The Edmonton Oilers are finally looking to the take the next step in what seems to be a recurring rebuilding process. Armed with a new head coach in Dallas Eakins, the 2013-14 version of the Oilers should be a team defined by work ethic and fitness levels.
This is also the first year of the rebuild that the Oilers do not have a prospect with a legitimate chance to crack the NHL roster. After spending their seventh overall pick on defenseman Darnell Nurse, the Oilers have managed to add to their organizational depth on the blue line, which, for the first time in a long while, seems to be a position of strength for the club.
Along with Nurse, the Oilers have Martin Marincin, Oscar Klefbom, Martin Gernat and Taylor Fedun, who should all one day make the NHL, but more than likely not this season.
While the club does have some forwards who may help out at the NHL level, the majority of the remaining roster spots will go to AHL veterans.
Expectations are a hard thing to gauge at the NHL level, but here is a look at realistic expectations for the Edmonton Oilers rookies entering the 2013-14 season.
Darnell Nurse is still a bit away from the NHL but will continue to mature in the OHL next season.
For the first time in a long time, the Edmonton Oilers will not have to rush their first-round draft selection into the NHL to satisfy fans and organizational holes.
Because of the depth Edmonton has managed to accumulate over the past few seasons, Darnell Nurse will more than likely be headed back to the OHL to continue his development and allow himself to mature both physically and on the ice.
Nurse will eventually be a big-time player for the Oilers and has the size and potential to be a legitimate top-pairing defender in the NHL but will need to fill out his 6'4" frame a bit more.
Defenders usually take a bit more time to develop, but this season in the OHL should see Nurse focus on his defensive positioning as well as conditioning.
Nurse isn't afraid to play the game with a bit of an edge and will be a welcome addition to the Oilers, but he is still likely one to two years away from making an impact at the NHL level.
As Oscar Klefbom will be looking to a strong start in his North American hockey career.
Oscar Klefbom is perhaps the most interesting rookie prospect the Oilers have on their roster this year. After missing the majority of last season due to a severe shoulder injury, Klefbom will more than likely start the season in the AHL with the Oklahoma City Barons.
It will be realistic to assume it will take a bit of time for the talented Swedish blueliner to adapt to the North American style of hockey, but as he becomes comfortable with the speed of the game, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Klefbom as a candidate to be recalled should the Oilers need to fill positions due to injury.
A year in the AHL wouldn’t hurt Klefbom seeing as he is only 20, and should he end up with the Barons, he will most likely see top-pairing minutes for the club.
Klefbom has the ability to be a shutdown defender as well as a contributor in the offensive game thanks to great on-ice vision and the ability to stretch plays with his puck-moving skills.
Seeing as the Oilers have a lot of defensemen currently signed to one-way contracts, it is realistic to assume Klefbom will spend some time in the AHL as he recovers his game after a lengthy layoff.
Will Acton is already familiar with Dallas Eakins after having served under the coach with the Toronto Marlies.
Acton is a strong faceoff man and a tireless worker, and thanks to these attributes, he may have a legitimate chance to crack the Oilers roster out of training camp this season.
At 26, Acton is older than most NHL rookies, and the fact that the Oilers lack depth in the center position could see Acton fill the fourth-line role for the NHL club this season.
Acton may not be a high point producer for the team, but if he can be a reliable faceoff option for the Oilers, he should be able to get 30-plus points in the NHL this season.
Jujhar Khaira will be an interesting prospect in the Oilers organization this season.
Jujhar Khaira is an interesting prospect for the Oilers. The former Michigan Tech standout will get a longer look than most forward prospects for the Oilers this preseason but will likely be suiting up for the OKC Barons of the AHL when the regular season finally begins.
Khaira is a big forward with decent offensive upside. At 6’3” and 194 pounds, Khaira provides size on the wing and should find himself on one of the top two lines in Oklahoma this year.
It will be his first taste of hockey at the professional level after having spent last season in the NCAA, but he has the tools to be able to contribute for Todd Nelson’s Barons in the AHL.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to see Khaira net around 50 points for the Barons next season as he tries to cement himself as legitimate prospect for the Oilers.
Anton Belov is perhaps the most interesting Oilers rookie, considering that the KHL standout is 27 and has already played several seasons against professional competition.
Belov will have a better chance than other Oilers rookies to crack the NHL roster out of training camp due to the fact that he has professional experience and he is signed to a one-way contract.
Belov has the ability to contribute some offense from the back but is more of a stay-at-home defenseman who plays the game with a certain brand of nastiness, something the Oilers have been lacking this year.
If Belov makes the Oilers roster as a sixth or seventh defender, he may not have a large impact on the club right out of the gate but could play a more prominent role as he familiarizes himself with hockey at the NHL level.
Martin Marincin may start the season in AHL with the Barons again, but he should continue to develop into one of the better defensive prospects in the Oilers system this year. He may be a step above some of the other prospects on the blue line for the club, but due to the fact that the Oilers have so many defenders signed to one-way deals, he may find himself in the AHL again this year.
Marincin managed to register 30 points in Oklahoma last year as his offensive game continued to develop under Todd Nelson, but it was the play in his own zone that has garnered the rookie the most accolades.
Marincin will be a top defender in the AHL this year and should be able to replicate if not increase his point total from last season while continuing to develop into a top-four defender at the professional level.