Beating The Odds

Jonathan Willis
July 27 2008 12:16PM

I reference Gare Joyce’s book Future Greats and Heartbreaks in my last post, and I’m going to do it again here. Gare Joyce spent the 2006-07 season behind the scenes with the scouting staff of the Columbus Blue Jackets, flying to Europe and attending junior games all over North America. It’s a book of great interest to Oilers fans, given that the 2007 NHL Entry Draft featured three first-round picks, most notably Sam Gagner. During his coverage of the 2007 World Juniors, Joyce notes that while many fans are under the impression that players are discovered at this tournament, it really isn’t the case. Largely, scouts attend to keep tabs on players their teams have drafted, and each year only a few draft-eligible players appear at the tournament. In 2007, four players stood out: Patrick Kane and James van Riemsdyk of the United States, and Sam Gagner and Kyle Alzner of Canada. Here’s what Joyce had to say about Gagner at the start of the tournament: Sam Gagner’s case is a curious one. The son of former NHL journeyman Dave Gagner and a teammate of Kane in London, he was unexpectedly invited to the world junior tryouts earlier in the month – unexpectedly, because he was invited to the under-18 tryouts last summer and was cut. From the under-18 team, only Angelo Esposito was invited to the under-20 tryouts, and he was quickly dropped. So was John Tavares. Maybe Gagner had a poor camp in the summer, and maybe he raised his game over the fall, but it’s still hard to figure out how he came from so far back and passed so many players to make the Canadian team. It’s interesting to read, and it also makes it clear that this past year wasn’t the first time that Sam Gagner has taken a big jump over the summer. Sam Gagner was given virtually no chance of making the 2007-08 Edmonton Oilers, but not only did he make the team, he posted some genuinely impressive numbers, and more impressively, dramatically improved as the season wore on. By years end he was a legitimate option for the first powerplay unit, and even got a cameo with the World Championship team. This despite the fact that players such as Marc Pouliot, Rob Schremp, Kyle Brodziak, J-F Jacques, Andrew Cogliano, Robert Nilsson, and others were rookie forwards competing for spots. Despite the fact that Gagner was born in August of 1989 (nearly a full year after Patrick Kane), just missing the cutoff for the 2008 Entry Draft. Vic Ferrari had a nice graph on Gagner’s Corsi numbers (shots directed at net – shots against while on ice) over the course of the season, and the improvement is incredible. Gagner’s development since the summer of 2006 has been exceptional, and he’s shown no signs of peaking yet. Despite the nice season that Patrick Kane had, and guys like Turris and Voracek waiting to make their debuts, I’d say Sam Gagner has a good chance at being the best player to come out of the 2007 draft. —Jonathan Willis is the owner of Copper & Blue, a blog dedicated to all things Oil, and a frequent contributor to OilersNation.com.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Jonathan
July 27 2008, 01:20PM
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Here's the link to Vic's graph, which I inadvertently neglected to put up: http://vhockey.blogspot.com/2008/03/trends.html

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#2 Paper Designer
July 27 2008, 08:23PM
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It's funny how much controversy Edmonton's 2007 draft drew. I always find it a bit disturbing that people will criticize teams up and down for drafting eighteen year olds who are years away from even finding out whether they're NHL quality players. Yet a year later, the draft looks like it may be one of the best since the dynasty-building years. They may have got the best player available in two out of three of their first round picks, possibly the best player in the draft, and possibly one or two good players in later rounds. Gagner alone makes 2007 great, much like Hemsky alone made 2001 great, but if Nash continues to develop and Omark turns out to be a legitimate skill forward, that's a pretty fantastic draft year.

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#3 AndrewB
July 28 2008, 02:01AM
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Half the reason there was so much controversy was from the Oilers drafting Alex Plante @ 15, whereas Gagner went where he was expected to go.

Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. By the numbers, both Kane & Toews had better campaign years. He has the potential to be our franchise player, but right now thats all he is, potential.

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#4 Jonathan
July 28 2008, 07:58AM
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Half the reason there was so much controversy was from the Oilers drafting Alex Plante @ 15, whereas Gagner went where he was expected to go. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. By the numbers, both Kane & Toews had better campaign years. He has the potential to be our franchise player, but right now thats all he is, potential.

For starters, picking Gagner ahead of Voracek was no slam dunk- Voracek was generally ranked ahead of Gagner in the draft previews I read.

Alex Plante was a consensus first rounder - I believe that Bob McKenzie even had him at 16 on his pre-draft forecast. This was not an off-the-board pick; the only reason that the Oilers got so much heat over it is because they passed on both Esposito and Cherepanov to select him (they were right to pass on Esposito, and I was ambivalent about Cherepanov then and I am now, although he probably should have been picked). Alex Plante was generally ranked between 15-30, and he had shot up the draft charts all season, so it was reasonable to expect a number of teams (incl. Edmonton) to have him higher.

As for Kane & Toews, Toews had a great year. He's going to be a superstar, but he wasn't an '07 Draft Pick (went 3rd in '06). Kane had a nice year too, but he is almost a full year older than Sam Gagner; we'll see what happens, but Gagner has a good chance at passing him, IMO.

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#5 Paper Designer
July 28 2008, 10:09AM
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And let's not forget that we were not the only team to pass on Cherepanov, and that if the draft were held again today, he still might fall. As far as I understand how salaries work out there, at some point, he's going to have to take less money to play in the NHL.

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#6 Doogie2K
July 28 2008, 10:35AM
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It also bears pointing out that Year One wasn't too kind to Alex Plante, since he basically bounced from one injury to the next all year, and never got a chance to regain his old role as #2D on the Hitmen.

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#7 Hemsky_83
July 28 2008, 12:05PM
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I see Gagner surely becoming a better hockey player than the likes of Kane, Turris, and van Riemsdyk in terms of offensive production. He simply has the smarts and mind for the game that neither of those 3 have.

Kane dominates with speed, van Riemsdyk with size, and Turris has some nice instincts of his own, and is a superior 2-way player.

However, Gagner has the offensive instincts that stand out amongst those 3.

Jakub Voracek, however, just may be the best player in that draft. I know he hasn't played a game yet, but the kid is unreal. He may be the next Hossa, he's the the speed, size, and savvy of a North American player to really dominate in the NHL. Columbus has a keeper in him.

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#8 Paper Designer
July 28 2008, 01:20PM
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True. If Plante is trending towards bust, we won't find out until this year. If he performs poorly, or if he continues to have injury problems, he pushes himself towards suspect status. But the kid might just have had a string of bad luck. It often happens to players at some point in their career.

We'll see, though. All I know about Plante is that he's large, plays an offensive minded game and has some suspect footspeed. Interesting, but we shall see.

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#9 therealdeal
July 28 2008, 03:16PM
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As much as I like Sam Gagner I think it's probably a bit premature to be naming anyone the best overall player of the 2007 draft.

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#10 PunjabiOil
July 28 2008, 07:20PM
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Personally I don't really care whether he's the best player in the 2007 draft or not. He could be better than Kane/Voracek/Turris/JVR/Alzner/etc. Or he may not. The only thing I care about if whether he will play a role in bringing the cup back to Edmonton.

I thought I read somewhere that Gagner has 28 points in the final 28 games in which Horcoff was out. In that, he only had 1 or 2 second assists. That has to count for something.

I'd love a 60-70 point season out of Gagner this year. A bit optimistic? Perhaps. At the same rate, the best players don't really waste too much time puttin gup strong numbers.

Alex Plante was a consensus first rounder - I believe that Bob McKenzie even had him at 16 on his pre-draft forecast. This was not an off-the-board pick; the only reason that the Oilers got so much heat over it is because they passed on both Esposito and Cherepanov to select him (they were right to pass on Esposito, and I was ambivalent about Cherepanov then and I am now, although he probably should have been picked).

I was one of the biggest critics of the Plante pick. Still am. He just wasn't very good (and that's an understatement) as an 18 year old, injuries or when healthy. Another poor season and the Oilers should be looking at cutting their losses by not re-signing him, and receiving a 45th overall compensatory pick in the subsequent draft.

What was disappointing in the selection was Kevin Lowe talking about ''We're going to pick the BPA at number 6, and look at addressing team needs with the 15th overall pick.''

Disappointing stuff.

I maintain Cherepanov should have been picked (no sense on passing up on that much talent). I don't think he would be any more of a project than Plante.

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#11 Jonathan
July 28 2008, 07:41PM
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As much as I like Sam Gagner I think it’s probably a bit premature to be naming anyone the best overall player of the 2007 draft.

Well, in fairness to me, my exact words were: "I’d say Sam Gagner has a good chance at being the best player to come out of the 2007 draft." Yes, it's premature to decide who the best overall player is.

I was one of the biggest critics of the Plante pick. Still am. He just wasn’t very good (and that’s an understatement) as an 18 year old, injuries or when healthy. Another poor season and the Oilers should be looking at cutting their losses by not re-signing him, and receiving a 45th overall compensatory pick in the subsequent draft. What was disappointing in the selection was Kevin Lowe talking about ”We’re going to pick the BPA at number 6, and look at addressing team needs with the 15th overall pick.”

I didn't especially like the pick either, specifically because it was an address team needs pick, but my point was that he wasn't an off-the-board pick.

And I'm not a fan of Cherepanov. Never have been, probably never will be. Nothing to do with the Russian transfer thing either- I just don't ever see him as an elite NHL'er, and I'd spend the pick on something else. There's good reasons he slipped as far as he did.

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#12 PunjabiOil
July 28 2008, 08:45PM
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That said Jonathan - is it fair to state Cherepanov is in more likelihood of becoming an ''elite NHL'er'' than Alexander Plante?

Besides, at that point, Cherepanov broke the goals record in the RSL as a 17 year old. He than proceeded to have an excellent (scoring leader?) World Juniors tournament. This is, in my opinion, the scouting staff's greatest blunder since picking Pouliot in 2003.

By the way, I read you're from Fort St. John? One of my best buddies lives there now...went to U of A with him. Says it's pretty much a Canucks town. How did you become an Oilers fan?

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#13 therealdeal
July 28 2008, 10:57PM
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Well, in fairness to me, my exact words were: “I’d say Sam Gagner has a good chance at being the best player to come out of the 2007 draft.” Yes, it’s premature to decide who the best overall player is.

Not trying to pick on anybody in particular, just a general observation on the comments up to that point.

I just keep thinking back to Joyce's book which you referenced where he talks about how ludicrous it is when fans and pundits are criticizing or lauding picks. Most draftees take several years to work out and although I'm pretty much ecstatic about Gagner I just think it's a bit premature to be projecting his career rankings compared to a handful of other guys in very similar situations.

I also think for instance it's a bit of a stretch to condemn the pick of Plante when we know for sure unpredictable injuries have had a big impact on his development.

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#14 Jonathan
July 28 2008, 11:18PM
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By the way, I read you’re from Fort St. John? One of my best buddies lives there now…went to U of A with him. Says it’s pretty much a Canucks town. How did you become an Oilers fan?

It is, but my mom (who isn’t really into hockey) followed the Oilers during the Gretzky years, and I was lucky enough to follow her lead rather than my dad’s (he is a Canucks fan).

Besides, at that point, Cherepanov broke the goals record in the RSL as a 17 year old. He than proceeded to have an excellent (scoring leader?) World Juniors tournament. This is, in my opinion, the scouting staff’s greatest blunder since picking Pouliot in 2003.

While Cherepanov will probably have a nicer career than Plante (at least going by the early results) the Oilers were hardly the only team down on him. A guy that hyped just doesnt fall that far for no reason, and this past season he looked pretty bad in the RSL by all accounts.

However, guys like Gillies, Pacioretty and even Petrecki probably would have been better picks. I guess what I am trying to say is that while Plante wouldnt have been my pick, neither would Cherepanov.

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