IN PITTSBURGH: DRAFT AND COACHING

We are 43 hours away from the Oilers calling out the first pick of the draft for the third consecutive year, and while their positioning in the draft is the same, there are many differences surrounding the team this time around.

Fans aren’t as excited about this pick, not because he won’t be a great player, but because you’ve been through this already, and frankly all of you are hoping you won’t have to experience this for at least another 20-25 years.

If the Oilers are in this situation again, in the near future, then something is seriously wrong.

With no GM willing to or able to mimic Paul Holmgren’s Wednesday trades from a year ago, today was a very quiet day. Tomorrow we get to chat with many of the top prospects as well as numerous GMs, scouts and other media types so I’ll have more tidbits of info.

And some thoughts from Stu MacGregor.

Today I was asked by ten different media members from various cities about Sam Gagner. It seems Gagner, along with Rick Nash, Bobby Ryan, Evander Kane, Jason Garrison, the Canes 8th overall pick and some other players are the hot rumours right now. I expect that most of those alleged available players won’t actually be dealt, but it’s always exciting getting different people’s opinions on what their worth is.

Many guys outside of Edmonton view Gagner as a young guy who could still become a 60-point guy, while others question if he’ll ever be an impact player. His 8-point night did get everyone’s attention though. While some seem to think it was a fluke, many of the guys I spoke to felt that he clearly has good skill, but wonder if his size and consistency will be an issue longterm.

I also had a fluke run in with Pens GM, Ray Shero in my hotel. Had a brief chat and he said rather clearly that he had no interest in dealing Jordan Staal right now. He’s a big fan of his, but I sensed he realized that Staal will want a bigger role. He might have no choice in the matter, if Staal doesn’t re-sign, but he made it sound like that was his first priority, and that he’s in no rush to move him.

HEAD COACH

The Oilers won’t announce their new head coach before the draft, but many are wondering if Ralph Krueger would be a good choice. None have us have seen him as a head coach, outside of running the Swiss national program, and it’s hard to say he’s bad considering his team was usually over-matched skill-wise in those tournaments.

I decided to talk to a player who played for Krueger when he was a head coach. Hnat Domenichelli won two Memorial Cups with Kamloops in the early ’90s, and he was an elite scorer in junior. He scored 59 goals and 148 points in 62 games one year, so it is clear he was talented.

He was productive in the AHL, but he never was a big scorer in the Show. He did tally 52 goals and 113 points in 267 career NHL games, but he admitted his lack of size, and playing during the "clutch and grab era" didn’t help him much. He’s spent the last nine years in Switzerland and I got his thoughts on Krueger.

JG: What is Ralph’s best attribute as a head coach?

HD: The best way I can explain it is that Ralph is a very powerful person, and he’s a very powerful motivator. I was like everyone else when I heard he was applying for the job and they were interested him, and the first reaction was.. Ralph Krueger the head coach of the Oilers is kind of odd. This is a guy from Europe; this is not what the NHL does. If you haven’t had the opportunity to speak with Ralph I can understand why people would think that way.

"However, if Ralph was able to get himself in front of the brass of the Oilers, he’d put on a very powerful presentation. I think that’s how he got the job as an associate coach, and I believe that his ability to speak and communicate with people is going to give him a great chance to be the next head coach of the Oilers. I’m not saying he’s automatically the best choice, but I could see how after listening to him speak that the Oilers management would come out of that meeting thinking he’s a serious candidate.

"His best quality is how he motivates people, and his knowledge of the game is comparable to anybody."

JG: What about his systems. How does he want his teams to play?

HD: Like most coaches, it will be a defence-first mentality, but it’s also going to be a counter game, where if we are going to go on offence, we will all go together. He’ll want his D-men involved up ice. He’s going to create a system where the team is very good on the PP, which they were this year, and when they have the opportunity they are going to score.

"His basic message is very simple. When we have the puck we want to keep it and we want to attack with speed, and when we don’t have it we want to be in good position to make them come through five players. He’s much more skill oriented than some people think. His message is simple and it’s clear and it has proven effective in the past."

Considering that lack of motivation was a regular topic the past few years, I wonder if Krueger’s interview skills earned hinm the job. I’ll admit there is something intriguing about hiring outside the box, and as I’ve said before I’d take Krueger over Brent Sutter at this point.

QUICK HITS

  • Jay Feaster said the Flames haven’t stopped Brent Sutter from speaking to the Oilers. If that is the case, then why haven’t they (Oilers and Sutter) spoke at length, since everyone has been claiming Sutter will be the next head coach. Could it be, because he isn’t going to be the coach.
     
  • I’m surprised Gabriel Landeskog crushed Ryan Nugent Hopkins in the Calder race. Landeskog recieved 116 first place votes, while RNH recieved only 26. Landeskog had a good season, but he wasn’t that much better than RNH. In the long run it won’t have any impact on their careers, but I’m curious what the voters saw in Landeskog that was that much better?
     
  • Kudos to the PHWA (Professional Hockey Writers Association) for rewarding offence. Erik Karlsson won the Norris, by the slimmest of margins, 1,069 votes to 1,057 over Shea Weber. Karlsson had 25 more points than any other D-man, which is huge and he was clearly more dominant in one aspect. I’d take Weber on my team ahead of Karlsson longterm, but this award is for who had the best season, and this year it was Karlsson.
     
  • The draft is fun, but this Friday you’ll have two chances to have way more fun. Your fearless leader, Wanye Gretz is having a party at the Pint Downtown. They have shirts made up, and lots of other cool stuff. I’m sure his eyes will still be red from crying after Eberle didn’t win the Lady Byng tonight, but he’ll have all you downtowners in a party mood.

    Down at the Pint Off Whyte, Jason Strudwick and Allison Currie will be hosting a draft party as well… They have some cool prizes to give away and I’m sure Struds will share a few of his draft stories involving Mike Milbury. If you want to watch the draft with many diehard Oiler fans I recommend you be at the Pint Downtown or the Pint off Whyte before 4 p.m. on Friday…