Hindsight is a wonderful luxury. You’re never wrong. You avoid boneheaded decisions that bring nothing but regret. You look and sound really smart. It’s always been a handy tool for hockey fans and sportswriters alike.
If nothing else, sportswriters and hockey fans enjoy pontificating about what could have been while pointing out, with varying degrees of disdain and chagrin, how poorly the team they cover or cheer for has blown it by way of trade, free agent signings or the NHL Entry Draft. Easy pickings.
That said, and offering a mea culpa I’m as guilty of it as the next guy, it’s impossible not to scratch a big red circle around the 2007 NHL Entry Draft as one of the major reasons – there are many – the Edmonton Oilers have been the dregs, or close to it, of the NHL since the 2006 Stanley Cup final.
The Oilers had three first-round picks in that draft, owning the 6th, 15th and 21st selections. GM Kevin Lowe and his scouting staff came out of it with London Knights forward Sam Gagner, defenseman Alex Plante of the Calgary Hitmen and forward Riley Nash of the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
Three chances to get it right. Mercy.
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
I was doing a live radio show at a local watering hole the day of that draft with Bob Stauffer, back before he left TEAM 1260 and went to work for the Oilers as their radio analyst. While Stauffer and I agreed Gagner seemed a reasonable pick, we were otherwise befuddled and we – Stauffer especially – said so loud and clear on the air.
For all our misgivings – among them, we thought that not taking a flyer on Russian Alexei Cherepanov (who would tragically die of heart failure at the age of 19 during a KHL game in October 2008) was a mistake – we had no idea at the time how badly the Oilers drafted that June. Enter hindsight.
The Oilers used the sixth pick to take Gagner, coming off a season in which he’d scored 35-83-118 with London. Despite solid totals of 101-194-295 in 481 games with the Oiler since then, he’s been a lightning rod for criticism and a polarizing figure with the fan base as the team has floundered. His fit now, as a second-line centre behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, is questionable at best. The pick gets worse when you look at who was on the board in the same range as Gagner.
- Logan Couture. The San Jose Sharks selected Couture, a centre, from the Ottawa 67s with the ninth overall pick. Couture has scored 112-108-220 in 297 games since draft day and is seen as an emerging core player with the Sharks.
Ryan McDonagh. The Montreal Canadiens selected McDonagh 12th overall. Swiped from the Habs by Glen Sather, the big blueliner is coming off a 43-point season with the Rangers and has nine points through 17 playoff games this post-season.
Lars Eller. The St. Louis Blues took Eller with the 13th pick. Traded to Montreal before the 2010-11 season, the six-foot-two, 215-pound Danish forward isn’t a prolific point-producer, with 45-58-103 in 286 games, but he’s a big body with some skill and grit. Has 11 points in 14 games for the Habs this post-season.
- Kevin Shattenkirk. A puck-moving defenseman out of Boston University taken 14th by Colorado, Shattenkirk has had seasons of 43 and 45 points since being acquired by the Blues. How would he look in Edmonton’s top-four?
TWO MORE SWINGS
The Oilers thought they were getting a big, tough defenseman with the 15th pick when they took Plante, but he never lived up to that billing after his days in Cowtown. Slowed by injuries, the plodding Plante played just 10 games for the Oilers. He’s with Dornbirn EC in the Austrian League.
With Cherepanov off the board at 17th to the Rangers, the Oilers took Nash from Salmon Arm of the BCJHL with the 21st pick. The former Cornell centre never played a game with the Oilers. Nash landed in Carolina, where he has 14-20-34 in 110 games with the Hurricanes.
Max Pacioretty. The Canadiens took Pacioretty 22nd overall from the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL. The six-foot-two, 220-pounder is a two-time 30-goal scorer, including 39 this season. A combination of size, skill and the ability to skate the Oilers are lacking, Pacioretty has scored 107-106-213 in 319 NHL games.
- David Perron. Oilers could have got the gritty Perron off the hop at the draft. Instead, he landed in Edmonton last summer, but it cost the Oilers former first-rounder Magnus Paajarvii in a deal with St. Louis. Perron had a career-high 28 goals for the Oilers this season.
- P.K. Subban. Montreal snagged Subban from the Belleville Bulls with the 43rd pick, meaning a lot of teams passed on him, so the Oilers are hardly alone in blowing it by opting for Plante and Nash. Tough. Talented. Norris Trophy winner. Enough said.
Most NHL teams have drafts they’d rather forget, so the Oilers are hardly alone in missing the boat when it comes to assessing and projecting how teenagers might pan out. There are more misses than hits, especially beyond the first round.
That said, getting three cracks in the first 30 picks in 2007 and coming away with Gagner, Plante and Nash can’t be overlooked as a significant factor in shaping the team we see now and the ongoing ineptitude Oiler fans have endured since the Cup run of 2006.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.