What We Can Learn from the Detroit Wheels (Vol 3)

The good news for Edmonton Oiler fans is that many of the things management could do to improve has been fast tracked by an aggressive draft strategy that punished heavily short term in the hopes of delivering riches on the other side.

This is Riley Nash. In many ways, Nash and his 2007 first round draft brothers (Sam Gagner and Alex Plante) hurried sundown for Kevin Prendergast and his time as scouting director for the Edmonton Oilers. If the Oilers had been fortunate enough to own three first round picks in 2003 (and I’m aware that the cost would have been dear) the KP might still have his position at the top of the amateur procurement department Oiler division. However, the draft was not deep and only Gagner is an NHL player (and many feel Gagner is not a quality player for his draft position).

Four years ago Stu MacGregor took over the job as chief scout and along with a revamped department has done a splendid job in the position. Drafting well no matter the position, the 2008-11 draft list glimmers with hope and the names rattle and hum. Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins head the list but there are many others bubbling under.

There’s a lot that has gone right in the procurement department of the Edmonton Oilers since 2007 fall. If we can agree that there isn’t much to be learned from Detroit when it comes to lottery picks (they never have any), perhaps there are a few things they can tell us about the lower first rounders and the depth picks.


Some of the things I’ll list were not covered in the first two segments, but I think they have value and are certainly part of Detroit’s template.

  • Detroit uses their entry level contract to the fullest extent. Three full seasons in the minors is fairly normal (witness Cory Emmerton) and those who beat the model are the best in the system. If Edmonton waited until Hartikainen until fall 2013 or Pitlick/Hamilton until fall 2014, that’s the kind of patience Detroit shows. It adds incredible depth.
  • As Showerhead pointed out in our previous look, even when the Wings elevate exceptional talents they progress in an orderly fashion. Detroit often appears "over prepared" for the next generation (Lidstrom would be the exception) and have lost HOFers without missing a beat. Edmonton has never done this, so I can’t imagine what it would look like for the Oilers.
  • Size. I didn’t have this in either installment, but one of the things Detroit can teach us (certainly me) is that size isn’t as important as brains, speed and skill. Wings are routinely undersized compared to others, and it isn’t like they’re all imps, but their requirements for hockey players cheat for skill and grey matter. An Oiler example would be Linus Omark, who has exceptional ability to control things down low despite a lack of size.

  • Detroit has found a way to make use of free agents, both major and minor. Guys like Cleary, Eaves, Miller, Conklin and on it goes; Edmonton has shown some signs (Potter looks like a find) but this is an area Edmonton will need to improve (they have addressed the pro scouting so we should expect a better result).
  • Detroit makes almost everyone play in the AHL. Oilers don’t have elevated kids who have skill since the world began, and although I have no argument with lottery picks it’s probably a good idea to slow down the number of kids who go straight to the NHL. Lander is a recent example of a player who could benefit from AHL time.
  • Detroit has had success leaving kids in Europe and letting them develop there. Oilers have been hit and miss in this era going way back, and there is some concern now about a kid like Klefbom. Encouraging that he is playing big minutes at the J20 level instead of playing 4 minutes a night in the SEL. Still, if the situation remains this way, Oilers might want to think about bringing him over to the WHL or AHL.
  • Detroit built a huge part of their current team with 2nd round draft picks. Edmonton might do the same with names like Lander, Pitlick, Marincin, Hamilton and Musil. This is where Stu MacGregor will earn his money (along with any late round gems).

  • Detroit scouts every hockey country on the planet, while Edmonton doesn’t spend much time in Russia. I understand the contract problems and lord knows Mikhnov wasn’t worth the pick, but ignoring the USSR means an entire talent pool is available to Detroit and not Edmonton.
  • Detroit drafted Zetterberg and Datsyuk. Edmonton has had the advantage (picking #1 overall) but no matter the slot RNH and Hall have to be impact players rolling out over the rest of the decade if Edmonton is going to move from deep in the second division into Stanley Cup contention.



There’s a lot that is right about this rebuild. The Oilers are really mining the WHL heavily and it’s paying off, and they seem to have found a little wrinkle in bringing in kid Euro’s with no pedigree but miles of talent (Pelss, Gernat) who play in town for the Oil Kings.

A lot of this is luck, and as we’ve discussed in this series there is room for improvement. But the Oilers are heading in a good direction and seem to be doing many of the things Detroit adopted on their way to becoming a powerhouse.

Oiler fans need patience, but there is hope.

UP  NEXT: Nashville/Oilers and how they compare.



  • stevezie

    size isn’t as important as brains, speed and skill

    This is very true. It is also true that when anyone says size doesn’t matter, and has no qualifying statements on board, they might be wrong.

    In the post obstruction era, Jagr points it out well in his impression coming back to the NHL after three years:


    Speed is the key now, effortless skating. Small players who aren’t great skaters are going to have a hard time pulling weight unless they are very aggressive and miraculously adept at scoring.*

    *Because there are lots of aggressive guys who can skate and score who will eat their lunch in a playoff otherwise.

  • Lowetide

    After reading this I agree that Hartinkinen staying in minors for his full entry level contract makes sense. Obviously he would be number 1 call up right now and could still see alot of nhl action. a player like him can be filled with 1 year contract to veterens until he is fully ready. Lander looks pretty decent so far but his offence isnt there. Either it is because he is playing with poor teamates or lack of powerplay/ice time in general. So if those players spend most of their entry level contracts in the minors they will still be used for a winger or center call up and be able to fill in nicely. After there contracts are up and you give them an nhl contract and they could replace players like Belanger, Horcoff, Jones or Hordichuk.

    Other players that I think should spend a majority of their time in the minors for the entry level is all the D prospects with Musil being the only one I could see stepping in sooner. For the forwards Hamilton and Pitlick can stay down there for a long time cause the Oilers are still a mess when it comes to figuring out the future plan for some forwards. Im talking about Horcoff, Smyth, Hemsky, Omark, Eager. Once there contracts are up do the Oil resign them and doing so pushing a prospect like Pitlick back from making the step to the Nhl full time and possibly loosing him when the time comes.

    I am also kind of concerned with the high draft picks starting the stack up. The Oil are going to have to make decisions on these prospects since they are going to be pilling up and could easily make the wrong decision on a number of them. A team like Detriot will scoup them up and turn them into very useful players.

    If someone read this novel by Tayranchula then congrats for sticking in there

  • Lowetide

    Another thing I forgot to mention is: Doesnt it seem Like every Detriot player coming into the league for a first time seems to have a veteran like presence to their game? I dont no how to fully explain it but I remember Ericsson playing in his rookie year and he didnt seem like a rookie stay at home dman. Other players that stand out like that is Helm, Hudler, Lebda. Then players like Avery, Quincey seem to have/had a decent career in the Nhl and they were drafted and developed in the Wings organization before being traded . So pretty much it seems like if your drafted or developed by the wings you have a very good chance at craking the Nhl at some point in your career haha

  • stevezie

    I really, really don’t want to start another Gagner debate here, but even if you think he sucks, you must admit that there was no one we could have taken that would have been clearly better. Yeah, maybe you like Couture or Sutter or whoever, but you must admit it is at least close, right? There’s not really anyone who thinks we blew that pick, is there?

    • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

      Alex Cherepanov maybe. Other than some people wanting Voracek the fan base seemed to be quite happy with the pick at the time. Especially since he looked so good as an 18-year old.

      Couture was a reach where he was picked (that seemingly paid off), ranked by TSN at 19. Had the Oilers picked a 19th ranked guy in the 6th spot, the fanbase would have went nuts. Especially since the fans were cheering for the Oil in the SCF game 7 a little over a year prior.

      Hindsight is always 20/20 but I don’t think we blew that pick. And, also, he is only 22 years old so still has time to cover the bet.

  • Lowetide

    I think the key to building any team is a quality we have discussed many times before: balance.

    The same quality applies to the size game. You can’t have a team of smurfs or a team of giants. You can’t have a slow team at all, but that doesn’t mean you should draft hockey players like Al Davis drafted football players either.

    Franzen is an absolute hoss for example. Holmstrom too and no speedster either. And Zetterberg is no smurf. Draper was a wrecking ball of a smurf. Nice balance to Datsyuk.

    And at the end of the day it’s the fight in the dog. You have to find players willing to battle and do what it takes to win battles no matter their size.

    • Lowetide

      Actually both Datsyuk and Zetterberg are listed at 5’11 and around 190-195lbs. They are both just very athletic, agile, and blessed with great balance much like a Linus Omark. I agree balance is necessary. Size does matter but there are a list of things that have equal and greater priority over size.

      That’s the reason why the future is positive because unlike previous recent eras (90’s/00’s) the prospect pool is very diverse for the Oilers. They have a size/skill combo (Hamilton, Marincin, Pitlick, Hartikainen, Gernat) quick skill players (Rieder, Pless) size/toughness (Teubert, Musil, Klefbom). Even though the law of averages with prospects becoming legit NHLers will eventually weed out some of these promising prospects the positive growth in these players does mean that they could at least be useful as minor league pros, which is still very useful.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    The length of time one can hold rights to European drafted players changed in the last CBA.

    Prior to 2006, Detroit didn’t have to sign them to one of their 50 contracts to leave them over there.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    What’s amazing to me about Detroit’s success is that they manage to find players of quality so late in the draft. Other powerhouse teams that pick low on draft day seem to rely more on the power of the purse.

    LT: is there any other team that has drafted as well while also being a consistent playoff team for a stretch (in the last 20-30 years)?

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        Ok, my question was confusing I guess

        “20-30 years” meant to be the overall time frame in which we could look at teams

        “for a stretch” meant to track a successful team for say 4-8 years. ie. team x is playoff bound for 4-8years in a row and therefore (barring trades) has a late draft position

        over the last 20-30 years there are probably a number of teams that fit that description: ie. successful for 4-8 consecutive years with late picks

        of those teams have any drafted as well as Detroit?

        I hope that makes sense. what is interesting about the question is it isolates those teams that are successful but rely heavily on trades and free agency; and by looking at teams with late picks it brackets off the (almost) sure things. ie. the first 6-8 picks tend to be good bets (it is harder to pick late and win, especially to do so on a consistent basis)