Cracks In The Drafting?

Stu MacGregor has received near-universal acclaim for his work on behalf of the Oilers at the NHL Draft. MacGregor replaced Kevin Prendergast in time for the 2008 selections, a change as welcome as the switch from Barry Fraser to Prendergast had been way back when Kevin Lowe made it in 2001.

As with Prendergast, MacGregor made good on his first pick at the helm of the Oilers’ amateur scouting department, selecting Jordan Eberle 22nd overall in 2008. For the first time since that pick, I think there are signs that the Oilers may not be significantly better than the average team at the draft table.

Of course, saying “there are signs” is worlds different than saying “fire the scouts!” It’s always difficult to evaluate the work of a scouting group without a) seeing their entire ranking of the draft, rather than the seven guys they usually get to pick and b) years of time to watch the results.

With that in mind, let’s revisit the data we do have: the picks made under MacGregor’s watch.

2008

Selection Where Currently
Jordan Eberle 22 ov./1st Rd. Starring in the NHL, and a key piece for the Oilers
Johan Motin 103 ov./4th Rd. All but finished with the Oilers; left org. for Sweden
Philippe Cornet 133 ov./5th Rd. A longshot having a good AHL season
Teemu Hartikainen 163 ov./6th Rd. Very much a player of interest, nearly NHL-ready
Jordan Bendfeld 193 ov./7th Rd. Out of the organization.

Overall, not a bad group. Eberle’s been stellar, Hartikainen’s playing above his draft number, and Cornet may yet have a career at hockey’s highest level. Of the busts, Motin got into an NHL game thanks to injuries before getting shunted down the depth chart, and Bendfeld was an ECHL enforcer for a while.

2009

Selection Where Currently
Magnus Paajarvi 10 ov./1st Rd. Playing in the NHL, still has lots of time
Anton Lander 40 ov./2nd Rd. Arguably in over his head at the NHL level right now
Troy Hesketh 71 ov./3rd Rd. Bust.
Cameron Abney 82 ov./3rd Rd. ECHL-level enforcer
Kyle Bigos 99 ov./4th Rd. 6’5", 230lbs college defender. Has 66 PIMs, 12 pts in 18 GP.
Toni Rajala 101 ov./4th Rd. Playing in Finland, unlikely to play for Oilers
Olivier Roy 133 ov./5th Rd. 0.915 SV% in the ECHL

Again, it’s not a bad group. Magnus Paajarvi was an eminently justifiable pick – most pre-draft projections had him between 6th – 9th overall and he slid to 10th, and there are plenty of positive signs there. Anton Lander is a guy the organization obviously believes in, while Kyle Bigos is probably the best unknown prospect in the system. Roy is an NHL prospect, while Abney and Rajala aren’t total write-offs at this point.

2010

Selection Where Currently
Taylor Hall 1 ov./1st Rd. Starring in the NHL, arguably most important piece for Oilers
Tyler Pitlick 31 ov./2nd Rd. Four goals in 33 games as AHL rookie.
Martin Marincin 46 ov./2nd Rd. Play has dipped in WHL after phenomenal start to 2010-11
Curtis Hamilton 48 ov./2nd Rd. Three goals in 29 games as AHL rookie.
Ryan Martindale 61 ov./3rd Rd. Five goals in 28 games as ECHL rookie.
Jeremie Blain 91 ov./4th Rd. Near point-per-game guy in QMJHL, injuries a concern.
Tyler Bunz 121 ov./5th Rd. In second of two superb season in the WHL
Brandon Davidson 162 ov./6th Rd. Top defenseman for Regina of WHL.
Drew Czerwonka 166 ov./6th Rd. Improving longshot.
Kristians Pelss 181 ov./7th Rd. Improving longshot.
Kellen Jones 202 ov./7th Rd. 22-year old ECAC forward has 5G/11A in 21GP

This is where things get interesting. One year ago, virtually everybody from this draft class (outside of the bottom three) were tracking very well. The trio of Pitlick, Hamilton and Martindale were all coming off strong seasons in junior. Marincin had cooled as the season carried on but still played quite well, while Blain, Davidson and Bunz were all gaining traction.

A year later, and things have changed a lot. Pitlick and Hamilton have both had uncertain starts to their professional careers; Martindale has been undeniably disappointing. Marincin has failed to live up to the promise of early 2010-11, while Blain hasn’t visibly progressed. Bunz has played very well (and should have been at the World Juniors) while Davidson has improved once again.

It’s way too early to cast final judgment on anyone of the picks made between Pitlick and Davidson. It is not, however, too early to say that the initial optimism based on that group’s combined 2010-11 output was a little too pronounced.

2011

Selection Where Currently
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 1 ov./1st Rd. Starring in the NHL, arguably most important piece for Oilers
Oscar Klefbom 19 ov./1st Rd. Very much on track as top prospect
David Musil 31 ov./2nd Rd. Not very far behind Klefbom
Samu Perhonen 62 ov./3rd Rd. Suffering through a tough year in Finland
Travis Ewanyk 74 ov./3rd Rd. Season derailed by injury.
Dillon Simpson 92 ov./4th Rd. Puck-mover in his second college season
Tobias Rieder 114 ov./4th Rd. 22 goals in 33 OHL games, leads Kitchener in scoring.
Martin Gernat 122 ov./5th Rd. Nearly a point-per-game defenseman for the Oil Kings
Frans Tuohimaa 182 ov./7th Rd. Sub-average goalie in Finland’s top league.

There are lots of positives here, starting with Nugent-Hopkins’ phenomenal start to his NHL career, and carrying through to promising prospects in Klefbom and Musil. Simpson, Rieder and Gernat are all tracking well. Perhonen and Tuohimaa are long-range prospects, but they’re struggling, while we know that serious injuries at Ewanyk’s age are a major concern in the long-term.

In Conclusion

… there is no conclusion. The most important thing to take away from this is that the book is still very much open on the work of Stu MacGregor and his staff in Edmonton. The Eberle pick was a superb one, and there is a lot to be positive about, but the struggles of the key prospects from 2010 in their first professional season should give us pause, because it’s the first time we’ve seen a really significant reversal for important players that were tracking well.

The good news is that it may be those reversals don’t mean much in the long run. The jump to the AHL can be a tough one – something that Joe Colborne, one of the best prospects around showed.

  • How many useful NHL players does Stu MacGregor need out of the 2010 draft, after #1, for the year to be considered a success? I say one or two.

    An important thing to remember is that Pitlick and Hamilton were never projected to fill in top three spots in the forward core, like, say, Eberle, Hall, and possibly Paajarvi. They were drafted as potential useful third line players who might have the ability to move into the second line if injuries hit. Pisani and Moreau types. Maybe a Jarret Stoll if we’re lucky.

    That’s the sort of player that has plenty of time to develop into what you hope for them to become. They might not arrive until they are twenty three or twenty four and still go on to have long, successful careers in Oiler silks.

    But I will defend Marincin, who I think has not tracked poorly so much… as been in an awful situation most of the year. If you look past the hot start, he’s still done well, taking into consideration circumstances. The Prince George Cougars are dead last in the WHL in scoring, to the point that they have roughly half as many goals as do the league leading Edmonton Oil Kings (!). At a glance, the average WHL team has between 140-150 goals at this point, whereas the Cougars have 96. For comparison sake, in the NHL, the league leading team is only about fifty percent more productive than the one trailing–so Marincin has been trying to create offense all year on a team that is not simply bad offensively, but abysmal. I think, just by nature of the position, that if your team is awful offensively, it’s much harder to create things as an offensively oriented defenceman, because so much of your offence comes from creating opportunities for your forwards–if they can’t score, then you can create a lot of scoring chances in vain. This might explain why the scouting reports, which told us a year ago that Marincin looked like a tired player in the second half, were generally positive about the player, despite being off the pace from a year ago. Also of note–the Prince George Cougars were ranked ninth a year ago in overall scoring–about the same level of offensive competence as Marincin’s new team, the Pats, are at now.

    It’s only been two games, but on his new team, the Regina Pats, who are tied for eighth in league scoring in a twenty two team league (so, a high-average team offensively), has three points.

    I see Marincin as a very talented player that may have a longer adjustment period. He might break in at around 23, like Petry or Gilbert, and then steadily gain traction in the league. Long-term prospect, IMO, but an extremely exciting one.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Who wouldn’t be intoxicated by the package that is MPS. Till he learns to challange d’men 1 on 1 without being intimidated, he’ll never reach those top 6 dreams we all had for him. I’d kinda like to see him play mad, never see him flustered at all.

    He needs to start dishing it out rather than being on the receiving end all the time.

  • Bucknuck

    It’s great seeing all the draft selections laid out like that. I never really understood the Hesketh or Abney picks when they happened, so no surprise to me that they were busts. Other than that I don’t really see a lot of wasted picks there.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but when I was reading the article, I didn’t really get the sense that you (JW) believed that Stu is doing a bad job, it’s just that he’s not doing quite as good a job as it seemed like he was last year. That is because some of the prospects have started trending the wrong way. Is that the right way to interpret your words here?

  • Lowetide

    You have done the first critique of Stu’s work.Its about time.We have to realize that he only sees the early picks and has to rely on his scouts.The whl players which he is most familiar with are pretty good.The others??
    I think the previous guy tended to pick skilled mostly small players.ie Cogliano and Gagner.He also bombed big time in 2003 ,2004 and 2005 so Stu doesnt have to do much to be better.
    I first saw Paajarvi at WC and i thought he looked awfully soft.I am pretty sure he will be traded as he is getting softer.Marcinin looked good at wjc and since being traded has been on fire so i have hope for hom.
    The guy they should get after is Klefbom as he looked as least as good as larsson did last year and Larsson is doing pretty decent with the devils.Get him signed and bring him over he is better than most of the defence we had on the ice last night

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I think Prendergast excelled in the 2nd round and again in the late rounds, Stu excels in round 1 and then again in the late rounds.

    I would still take Stu over 90% of other teams scouting staffs.

    Btw, Scouts arent supposed to have a 100% success rate JW, just so you know.

    What’s he batting? .500? That’s considered excellent.

    • OilLeak

      They never were, none of them put up as many points as Gagner did in Junior, or made the NHL at age 18. Pitlick may have the tools to be a better player, but I’m not to sure he has the toolbox. Lander is a checking forward that should be playing in the AHL right now, and Martindale has some pretty glaring skating issues.

    • Personally, I think you should always pick the BPA. Needs are a terrible way of picking and have burnt teams before. It is also why I am of the opinion Tambo gets off his lazy A$$ and becomes ultra aggressive so we can pick both BPA and for need this year. I guess it also depends on who the Oilers think is BPA?

    • Lowetide

      I like it fine, but don’t agree. Let’s take Marincin as an example. His boxcars were very impressive last season in the first half and then he fell off badly.

      A quick glance suggests that his offense has gone away completely this season but that has a lot to do with Brett Connolly making the Lightning.

      Here is his even strength offense:

      2010-11: 67, 6-18-24 .358
      2011-12: 32, 3-9-12 .375

      I think we can say with authority that he is unlikely to be a major PP performer as a pro but then again we’re looking for a guy with a nice range of skills.

      I am far more encouraged by his season and would consider it a major recovery from a lost second half in 10-11.

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    You know, Willis, reading your twitter feed, and now this, made me realize how much of a fan you still really are – panicking like the rest of us commoners – only with a privilege of more than just overreacting comments, rather overreacting posts.

    We’re only 1.5 years into the 2010 draft class development.

    Chill out, hommie! 🙂

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Great read Mr. Willis,
    Do you think there’s a chance that Bunz or Roy back up Dubnyk if the Oilers let go of Khabby this off season? I know looney tune question but concidering this team is in rebuild mode for the next 2-3 yrs at least, why not toss in the young goalies too right?….right?

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Truer words have never been spoken…”MacGregor is over rated…”

      With the transparency in the Scouting reports these days, my grandmother could have made the top picks that MacGregor has made the past 4 years. He will deserve praise when some of the 4-7 round picks pan out like they have in Detroit.