There has been a lot of focus on the Oilers’ amateur scouting department over the last week or two, and Craig MacTavish’s comments last Friday didn’t really clear up the issue as they were half criticism and half vote of confidence.
The early results of the players selected in 2012 likely isn’t doing the current scouting staff any favours.
What MacTavish Said
Via the Edmonton Journal’s Bruce McCurdy:
It (absence of drafted players from later rounds) undermines the performance of everything we do on and off the ice, and it has to get better. From the minute we took over we focused on improving our draft record. You’re right, there were only two players who played in Winnipeg drafted outside of the first round. So we’re acutely aware of the former inadequacies of our draft after the first round. We’ve worked hard to improve all of our draft processes. We are more regionally focused. There’s more of an emphasis on getting to know the players, interviewing the players. We’ve integrated a lot of analytics into our decision making. We’ve integrated a lot of technology into our video scouting. We’ve got more management now in the field communicating with our scouts. We’ve got a draft philosophy since I took over in an effort to improve our draft record. Last year’s draft is tough to evaluate because we didn’t have a 2nd or 3rd round pick. The draft before I think we’ve added a lot of pieces & a lot of things that we needed.
There’s some criticism in that statement, with the general manager acknowledging that the team hasn’t had enough depth picks pay off; those comments taken together with an earlier pledge to examine everything on the organization suggest that changes could be coming to the scouting staff.
There’s also a vote of confidence to some degree; MacTavish talked up a change in philosophy and referred to the problems as the team’s “former inadequacies.” As colleague Matt Henderson pointed out yesterday, that effectively boils down to blaming Tambellini for the draft; he also (rightly) suggested that spin has some serious credibility issues.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the words when I first heard them, and I’m still not sure. My inclination is to read it as ‘changes are coming but I can’t toss the scouts that are going to be making the 2015 picks under the bus’ but your mileage may vary. Suffice to say that if significant changes are made after the draft this summer it wouldn’t be a big surprise.
The 2012 Draft
Analysis of the Oilers’ work at the 2012 Draft often stops and ends with Nail Yakupov. It’s understandable; it’s also a little unfair for a lot of reasons. For one thing, we don’t know who in the organization ultimately pulled the trigger on Yakupov and for another it’s still not at all clear who the best player at the top end of the 2012 Draft is right now (Alex Galchenyuk, who played all of two games in his draft year, is trending at the moment).
The other things is that there are some interesting items the rest of the way.
- Mitch Moroz was a reach pick at 32nd overall, the latest effort by the Oilers to find a player who marries a nasty physical edge with top-six or top-nine NHL skill. He didn’t score much at all in his draft year or his Draft+1 season; he emerged as a third-year WHL player but even then fell shy of the point-per-game mark. He has one assist in 17 games in the AHL.
- Jujhar Khaira was similar to Moroz in that he offered a combination of size, skill and a physical dimension. His scoring numbers post-draft were only middling; like Moroz he was south of the point-per-game mark in his Draft+2 season. He has three points in 19 games in the AHL.
- Daniil Zharkov was the Oilers’ third straight big forward with skill pick, and he’s totally collapsed. As of this writing, he has one goal in 20 games in Russia’s second-tier league and is not a prospect of any note.
- Fourth-round pick Erik Gustafsson has emerged this season; the defenceman has 16 points in 28 games in Sweden’s top league. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really matter for the Oilers; he isn’t listed as being in the system and as I understand it the deadline to sign him has passed and the team no longer owns his rights.
- Undersized fifth-rounder Joey Laleggia is scoring at roughly a point-per-game pace for the University of Denver; he’s still a guy who we can reasonably say has a shot as a power play specialist/third pair defenceman.
- John McCarron is another fourth-year college player, and like earlier picks he’s big and plays a physical game. In his draft year he scored 19 points in 35 games (0.543 points/game); this season he has five points in 11 games (0.455 points/game). Scoring doesn’t tell us everything, especially for a player like McCarron, but he needs to score a bit if he’s ever going to be an NHL player and to-date he hasn’t done nearly enough.
It would be a mistake to make any sweeping claims about these guys; some have just barely made the jump to the professional level and others aren’t even there yet. All we can do is identify trends, and the problem here is that the trends aren’t positive. Khaira and Moroz both bring more than just scoring, but neither is doing much offensively. It’s tempting to blame Oklahoma City’s coaching staff for that, but this isn’t a new thing with either player; given their numbers in their final junior campaigns it would have been unreasonable to expect either player to have much impact in the AHL at this point. With Khaira, part of the problem might be that he’s never been left at one level for very long; the AHL is his fourth league in four seasons after he went from the BCHL to the NCAA to the WHL and now to the pros.
If I look at this list of players and ask ‘who has a chance at a career as an offensive presence in the NHL’ the names I come up with are Gustafsson and Laleggia, and one of those guys seemingly isn’t even a consideration for the organization at this point. That’s not nearly good enough.