During the 2010 NHL entry draft, Oiler fans got together to hear the big announcement: Taylor or Tyler. Over the years, Edmonton has drafted some of the truly exceptional talents in the game’s history. Their draft day scouting reports still ring true all these years later.
- Barry Fraser talking about Kevin Lowe: "I had him anywhere from 10 to 13 overall. He was the best player available (at 21) a steady defenseman who is good offensively with a penchant for being tough."
- Glen Sather about Mark Messier: "He has unlimited potential."
- Fraser about Glenn Anderson: "He’s very quick, probably the best player (at the Canadian Olympic camp) behind Randy Gregg."
- According to this Terry Jones article from March 14, 1979, Edmonton placed Jari Kurri on their negotiation list. This would have been about 15 months before the Oilers drafted him.
- Unnamed NHL scout on Grant Fuhr: "He’s the best goalie to come out of the draft since John Davidson."
- Jeff O’Neill comparing himself to Jason Bonsignore: "Basically the difference between Jason and I is that he’s chicken and I’m not. No, seriously, Jason is more of a finesse player and I’m more aggressive."
The question I always ask about scouting reports on draft day is do they reflect the player’s ability? The answer is (and always has been) a resounding yes. Scouting reports are exceptional in that they describe a prospect’s strengths and weaknesses and do a good job giving the reader and idea about where they might slot on the depth chart.
What don’t they tell us?
Scouting reports don’t factor in attitude, drive, injuries that will happen down the line, contract squabbles, drug and alcohol problems and (God love them) women. When we read a scouting report from a service (Redline doesn’t like to be mentioned with the others but I’d throw ISS in there and Bob McKenzie is the Gold Standard) it does a very good job of creating a line in the sand. As fans, it’s our job to document the prospect’s progress after he’s drafted. Let me use Sam Gagner as an example.
Redline: Plays with drive, determination and hustle. Very smart and heady player who competes hard and hates losing. While not an elite skater, he gets there just fine. Not the biggest dog in the fight, but thrives in traffic and works well in tight space. Slick hands with a quick release snap-shot that keeps defencemen and goaltenders guessing. Can hold the puck too long at times and needs to work on seeing his mates better. Has the ability to play the pivot or wing.
I think that’s a fair scouting report, pointing out hiis obvious puck skills and his negatives (size, speed). With that as the backdrop, the clock starts ticking on Gagner’s career beginning training camp 2007 fall. He comes in and clocks the competition, makes the team and posts one of the finest offensive seasons in Oiler history. LOTS of positive arrows for Gagner after year one.
Since that day, Gagner’s boxcars have run in place (actually they’ve gone down slightly) and there are rumblings among the fanbase in regard to the young man’s future. I think that’s reasonable based on the clock we all have in our brains that begins ticking the moment a young prospect becomes a regular. We all have our internal estimates about how much elapsed time it takes for a prospect to turn into a useful player, and four years is a long time for a prospect to post the same numbers year after year.
WHAT ARE THE POSITIVES?
- He’s survived. Although injuries have been a factor in his career, Gagner has played in 89% of the Oilers games since 2007 fall. He started under the Mandelbaum regime, survived that and the Bermuda triangle that has been the injury bug since Pat Quinn brought the Plague of 1348 with him in a big travelling chest when flying in from Muddy York.
- He’s become the best 5×5 offensive C on the roster. Gagner’s 5×5/60 number was solid and there’s evidence that he had emerged as a quality center before Christmas. When injuries fell, and he was assigned to the Swedish rookies (who worked well together but not with Gagner) the ship began to talk on water.
- There’s a lot of battle in this kid. Despite facing an uphill battle in the season’s second half, Gagner showed a lot of try until Ryan (Ron Popiel) Jones did a slicer-dicer on him and ended 89’s season. There was some of that in his original scouting report and it showed this season.
- The faceoff circle. Gagner’s poor numbers in the dot are magnified by an overall team weakness in this area. Gagner and Cogliano have not progressed and although there are varying opinions about the importance of the discipline it’s safe to say this is not satisfactory.
- The powerplay. Gagner had a poor season with the man advantage, and the Oilers have some tremendous options available. Unless he shows massive improvement, I think he’s going to lose his minutes to Linus Omark and others.
- Chemistry. Gagner had chem with Penner and Hemsky, but one of them is gone and the other one could be on the way. He had very little chemistry with MP and Omark, so I’m not certain where he fits in the top 6. Should the club decide to run Horcoff next season with Hall and Eberle, Gagner might be spending more time with men like Ryan Jones and Clem Kadiddlehopper.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Sam Gagner is a slight disappointment for us as Oiler fans based on his draft number and the clock ticking in our brains. This also coincides perfectly with the exact moment when losing organizations often trade good young players. It’s a perfect storm and an excellent test for Steve Tambellini. If he trades Gagner this summer, all those at-bats will have been done for another NHL team’s benefit. Unless the return is an established NHL player who can help this young team for many years, it would be an unwise move.