Milan Lucic And Drafting Coke Machines

Jonathan Willis
April 22 2012 03:31PM

I first came across the term “Coke Machine” reading Lowetide’s blog roughly five years ago. Lowetide was talking about the big forwards that often made up the heart of the Oilers’ drafts under Kevin Prendergast.

For the most part, those picks didn’t work out for Edmonton. Sometimes, though, they do.

In 2006, Milan Lucic was ranked 58th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting; toss in a few goalies and some European skaters and that projects to a pick in the third or fourth round. Boston took him with one of their two second round draft picks.

Why would Central have a great power forward like Lucic ranked so low? Mostly because, in his draft year, Lucic had a pretty minimal offensive impact. Here are the WHL forwards drafted in the second round in 2006, along with their scoring totals in their draft year and their projected totals in the NHL in that year (using Gabriel Desjardins’ league equivalencies):

Drafted Player GP G A PTS NHL82
40 Ondrej Fiala 51 21 14 35 16
43 Riley Holzapfel 64 19 38 57 21
49 Ben Maxwell 69 28 32 60 21
50 Milan Lucic 62 9 10 19 7
59 Codey Burki 70 27 34 61 21

The year before this, Lucic was a 23-point guy in the BCHL.

Now, we can make a few comments in Lucic’s favour – first, he was born in June 1988, meaning that he was one of the younger players in his draft class, and second that his role shifted as the season went on, as evidenced by his improved playoff scoring (seven points in 18 games). Even so, based on his offensive totals, Lucic was a great example of a “Coke Machine” selection – big and mean and with a poor track record offensively. It was enough to get him drafted in the second round.

Boston, needless to say, doesn’t regret making the pick. The next year Lucic exploded offensively, jumping from nine goals to 30 and finishing a hair under the point-per-game mark. The year after that, he was playing NHL hockey for the Bruins.

When Prendergast and company drafted guys like Jean-Francois Jacques and Colin McDonald, they were hoping to do exactly what Boston did with Lucic: land a big, physical, power forward.

The Jacques selection in particular stands out as a reasonable bet – his offensive totals were pretty decent in his draft year, and he didn’t earn the “Crazy Train” nickname by playing a passive game. To this day, I wonder what he would have turned into if he hadn’t run into that horrific series of injuries early in his career (I have the same thoughts about Doug Lynch, who had as fine an AHL rookie season as any Oilers defenseman in recent memory).

Geoff Paukovich was another draft pick that stands out as a decent bet – he scored 12 goals as a 17-year old in college, and combined that with a nasty disposition and a humongous frame. Unfortunately, the offense stagnated and then dropped off; he made his pro debut in the ECHL where he failed to hit the 30-point mark.

With the NHL’s ongoing affection for big, mean players – both forwards and defense – skaters with those particular traits tend to go earlier in the draft than their offensive totals or overall game would otherwise indicate.

Under Stu MacGregor’s watch, the Oilers haven’t given up on these sorts of picks, though they’ve arguably become a little more balanced with their selections. Teemu Hartikainen, the sixth round pick who is tracking far better than his draft number, picked up 17 points in 37 games in Finnish junior hockey in his draft year. Three picks in the top-100 the year after have had less success, with Troy Hesketh already a bust, Cameron Abney a five-point guy over 43 AHL/ECHL games this season, and Kyle Bigos a promising but unheralded defender still playing college hockey.

That’s the thing about drafting Coke Machines – a lot of them get lost along the way. But every so often, there’s a Milan Lucic waiting to emerge. It’s also hard to get them any other way: if they score in their draft year they go early, they’re rarely on the trade market and if they are they cost a fortune, and not a lot of them reach free agency.

Teams want players like Milan Lucic. At 18, though, it can be awfully difficult to distinguish Milan Lucic from Jean-Francois Jacques.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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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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#2 gongshow
April 22 2012, 08:10PM
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@Walter Sobchak

As much as I've disliked his apparent lack of intensity in the past, I think Penner has played really well for LA in round one and he's been a factor in some key game situations.

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#3 They're $hittie
April 22 2012, 03:44PM
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Draft Tom Wilson.

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#4 RexLibris
April 22 2012, 04:00PM
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Wilson looks good. I have read some reports that he would be an excellent addition to the Oilers.

I know I'm going to sound like a broken record but...Henrik Samuelsson anyone?

I watched Samuelsson against Kootenay in the Oil Kings' opening round. He was battling with an Ice forward and they were trading shots in the Ice zone the whole shift. Finally, both were heading off for a line change and just as the Ice player is stepping onto his bench Samuelsson hooks the player's stick out of his hands so a teammate has to go and fetch it for him. The ref had turned his back to the play and didn't see a thing while the Ice player was left fuming on the bench.

It was a jerk move and I loved it. That entire game he was stirring up the Ice and by the game's end it was obvious that many of their players would have loved nothing more than 30 seconds with Samuelsson in the corner and the ref looking elsewhere.

The Oilers have lots of class and skill. They even might have some meanness in the system in Marincin and Bigos. Adding someone like a Wilson or a Samuelsson who can be a big, effective, tough, pest would be great for this team's future.

The nice thing about Samuelsson is that, as opposed to Wilson, he manages to stir the pot without serving as many penalties. His junior suspensions have also been playes that wouldn't have been so harshly received had they been in the professional ranks.

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#5 Clarence Swamptown
April 22 2012, 04:22PM
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Your new league equivalency stat is reaching new lows in journalism, even for you.

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#6 striatic
April 22 2012, 05:46PM
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if the Oilers take Yakupov, it frees them up to take more of these big guys in the later rounds.

the problem with the Pendergast era was using picks on these types because a solid offensive core had not been established, diluting the ability to establish such a core - along with defensive depth - by wasting bullets on role players.

now is the right time to start drafting big. solidify game breaking offense with Yakupov, THEN draft the body breakers.

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#7 Rama Lama
April 22 2012, 06:03PM
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Great read about big guys! There has been one factor that never seems to get mentioned in rating players.......and that is physical intensity.

A medium sized guy like Darcy Tucker ( who had tons of emotional and physical intensity) is harder to play against than a big softie like JFJ!

I suspect that most guys who have this make up, have always had this make-up throughout their hockey lives. This means that this attitude should be on display in their junior careers, much like Matt Dumba?

We should targeting this kind of intensity! Does anyone have players like this that they know?

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#9 Walter Sobchak
April 22 2012, 06:46PM
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Good read JW.

If drafting is a coke machine is hit and miss, might I suggest the Oilers pro scouts start earning a pay check already.

I don't know how hard it would be to get Clowe out of the SJS but he's a big dude with good point production and around 100 + minutes a year.

If not Clowe the Oilers should try and steal Konopka this summer during UFA, he's going to be " Hot Property " this summer!

It's a bloody shame Dustin Penner doesn't play with some piss and vinager, that guy just pissed away an opportunity to one of the very good ones! I would be surprised if he's in hockey two years from now playing the way he has of late..

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#10 Walter Sobchak
April 22 2012, 08:15PM
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gongshow wrote:

As much as I've disliked his apparent lack of intensity in the past, I think Penner has played really well for LA in round one and he's been a factor in some key game situations.

True, He has. I think he could be so much better if he played with an edge and actually hit let alone finnish his checks. Can you imagine if Penner played with an edge, maybe beat a few players up. The space he could have on the ice. That's why it's a shame he played the way he did this year.

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#11 misfit
April 22 2012, 10:03PM
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After missing out on the best name in the draft last year (Boon Jenner), the Oilers need to rectify this and take Boo Nieves in the 2nd this year.

He's 6'3" and about 185lbs so I'm not sure you can call him a coke machine, but he has good hands and can skate.

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#12 RexLibris
April 22 2012, 11:01PM
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@Walter Sobchak

Penner to Phoenix next season? It's where all the old Oilers (and old everyone else, it appears) go to rejuvenate their game. Perhaps the most appropriately named city in the league when it comes to career revival.

I've also heard Winnipeg, which would be interesting. Byfuglien and Penner on the same team? Can't possibly see how that could go sideways.

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#13 andrewmk20
April 23 2012, 02:18AM
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@Clarence Swamptown

I don't get it, how is it a new low or low at all?

Is this statement just to provoke hostility?

NHLE has been used a lot in articles on Oilers Nation and every other fan blog site. I'm really confused by this statement.

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#14 andrewmk20
April 23 2012, 02:23AM
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Also with JFJ it's tough to say what could have been. He went through at least 4-5 injuries with his back from about 2008-2010. That's the type of stuff that alters a players career from NHLer to AHLer, especially during the prime development years of his early twenties.

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#15 bumblebpete
April 23 2012, 05:29AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

A) It's not new.

B) It's not mine.

C) Both of those things are spelled out above.

D) I prefer critiques of any writing - mine or others - to come from folks with basic ability to comprehend the written word. Based on your failure to grasp points a) and b), I'd suggest that you're probably better off doing something else.

Jonathan, as a sports writer, if you can't handle some criticism from your readers, then, " I'd suggest that you're probably better off doing something else."

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#16 Lochenzo
April 23 2012, 09:03AM
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Just watched the Knuckleheads get knocked out, principally because they couldn't win puck and positioning battles close to the net. Is this a size issue or lack of compete by the Canucks? The St Louis Blues will play the Kings next. The Blues rely on smaller forwards for scoring, so I guess we'll get an answer on that. This has applications to the Oil and how they need to build this team moving forward. Watch what is successful. It's quite clear that the standard for officiating has changed for the playoffs. Lots more interference, etc.

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#18 Kent Wilson
April 23 2012, 01:56PM
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@bumblebpete

On a site featuring both Jason Gregor and Robin Brownlee, it surprises me to see anyone suggesting an ON writer should grin and bear it while people take pot shots from the peanut gallery.

That's not the way it works here.

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#19 will Colford
April 23 2012, 03:08PM
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misfit wrote:

After missing out on the best name in the draft last year (Boon Jenner), the Oilers need to rectify this and take Boo Nieves in the 2nd this year.

He's 6'3" and about 185lbs so I'm not sure you can call him a coke machine, but he has good hands and can skate.

Really, how can you say Oscar Klefbomb is a wrose name than Boon Jenner. Granted, great name, but Klefbomb? Comon. The fact he has a booming point shot is almost serendipitous. Think of all the headlines for that name. Dropping the Klefbomb, klefbombs away. The list is endless.

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