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Digging into Keith Gretzky’s background

When Peter Chiarelli was fired, it came to the surprise of nobody that somebody from within the organization was handed the interim general manager tag. While many expected it to be one of the former NHL general managers hanging around the office, like Craig MacTavish, Kevin Lowe, or Scott Howson, the Oilers ultimately decided to put Keith Gretzky in the role.

This really is, ultimately, just a figurehead position. The Oilers are going to operate as a “group effort” as the brain trust that includes President and CEO Bob Nicholson, VP of Hockey Operations Craig MacTavish, VP of Player Personnel Scott Howson, and other Old Boys Club members like Kevin Lowe and Wayne Gretzky. Regardless, it’s important to know the history of the new general manager, even if he’s just the public face of the group.

What do we know about Keith Gretzky? He’s been Peter Chiarelli’s assistant general manager for two-and-a-half years now in which his role has been assisting Chiarelli with things like the salary cap and having a heavy hand in scouting and the draft. Before that, he worked under Chiarelli for a few seasons in Boston as the Director of Amateur Scouting and as a scout. His start in the NHL came with the Phoenix Coyotes shortly after his brother agreed to take on part ownership of the club. He was a scout with the Coyotes for six years before becoming Director of Amateur Scouting for four seasons.

First-round picks in Phoenix…

  • 2007 – Kyle Turris (No. 3) & Nick Ross (No. 30)
  • 2008 – Mikkel Boedker (No. 8) & Viktor Tikhonov (No. 28)
  • 2009 – Oliver Ekman-Larsson (No. 6)
  • 2010 – Brandon Gormley (No. 13) & Mark Visentin (No. 27)
  • 2011 – Connor Murphy (No. 20)

First-round picks in Boston…

  • 2014 – David Pastrnak (No. 25)
  • 2015 – Jakub Zboril (No. 13) & Jake DeBrusk (No. 14) & Zach Senyshyn (No. 15)
  • 2016 – Charlie McAvoy (No. 14) & Trent Frederic (No. 29)

It’s a pretty mixed bag of results for Gretzky in the first-round of the draft. He made a couple of home run swings with OEL and Pastrnak but also struck out Brandon Gormley and with Boston’s three-consecutive picks in 2015. There was also a somewhat alarming statement made about Trent Frederic, who the Bruins selected with a first-round pick despite projecting him to be a bottom-six forward.

Notable outside the first-round picks in Phoenix…

  • 2007 – Scott Darling (No. 153)
  • 2008 – Michael Stone (No. 69)
  • 2010 – Oscar Lindberg (No. 57) & Louis Domingue (No. 138)

Notable outside the first-round picks in Boston…

  • 2014 – Ryan Donato (No. 56) & Danton Heinen (No. 116)
  • 2015 – Brandon Carlo (No. 37) & Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson (No. 45)

While Gretzky had a bad time with his first three picks in 2015, he did a good job finding value in the later rounds. 2014, in particular, was a very good draft for Gretzky as he found two players who are playing key depth roles on the Bruins right now. His work in the later rounds wasn’t quite as good in Phoenix, though.

Obviously, we can only draw so much about what to expect from Gretzky based on his drafting records. The work here, particularly in Boston, is pretty solid, and it’s much better than anything we’ve seen in Edmonton for the past decade. The best inference about what to expect from the interim Gretzky GM era, I think, comes from the quote from Nicholson explicitly stating that they wouldn’t be dealing the first-round pick in order to make a push for the playoffs.

I would expect the Oilers to take more of a draft-oriented approach this year. We saw during Craig MacTavish’s tenure a lot of trading down in the middle rounds in order to stockpile draft picks and that could be a strategy the organization employs again with MacT likely having more of an influence on the decision making.

Another thing that stands out to me is the discussion of adding character to the room. Again, the Oilers won’t be giving away their first-round pick to make a major splash at the deadline but that doesn’t mean they won’t make any moves. I figure, all things considered, that Edmonton’s strategy at the deadline will involve buying and selling, as the OBC looks to move out non-character players and bring in either draft picks or players who they view to have good character for the dressing room.

While I’m not going to pretend to be overly satisfied or confident with the OBC steering the ship, I do feel much, much more comfortable with this group making decisions than a desperate Chiarelli trying to salvage his mess.

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  • Rick Stroppel

    SERIOUS QUESTION: WHAT HAS BOB NICHOLSON BEEN DOING FOR THE LAST 4.5 YEARS?
    Bob Nicholson was hired by Katz in June of 2014 to do a comprehensive organizational audit and help solve the obvious problem that the Oilers had the worst regular season record in the NHL since Katz acquired the team about five years earlier. After 4.5 years of careful work and study Nicholson’s answer was “…I dunno..must be something in the water…ha ha”.

    Many people seem to think this is funny, I do not.

    The NHL has a neat searchable database where you can search the overall results of a team over a long time period. Since the year 2000, the Oilers have the worst regular season record in the NHL. Not “mediocre”, not “questionable” (as many fools are wont to say), they are dead last. Since the lockout year, they are dead last. Since Katz bought the team 10.5 years ago, they are dead last.

    Nicholson literally has no answers after 4.5 years. The problem is not “character”, it’s “talent”. The Oilers are NOT “a couple of pieces away”. The obvious problems are many, many years of stupid drafts, stupid trades, stupid contracts, stupid player management, stupid cap management, etc. And the beat goes on, because the majority of the people who made all those stupid decisions are still around.

    So what, exactly, is the point of Bob Nicholson? Will he need another 4-5 years to figure out what the problem is? Will he be back at the podium in 4 years saying “the boys just need to try harder?” That will be 8-9 years into Connor McDavid’s career…will he still be here?