Oilers Improved Draft Grades

Player procurement is a vital part of any NHL team. Draft bullets are only as valuable as the men who decide to pull the trigger on draft day. In the last 15 seasons, Edmonton Oiler fans have been exposed to the good, the bad and the ugly from three different head scouts. It’s been a long time coming, but there is strong evidence the draft bullets are finding their target.

Barry Fraser remains a legend in Oiler lore. He was the chief scout from 1978 (final WHA season) through 2000 (the Alexei Mikhnov "Traktor Boy" draft). Things got so weird at the end Fraser maintained the head scouting job while residing in Mexico. Maybe he should have done some scouting for the Trappers, too. Kevin Prendergast took over in 2001; I’ve always maintained he was an improvement over the final Fraser seasons. His weakness was a big one: huge misses in the first round. That’s the kind of thing that will get you fired. Stu (Magnificent Bastard) MacGregor has been on the job since 2008. His track record boasts exceptional talent from the first round, solid value from the 2nd round and we’re still waiting for what the deeper rounds will bring.

Here’s a quick look at Fraser’s final seven years at the draft table, KP’s career in the role (also 7 years) and the three seasons of Mr. MacGregor.

Barry Fraser (94-00)

  • Best Pick: Ryan Smyth, 6th overall in 1994. Smyth provided heart and soul effort combined with exceptional skill every time he laced them up for the Oildrop. He’s over 1,000 games now and approaching 350 NHL goals.
  • Worst Pick: Jason Bonsignore, 4th overall in 1994. Enjoyed a strong offensive season in his draft year but lacked the desire that Smyth displayed in spades. Before the draft, Glen Sather told Fraser he didn’t need a home run with the two picks but the club could not afford a mistake on either player. 79 NHL games from a #4 overall is the definition of epic fail. Dammit. Makes me mad to this day.
  • Most Galling Pick: Steve Kelly, 6th overall in 1995. Galling because the entire Oiler crowd was screaming "Doan" and Fraser later admitted they had the two players razor close in terms of how they graded out. Arrogrance was the watch word of the Sather era after 1991 (and really before, but it isn’t as irritating when you’re winning) so Fraser remained on the job.
  • Number of "home run" selections: One. Ryan Smyth.
  • Number of "exceptional value" selections: Six. Tom Poti (807 games) 59th overall (1996); Fernando Pisani (435 games) 195th overall (1996); Jason Chimera (542 games) 121st overall (1997); Shawn Horcoff (661 games) 99th overall (1998); Mike Comrie (584 games) 99th overall (1999); Matt Lombardi (446 games) 215th overall (2000).
  • Number of "value" picksOne. Georges Laraque (695 games), 31st overall (1995).
  • Number of Blown Lottery picks: 3. Jason Bonsignore, Steve Kelly, Boyd Devereaux. Devereaux was a better player than the other two but not close to being a value pick for #6 overall. They all took place in a three year period and were devastating to the organization.
  • Number of blown first rounders: 8. All but Ryan Smyth. They are: Jason Bonsignore, Steve Kelly, Boyd Devereaux, Matthieu Descoteaux, Michel Riesen, Michael Henrich, Jani Rita, Alexei Mikhnov. Hey, anyone can make a mistake, but this looks like someone is drafting from Mexico.
  • Overall grade 94-00: Epic fail. Anyone paying attention (and we were) had to know something was wrong in the organization that allowed such poor results.

Kevin Prendergast (01-07)

  • Best Pick: Ales Hemsky, 13th overall in 2001. It was KP’s first pick and remains his best. Hemsky has played in 470 NHL games, most of them thrilling to watch. His sorties into enemy territory are must see t.v. More exciting, the organization is finally starting to deliver talent good enough to push him and complement him.
  • Worst Pick: Jesse Niinimaki, 15th overall in 2002. It wasn’t just the pick, it was the things around it. The Oilers traded down one spot so Montreal could draft Christopher Higgins. What did they get? The 245th overall pick and Tomas Micka. No disrespect, but that pick has little value. If the Habs wanted Higgins they should have been made to pay more. Also, after the draft the Oilers stated "other teams were going to take him" but they’ve said it so often I wonder if teams are just playing with them. Stop listening to what other people are saying and do your own damn homework!
  • Most Galling Pick: Marc Pouliot, 22nd overall 2003. I’m still fine with the pick, but the enormous cries from Oiler fans the world over must be respected. The Oilers dealt down so the Devils could draft Zack Parise. Edmonton ended up with the twin blessings of Pouliot and JF Jacques. It has not played well with the fan base.
  • Number of "home run" selections: One. Ales Hemsky.  
  • Number of "exceptional value" selections: Four. Jarret Stoll (474 games) 36th overall (2002); Matt Greene (338 games) 44th overall (2002); Zack Stortini (251 games) 94th overall (2003); Kyle Brodziak (298 games) 214th overall (2003); In KP’s case and in MBS’s too, there are names that will eventually reach this level that we can’t include today. Names like Peckham, Petry.  
  • Number of "value" selections: Two. Jussi Markkanen (128 games) 133rd overall (2001); Andrew Cogliano (286 games) 25th overall (2005).
  • Number of Blown Lottery picks: 0.The only lottery pick of the Prendergast era was Sam Gagner. Although he isn’t yet a value or exceptional value pick, Gagner is not a blown pick either.
  • Number of blown first rounders: 2 and counting. Jesse Niinimaki and  Marc Pouliot are considered lost picks, and the jury is out on Devan Dubnyk, Rob Schremp, Alex Plante and Riley Nash.
  • Overall grade 94-00: A solid C. C+ if you like that kind of thing. Prendergast didn’t perform well in the first round but made up for it with 2nd rounders who were solid or better (Stoll, Greene maybe Petry). I think it saved his draft resume.

Stu MacGregor (08-10)

  • Best Pick: Jordan Eberle, 22nd overall in 2008. Like KP, it was his first selection and came later on in the first round. Any reasonable re-draft has Eberle going much earlier which is an indication of just how much his value has increased since his draft day. An outstanding building block with his first selection.
  • Worst Pick: Troy Hesketh, 71st overall in 2009. He wins in a close race with Cameron Abney because Hesketh was taken earlier in the same draft. Hesketh gets noticed only when being traded and that happens quite often. I know he’s a player whose boxcar numbers will never reflect value, but there are usually good players still on the board at #71 overall. Hesketh was a player that Oiler scout Mike Peluso liked a lot, so maybe he’s a late bloomer. At this point, he’s at the bottom of the MBS pile.
  • Most Galling Pick: Cameron Abney, 82nd overall in 2009. I suspect this was an organziational pick (as in "let’s pick Abney well before the Coke Machines start getting picked because that’s how we got Geoff Paukovich!") because it’s so out of time with an MBS pick. Either way, you can sign these guys out of that crazy Quebec league for the league minimum. IF he turns into Don Saleski then I’ll retract the statement but this looks like a draft for need selection. It fills a need that is easily filled. Galling pick.
  • Number of "home run" selections: Two. Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle. These young men don’t have the games played to back up this boast, but by role and by performance they are clearly big flies.
  • Number of "exceptional value" selections: None. So far. Candidates include Magnus Pääjärvi , Anton Lander, Teemu Hartikainen, Olivier Roy and the entire 2010 draft. I kid, but only a little.
  • Number of "value" selections: None. As above, we can see some of these young men already making noise. Lander might play for the big club next fall, Hamilton is a strong candidate too. The force is strong on that 2010 draft and it could begin to deliver (outside of T Hall) by next season.
  • Number of Blown Lottery picks: 0. Along with skill comes luck and the Oilers had two #1’s to choose from in 2010. If Stu gets another chance to pick 1st overall in 2011 he’ll earn his money.
  • Number of blown first rounders: 0. All three are performing as well or better than expected.
  • Overall grade 94-00: A+ so far. If the most damning thing we can say about Stu MacGregor is that he spent two picks in 2009 on guys his scouting staff argued heavily for then I think we need to credit him with an amazing three summers. The number of selections whose arrows are pointing in the right direction is the best indicator of the current scouting chief of staff. I count 17 of 23, or 74% and none of the 6 down arrows (Kellen Jones, Troy Hesketh, Cameron Abney, Kyle Bigos, Phil Cornett, Jordan Bendfeld) are high selections. Some of them could turn it around in the next 24 months.