We don’t know if the Edmonton Oilers are going to keep the 10th overall selection in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft or trade it away as part of a package to acquire more immediate help. If the Oilers do keep the pick, I’m reasonably confident they will make the right choice under assistant GM Keith Gretzky, who oversees the team’s amateur scouting staff — as confident as one can be in the crap-shoot that is projecting what teenaged talent might become.
Hired by the Oilers in July of 2016, the Great One’s little brother spent three seasons as director of amateur scouting with the Boston Bruins before signing on in Edmonton. Gretzky’s tenure as director produced three outstanding first-round picks outside the top-10. In 2016 the Bruins got D-man Charlie McAvoy 14th overall. In 2015, the Bruins had three first-round picks and turned the 14th overall selection into forward Jake DeBrusk. In 2014, Gretzky and his staff came up with forward David Pastrnak 25th overall. Last summer with Gretzky on board, the Oilers took Spokane’s Kailer Yamamoto 22nd. Too soon to know how that’ll work out.
Of course, there are lots of factors that go into making both fist-pump worthy selections and face-palm busts — the consensus draft list the amateur staff comes up with, the philosophical tug-of-war that is organizational need versus best player available and, in some cases, meddling owners, to name just three. Guys like Gretzky who oversee the amateur scouts generally get more of the credit and more of the blame than they deserve, depending on which way it goes. That said, McAvoy, DeBrusk and Pastrnak stack up as pretty solid first-round gets.
PAID HIS DUES
Gretzky began his scouting career with the Arizona (then Phoenix) Coyotes in 2001 and was promoted to director of amateur scouting in 2006 before moving on to Boston and then here to rejoin former Bruin boss Pete Chiarelli as AGM. He’s got a resume that extends well beyond his last name. A couple years ago, Jason Gregor took an extensive look at Gretzky and the draft records of different teams here. It’s a great in-depth look at drafting results.
“I think (Peter) respected what I did, and I worked for him for a few years in Boston and the opportunity came along, and he called and asked for permission and the Bruins were gracious enough to give it to him,” Gretzky said in August 2016 about of his decision to reunite with Chiarelli.
I was going to say picking first overall or in the top three is easy, but that’s not exactly true (hello, Nail Yakupov). That said, history tells us it gets more difficult to find a blue-chipper the deeper you get into the first round no matter what the draft class looks like. It can be done, of course, as picks like McAvoy, DeBrusk, Pasternak and several others in recent years prove. The trick for Gretzky, Bob Green and Edmonton’s 15 amateur scouts is getting it right in the 10-spot this June, if the Oilers keep the pick.
WHAT ABOUT 10?
Not that long ago, at least in old man years, you could count the number of publications and scouting outfits doing draft rankings on one hand. Not so today — I came across no fewer than 15 lists in a brief scan of the internet today, and I’m not talking about lists fresh from momma’s basement, either. From Bob McKenzie’s list to McKeen’s, ISS and the Hockey News, I found no fewer than eight different players ranked 10th, where the Oiler pick.
Of the lists I checked and made notes on, U.S. left winger Joel Farabee ended up in the 10th spot the most, four times (twice by different writers with Dobber Prospects, Future Considerations and Chris Peters of ESPN). After that came Finnish centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who showed up three times (McKenzie, Craig Button and Hockey Prospects). After that, it was Drummondville centre Joe Veleno, who was listed twice (ISS and by Scott Wheeler of The Athletic).
Might the prospects a lot of Oilers’ fans are talking about, like Evan Bouchard, Noah Dobson and Ty Smith, be available when Edmonton picks? It depends whose list you put the most weight in. The list that matters most, of course, is the one Gretzky’s staff puts together. Even that goes out the window to an extent when one of the teams picking higher up goes off the board, which happens often.