On Wednesday, Lowetide ran a piece (Disconnect?) which took a look at Kevin Prendergast’s public comments on Oilers’ prospect Riley Nash.
I’d strongly recommend taking a look at it, as Lowetide did a nice job of highlighting the Oilers’ displeasure with the fact that Nash is playing at Cornell (due to quality of competition, number of games, etc.). The timing could be coincidental, but today there was a very different message coming out at the Oilers’ website, courtesy of Jen Sharpe. These sort of pieces at the official site generally are as upbeat as possible, and this one is no different, but for the fun of it let’s contrast what Prendergast says here with some of the quotes that Lowetide grabbed.
Prendergast, from December:
“Riley had a good second day of camp, but was ordinary in the other ones and you can’t have that at a short camp. Not playing enough games at Cornell hurts him.”
Prendergast, from today:
“He’s only 175 pounds, so we’ve got to get him bigger. He’s tall enough at 6’1” but he’s got to get bigger and the time at Cornell isn’t going to hurt him.”
I like the contrast of those two quotes, and it’s a nice example of why I rarely take Prendergast’s public statements on a prospect as gospel. When he’s being critical I tend to pay more attention, since he’s so chipper about each and every player most of the time (although he has been uncharacteristically negative on a number of prospects this summer, which tells me that the debacle in Springfield has adjusted his thinking somewhat).
There were two more key quotes (for me) in the Sharpe article, one on talent evaluation and one on when Nash should turn professional. First, on what Nash brings to the table:
“He does a lot of things really well at both ends of the ice – he’s a good face-off guy, he’s a good powerplay guy, he’s a good penalty killer. He’s the type of player that’s going to play anywhere from your second to your fourth line when he gets here because he understands the game so well.”
This fits with what we’ve been hearing since Nash was drafted (from sources both inside and outside of the organization): smart, two-way play is a hallmark of this player, and he comes with a wide range of skills. These are important attributes for a prospect, since (as Prendergast alludes to) it generally means they can start in the NHL in a checking role and work their way up (or as so often happens, not) rather than needing a soft place to land (see Schremp, Rob, as an example).
The second quote is more interesting, since it gives us an idea of when the Oilers see Nash as a professional, when Nash sees Nash as a professional, and which of the two is more likely to pan out:
“We don’t want to turn him pro when he’s not ready to turn pro. We’ll have our prospect camp in July and we’ll have a pretty good idea of where he is at that point. If we feel he’s getting stronger, that’s great and we’ll think about it at the end of next hockey season, and if not, then we’ll wait the four years.”
Here’s what Nash said at the start of this season (again, courtesy of Lowetide):
“I’m not going to go just when they (the Oilers) ask me to go. I don’t feel I need to go and bounce around in the minors for a few years. Cornell is a nice place to be.”
The Oilers brass seem to have pegged 2010-11 as the season when they expect Nash to leave college, although Nash may decide to go to Cornell for the full four years, which would knock the date back to 2011-12. I tend to agree with what Prendergast has been saying all along that Cornell isn’t an ideal place for Nash to develop (although from Nash’s perspective I’m guessing it’s easier to get a degree at Cornell than in Springfield) but it might help encourage him to jump into the pros if the Oilers can get their farm team back to a competitive level.
Despite what Prendergast says now, based on previous comments (and self-interest) it seems highly probable that the Oilers are pressuring Nash to leave college as soon as possible; it seems equally probable that Nash has decided he’ll leave college when he feels ready to leave college. Ultimately, Nash has all the power in this particular decision, so the best the Oilers can do if he decides to stay is put a happy face on it and say things like ‘we want him to turn pro when he’s ready to turn pro’.
Nash is a good prospect, and from in his shoes I probably would want to hedge my bets by getting a degree before jumping into professional hockey, but his current development course is probably not in the best interest of the Edmonton Oilers.