It goes without saying that the Edmonton Oilers are set with a bevy of elite level high-speed skilled forwards with Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov likely donning Oilers silks for years to come. But, the Oilers will also need a second wave of forward prospects to develop if the organization is to move up the charts and become a perennial Stanley Cup contender.
With Eberle (22), Hall (21), RNH (19) and Yakupov (19) potentially making up a dynamic core, the Oilers will need support players, which is where Teemu Hartikainen, Magnus Paajarvi, Anton Lander and Tyler Pitlick come into play.
The Oilers stole the 6’1”, 215 pound Hartikainen out of the 6th round of the 2008 draft and the big Finn is the closest to becoming a consistent top-9 forward for the Oilers.
After posting solid numbers in his first two seasons in the AHL (17-25-42 in 66 games in 2010-11, and 14-18-32 in 51 games in 2011-12) and earning himself late-season call-ups in each of those years, Hartikainen, 22, took another step forward during the lock-out scoring 11-16-27 in 36 games in Oklahoma City.
Hartikainen often found himself used as a net presence on the Barons top PP unit with Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, Eberle and Justin Schultz and is not out of the realm of possibilities to see the same situation unfold here in Edmonton. If so, Hartikainen will have a chance to carve out a niche for himself along the lines of recently retired Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom.
Paajarvi (10th) and Lander (40th) went in the first and second rounds of the 2009 NHL Entry draft. Both players are still only 21 and have experienced some tough times over the last calendar year.
Paajarvi was the youngest player ever to play for Team Sweden at the World Juniors in 2008 and had already played for Sweden at the 2010 World Championship before coming to North America in the summer of 2010.
The fleet-footed 6’2”, 205-pound left wing saw significant time on the Oilers top two lines in 2010-11 and had a decent rookie campaign scoring 15 goals and adding 19 assists for 34 points.
However, the last 18 months have been trying for Paajarvi.
Last season, Paajarvi found himself mostly on the Oilers third or fourth lines and his confidence wavered. He scored only twice in 41 games before being demoted to OKC. He finished the year on the farm picking up 7-18-25 in 34 games.
Despite seeing mostly second-line time in OKC playing on a line with Hartikainen and Lander during the lock-out, Paajarvi’s scoring woes continued, picking up just four goals in 38 games this season at the AHL.
Whereas Hartikainen appears have an air of confidence about himself and come to terms with what his game has to be to play in the NHL, as of right now Paajarvi is still a work in progress.
Paajarvi has to be willing to utilize his speed and take the puck to the net. If he does so he will draw penalties and create scoring opportunities off the rush. Like the majority of young players that come from Sweden, Paajarvi does have a handle on the defensive side of the game.
Lander, at 6’ 195 pounds, had Oilers fans very excited after a stellar performance for Team Sweden at the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo.
Considered a longshot by many to make the Oilers out of training camp at the start of the 2011-12 season, Lander did so because he impressed the coaches with his defensive acumen and maturity.
However his minutes started to drop midway through last season and eventually he saw himself demoted to Oklahoma City.
Between the regular season and playoffs Lander only scored three goals in 28 games to finish the year, and his offensive productivity was not stellar (3-7-10 in 39 games) in OKC this season as well.
In fairness Lander’s role at the NHL level is most likely as a third-line shutdown center, but third-line centers still need to create a little bit of offence as well, or they end up as fourth-line centers.
Taking a look at Lander’s numbers with his club team Timra in Sweden it is interesting to note that he jumped from 10 to 16 to 26 points over three seasons before he came to North America.
Like Lander, Tyler Pitlick was a second-round draft choice, going 31st overall in the 2010 draft.
At 6’2” and 193 pounds Pitlick has decent size and has displayed the willingness to be aggressive on the forecheck since leaving Minnesota-State Mankato following the draft.
In 2010-11 Pitlick played for Shaun Clouston in Medicine Hat in the WHL and had a strong offensive campaign registering 27-35-62 in 56 games.
He turned pro last season and after a very tepid start in Oklahoma City he picked it up in the second half and closed with a solid post-season picking up seven points in 13 games in mostly a second-line role
With the NHL lock-out taking place in the first half of the year this season, Pitlick got bumped down the food chain -- especially with Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi and Hartikainen slotted in as the wingers on the top two lines.
In January, Pitlick’s play was starting to improve but now he is out of the line-up for close to a month with a knee injury.
Pitlick projects to be a third-line energy winger who will be post modest offensive numbers at the NHL level.
Nonetheless despite not fast-tracking, Pitlick remains a solid prospect, who, along with Hartikainen, Paajarvi and Lander could play a part in the Oilers future for years to come.
Bob Stauffer is Radio Analyst of the Oilers Broadcasts on the Oilers Radio Network and Host of “Oilers Now” Monday thru Friday Noon to 2:00PM on 630 CHED. You can follow him on twitter at @Bob_Stauffer
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