I had a chance to sit and talk one-on-one with Oilers GM Kevin Lowe at Rexall Place during this morning’s skate. Here are some of his thoughts from a wide-ranging discussion. We talked about how injuries have forced young players like Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano. Robert Nilsson, Tom Gilbert and Denis Grebeshkov into roles they might not have necessarily had if the team had stayed healthy.
LOWE: "This isn’t uncommon or unusual. This has happened before with teams where you have injuries. You say, ‘Well, it’s going to give us a chance to look at the young guys.’ "Last year wasn’t the same circumstances at all because the young guys were guys who were playing way ahead of where they should’ve been. How is this different from last year? The players are better this year. "Last year, we didn’t have Cogliano and Gagner. We had Gilbert, but it was his first year. We didn’t have Grebeshkov. As far as our team’s concerned the guys who have really benefited from us having guys out are these five. "Gilbert to a lesser extent because he would’ve evolved to this. For sure, Grebeshkov because I could have seen him being the odd-man out a lot of nights. Now, he’s in our top-two pairings. Cogs and Sam, they both would have stayed, but they’ve had bigger roles. Nilsson, because of the numbers alone, he might have had to be in the minors."
We talked specifically about Nilsson, whose calling card in the NHL has been inconsistency. As the key player coming back in the trade that sent Ryan Smyth to the New York Islanders, Nilsson has finally blossomed on a line with Gagner and Cogliano.
LOWE: "He’s an NHL player now. He’s a very good NHL player. There was enough there that the coaches wanted to work with him. He responded. He put the time in to figure it out. "That’s a good example to people. There’s very few guys like Cogs and Sam in the world. We were lucky to get two in two different drafts. With some guys, it just takes two, three, four or five years before they click in. "If he’d played all the games and had the opportunity, he’d probably be a 50–55 point guy and still improving. In terms of the trade, he’s been so good he’s ahead of where we thought he would be. "As a scouting staff, we admired his ability. In his draft year, with some of the challenges that have taken him time to get to where he is, is why we might have been hesitant to take him at that spot (15th in 2003), but you still can’t argue with what you saw."
In Nilsson’s draft year, the Oilers took Marc Pouliot 22nd. Like Nilsson, he’s a work in progress. Demoted to Springfield of the AHL after going scoreless in nine games to start this season, Pouliot’s been effective since being recalled nine games ago.
LOWE: "He’s another guy. He’s not the same of those five others because he hasn’t played as much, but he’s really been impressive the last little while. If you talk to Mac (Craig MacTavish), it’s a matter of him taking a role, being effective in it and then expanding it as time goes on."
While the kids have come on and the team has stayed in contention without key injured players, it’s a quantum leap in logic to think Lowe is going to start blowing out veterans before next season.
LOWE: "We’ve got all these guys and they’re great players, some might be as good as guys who aren’t in the line-up, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to go on a rampage to move them all this summer. We’ll be in a good position. We’ll come to camp. We’ll have a good situation."
With the emergence of Mathieu Garon, a lot of fans assumed Lowe would be shopping Dwayne Roloson, who earns $3.5 million this season and gets $3 million next season, at the NHL trade deadline. Lowe insists that wasn’t the case.
LOWE: "People were speculating at the deadline we were moving Roli. Why would we move Roli? One reason would be if Roli said, ‘Listen, I absolutely can’t sit around not playing.’ "You never take a situation for granted. Now, if Roli was making six million bucks, and it made it prohibitive for us to do anything else, then it becomes more of an issue. We had bad goaltending a few years ago and we don’t ever want to be there again. "To move Roloson just because Garon had played, what, 20 or 30 games, all of a sudden he’s a given? You just don’t."
—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm on Total Sports with Bob Stauffer on Team 1260.