Young guns

Robin Brownlee
December 16 2008 02:30PM

The Chicago Blackhawks are living proof that there is upside to long-term ineptitude and utter failure that doesn't exist with sporadic garden variety mediocrity.

One look at the roster Chicago will dress against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place Tuesday tells you that much. Is there another team in the NHL with more young talent -- players 25-and-under -- than the Blackhawks? I think not, although that's just off the top of my head.

Out of the playoffs, often hopelessly so, for nine of the previous 10 seasons, Chicago has rebuilt through the Entry Draft from 2002-07 better than any other team I can think of.

In six drafts, the Blackhawks have added no less than seven players who are on the roster and contributing to a resurgence in the Windy City.

Finish low

While the Oilers made the playoffs in six of the previous 10 seasons, and just missed in three of the other four years, the Blackhawks were dismal enough that they amassed three, top-five picks from 2002-07.

The Oilers, meanwhile, had none -- Edmonton's highest pick in that stretch came in 2007, when they plucked Sam Gagner sixth overall.

After years as an embarrassment to Original Six franchises and of playing in a half-empty United Center, the Blackhawks have drafted high and drafted well. Here's a look at the youngsters who'll be in Chicago silks Tuesday.

Pick high

2007: PATRICK KANE. Taken first overall, Kane, 20, leads the Blackhawks in scoring with 13-21-34. He tallied 21-51-72 as a rookie. The Oilers selected Gagner, a teammate of Kane's in London, sixth, Alex Plante 15th and Riley Nash 21st with a trifecta of first-round picks.

2006: JONATHAN TOEWS. Selected third overall, Toews, 20, scored 24-30-54 as a rookie. He has 8-15-23 this season. The Oilers didn't have a first-round pick, although they have blueliners Jeff Petry (45th) and Theo Peckham (75th) in the system.

2005:  JACK SKILLE:  This promising forward from the U.S. National Under-18 team is the only Chicago first-rounder from 2002-07 yet to make a real impact. He's got six NHL games on his resume and is in Rockford of the AHL. A big edge to the Oilers so far, with Andrew Cogliano in The Show and Taylor Chorney on the way.

2004: CAM BARKER  and DAVE BOLLAND. Chicago took Barker, a 22-year-old defenceman from Medicine Hat, with the third overall pick. He's already played parts of four seasons. Bolland, 22, was taken 32nd overall. He's scored 5-12-17 in 28 games this season. The Oilers just sent Rob Schremp (25th) back to Springfield and fellow first-rounder Devan Dubnyk (14th) is in the system. Liam Reddox (112th) is on the roster.

2003: BRENT SEABROOK AND DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN. The 23-year-old Seabrook, selected 14th from Lethbridge of the WHL, already has 240 games on his NHL resume and is in his fourth season. Seabrook was a no-brainer at the draft.

Byfuglien, 23, meanwhile, is the longest of shots and is paying off. Selected 245th overall, the massive swingman scored 19 goals last season and has 126 NHL games in the books. The Oilers took Marc Pouliot 22nd overall and got Zack Stortini 94th.

2002: DUNCAN KEITH. After taking Anton Babchuk 21st, Keith was a steal at 54th overall. Keith has scored 2-12-14 so far in his fourth NHL campaign after back-to-back seasons of 31 and 32 points. The Blackhawks also got James Wisniewski with the 156th pick.

Jesse Niinimaki was Edmonton's biggest first-round bust in recent years, but they also got Jeff Deslauriers along with Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene, who they've turned into Lubomir Visnovsky via trade.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#51 Chris
December 16 2008, 01:02PM
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(@ Ender the Dragon:

FINE. Here is a what if:(By the way I find "What If's" colored by hindsight stupid and counterproductive)

In 2004. Don't draft Dubnyk 14th. Take Wolski. He is a big man who can score (104 points in 162 NHL games) Then use your 25th pick to grap Cory Schneider (A better goalie prospect than Dubnyk anyway)

No Schremp....Wolski. By the way; I like Colorado scouting.

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#52 Ender the Dragon
December 16 2008, 01:08PM
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@ Chris: Beautiful. Your point is made, and you're right; those would have been better picks. Had the Oilers done that, we might look better today. I'll leave further comments to others.

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#53 Jonathan Willis
December 16 2008, 01:12PM
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Chris wrote:

I do, however believe that better scouting staffs exist in this league and maybe Katz should offer up a boat load of cash to steal personnel away from organizations like Buffalo, or Detroit.

He doesn't even need to steal Buffalo's scouts; a ton of them got laid off in favour of video/statistical work. Right now, Buffalo is the team to watch, because if they succeed, there's probably going to be something resembling a paradigm shift in how NHL teams scout players.

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#54 Chris
December 16 2008, 01:16PM
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Willis...you also should have nailed me with Detroit having success drafting smaller players...

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#55 Jonathan Willis
December 16 2008, 01:22PM
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Chris wrote:

By the way; I like Colorado scouting.

Colorado isn't bad by any stretch. Since 2001, the Avalanche have drafted five players who are arguably impact guys at the NHL level: Stastny, Wolski, Gilbert, Svatos and Budaj

In the same time frame, the Oilers have managed a very comparable group of six: Gagner, Cogliano, Stoll, Greene, Markkanen and Hemsky.

Outside of impact players, the Oilers have drafted 15 players with NHL games played (so far): Peckham, Syvret, Schremp, Reddox, Young, Pouliot, Jacques, Stortini, Brodziak, Roy, Luoma, Lynch, Haakana, Pisa and Stephenson.

The Avalanche have 11: Hensick, Kumiskey, Liffiton, Richardson, Jones, Johansson, Boychuk, Weiman, Bois, McCormick, Stephens.

Honestly, Chris, how big is the difference between these two franchises?

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#56 freeze
December 16 2008, 01:25PM
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pssst, don't feed the trolls.

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#57 Jonathan Willis
December 16 2008, 01:26PM
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Chris wrote:

Willis…you also should have nailed me with Detroit having success drafting smaller players…

I get tired of singing Detroit's praises - to my mind they're the best run team in the NHL, and it isn't even close.

Still, that franchise would look much, much different if they hadn't gotten lucky on Zetterberg/Datsyuk. There's an (unsubstantiated) rumour floating around that one of the Oilers' Euro scouts wanted Zetterberg as early as the third round in 1999 and was ignored; if it's true, it would go a long ways toward explaining the team's recent willingness to draft unheralded Euros (prime example: Linus Omark) in the late stages of the draft.

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#58 Jonathan Willis
December 16 2008, 01:27PM
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freeze wrote:

pssst, don’t feed the trolls.

Everyone needs to eat. Besides, Chris isn't bad, we just emphatically disagree on the Oilers' draft record.

And he's wrong ;)

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#59 Chris
December 16 2008, 01:31PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Outside of impact players, the Oilers have drafted 15 players with NHL games played (so far): Peckham, Syvret, Schremp, Reddox, Young, Pouliot, Jacques, Stortini, Brodziak, Roy, Luoma, Lynch, Haakana, Pisa and Stephenson

Many of this group played due to injury/ poor overall lineup.

In 2005 Colorado drafted Stastney after we had already picked Chorney. (Props to them)...

Hey what do I know... I like a big team... I would have probably picked Mihalik ahead of Cogliano...

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#60 freeze
December 16 2008, 01:40PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

freeze wrote: pssst, don’t feed the trolls. Everyone needs to eat. Besides, Chris isn’t bad, we just emphatically disagree on the Oilers’ draft record. And he’s wrong

fair enough. I think it would be a good idea to revisit your posts on the Oilers draft record from awhile back for those who didn't read it. http://www.oilersnation.com/2008/09/oil-draft-record-2001/

Didn't a scout from Detroit have a line about what they considered to be a successful draft? 1 or two NHL players per draft?

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#61 kris
December 16 2008, 01:43PM
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Jonathon: No doubt the Oilers have gotten better since 2001 and Monsieur Hemsky. (BTW, in the previous 6 years, the Oil drafted Horcoff, Comrie, Pisani, Poti, Chimera, and LeGG-- a decent roster player a year, which isn't terrible either.)

I think the perception of failure comes from the stink surrounding such high profile failures as Mikhnov, Rita, Reisen, Kelly, etc. Stink like that doesn't come off easy-- even if you replace the people responsible for the stink.

However, it doesn't help that the Oilers haven't had a real steal-of-a-pick post 2001 like Stastny-- an absolute superstar taken with the 44th pick!

And, we must remember, when comparing the Oil from 2001 and the Avs, the Avs never picked below 18th (18 and 21 were the lowest.) The Oil, on the other hand, didn't pick that low either -which causes confusion, I think- but did blow a 14th and 15th overall pick on Niiiinnniiiimmmaaaaakkiisgfjh (SP?) and Dubnyk.

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#62 kris
December 16 2008, 01:45PM
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Though I do agree with the core of what you're saying Jonathon.

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#63 Cam
December 16 2008, 02:01PM
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People!!!

There will ALWAYS be players that we missed. We only have 3% of the scouting staff in the NHL. The other 97% are bound to find something our scouts miss (like Zetterberg and Parise).

If you hold the team to unreachable standards you will always be dissappointed. Does anyone ever mention how dissappointed Nashville must be that they picked Hamhuis (who?) instead of Hemsky? Every team misses players... even fabled Detroit gets it wrong.

There is a fair amount of luck involved int eh process too, although if you are picking in the top five you should really end up with a player regardless of the draft depth.

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#64 Chris
December 16 2008, 02:01PM
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Draft success is more than a measure of the quantity on NHLers you draft...how about quality? I like the quality furnished by Colorado scouting.

I lost faith in Prendergast in 2007. Gagner was a no brainer. Jury is still out on Plante (we have trouble drafting size). Nash has me shaking my head. We traded up in the draft for a JrB player? Has anyone ever picked a JrB player in the first round before?

I have to believe they were targeting Esposito and got screwed by Pittsburg. I have to believe that...or they should all be fired. I'm sure Nash would have been available in the second round...

It's like having a buddy who picks his favorite player too early in the hockey pool for fear of missing out.

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#65 RobinB
December 16 2008, 02:06PM
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RLH wrote:

Second, it’s a buyer’s market. We all saw the recent analysis of cap situations. While I would hesitate to say that salaries are the reason for the lack of movement, I feel confident in saying that the lack of deals indicates that terms can’t be agreed upon. Do the two go hand-in-hand? Are we in a situation where teams in trouble simply can’t make deals for blockbusters?

ESCROW ON THE RISE Speaking of the salary cap and related issues that might have something to do with the distinct lack of trades so far this season, I was given an interesting tip on the escrow situation this morning by somebody who would know. A player I spoke with told me that the NHLPA has issued a "heads-up" to its membership that it's very likely the percentage of player salaries put into escrow -- it's about 13 per cent right now -- will be going up before the end of this season. In the previous three seasons under the new CBA, some or all of the monies put in escrow have been returned to the players. As of right now, it looks like revenues will be down enough that member teams won't only need all the money being put into escrow now, but a larger percentage to cover shortfalls. Don't be surprised to hear more about this in coming days/weeks.

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#66 Jonathan Willis
December 16 2008, 02:24PM
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Chris wrote:

Nash has me shaking my head. We traded up in the draft for a JrB player? Has anyone ever picked a JrB player in the first round before? I have to believe they were targeting Esposito and got screwed by Pittsburg. I have to believe that…or they should all be fired. I’m sure Nash would have been available in the second round…

I think exactly the opposite - if Esposito was the target, the scouting staff was mistaken. Nash is developing very nicely (and well ahead of the curve).

As for Esposito, take a quick look at his points per game, by year:

2005-06: 1.72 PTS/GM (great number, especially for a 17-year old)

2006-07: 1.32 PTS/GM (OK, but not great - a huge decline in his draft year)

2007-08: 1.23 PTS/GM (how many players get worse as they get older?)

2008-09 (so far): 1.29 PTS/GM

In other words, Esposito hasn't matched his draft year offensively since, and that draft year was a massive disappointment compared to his 17-year old season.

There's a reason that a guy pegged as a possibility as 1st overall falls to 20th. And, if you're wondering, it's the same reason that John Tavares is in a free-fall plunge.

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#67 Jonathan Willis
December 16 2008, 02:24PM
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@ RobinB:

Thanks, Robin. Very interesting indeed.

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#68 RobinB
December 16 2008, 02:41PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: FYI: Mark Spector -- he was with me when we talked to the player this morning -- has a brief item on the Sportsnet website now as well.

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#69 Chris
December 16 2008, 02:58PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: a) Scouting mediocre...not awful. b) Stu MacGregor is head scout. Barry Fraser left with Sather. Predergast was repaced by Stu when he moved up to V.P. Hockey Operations after the departure of Scott Howson. c)Robin Kovar was the ineligible player (I had to look that up) What I did know however, is that 2002 was the year we picked Niinimaki...surprising the hockey world. d)Bill Dandy scouts QMJHL. Bob Brown scouts the WHL. Kent Nilsson and Frank Musil scout in Europe. I'm sure Pete Peeters is a goalie scout and Semenko rides the wave of Oilers nepotism. I'm sure there are more (I think 13 or so)

Willis. I know you know all this. (And More) Why do I have to type all this crap out? Is this the only way my opinion about very average scouting is considered valid?

Everyone who thinks Omark will never have an impact in the NHL and Oilers scouting has gone soft...please feel free to participate.

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#70 Chris
December 16 2008, 03:00PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: a) Scouting mediocre...not awful. b) Stu MacGregor is head scout. Barry Fraser left with Sather. Predergast was repaced by Stu when he moved up to V.P. Hockey Operations after the departure of Scott Howson. c)Robin Kovar was the ineligible player (I had to look that up) What I did know however, is that 2002 was the year we picked Niinimaki...surprising the hockey world. d)Bill Dandy scouts QMJHL. Bob Brown scouts the WHL. Kent Nilsson and Frank Musil scout in Europe. I'm sure Pete Peeters is a goalie scout and Semenko rides the wave of Oilers nepotism. I'm sure there are more (I think 13 or so)

Willis. I know you know all this. (And More) Why do I have to type all this crap out? Is this the only way my opinion about very average scouting is considered valid?

Everyone who thinks Omark will never have an impact in the NHL and Oilers scouting has gone soft...please feel free to participate.

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#71 Chris
December 16 2008, 03:03PM
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P.S. Nash may work out better than esposito in the long run... but they didn't need to use a first round pick to get him.

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#72 Jonathan Willis
December 16 2008, 03:18PM
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@ Chris:

No, that's not the only way for your opinion to be valid. I just generally think that most folks who complain about scouts are basically Howard Berger.

I may have overstated my point (as Kris thinks) and that's fair comment. But I've looked at the Oilers scouting, and what it's produced, and similar scouting by the majority of other NHL teams. I've read everything about scouting I could get my hands on - and it all tells me that the Oilers may not be great, but they certainly have an above-average scouting crew. I really don't see how an objective observer could come up with anythng else.

Also, on your answers :)

- Fraser was still chief scout at the 2000 draft, the first of Kevin Lowe's tenure, as Lowe was made GM in June. - Semenko is a pro scout - he scouts other NHL teams for the most part

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#73 Jonathan Willis
December 16 2008, 03:18PM
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Chris wrote:

P.S. Nash may work out better than esposito in the long run… but they didn’t need to use a first round pick to get him.

The story I heard was that Calgary was going to take Nash at 24th - I don't know if that's accurate (Robin might) but he could easily have been gone by the 2nd round.

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#74 Jonathan Willis
December 16 2008, 03:23PM
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RobinB wrote:

@ Jonathan Willis: FYI: Mark Spector — he was with me when we talked to the player this morning — has a brief item on the Sportsnet website now as well.

Here's the link that Robin's referring to.

It's interesting stuff. I've heard it suggested elsewhere that escrow may increase next year, but I think today is the first concrete report I've seen.

The first thing that occurs to me is that a bunch of struggling NHL teams will probably get a boost from this, but of course that's only one consequence and there will be a bunch of other things happening too.

What do you think the big ramifications will be, Robin?

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#75 Chris
December 16 2008, 03:27PM
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What I'm trying to say (other than an observation that we are drafting smaller than we used to)...It's okay to demand the best. To win a cup the on-ice roster has to be able to mix it up with the likes of Detroit and San Jose. I want the Oilers to win a cup! As for scouting...if our scouting staff isn't the abosolute best in the league then changes need to be made moving forward. It will take hands down the best scouting possible to furnish the Oilers with a cup winning team. (Look at our track record attracting UFA's)

With Katz at the helm it is time for the Nation to stand up and demand the best!

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#76 kris
December 16 2008, 04:21PM
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Here's a fun way to see how well the Oil have drafted: Suppose the Oilers could only play the active players they drafted. It would be an okay team:

At forward:

Smyth, Horcoff, Hemsky Gagner, Cogliano, Mike Comrie, Chimera, Stoll, Pisani, Reddox, Schremp, Stortini,

At D: 3 Matt Greene, 4 Poti, 5 Peckham, 6 Semenov,

G: Deslauriers, Markannen

That's a great forward core, with crappy D and and scary goalies.

However, we can trade all of the following drafted, active forwards for 2 Dmen and a goalie.

Arnott, Satan, Lombardi, Maltby, Brodziak, Laraque, Marc Andre Pouliot, and prospects e.g. Chorney, Petry, etc.

Arnott should net a top-flight goalie. The rest probably nets 1 top-notch and one filler D. (We could even trade Stoll and Greene again for Vis., and roll Brodziak into the line up for Stoll.)

It's funny to notice that if the Oil had never made a trade, they'd be as good or maybe even better off than they were. Maybe the trades and not the drafting is the problem here.

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#77 Jonathan Willis
December 16 2008, 04:30PM
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@ kris:

Thanks for that. That's awesome.

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#78 Chris
December 16 2008, 04:34PM
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@ kris: Best Post Ever. (Vocalized By Simpson's Comic Book Guy)

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#79 Cam
December 16 2008, 05:12PM
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Wow is that ever depressing. Good work Kris.

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#80 Chris
December 16 2008, 07:17PM
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I know I harp on the Oil being too small. I just like a big team. The best ever Oiler Team in my mind was the 1987/1988 edition. Went 16-2 in the playoffs. Crushed everyone offensively AND PHYSICALLY. That team had your obvious greats...but it also had Krushelnyski, Beukeboom, Muni, Dave Hunter, McSorley, and Steve Smith. We were HUGE for that time period. When Gretzky was moved a year later who did he demand go with him?...McSorley and Krusher! Offensively there were few passengers in the physical dept. Anderson and Simpson drove to the net without fear! Messier...nuff said. Tikanen: super pest/shutdown genius. Gretzky offered little by way of a physical element...but I give him a pass. The "NEW NHL" is far less free wheeling than the 1988 NHL...But even back then the team was built with size and considerable aggression. That is the template for success. (Again who did Gretzky take to LA?)

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