The title above is tongue-in-cheek, but it does seem if the Oilers are on a quest to add functional toughness to the organization, they’re only about half way there. The team’s prospect system is loaded to the gills with toughness; the function is a little harder to see.
On Friday the Oilers added Kale Kessy, a tough-as-nails, oft-suspended WHL winger. The cost was Tobias Rieder, an undersized forward who plays a strong two-way game and has good offensive skills, but was going through an underwhelming OHL season. It’s difficult to harshly critique a swap of longshots; both were fourth round picks and despite Rieder’s great season last year both are as much suspect as prospect. Rieder’s range of skills carries more value with me than Kessy’s physical play, but I can see the argument the other way, too.
One more for the crowd
Kessy joins a brigade of similar prospects: generally big, always tough forwards with a marginal scoring game. Players in italics are signed to an NHL deal, ages are as of the start of next season, and ‘NHL/82’ refers to each player’s projected NHL scoring number over an 82-game season.
I’ve included Jujhar Khaira here, though he sticks out like a sore thumb. Penalty minutes and scouting reports indicate he can play a power game; his scoring numbers as a very young player (he doesn’t turn 19 until August) mark him as an honest-to-goodness prospect and a guy to watch.
The rest of the group is less impressive. Abney and Tyrvainen can be charitably described as “underwhelming” at the professional level; it seems a good bet that Tyrvainen will be flushed in the summer while Abney lost his AHL job to a Central Hockey League enforcer earlier this year. Moroz hasn’t had the offensive breakthrough that was hoped for, McCarron’s year-over-year totals are stagnant and Kessy’s 42 points this year represent more than he’s recorded in the last two WHL seasons combined. Ewanyk seems to have no scoring touch whatsoever.
With the exception of Khaira all of these guys – assuming they play in the NHL at all – seem destined to compete for fourth-line work.
One of the Oilers’ trends since 2001, when Kevin Lowe took over as general manager – a trend that continues to this day – is the organization’s willingness to spend top-100 draft picks on forwards with high penalty minute totals and marginal scoring numbers. Under Prendergast, it was players like Ed Caron, Zack Stortini and Geoff Paukovich; under MacGregor it is guys like Cameron Abney and Travis Ewanyk and Mitch Moroz. Maybe the Oilers just coincidentally hired two amateur scouting directors who like this player type, but given how that type of draft pick fits with trades like the Kessy deal it seems more likely that this is an organizational directive.
The real question is whether it’s a strategy that makes the best use of resources. Players like Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk were brought in for nothing via free agency, Mike Brown cost a fourth-round draft pick, and so on. If other names are preferred they’re easy enough to find; from Zenon Konopka to Shawn Thornton, tough players for an NHL fourth line job aren’t typically expensive acquisitions. As the Kessy trade shows, grabbing prospects for that role via trade isn’t particularly expensive either; all the Oilers had to give up was an unsigned prospect whose latest campaign had gone all pear-shaped.
A pick like Khaira (Khaira had 79 points in 54 BCHL games, totals that separate him from the stone hands) and to a lesser extent one like Moroz (there was a case to be made that he turned a corner at midseason and was primed for a breakout campaign, though that hasn’t happened) is understandable because the idea is to land a guy who can play a top-nine role in the NHL while providing a power game. Those players are rare and valuable. But for fourth line guys, grabbing them fully grown or shipping out a disappointing prospect to grab one still in development seems far more cost-efficient than spending top-100 picks at the draft.
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