Cameron Abney: Probably not Stu MacGregor’s fault, but still a bad pick

Cameron Abney, a third round pick (82nd overall) of the Edmonton Oilers in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, played his first professional season in 2011-12. He played 14 games in the AHL, going scoreless, and 29 games in the ECHL, picking up five points. He did pick up 156 penalty minutes.

For most prospects with the hope of an NHL job, those would be ridiculously bad numbers. Yet, in Abney’s case, they’re entirely unsurprising, and don’t indicate a failing prospect.

Standing Out

Abney played his junior career in the WHL. In 2008-09, his draft year, he played 48 games for Everett, scoring once, adding three assists and going minus-17. He went pointless in the post-season, getting outscored by a 15-year old defenseman named Ryan Murray who had joined the team for the playoffs.

Compared to the players picked after him, Abney’s paltry totals stand out. Kevin Connauton, a promising defenseman now on the cusp of NHL duty, was picked next. In 40 college games, he’d scored seven times. Another rearguard, Nicolas Deslauriers out of the QMJHL, just completed his rookie year with the Los Angeles Kings’ AHL affiliate in Manchester. He scored 11 goals in 2008-09. Cody Eakin, a WHL forward like Abney, went 85th overall. He’d scored 24 goals in his draft year, a figure that would jump to 47 the year after. He played 30 games for Washington this year as a rookie professional.

“Power Forward”

Abney made the point that fall that he didn’t really get a fair shake as a rookie WHL’er, and thought he could do more. After noting down that Abney “has all the tools to be an effective power forward,” the Sun’s Derek van Diest quoted the Oilers prospect:

"Last season wasn’t really what I expected, I didn’t really get much of an opportunity as a 17-year-old going in as a rookie," he said. "Towards the end of the year, it got better, I got more ice time and developed more of my physical game. It was good, because I knew they weren’t expecting to get goals or points out of me. I knew what my role was, so in that regard it was good. But hopefully this year, I can be more of an offensive guy as well as a physical guy."

He scored six goals the next year in 68 games. In 2010-11, as a member of the Oil Kings, he’d post far and away his best totals – seven goals and 20 points. Those are terrible numbers for a power forward. But then, that’s not really what Abney is.

In one sense, it’s disingenuous to compare Abney’s offensive totals to other players in his draft class. That’s not the player he is. He wasn’t even really drafted for his hockey skill – he’s an enforcer, and if the Oilers get very, very lucky he’ll be able to play a regular fourth-line shift and not get burned too badly.

Asset Management For Dummies

That’s what the problem is, really. To get the equivalent of a Darcy Hordichuk or Steve MacIntyre, the Oilers invested a third round pick, and will now spend years developing Abney. Hordichuk was acquired – no development or asset exchange necessary – as a free agent, costing $825,000 on a one year deal. The last time Hordichuk was traded, it was with a conditional fifth round pick in exchange for a fifth round pick. Steve MacIntyre was a waiver-wire pickup, and he left town the same way.

In other words, even if the Oilers develop Abney into an NHL-level enforcer, it seems unlikely that they’d ever be able to trade him for a third-round pick.

There’s no reasonable excuse for drafting a player like Abney in the top-100, when the Oilers could get a player equivalent to what he might (if all goes well) turn out to be for a pick outside the top-100. This is likely less a failure of the scouting staff than it is of decision-making at the top. Presumably, someone in a position of authority in the room said ‘we need an enforcer’ and had one drafted. It may have been Stu MacGregor; more likely it was someone above him on the managerial chart.

It was a bad decision.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • db7db7db7

    I wonder if there is any interest from management to resign Patrick Thoresen? He’s second (12 points) in tournament scoring behind Malkin at the World Championship’s. I always had a soft spot for the Great Dane.

      • db7db7db7

        I was just now calling him that because I always thought he was great. However, for some reason I thought Norwegians spoke Danish. I was wrong, but as it turns out, not that wrong (As per Wikipedia):

        Following the strife surrounding the break-up of its predecessor, the Kalmar Union, the two kingdoms entered into another personal union in 1536 which lasted until 1814. The corresponding adjective and demonym is Dano-Norwegian.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Could see this kid wasn’t a player when the Oil Kings got swept by the Rebels in last yrs playoffs. His feet weren’t moving and more often than not, he was just in the way. Thought he may have been banged up but he wasn’t.

  • Reg Dunlop

    I hope you are joking about Thoresen. A small, non-contact 3rd or 4th liner. Got lots of those although if MacT was to return…

    Why has MacT not been given another NHL head coaching gig? Is it because no other franchise considers him a NHL caliber coach? The oil have a history of keeping certain personel that no one else would touch( Buchburger as a player, Horcoff).

  • DSF

    Why the built in excuse for MacGregor?

    While you equivocated on responsibility for this blown pick, it is just as likely that it WAS Stu’s pick and, in any case, Abney was drafted on his watch.

    The 2009 draft is starting to look like a bomb for MacGrgor.

  • The Abney pick is a cautionary tale for following a regional scout’s “gut” (not that it takes the head scout off the hook, but I’m betting it had a big part to play in this reach of a pick):

    Stu MacGregor: “(Scout) Bob Brown had an extreme passion for him. He’s a big kid who had a huge growth spurt in the last couple of years. A kid that has to improve skating, obviously, when you grow that much you’re going to have to improve your skating. We needed to try and get some physicality and he’s a young guy who we think is going to be a huge advantage for us.”

    Pretty sure that Bob Brown is no longer employed by the Oilers?

  • I’m perplexed by the consternation over the Abney pick. Unless I’m mistaken, there’s been a handful of articles, or at least items in articles, dedicated to Abney and this “blown pick” since he was drafted.

    Players — any type of player in any position — taken where Abney was (final 10 picks of the third round) are more miss than hit.

    You can pick out players taken in the same range as Abney over the years who were better options or turned out to be effective NHLers –Adam Henrique comes to mind — but the fact is late third-rounders seldom pan out.

    Of 50 players taken with the final 10 picks in the third round 2005-2009, far less than half (16) have played even one NHL game, and one game is setting the bar as low as you can.

    2009 — 1 of 10/

    2008 — 3 of 10/

    2007 — 3 of 10/

    2006 — 2 of 10/

    2005 — 7 of 10

    Bad decision? Cautionary tale? Abney is no different than the vast majority of players drafted where he was.

  • dawgbone98

    @Robin Brownlee

    I think the point is you still want to give yourself the best chance to get a useful NHL player. Why pay all these scouts all this money if you are just going to dart board everything after round 2?

    Abney’s potential upside is as an NHL fighter. These guys are easy to acquire, so why spend a draft pick and spend money to try and develop them when you can get them for just money and use the pick in either a trade or on a guy who maybe has size issues but has decent offensive instincts? Or a guy with decent hockey sense whose skating is an issue. You are definitely going to get a guy with holes that far in the draft, but at least get a guy with something going for him that is more than being able to punch other people in the face.

  • Reg Dunlop

    I would think thats it not beyond Mac to sign an enforcer. If upper managment figured they needed to draft a younger enforcer for futures, there’s nothing wrong with that.. [ can’t be much worse than having a usless Hordichuk in the line up].
    These types are not always that skilled and are taken in later rounds. Earlier picks in 2009 were Pajarvi, Lander,Hesketh before Abney and Bigos.If MacGregor’s aim is just to find and draft high skill players, this team will never have role and character guys on the team, something that is lacking with todays line up.Probably the most skilled player with size and toughness [ not sure he’s an enforcer, but could be] was Kassian picked by Buffalo in the first rd. at #13.

  • Reg Dunlop

    The Oil have often been drawn to dominant heavyweights.

    Didn’t Sather go after George Laraque with a similarly uncharacteristic higher-than-expected pick? I vaguely recall Sather defending the choice after the fact(very rough paraphrase): “I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to draft a guy who reminded me of Semenko in terms of his dominance as an enforcer”.

    Smac arguably was also a dominant enforcer.

    Maybe Abney is simply more of the same?

    • Fact: Georges Laraque scored more points in his draft year’s regular season than Cameron Abney picked up over the entirety of his WHL career (including the playoffs).

      Edit to add numbers: Laraque – 19 goals, 41 points in 62 games in his draft year. Abney – 15 goals, 38 points in 189 career WHL games. The difference between the two is obvious.

  • @Willis

    Interesting stats on Laraque, but I still wonder if the points were all that relevant to selecting Laraque at the time? I don’t recall Slats mentioning anything about scoring, much as he didn’t rely on Semenko for it either.

    Still, I would agree with you that perhaps the pick might be better spent on someone with better hockey skills–shouldn’t have to be an either/or scenario between toughness and hockey skills–nice to have both.