The job of an NHL scout is to project into the future. Their friends are knowledge, experience, other scouts, the tailor-made computer program, miles and miles of blacktop and sheer freaking luck. Their odds are so poor anyone not absolutely married to the career would drop it based on logic and reason within the three month trial period.
According to a draft study (using the years 1979-95) the odds of drafting an impact player are very low:
- 2% turned out to be a elite players (the Kurri family)
- 4% turned into impact players (the Smyth family)
- 15% turned out to be average NHLers (the Stoll family)
- 24% played less than 200 games (the Pouliot family)
- 55% never played a game in the NHL (everyone else)
Barry Fraser drafted a ton of 1’s but they all came in a wonderful cluster. His career as scouting director was decidedly uneven during a long coda (1984-2000) but he can boast a litany of drafted players (Lowe, Anderson, Messier, Coffey, Kurri, Moog, Fuhr, Steve Smith, Beukeboom, Tikkanen) during the glory years (79-83) and a nice bunch over the long slide (Buchberger, Rucinsky, Maltby, Arnott, Satan, Smyth, Poti, Horcoff, Comrie) to his retirement.
Kevin Prendergast presided over the 2001-07 drafts and never drafted a Kurri or a Messier. Part of it was drafting in the middle of the first round, but KP did have one top 10 selection and delivered a quality prospect (Sam Gagner) who may climb above his current ranking (I’d slot him #3). His best selection? Ales Hemsky, who was plucked in the middle of the first round (2001) and has gone on to deliver outstanding offense over the years. I always felt Prendergast was about average at the draft table (which was a huge step up from the end of Fraser’s run) and it is probably the reason he was removed from the job after the 2007 Entry Draft.
Enter the Magnificent Bastard (Stu MacGregor) and a renewed effort to squeeze more out of the draft. As luck would have it, MacGregor hit a home run (at least all of the arrows point that way) with his first selection (Jordan Eberle). A re-draft of 2008 would no doubt see Eberle among the first 10 names to emerge from the list. The kid can play, and when you acquire that kind of talent at number 22 overall it is a very good day. I dare say we may one day speak of Eberle being chosen in 2008 in a fashion similar to the status Hemsky’s selection inspires among Oiler fans. Hemsky was taken 13th overall and should have gone in the top 5. Eberle was selected #22, and it looks like (there is a danger in speaking too soon) he should have gone top 10.
The next summer MBS picked MPS in a rare case of the Oilers falling ass over tea kettle into that sheer luck I mentioned at the top. This used to happen to Los Angeles all the time, but credit where due as MacGregor called out the young Swede’s name after Dallas and Ottawa (of all teams) let him slide. This past summer MacGregor and staff had the chance of a lifetime, selecting first overall in a year that boasted two kids worthy of the title.
MacGregor has had some good fortune, but the underlying story is almost as strong. Almost ALL of the kids picked outside of the first round have some or many arrows pointed in the right direction. Here is a quick summary of the Magnificent Bastard’s first three seasons worth of drafts and how they are progressing.
- Jordan Eberle: Since being drafted he has delivered in the WHL and on the international stage. The Oilers (I think correctly) have been patient with his development and that should pay off with a strong first pro season. Eberle has the "Steve Shutt sixth sense" around the net and I think he’s going to be an excellent NHL player with a nice range of skills. Tremendous value for the spot the Oilers took him. No serious injuries.
- Johan Motin: Already playing pro hockey, he drew positive reviews from his coach during the difficult 2009-10 season in Springfield. One down arrow: he was passed by new pro Alex Plante on the Falcons depth chart. Still, a stay-at-home type with a mean streak and pro experience. No serious injuries.
- Philippe Cornet: Oilers liked him enough to sign him in early May of this season and he’ll compete for a job in Oklahoma City this fall. I think he may end up playing in the ECHL for a time, as the organization has had success in the past (Liam Reddox, as an example) by sending their "tweener" wingers to Double A. Cornet’s offense didn’t build this season (it was flat compared to his 18-year old season) so there are some concerns about him. On the positive side, there’s a lot of evidence that he is less of a perimeter player than he appeared to be on draft day.
- Teemu Hartikainen: Do you remember the "Sather Oilers" and their tendency to find players out of nowhere? One day the team has a need and the next day Jaroslav Pouzar or Rem Murray is on the scene. I think Hartikainen might be such a player. Since being drafted, this kid has improved his skating and overall performance in an (almost) straight line. Edmonton signed him in May as well, Hartikainen might surprise in camp and I would think he has a better chance of sticking in Oklahoma City than Cornet.
- Jordan Bendfeld: He had enough talent to de drafted twice (PHX in 2006, EDM in 2008) and Bendfeld did make an appearance in the AHL this past season. When teams take a player 193rd overall, a solid minor league player is considered full value. Bendfeld is 21 years old and he’s going in the right direction.
- Magnus Pääjärvi (sorry Wanye): The fun thing to note about this player is that NHL PLAYERS are talking about him. Jim Matheson has a piece on Ales Hemsky (and by the way, Hemsky is a calm voice re: expectations about the kids. Well worth the read) and #83 says he has a couple of friends who have played with him and think he’s a good one. There aren’t many negatives about this player, save for age and experience and that’s not really a negative when you’re building from the ground up. Played defense as a kid, so may adjust more quickly than others to the positioning required in the NHL.
- Anton Lander: There is some evidence the Oilers drafted the Euro Doug Jarvis in Lander. Already playing against men, Lander’s role on Timra was fairly defensive considering age and experience. Based on scouting reports he’s going to be a coach’s dream in the NHL if the offense comes. A slight down arrow for the low batting average but this kid has a nice range of skills at an early age.
- Troy Hesketh: The tall tree from Minnetonka is progressing well. It is doubly difficult to track this player because Hesketh is a defensive defenseman and he plays high school hockey. However, this is a raw talent and unless he suffers a severe injury (there was a rumor but it was false) we should consider the arrows to be heading in the right direction.
- Cameron Abney: Leaving aside where he was taken in the draft, Abney will serve a specific role should he play in the NHL and seems on track at this time. He did improve offensively and is a willing fighter.
- Kyle Bigos: Some nice arrows here. His first NCAA season was a success, and he was used in all manner of ways. He told Guy Flaming his role is "to be as physical as I can and establish a presence on the blueline. I love to move the puck and play 5-on-5 with the team we have, but I’m also getting a chance on the powerplay. I’m mainly used as a shooter. I also get to play PK which is a blast! I think to go out and block shots and to try and stop the talent-filled teams in HE is a great challenge and a lot of fun." This player may have increasing importance to the organization. At 6.05, 230 we are talking about a monster on the blue if he continues to develop.
- Toni Rajala: Pure skill player who had a strong season with Brandon (WHL). I saw a few Wheat Kings games and he was certainly noticable for his skill and the number of chances he created with an aggressive forecheck. He’ll be back in Finland this fall, but Rajala is certainly a player to watch. Injury concern: tweaked a knee late last summer, don’t know about long term impact.
- Olivier Roy: There’s a chance this is a home run. Redline Report had him at #56 and the Oilers grabbed him 133rd overall. That’s a slide. His scouting report includes the usual "quick reflexes" etc we expect from a goalie with NHL potential, but Chris Bordeleau from Central Scouting said "he’s steady" which is an enormous item for a junior goalie. He started slowly in the Q last season then came on strong, finishing with a .908SP. He also played in Springfield and was very impressive (.913). Lets not go crazy, but he might get here quicker than anyone thinks he will.
- Taylor Hall: ALL of his arrows are pointed in the right direction. In bold. In Arial black bold. Even little things like passing on the WJ camp because he’s turning pro and wants to focus on getting ready for training camp is a huge item. A delightful prospect.
- Tyler Pitlick: He’s a strong prospect, nice range of skills. Redline gushed: Accelerates briskly out of cross-over and blows by defenders. Has an NHL calibre shot right now. Flashed the ability to power through defenders. Can gain separation in corners with sharp twists and can turn on a dime. Patient playmaker. Long-limbed with farmboy like strength. Aggressive and finished checks. Can shield the puck and work it down low, but often gives it up due to his eagerness to come off the wall and attempt to dance around defenders. Work in progress defensively – will come back deep and battle for the puck but lacks awareness in coverage assignments. Well, that’s gushing for Redline Report.:-)
- Martin Marincin: He’s a solid prospect. Makes a nice first pass, but doesn’t get into the play as much as he should, plus he needs work in terms of positioning and reacting. Having said that, he’s tough to beat one-on-one because of his reach and mobility. A good skater with size is golden for defense. We’ll know a lot more one year from now.
- Curtis Hamilton: I haven’t mentioned injury much but with this player it is a huge item. Two broken collarbones sounds a lot like "freak accident" but maybe he’s going to be injury prone. Other than that, a lot to like about him, 2-way winger with soft hands and he knows the game. His scouting report reads a lot like the ones written back in the 1970’s, which is my way of saying he’s a throwback "up and down" winger. I swear his scouting report is an exact match for Ross Lonsberry.
- Ryan Martindale: Another recent draft with some down arrows. There is concern about his level of passion for the game (which sounds strange since MBS makes that a priority). It could be that he leaves scouts wanting more based on his level of ability but we should make note of it as we prepare to follow his career. Redline compares him to Ryan O’Marra. No matter who we’re listening to, we’re going to see the words "Martindale" and "inconsistent" in the same sentence a lot over the next few seasons.
- Jeremie Blain: Bill Dandy liked him, and he does have a nice range of skills. Size, strength, some puck moving ability. They took him pretty early (#91) but with an eye to the depth chart and their overall lack of size.
- Tyler Bunz: He’s a project, exactly what you’d expect from a goalie taken later in the draft. Mike Remmerde did a nice report on him giving us a solid line in the sand.
- Brandon Davidson: He was a late bloomer and there are some issues in regard to skating. Having said that, nice range of skills and purely based on numbers should have gone earlier. Man he developed late. Had some knee prolbems mid-season.
- Drew Czerwonka: A big hitter, energy type player. Weird stat lines the last 2 seasons, we’ll need to follow him awhile to see if he’s got any skill aside from board rattling.
- Kristians Pelss: Skilled kid from Latvia. If he makes a mark in the AHL the Oilers should consider it a success. If he maks the NHL, MBS should get a statue. All of this is based on draft odds, not this specific player about which we don’t know a helluva lot.
- Kellen Jones: Oilers like the Vernon Vipers. We should start paying attention to them.
There are a lot of arrows pointed in the right direction here. I understand the idea that the scouts should deliver when they pick #1, #10 or even #22. I would counter with the long list of Bonsignore’s, Kelly’s and others, and further add that the quality of player added with selections in the 2nd (Lander, Pitlick, Marincin, Martindale) round are solid. Beyond that, kids like Hartikainen, Bigos, Rajala and Brandon Davidson would appear to be far enough above the event horizon (consdering draft pedigree) to be considered legit NHL prospects at this time.
Finally, there is always the danger of getting excited about draft picks too soon. A 5-year glance can sometimes be incorrect let alone two months later. Having said that, we’re tracking these prospects not making a final decision on them. The Oilers seem to be paying attention to the right things, be it injury history (their first round picks don’t have a Pouliot asterisk attached) to region (they’re all over the CHL and Sweden, shy on Russia, etc).
Even in that area I think the Oilers are taking the right approach. They’re not drafting as many Euro’s but have hired scouts who will pay attention to the developing talents in European amateur AND PRO leagues. With the NHL spending fewer picks on players from across the pond, that’ll mean a larger talent pool in the pro ranks whose rights are available each summer.
As frustrating as the major league roster appears to be, there is real hope from the procurement department. And that my friends is very good news. Stu MacGregor really is a magnificent bastard, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.