Big name hunting


I said it before and I’ll say it again—Kevin Lowe’s focus at the 2008 Entry Draft in Ottawa Friday will be on making a trade for an established first-line forward, not on moving up from 22nd in selection order.

If you’re the betting type, wager that the Edmonton Oilers GM will spend more time taking and making calls about a package of players including Joni Pitkanen to swing a deal than he will studying his scouting staff’s draft list. Whether he pulls it off is another matter.

While there’s a good chance the Oilers will get a keeper with the 22nd pick in a deep draft—history suggests Lowe won’t move up in order—names called Friday won’t be factors for two, three or even four years.

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Here and now, Lowe covets a player who can complement Ales Hemsky. To that end, Pitkanen can be had. So can add-ins like Raffi Torres, Jarret Stoll and suspect prospect Rob Schremp. If it takes more, that’s do-able, too—if the name coming back is right.

Lowe made waves in his first draft as GM in Calgary in 2000 when he dealt Roman Hamrlik to the New York Islanders for Eric Brewer, Josh Green and a pick that turned into Brad Winchester.

Of course, the big splash doesn’t always come off. Lowe tried to get the Islanders No. 1 pick in Cowtown, but couldn’t. He quietly shopped Mike Comrie at the draft in Nashville without success before a nasty break-up with Little Mikey went public.

Even if Lowe can’t get something done until later this summer, bet the farm he’ll be pitching in Ottawa.

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Based on educated guesswork and conversations with Kevin Prendergast and his scouting staff, here’s four prospects the Oilers would love to get a crack at with the 22nd pick.


Centre. Shoots Right. 6’3″, 203 lbs. Born: North Vancouver

  • Finished second overall in goals and third overall in points (27-33-60) on the Silvertips in 2007–08.
  • Was the only player in the WHL in 2007–08 to average a point per game while averaging over three penalty minutes per-game (3.7).
  • Awarded the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as the WHL Rookie of the Year after scoring 29 goals (29-32-61) during the 2006–07 season.

Central Scouting’s Blair MacDonald:

“Beach is one of the top forwards in this year’s draft and is probably the most competitive—from the blue line in there is no one who competes like him. He’s feisty, he’s got a reputation for being physical and agitating a little bit and is the power forward in this year’s draft. He has good scoring skills and a very accurate shot, and from the blue line in, once he gets the puck, he almost owns it.”

THE WAY I SEE IT: Even with questions about attitude and maturity, there’s no way Beach will drop out of the top 10, and certainly not as far as 22nd. No chance unless the Oilers move up to get him.


Defence. Shoots Right. 6’4″, 185 lbs. Born: White Rock, BC

  • Finished third on his team in defensive scoring with 23 points (7-16-23) in 2007–08.
  • Represented Canada at the 2008 IIHF Under-18 World Championships.
  • Was a member of Team Canada at the Under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial in 2007 and represented Team British Columbia at the 2007 Winter Games.

Director of Central Scouting, E.J. McGuire:

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“Colten is a smooth skating defenseman, who can skate the puck out of trouble and can jump up the ice with the puck. I like Colten for a lot of reasons, but most of all for his ability to take charge of the game. He projects as a support three or four defenseman, at least initially in the NHL, with a good offensive upside who won’t hurt you on defence.”

THE WAY I SEE IT: The Oilers will be doing handstands if Teubert is available and they’ll run to the podium screaming his name if that’s the case. It’ll take a swap with somebody in the top 15.


Centre. Shoots Right. 6’3″, 202 lbs. Born: Khabarovsk, USSR

  • Scored the game-winning goal to help Russia beat Team Canada in round-robin play at the 2008 IIHF Under-18 World Championships. He finished the tournament with five points (2-3-5) in six games, helping Russia win a silver medal.

Central Scouting:

“Evgeny is a power forward with a good physical presence and ability to come up with the puck in traffic areas. He displays strong puck skills and the ability to make plays all over the ice, but needs to improve his acceleration and overall speed.”

THE WAY I SEE IT: As tricky as it is getting players here from Russia and despite having been burned by 2000 first-round bust Alexei Mikhnov, the Oilers scouting staff thinks very highly of Grachev.


Centre. Shoots Right. 5’10”, 174 lbs. Born: Regina

  • Ranked fifth overall in WHL scoring with 42 goals and tied for second overall with nine game-winning goals—his 42 goals accounted for 19 per cent of the goals Regina scored this season.
  • Selected to the 2008 Eastern Conference First All-Star Team and was selected as the WHL Player of the Month for October after totalling 22 points (14-8-22) in 13 games.
  • Regina’s Scholastic Player of the Year in 2008.
  • Won gold with Team Canada at the 2008 IIHF Under-18 World Championships, finishing second on the team with 10 points (4-6-10).

Director of Central Scouting, E.J. McGuire:

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“Jordan is a slippery scorer with great hands. He has NHL hands and the skating to get him into good shooting position. Jordan is an up-and-down the wing ‘tease’ in the sense that sometimes he’ll look like he’s just going up and down the wing and you have him slotted as a checker and then he’ll cut in off the wing and use that shot to put his team up by a goal.”

THE WAY I SEE IT: If Eberle was a six-footer he’d likely be ranked 10 places higher, which is about where the Oilers have him. With the success of Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano, Lowe won’t be scared off by Eberle’s lack of size if he’s available at 22nd .

—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm on Total Sports with Bob Stauffer on Team 1260.

  • Rick

    So when you say bet the farm that Lowe will be pitching to Ottawa is this your speculation or are you hearing more concrete rumours?

    If it's more concrete I wonder who they would be looking at because although the oft beaten to death suggestion of Spezza is a nice idea I thought he has a no trade contract that kicks in on July 1 which pretty much kills the idea of making a deal later in the summer.

    Also, have you heard anything that may suggest the Oilers would look at a goalie during this years draft? Maybe by securing a second round pick should one of the top 3 guys drop out of the first round.

  • jdrevenge

    Robin are you confirming through a source that Lowe is moving in on a guy?

    If so thats some pretty exciting stuff. I dont believe IMO that Schremp would be going. I hope at least…

    I've been paying attention to all the fodder going back and forth over the sphere the last little while. After the Pronger fiasco Lowe went back to the drawing board. it seems to me Lowe had a vision of who wanted on his team through the draft and hes picking up those players as he goes. Grebeshkov, Pitkanen, Nilsson were all guys that the Oil wanted but couldnt have in the draft and they've landed them through trades after the fact. Lowe is dumping the old guard and from all indications his plan is coming to fruition slowly but surely.

  • RobinB

    Rick: Read more carefully. I said bet Lowe will be pitching in Ottawa as opposed to "to Ottawa."
    That's not a news flash, given all of the mentions by Lowe and MacTavish about maybe moving mltiple assets to get one frontline player, but I feel particularly strongly about it because of the situation.
    Lowe has been an active player in the trade market at virtually every draft since he took over as GM. He hasn't always managed to make a deal, but he has been in there pitching and working the floor.
    There is no better place than the draft to make a trade because you're eye-to-eye with every peer GM and the scouting staffs of the other teams for two or three days. In some cases, a move isn't made at the draft. but the groundwork for something is started.

  • As tricky as it is getting players here from Russia and despite having been burned by 2000 first-round bust Alexei Mikhnov, the Oilers scouting staff thinks very highly of Grachev.

    Wow. Thanks for that, Robin. Those other names have been bounced around, but I can't recall anyone mentioning Grachev- projected as a late 2nd rounder over at TSN. Is this one of those guys that will likely go higher than expected because a few teams are hoping to snag him?

  • RobinB

    Jonathan: I had no clue about this Grachev either, but it was a name given to me by a member of the scouting staff.
    I don't see the Oilers taking a flyer on this guy if there is anybody available who they have rated higher, but they like him and I'm told that he came off well in the interview.

    Bob Mackenzie is very connected and has him at 55 and I'm not gloing to quibble with that. CS has him 9th among Euro skaters, ISS has him 24th, so there's a lot opinions out there.

  • RobinB

    TimS: He wouldn't be my first choice, but it's difficult to argue he's not a top-3 forward. And he's certainly in play now that's he's made it known he wants out of Florida. I'm guessing Lowe will do his due diligence and pick up the phone to inquire.

    As for a "fit," I've got to be honest. I haven't seen Jokinen play live in a least a couple of years and I haven't asked any of his teammates about him so I don't have a feel for the kind of guy he is.

  • Tim S

    I don't want to come across as a big Jokinen expert but stats say offensivly Jokinen is a far superior player. I know there have been questions about his attitude and defensivly I don't know, although his plus minus suggests he is alright.

    1 thing I do know is Jokinen loves to shoot the puck. He has a minimum of 341 shots in each of the last 3 seasons.

  • Behind the Net sheds a little light – according to them, Jokinen played relatively tough competition 5-on-5 and got outscored by a healthy margin, and his pts/60 ratio at even strength is OK but not great.

    He is a career -73, but he is a big body, he hits enough and he shoots a lot.

    In short, I like him, but it depends on the package.

  • Harv

    Reading this and listening to Stauffer this afternoon, I thought of something that no one has really mentioned yet. Looking in the past, the Oil have had their usual trading partners; Isles, Rangers, and Flyers. Do you think a trade is possible with Philly to get Simon Gagne? His cap hit is really not that bad @ $5.25M and he is signed long term. I know he is coming off concussion issues (don't even know if he is cleared yet) but this could be the 3 for 1 deal the Oil are looking for. Offer up Torres, Schremp, and one of the young blueliners (eg. Cody Wild) and I think deal could be made. Its a trade of questions marks going both ways but the payoff could be great.

  • Jokinen also went 19 games without a goal at even strength when Florida were making their playoff push. I would say he is a better offensive player then Horcoff but that our man is a better all round player.

    A good fit to play soft minutes maybe?

  • RobinB

    TimS/Jonathan/Pat: This talk about Jokinen gives me a chance to get on my stats soapbox.

    I'm sometimes amused about the conclusions people draw about players based on statistics — often without ever watching a player actually play, beyond a cursory glance when the team comes to town or when the game is on the tube in the bar or whereever. That kind of "analysis" has grown particularly rampant as the internet grows and websites pop up like crazy.

    I'm not trying to belittle people who spend a lot of time digesting stats, because there is useful stuff out there, but there's way too much stock put in them, in my opinion. "He plays the tough minutes, so . . ." or "The Desjardins/Smith/Jones Numbers say . . ." etc etc.

    Stats are a tool, but they are something I use as a secondary source of information. If I've got, for argument sake, 60 minutes to assess a player, I want to watch him play for 40 minutes, I want to talk to his coaches, teammates and opponents for 15 minutes and I'll spend 5 minutes looking at the stats. Obviously my approach is based on the fact I have access and the ability to do it that way, while those outside the media realm don't, so they lean more heavily on stats.

    Al I know is I've watched a lot of hockey and talked with a lot of players the past 20 years and I'm still wrong in my assessments of certain guys as often as I'm right. At the same time, many fans and internet posters on speak in absolutes about players based almost solely on statistics.
    For me, I believe my eyes more than I do reams and reams of stats.

  • Stats are a tool, but they are something I use as a secondary source of information.

    Statistics are certainly limited, nut they have a few advantages beyond those that you mentioned.

    Not everyone has the same eye for the game- in other words, while I trust my eyes when I'm watching a hockey game, I don't necessarily trust Random Fan #1. This is particularly applicable when it comes to difficulty of opposition. There are certainly fans out there who can observe that, for example, every time Iginla hops off the ice, either the Gagner or Brodziak line hops on, and that when Iginla gets on the ice, it's either Horcoff or Stoll leaving the Oilers bench. But most seem not to notice.

    Stats are particularly limited in that they tell us what a player does, but not how he does it. For example, statistically, especially on the surface, there isn't much difference between Radim Vrbata and Chris Higgins. Desjardins help us by giving a rough guide to who each player was lining up against, but we still don't know what kind of shots they were, how the players use their teammates, etc. I absolutely agree that actually watching players is critical.

    Then again, with 600+ players in the league, it's pretty much impossible for the average fan to see them all. Statistics can help indicate how good a player has been.

    More important, statistics provide a common reference point for fans; in other words, I could spend all day arguing whether Sam Gagner is better than Shawn Horcoff right now with someone based on our respective opinions, or we could look at the stats, note the massive differences in opposition played, the ratios of golas for and against, and clearly see that at this point in time Gagner simply can't handle the same responsibilities as Horcoff.

    A good rule of thumb for me is one of the things Tyler at Mc79hockey mentions- statistics should not contradict your eyes.

  • Stats are a tool, but they are something I use as a secondary source of information. If I’ve got, for argument sake, 60 minutes to assess a player, I want to watch him play for 40 minutes, I want to talk to his coaches, teammates and opponents for 15 minutes and I’ll spend 5 minutes looking at the stats. Obviously my approach is based on the fact I have access and the ability to do it that way, while those outside the media realm don’t, so they lean more heavily on stats.

    Interesting comment. I'm not quite sure what you mean when you say that you'll look at the stats for five minutes. What stats are you looking at? Are you talking about looking at a guy's scoring rates (ie. ESG/60 etc.) or what Lowetide refers to as the boxcar numbers, the more traditional G-A-P? If it's the latter, I don't disagree with you – I think that you're going to get more out of watching the guy play.

    With that said, watching a guy play for 40 minutes is like watching a guy play two games. Guys have good games and bad games – remember Brad Isbister's famous HNIC against Dallas? I just don't think seeing a guy play for 40 minutes is enough to formulate any sort of a reasonable opinion on him. You're also going to get influenced by stuff that isn't all that important in the grand scheme of things, like whether a guy comes back to play after getting hit in the face with a puck.

    I think that you, the media and the vast majority of guys working in the NHL don't understand what the important stats are. I don't say this critically (well, less so of the media than the guys in the NHL) but the vast majority of people who follow or work in the NHL just don't understand the point. Kevin Lowe did an interview after trading Smyth where he explained that he was going all Moneyball. He then proceeded to spend a summer doing things that made absolutely no fucking sense if you're trying to work within that sort of a framework.

    He was either bullshitting or doesn't really understand the principles. Personally, I suspect that it's the latter. I don't blame him too much for that (although, given that he's an important manager of a $100MM business, maybe I should be applying the "MBA" standard rather than the "Spent high school riding the buses in Quebec" standard) because the really good analysis on the stats side, in my mind, comes from people who are well versed in the evolution of baseball stats. That excludes a lot of Canadians.

    The thing of it is, as much as a lot of front office types and media types claim that they're not really influenced by the stats, they are. They're just influenced by the wrong stats. They look at G-A-P, without any appreciation for the context of hard/soft minutes, whether a guy is playing a ton of PP time and quality of the players around a guy.

    I look at a guy like Joffrey Lupul and just shake my head because, from my perspective, all of the warning signs that he wasn't that good were there before he came to Edmonton and got that ridiculous contract. Same goes for Penner. Same goes for Souray. The right move was not to get those guys last year – all of the numbers said that they were complementary players, at best, with serious deficiencies. (This isn't just hindsight – I was saying this at the time, based largely on understanding and paying attention to the numbers.) Imagine what this team could be if Lowe had another $11MM in salary to work with, the 12th pick this year and the patience to wait for a real star to become available, as they always do.

    Sam Pollock had a great line about how there are two things in life that you never want to fall in love with: racehorses and hockey players. Malone is the perfect example here as far as I'm concerned. You and some of the other local media just couldn't get enough of him during the playoffs and were saying he'd look nice on the Oilers. I look at him and see another Martin Lapointe; the numbers that matter just aren't there to support him being anything more. So he gets hit in the face with a puck. Who cares?

    I don't advocate an approach that excludes watching guys play and a lot of the stats stuff is still in the early stages but with the information that the NHL is gathering now, particularly the identity of every player on the ice for every shot…the statistical analysis is only going to get better. I would think that most people, if they understood the stats to pay attention to, could arrive at a much better understanding of a player if they split their time more 50/50 in formulating their opinions. For one, a lot of you fellows in the media would get off the Malone bus. He's going to come to town next year and your fellow knights of the keyboard are going to be writing their stories for the Journal and the Sun about how he's having a disappointing season after he had a great playoffs and got a huge contract somewhere. That's entirely the result of the 40/15/5 split that you're endorsing.

  • This is the quote I was looking for:

    As a closet GM, I’ve had my eye on Malone for awhile because he’s a big, strong winger with soft hands who scored 27 goals for the Penguins this season and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

    What makes Malone, 28, different than Smith and Ulanov is he’s not only tough as a $3 steak, he’s a combination of elite skill and extreme grit—you don’t find that in many players.

    I mean, whether Malone has elite skill or not, who knows. All I know is that results wise, he's just not that impressive. There is a pretty strong argument that Raffi Torres' three year stretch from 03-04 to 06-07 was a more statistically impressive stretch than Malone's last two years and, while Jarret Stoll is many things, he's neither Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

    You can tell me that Malone shows up every night while Torres is a space cadet and maybe that's true; I don't know that much about Malone. I do know that Torres, showing up whatever percentage of the time he does, has historically put up better results over the course of a season. Oh, and he's three years younger and $3MM cheaper.

    It looks to me like Malone, who has seasons of 22 and 27 goals on his resume, is on the cusp of becoming one of the best power forwards in the NHL. He’s entering his prime.

    He's almost certainly not entering his offensive prime, which tends to be done by now. I've looked at the numbers and know this to be true – points rates tend to peak between the ages of 23-25. There's an argument to be made that he'll be more valuable now because older players have a more sound defensive game and play against better players but if you're signing Ryan Malone thinking that he's going to head into an extended stretch of 35 goal seasons, you're likely to be sorely disappointed.

  • doritogrande

    Watching Sportsnet this morning, because I have nothing else to do on my day off, and I hear that Carolina's looking for blueline help. They're dangling any of Williams, Ruutu and Cole.

    Edmonton has defense to spare. Maybe we offer up a young defensive prospect like Smid, and a depth guy like Roy (that one-way contract's a bitch) for Ruutu? He's the one I'm targetting because he's been around the West already and came out alive. Also, the team needs more Finn.

    Solves our need to cull the herd on the back-end, while adding a Top-6 forward. He's not likely to replace Penner on the Hemsky line, but I think he lines up nicely down the wing for Gagner and Nilsson.

  • RobinB

    mc79L I appreciate your passionate views on the importance of what you consider reliable statitistics and this is certainly a common sense defence of them.

    That said, I'm not going to get into a mega-paragraph back-and-forth on this because I will continue to assess players the way I always have — without fear I'm somehow missing something because I don't lean as heavily on stats as some people do.

    By the way, you took the 60 minutes reference too literally. Of course 60 minutes isn't enough time to assess a player. If you read what I said, I was using 60 minutes as an example, to show what percentage of that alloted time I'd spend checking stats.

    As for Malone, I know what I think about him as a player after watching him play. I'll go with what I see on the ice and what I hear about him from his teammates and opposing players and coaches — if that's OK.

  • RobinB

    MC79: By the way, I completely agree with your assessments of Lupul, Penner and Souray as complimentary players — I've written and talked about each of them in those terms since they were acquired — but I arrived at my conclusion by watching them play.

    Again with Malone. While I like him for reasons I talked about in the post about him after he got the puck in the kisser, beyond playing closet GM, which was the premise of the article, I'm not "on the Malone bus" even if I like his grit and his jam.
    In the real world, there's no way to justify the amount of money he's bound to get as a UFA. There's no way he makes sense at, say, $5 million, over many other cheaper and younger players I can think of.

  • OregonStateFan

    I think the other element we're missing out on is chemistry. You can have a pretty decent player on your team but if they aren't clicking with any of their teammates, they're really of no use to you.

    I remember how disappointed I was watching Sykora playing without Hemsky and he looked lost without the puck. There's no doubt in my mind he's got a dynamite shot, but if you didn't have the right players surrounding him, he's pretty flat on performance. I wouldn't mind him back though – the complement of players on the team provide a good fit now.

    There's also the types of players who just make everyone around them better. Crosby and Gretzky are no brainers in that category. They're so good that they make everyone else better.

    I can't see Jokinen being the kind of player that improves the play of his linemates – the kind of player I think Kevin Lowe is looking for. Florida's asking price for him will also be stupidly high. My bet is if a trade is going to happen, it won't be with Florida.

  • RobinB

    AN UPDATE: While Kevin Lowe didn't manage to make a trade on Day 1 of the draft, I can assure you he was involved in the bidding to land Mike Cammalleri of the Los Angeles Kings — as we reported live on Total Sports with Bob Stauffer — before the Calgary Flames got him. The player the Oilers had on the table was Jarret Stoll. That's first-hand from a reliable source, not hearsay or gossip.
    In addition, Lowe was talking with the Maple Leafs about Alexander Steen, and those talks were expected to continue last night after the first 30 picks were completed, so the possibility of a trade with Toronto, likely involving Raffi Torres, remains.
    If both scenarios aren't explored by both dailies in tomorrow's editions, I'll be asking Lowe about the deals when he's available.

  • erixon

    Robin- Do you think Lowe is feeling the heat a little bit to get a deal done, bigger than Steen? I'm sitting there watching the draft last night, while the trades are going down, and wondering what this team is capable of next season. I think Calgary got a whole lot better yesterday, as did Pheonix. Let's look at the teams that are probably playoff contenders- Detroit, San Jose, Dallas, Anaheim, Minnesota, Calgary. Say those five teams are a lock, with Pheonix making a bold move yesterday, and getting a full season of Bryzgalov, you can bet they are close, as well as Chicago, Nashville, Colorado, maybe Columbus this year.

    What makes the Oilers better than any of these teams? I really don't know how much a healthy Souray, Moreau and Horcoff can make a difference. Lowe in my opinion should look at what is going to make a bigger impact, A puck moving defenseman, or a 25-30 goal scorer. This team, dispite giving up too many goals last near, need to get some help upfront. Teams in the west that contend with Edmonton, and hover around the same spot are making changes, and making their teams better. Sure, you could say that the kids are going to play better next year. But, so will Turris, Kane, Teows, etc. The other teams we compete against have young stars too, which you have to factor in. This team needs to do something soon, or else look for a third year of missing the playoffs.

  • RobinB

    erixon: Good points. Lowe went to Ottawa looking to make a deal and his attempt to get Cammalleri makes it obvious he wanted to make a splash.
    I don't think getting Steen would represent the same impact so, yes, being fully aware other conference teams made significant moves could prompt him to work the floor more diligently today.
    Does he put Pitkanen in play to see what he can get back?

  • Dannyboy

    Hey Robin,
    There's nothing productive about playing the hindsite 20/20 game, and I'm glad you're out there making bold predictions.

    That said, you were pretty certain that Rob Schremp would not be an Oiler after the draft. What happened in your estimation?

    One other question, and perhaps you can't address it: On Friday's drive show Bob Stauffer seemed to change his tune on Jarret Stoll (for the negative) and stated he had a reason for this change, but stated he wouldn't say on-air why.

    While I don't expect you to divulge any heresay or unsubstantiated stuff for obvious reasons, my question is this: do you think that either the Oilers no longer wants Stoll or that Stoll no longer wants the Oilers?

  • RobinB

    Dannyboy: I was also pretty certain Lowe would get a trade done at the draft and that didn't happen, despite his bids to get Cammalleri and Steen.
    I don't know if Schremp was involved in either of those pitches, but it remains my opinion Schremp is there to be had as part of a package.

    As for Bob on Stoll, I don't think he's necessarily changed his opinion of Stoll, but again, circumstances change and a player who at one point is deemed not available can become dispensible. I don't think it's a case of the Oilers souring on Stoll or vice-versa as it is Bob's opinion that he's movable now.