On December 15th, I felt a sudden itch on top of my head, which forced me to scratch it repeatedly. This random feeling came about when I heard news break out that the Edmonton Oilers had sent down Russian left winger Anton Slepyshev to the AHL. One could say that this transaction had me quite a bit confused to say the least.
The 22 year old third rounder of 2013 is an old relic from the long lost, ancient Craig Mactavish regime that ended abruptly nearly two years ago. One of the brighter draftees of that era, Slepyshev has slowly trended upward through the prospect pool of the organization this past year.
In 15 games with the Oilers this season, Slepyshev has 2 goals and 2 assists. On average, his ice-time has clocked in at 11:12. With the Bakersfield Condors, he has 2 goals and 5 assists in 6 games.
There is a lot to like about Slepyshev. The Oilers have evolved their identity into a team that prides themselves on toughness, size, skill and speed. Slepyshev fits the bill in terms of size, standing 6”2 and weighing 194 pounds. He isn’t the fastest skater in the world, but is quick on offensive rushes. He possesses a great work ethic and can handle the puck well.
People under-estimate his ability to shoot the puck. When he gets a hold of it, he can really let a bullet fly. He makes smart decisions with the puck and does well at getting himself open and into position on the ice. This new style of play Edmonton has adapted compliments Slepyshev’s game very well.
The most obvious issue for Slepyshev thus far in his career is his consistency. With the big club, there are games where he is noticeable and is constantly making an impact virtually every shift. However, there are games where he is not very noticeable.
He needs to work on his finishing ability. 4 points in 15 games isn’t exactly outstanding numbers, especially for a player that has the skill to make an impact offensively. Too many times this year i’ve seen him either miss the net on a golden opportunity to score or just simply not generate enough scoring chances to be considered an offensive threat. He needs to find a way to produce more offence on a consistent basis.
Slepyshev’s game is simple, but certainly has a ton of potential to grow into something greater. I understand Peter Chiarelli wanting to give Taylor Beck a look in light of the injury to Tyler Pitlick, respectively. Beck was leading the entire AHL in points at the time.
But I do believe also that Slepyshev was playing more than well enough to stick around in the NHL. In all honesty, the decision most likely came down to numbers and bodies, so in reality, it looks like he got the dirty end of the stick on this one.
Heading down to Bakersfield with the promise of increased minutes and a more significant, offensive role isn’t the end of the world either. It sure beats having his development harmed as a result of constant sitting in the press box.
When Chiarelli does decide to call up Slepyshev again, I think they should approach things a little differently this time around. Slepyshev has earned the opportunity on a few occasions already to play in the top 6. If he keeps on producing at the rate he is in Bakersfield right now, when the time comes to call him up, he should immediately be inserted into a top 9 scoring role.
McLellan should let Slepyshev role with things for a while. Don’t just give him a game or two on the top line, like in the past, and then demote him to the fourth line soon after because he didn’t do enough offensively. It is imperative to give him time to adjust.
I think at times I see the Oilers under-utilizing Slepyshev. He has proved himself before and when he does it again, it will be necessary to increase his power play time as well as his minutes on one of the top 3 lines for a longer stretch of games. It is time to give him a real shot to be a top forward.
Either way, Slepyshev has me sold as a worthy NHLer. He is perfectly capable of providing value as a depth forward, but I clearly see potential in him as a top nine scoring winger.
However, both parties must be on the same page and have to mutually understand one another if this is to indeed work out. Slepyshev should be rewarded with increased responsibility and ice-time for his continued solid play, but he must also follow up with consistency. It will be exciting to see the big winger back in Edmonton soon. I won’t be shocked if he gets a go on Captain Connor’s wing.