Lowetide: Can Oilers prospect Reid Schaefer make the NHL leap next season? 


Edmonton Oilers prospect Reid Schaefer has been making news since the start of his 2022-23 season with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. He began by scoring 13 goals in the first 10 games of the season, and followed it up by making the Team Canada roster for the coming World Junior Championships.

Schaefer’s star is on the rise. In his 50 most recent regular season games for the Thunderbirds, he scored 30 goals and 53 points.

Aside from being a volume shooter (96 shots in 22 games this season), Schaefer’s quick release and willingness to risk harm by going to dangerous scoring areas are key to his success.

Since his skill set (big, strong winger with an edge and enough pure skill to play in the big moments of the game) is a perfect match for what the Oilers need, it’s natural to ponder his NHL-readiness.

How close is Schaefer? Can he help Edmonton next season, as a rookie pro?

The ideal scenario

There are examples of players like Schaefer who flourished in their final junior seasons and then immediately found their game in pro hockey. There are three names that offer a possible route for Edmonton’s young power forward.

Player Final WHL year FIrst year pro

Michael Rasmussen

.66 goals, 1.26 pts

3 AHL, 62 NHL games

Reid Schaefer

.68 goals, 1.23 pts

Nolan Foote

.56 goals, 1.22 pts

24 AHL, 6 NHL games

Andrew Ladd

.29 goals, .69 pts

25 AHL, 29 NHL games

Schaefer is an excellent match for Michael Rasmussen and Nolan Foote, less so for Andrew Ladd but there are similarities.

All three comparable players spent some time in the NHL in the season they turned pro, but none of them could be considered a net positive in helping his team win. Foote and Ladd contributed to AHL teams, and Rasmussen was a depth player most of the season with the Detroit Red Wings.

These players, at that point in their careers, would best be described as fringe NHL players. That’s no insult, all of these men were legit NHL prospects.

It’s a difficult leap from junior to AHL, each of these men were quality in the world’s best minor league or survived in the NHL in their debuts.

Ladd is probably the ideal scenario. He split time between AHL and NHL, and then played in 17 playoff games as the Carolina Hurricanes won the 2006 Stanley Cup.

The realistic scenario

Fans should consider that general manager Ken Holland slow-plays freshman pro players and Schaefer could spend a season or more in the minors. There are many comparable players since 2015 who are both a match statistically and had a prolonged minor-league audition.

Player Final WHL year First year pro

Kiefer Bellows

.73 goals, 1.32 pts

73 AHL, 0 NHL games

Morgan Geekie

.44 goals, 1.24 pts

73 AHL, 0 NHL games

Reid Schaefer

.68 goals, 1.23 pts

This outcome rhymes with recent handling of Edmonton’s first-round selections. Edmonton’s 2021 first-round selection (Dylan Holloway) spent his rookie pro season entirely in the AHL, before getting into one playoff game during the postseason.

Xavier Bourgault was chosen by Edmonton the following year and is playing in the AHL (8-5-13 in 23 games) this season.

Schaefer getting a full year with the Bakersfield Condors makes sense. He can gain strength, have scoring success and possibly build on his impressive special teams work shown during his time with the Thunderbirds.

Oilers fans may look for those elements in his game during the upcoming world juniors.

The worst-case scenario

No fan wants to contemplate a stagnant progression for such a promising pick, but delays and derailment are part of the game for prospects. Our final list of comparable players shows that even strong junior numbers don’t mean everything once pro careers begin.

Player Final WHL Year First year pro

Adam Brooks

.53 goals, 1.67 pts

57 AHL, 0 NHL games

Reid Schaefer

.68 goals, 1.23 pts

Mark Kastelic

.71 goals, 1.17 pts

31 AHL, 0 NHL games

Ryan Gropp

.52 goals, 1.06 pts

59 AHL, 0 NHL games

This is a group that either had to work up the depth chart (Mark Kastelic, Adam Brooks) for over a year, or didn’t make the NHL (Ryan Gropp, at least so far).

Schaefer’s trajectory suggests the Gropp result is unlikely, and all other players listed have at least played in the NHL.

Player NHL Games Stats


.55 points-game


.46 points-game


.34 points-game


.32 points-game


.32 points-game


.26 points-game


.17 points-game


Sorted by NHL points per game

The range of possibilities is large and there are dozens of comparable talents over the past seven or eight years. Schaefer’s closest comparable in terms of style is Nolan Foote, identified previously as a player who fans could track and project as a possible Schaefer future.

This season, the comparison has remained accurate. There are things that could impact Schaefer’s future that are not available to Foote, but looking at straight numbers the two forwards are very similar. Foote has had success (4-2-6 in 13 games) during two brief stays in the NHL.

Year League Foote Schaefer

Draft Year


.54 goals, .94 pts

.48 goals, .88 pts

Draft Plus One


.56 goals, 1.22 pts

.68 goals, 1.23 pts

Draft Plus Two


.29 goals, .71 pts

Draft Pllus Three


.25 goals, .58 pts

Draft Plus Four


.25 goals, .52 pts

Schaefer’s numbers could get zoomed if he plays with Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl in the NHL, so these numbers may not be accurate depending on NHL deployment.

How close is Schaefer?

There’s no math evidence that suggests Schaefer could be a plug-and-play NHL option in the fall of 2023. In the past, the Oilers have elevated players before they are ready because of need, but the Holland era has avoided the practice and with good reason.

In the decade before Holland arrived, the Oilers brought teenagers to the NHL with alarming regularity. The team also brought depth players who filled roles (Anton Lander at 20) for the big team despite clear evidence that development time would have been the right play.

Schaefer’s skill set is clearly a perfect fit for Edmonton’s needs. He’s a robust winger who plays a physical style, and is a first-shot scorer who can play on the big line. That’s a great fit for what Edmonton needs.

Math suggests he’ll need time in the minors, possibly longer than one season. Schaefer may not have an opportunity to play on the wing with McDavid and Draisaitl due to his spot on the depth chart and the time he takes to develop. That shouldn’t result in the team pushing an unready power forward into the NHL.

(Photo: Marissa Baecker / Getty Images)


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