November 21 2016 11:26AM
Although well-stocked on the blue line and in net, the Edmonton Oilers' AHL system is critically low on forwards who project as anything more than fourth-liners at the NHL level. There's Jujhar Khaira, and little else.
There also isn’t much on the way.
Of course, looking back two years many of the same concerns applied to Khaira himself.
Khaira’s career path at the amateur level was odd and I’ve always wondered how much he was hurt by bouncing around so much in his formative years. He was a smart pick out of the BCHL, one of the few Oilers selections out of that league in recent years who combined good offensive production (79 points in 54 games) with legitimate upside (as an August birthday, he wasn’t even 18 when Edmonton drafted him). He didn’t get to stay there long, though, going to Michigan Tech (NCAA) the next season and then to Everett (WHL) the year after that.
When Todd Nelson was promoted to an NHL job midway through 2014-15, Khaira was on his fifth different head coach in a span of just four seasons across four different leagues.
He didn’t score at all as a rookie pro, really, posting just 10 points in 51 games. The next season (last year), he put up 27 points in 49 AHL contests, earning a 15-game NHL recall in the process. So far this season he has seven points in six games and is by far the brightest light of the Oilers’ forward prospects.
What Khaira has had in his favour all down the line, though, is age. He’s only just 22 now, and a 6’3”, 214-pound 22-year-old who can anchor a scoring line in the minors is nicely on-track for an NHL career. Older prospects that can’t score have much less time to figure things out.
If we set our cut-off to forwards under age 25 currently with the Bakersfield Condors , we find nobody close to Khaira’s current level of production, despite the fact that he's one of the younger prospects on the farm:
- Jujhar Khaira, age 22 (six games, seven points, 1.17 points/game).
- Josh Currie, age 24 (11 games, four points, 0.36 points/game). Undersized, undrafted forward worked his way up from the ECHL last season and was rewarded with an AHL contract. Like Josh Winquist last year, he isn’t actually signed by the Oilers.
- Joey Benik, age 24 (10 games, three points, 0.30 points/game). Another undersized, undrafted forward on an AHL contract. Benik scored at better than a point-per-game pace in college last season. He turns 25 in January.
- Mitch Moroz, age 22 (12 games, three points, 0.25 points/game). A second-round pick in the 2012 Draft, Moroz is now in the final season of his entry-level deal. He’s on pace to match last year’s career-high in scoring, when he put up 10 points in 40 games.
- Patrick Russell, age 23 (12 games, three points, 0.25 points/game). The undrafted Russell signed a two-year ELC with the Oilers after hitting the point-per-game mark in college last year. He turns 24 in January and has size but not speed on his side.
- Kyle Platzer, age 21 (11 games, two points, 0.18 points/game). Platzer is the player I hold out the most hope for on this list. He’s well off last season’s pace (17 points in 48 games), so we know he can deliver more than he has so far this season. He’s also one of the younger players in this group.
- Braden Christoffer, age 22 (12 games, two points, 0.17 points/game). Another undrafted forward, Christoffer earned an ELC with Edmonton last year after impressing in training camp. He’s gritty and competitive, but lacks size and never put up big numbers over his junior career.
- Greg Chase, age 21 (six games, zero points, 0.00 points/game). Chase and Christoffer are similar players in some ways, though Chase was always the better junior scorer and was drafted in the seventh round in his first year of eligibility. He should have more upside but can’t seem to get traction in the minors.
There isn’t much else on the way to help, either. We’re well into Edmonton’s 2012 and 2013 picks, though college man Aidan Muir appears to be off to a good start this season and may yet have a career. Another college guy with a spotty track record, Tyler Vesel, is the only reinforcement on the way from the 2014 or 2015 drafts.
The next wave of forwards entering the Oilers’ system comes from the 2016 Draft, and it’s a small one. Tyler Benson is a real prospect, while Graham McPhee and Aapeli Rasanen were both taken late in the draft and will need to overachieve to have NHL careers.
This is most definitely a weakness in the system. I wonder at some point if we don’t see a defenceman-for-forward prospect trade or two.
Failing that, “opportunity” should be the first word out of the mouth of any Oilers recruiter when talking to top college free agents, because that’s the one thing Edmonton has in abundance. Russell hasn't been able to do much with it, but Drake Caggiula certainly has, going straight from college to the majors.