the host nation to the gold medal at the 2012 Division 1 Group A World U-20 Championship (one tier below the World Juniors in Edmonton and Calgary).

"He's the type of kid who just got better and better as the season went on," Moores said. "We talk a lot about the complete player, and his game is getting very complete. He works hard and doesn't give up anything defensively, but he also effectively combined that with a very good offensive game. He skyrocketed."

D – Martin Gernat (Round 5 – 122nd overall)

Martin Gernat had a wonderful rookie year in which he collected 9 goals, 55 points and a WHL Championship with the Oil Kings.

Much like Ewanyk, defenceman Martin Gernat was a huge reason why the Oil Kings were able to capture the 2012 WHL title and advance to the Memorial Cup. His offensive prowess from the blueline position gave the Oilers just cause to claim him in the fifth round of last year's draft.

The 6-foot-5 Slovakian led the Oil Kings in scoring among defencemen by a large margin, tallying 9 goals and 46 assists in 60 regular season games — 17 points more than the next highest scoring rearguard. Gernat was also a clutch performer in the post-season, scoring 7 goals and 6 assists in 20 games. He also had the Oil Kings' highest regular season plus-minus at +41.

And as if his performance with his club team wasn't enough to qualify his 2011-12 campaign as hugely successful, Gernat also suited up for Slovakia at the World Junior Championship. Playing alongside defensive partner and 2010 Oilers draft pick Martin Marincin, Gernat scored 2 points in 6 games with a +1 rating.

"The transition (from playing in Slovakia to the WHL) seemed easy for Martin, and he did a lot of things well this year," Moores said. "He had a good World Juniors playing against some high-level competition. His coaches and our guys worked with him, paramount on the defensive side of the puck. He showed some very good signs with his offensive skill, and now he's putting together the defensive part of the game, which is critical."

G – Frans Tuohimaa (Round 7 – 182nd overall)

The second Finnish goalie the Oilers selected last June came with their last pick of the draft, as they took Frans Tuohimaa in the seventh round. Tuohimaa, like Perhonen, spent part of the 2011-12 season in the Finnish Junior League, but he also appeared in 16 games with Jokerit in the Finnish Elite League, also known as SM-liiga.

Tuohimaa's win-loss record with Jokerit wasn't outstanding, as he went 6-10, but his personal stats were impressive thanks to a 2.82 GAA and .922 save percentage. He was also stingy in the junior league playoffs, posting a 1.68 GAA in 8 games.

"He had pretty good success at both levels," Moores said. "He already speaks English quite well and understands what his game is about and how he has to get better both on and off the ice. He did a really good job last year and we're excited to get another first-hand look at him at Development Camp."

Author: Ryan Frankson |

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