August 01 2009 05:30AM
It’s been fashionable since somewhere around the end of 2006 to hammer the Oilers and their scouting staff for a decision to trade down from the #17 spot in the 2003 Draft for the #22 and #68 picks. To some degree, such criticism is deserved – after all, Zach Parise scored 45 goals last season, and Marc Pouliot has 14 for his NHL career. However, it’s good to remember that things weren’t so clear cut a few years ago.
The video above is a very good example of this. Some selected quotes:
Miller: “Pouliot would be a nice pick.” McKenzie: “Pouliot… would be a good pick for Edmonton at this point in the draft, a guy who has really slid, and who a lot of people thought would have a chance to crack the top ten.” Miller: “Sometimes guys get overlooked because they play on very poor junior team – that happened to Paul Coffey when he was picked by the Edmonton Oilers more than twenty years ago (McGuire: “Absolutely”). McGuire: “I don’t think we can say enough about the Oilers scouting staff; they’ve really positioned themselves to be a strong team for a long period of time.”
Other fun points:
- McKenzie also had Pouliot rated 13th overall based on what NHL scouts were saying.
- Pierre McGuire thinks skating is an intangible.
Another case in point: this media round table from the summer of 2005. Guy Flaming, who at the time was a writer for Hockey’s Future asked a group of notable local media personalities (Robin Brownlee, Jason Gregor, Jim Matheson, and Jordi Weidman) some questions about the Oilers’ prospect crop. There’s a lot of interesting stuff there (especially for someone who follows prospects like I do) but the question and answers that are likely to be of the most interest to readers here is as follows:
#19 - In 2003 the Oilers traded their first round pick to New Jersey and moved down in the draft. As a result of the deal the Devils selected Zack Parise and Edmonton ended up with Pouliot and Jacques. At this point, who do you feel “won” the trade? Brownlee: Too early to tell. Parise had a good rookie year in Albany and was good enough to be added to the U.S. Team at the World Championships. He's made the jump to the next level. So has Jacques, in limited duty, but Pouliot still hasn't played a pro game. Right now, it's a wash. Gregor: Oilers without a doubt. Pouliot will score more at the NHL level and Jacques could be a decent fourth or possibly third line guy. Matheson: It's too early to say who won after they traded down with Jersey in 2003 and gave up a shot at Parise. Parise was very good in his rookie AHL season in Albany, on a bad team. But, Pouliot looks like he could be a second-line NHL center in time and Jacques an Ethan Moreau type on a third line. Weidman: At this point the Devils are "winning" the trade. Parise's 58 points in 73 games with Albany is very impressive. Wait a couple years and I'm pretty confident the Oilers will say they made out with better deal. It depends on Jacques. Pouliot should be able to match Parise's numbers in his first year pro. Flaming: Knowing that there were three or four players of more interest than Parise was to the Oilers at the time they made that trade, getting two quality players for the price of one is a great deal. However, the proof is in the pudding and until Pouliot and Jacques play professionally you can’t say for certain. At this point though, if I’m the Oilers I’m pretty happy.
The point here isn’t to pick on anyone’s opinion, but simply to give an idea of what the range of opinion was – because what’s written here really isn’t out of line with what the consensus was at the time; a time period two years after the trade.
By my count, we have two media people on the fence, two favouring Edmonton, and one favouring New Jersey. At this point there was very little separation between Pouliot and Parise.
Was it a poor trade? From where we sit now, we can say it clearly was. However, even two years after the trade was made that wasn’t an obvious conclusion. The most interesting line in that quote above comes courtesy of Flaming:
Knowing that there were three or four players of more interest than Parise was to the Oilers at the time they made that trade, getting two quality players for the price of one is a great deal.
The Oilers had Parise ranked lower than that pick; it’s fair to ask if they would have picked him there even if they hadn’t been able to make a trade. It was hardly only the Oilers that didn’t believe in Parise, either: the Islanders (a team that Parise’s father played for) preferred Robert Nilsson, while the Sharks preferred Steve Bernier with the two picks immediately preceding Edmonton’s selection.
None of this is to excuse the Oilers: they’ve taken knocks, and deservedly so. It’s just a reminder that draft-day mistakes are very rarely so clear-cut at the time, or even for years afterwards.