Cracks In The Drafting?

Jonathan Willis
January 14 2012 03:05PM

Stu MacGregor has received near-universal acclaim for his work on behalf of the Oilers at the NHL Draft. MacGregor replaced Kevin Prendergast in time for the 2008 selections, a change as welcome as the switch from Barry Fraser to Prendergast had been way back when Kevin Lowe made it in 2001.

As with Prendergast, MacGregor made good on his first pick at the helm of the Oilers’ amateur scouting department, selecting Jordan Eberle 22nd overall in 2008. For the first time since that pick, I think there are signs that the Oilers may not be significantly better than the average team at the draft table.

Of course, saying “there are signs” is worlds different than saying “fire the scouts!” It’s always difficult to evaluate the work of a scouting group without a) seeing their entire ranking of the draft, rather than the seven guys they usually get to pick and b) years of time to watch the results.

With that in mind, let’s revisit the data we do have: the picks made under MacGregor’s watch.

2008

Selection Where Currently
Jordan Eberle 22 ov./1st Rd. Starring in the NHL, and a key piece for the Oilers
Johan Motin 103 ov./4th Rd. All but finished with the Oilers; left org. for Sweden
Philippe Cornet 133 ov./5th Rd. A longshot having a good AHL season
Teemu Hartikainen 163 ov./6th Rd. Very much a player of interest, nearly NHL-ready
Jordan Bendfeld 193 ov./7th Rd. Out of the organization.

Overall, not a bad group. Eberle’s been stellar, Hartikainen’s playing above his draft number, and Cornet may yet have a career at hockey’s highest level. Of the busts, Motin got into an NHL game thanks to injuries before getting shunted down the depth chart, and Bendfeld was an ECHL enforcer for a while.

2009

Selection Where Currently
Magnus Paajarvi 10 ov./1st Rd. Playing in the NHL, still has lots of time
Anton Lander 40 ov./2nd Rd. Arguably in over his head at the NHL level right now
Troy Hesketh 71 ov./3rd Rd. Bust.
Cameron Abney 82 ov./3rd Rd. ECHL-level enforcer
Kyle Bigos 99 ov./4th Rd. 6'5", 230lbs college defender. Has 66 PIMs, 12 pts in 18 GP.
Toni Rajala 101 ov./4th Rd. Playing in Finland, unlikely to play for Oilers
Olivier Roy 133 ov./5th Rd. 0.915 SV% in the ECHL

Again, it’s not a bad group. Magnus Paajarvi was an eminently justifiable pick – most pre-draft projections had him between 6th – 9th overall and he slid to 10th, and there are plenty of positive signs there. Anton Lander is a guy the organization obviously believes in, while Kyle Bigos is probably the best unknown prospect in the system. Roy is an NHL prospect, while Abney and Rajala aren’t total write-offs at this point.

2010

Selection Where Currently
Taylor Hall 1 ov./1st Rd. Starring in the NHL, arguably most important piece for Oilers
Tyler Pitlick 31 ov./2nd Rd. Four goals in 33 games as AHL rookie.
Martin Marincin 46 ov./2nd Rd. Play has dipped in WHL after phenomenal start to 2010-11
Curtis Hamilton 48 ov./2nd Rd. Three goals in 29 games as AHL rookie.
Ryan Martindale 61 ov./3rd Rd. Five goals in 28 games as ECHL rookie.
Jeremie Blain 91 ov./4th Rd. Near point-per-game guy in QMJHL, injuries a concern.
Tyler Bunz 121 ov./5th Rd. In second of two superb season in the WHL
Brandon Davidson 162 ov./6th Rd. Top defenseman for Regina of WHL.
Drew Czerwonka 166 ov./6th Rd. Improving longshot.
Kristians Pelss 181 ov./7th Rd. Improving longshot.
Kellen Jones 202 ov./7th Rd. 22-year old ECAC forward has 5G/11A in 21GP

This is where things get interesting. One year ago, virtually everybody from this draft class (outside of the bottom three) were tracking very well. The trio of Pitlick, Hamilton and Martindale were all coming off strong seasons in junior. Marincin had cooled as the season carried on but still played quite well, while Blain, Davidson and Bunz were all gaining traction.

A year later, and things have changed a lot. Pitlick and Hamilton have both had uncertain starts to their professional careers; Martindale has been undeniably disappointing. Marincin has failed to live up to the promise of early 2010-11, while Blain hasn’t visibly progressed. Bunz has played very well (and should have been at the World Juniors) while Davidson has improved once again.

It’s way too early to cast final judgment on anyone of the picks made between Pitlick and Davidson. It is not, however, too early to say that the initial optimism based on that group’s combined 2010-11 output was a little too pronounced.

2011

Selection Where Currently
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 1 ov./1st Rd. Starring in the NHL, arguably most important piece for Oilers
Oscar Klefbom 19 ov./1st Rd. Very much on track as top prospect
David Musil 31 ov./2nd Rd. Not very far behind Klefbom
Samu Perhonen 62 ov./3rd Rd. Suffering through a tough year in Finland
Travis Ewanyk 74 ov./3rd Rd. Season derailed by injury.
Dillon Simpson 92 ov./4th Rd. Puck-mover in his second college season
Tobias Rieder 114 ov./4th Rd. 22 goals in 33 OHL games, leads Kitchener in scoring.
Martin Gernat 122 ov./5th Rd. Nearly a point-per-game defenseman for the Oil Kings
Frans Tuohimaa 182 ov./7th Rd. Sub-average goalie in Finland's top league.

There are lots of positives here, starting with Nugent-Hopkins’ phenomenal start to his NHL career, and carrying through to promising prospects in Klefbom and Musil. Simpson, Rieder and Gernat are all tracking well. Perhonen and Tuohimaa are long-range prospects, but they’re struggling, while we know that serious injuries at Ewanyk’s age are a major concern in the long-term.

In Conclusion

… there is no conclusion. The most important thing to take away from this is that the book is still very much open on the work of Stu MacGregor and his staff in Edmonton. The Eberle pick was a superb one, and there is a lot to be positive about, but the struggles of the key prospects from 2010 in their first professional season should give us pause, because it’s the first time we’ve seen a really significant reversal for important players that were tracking well.

The good news is that it may be those reversals don’t mean much in the long run. The jump to the AHL can be a tough one – something that Joe Colborne, one of the best prospects around showed.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, 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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#51 pelhem grenville
January 15 2012, 01:40PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

The plan is to update the NN pool tonight - I just didn't have time to do it while covering the WJC's, but we'll move back toward weekly updates.

...great news thankyou JW

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#52 BlacqueJacque
January 15 2012, 05:01PM
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You guys must be struggling for page views if this is the new content and it's being thrown up with a baiting headline.

Ease off the Sun-style editorialism there, sunshine.

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#53 Bulging Twine
January 16 2012, 07:53PM
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What do you girls think: should Pitlick, Hamilton and Martindale be playing jr this year? Are they being rushed? Should Lander be playing in the AHL, is he being rushed? Should Paajarvi have played last season in Sweden, was he rushed?

One proven way to waste a draft pick is to ruin his confidence and derail his development by rushing him.

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#54 Saytalk
January 16 2012, 08:18PM
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Look at when and where these players hit the wall in their development... perhaps the problem isn't who we pick but how we develop them afterwards?

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