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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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  • The future never comes

    I’m shocked noone has made the “there is something in the water here” comment into a meme. The meme would be the heads of Lowe, MacT, Howson, Bob, among other ex-Oilers floating down the North Saskatewan. Get to it photo-editers, I’m sure it would go Edmonton viral.

  • McDude

    I’m not sure I understand your comment about the 2015 1st found. I don’t really know anything about Zboril or Senyshyn, but DeBrusk certainly wasn’t a bad pick.

    • Spaceman Spiff

      Yeah, he kinda lost the plot when he said Jake Debrusk wasn’t a good pick. He had an excellent rookie season and right now he’s got 14 goals. That’s pretty solid. Plus … isn’t it a bit early to be writing off prospects drafted in 2015?

    • ed from edmonton

      I would have thought the writer would have put in an honest effort and looked and provided some info on guys not in the NHL. Are they trending as total misses, maybes or on the verge. Really a weak effort.

  • Skylardog

    Really and truly nothing bright going forward. While Chia was bad, those above appear to be worse. Oilers fans, and all fans of the NHL deserve so much more.

    It really scares me as what the “Brain Trust” can make more moves as the TDL approaches. They have neither the brains nor can be trusted to even open the gate to let McDavid on the ice for his next shift, let alone begin the process of putting the house in order.

    I am sorry all of you up there are having to deal with this. As I said, you deserve better.

      • Skylardog

        Typical. Show a little respect and you throw it in my face. Just like you always want to run over the flames every chance you get, I do as well with the oil. But this is a whole different situation. No fans should be put through what the oilers are putting you through. Makes me sad u showed you some compassion

        • Kool-Aid Man

          Thanks Skylardog, in the end we are all still fans of the game.

          Lots of fLames trolls are coming here to bask in our misery, try not to be too offended when one of us bites your head off for no particular reason. I know you mean well.

          • Kevwan

            I quoted him from his comment on yesterday’s FN story about Chia getting fired. Not really “biting his head off” and the “particular reason” was to show that his words are disingenuous

          • Skylardog

            I was very respectful on here for a “troll”. I have never come on here and trashed the Oil. In fact, many an Oilers fan have invited me to come over here and switch to the “dark side”.

          • Kool-Aid Man

            @ Kevwan

            My bad, I don’t visit FN very often and didn’t see the article. I’m surprised nation writers are now coming here to troll. I thought they would have to show a little more respect. You know it’s getting pretty bad when a FN writer comes in to troll…

          • Kevwan

            @Skylar – Today you said on ON “I am sorry all of you up there have to deal with this”

            Yesterday on FN you said “We all take great joy in Oiler misery”

            I find it humorous that you’re arrogantly trying to defend yourself through deflecting and bringing up things I never said. All I’ve done is quote you.

            I called you a clown because I caught you in a lie. That makes you a LIAR. Deal with it or don’t

  • oil.99.97.11

    Nothing changes until Katz starts operating this franchise more like he’s run his pharmacy business…and less like he’s just smoking weed with his buddies in his parent’s basement.

  • Ty Guy

    I don’t see how removing our head scout half way through a season is of benefit to the oilers? Keith needs to stay focused on the draft, not the train-wreck that this season has become.

    my hope is Steve Yzerman takes the reins in Detroit and Mr.Holland accepts a move closer to his home in BC with the Oilers….

  • ed from edmonton

    BN’s focus on the need for finding character players is very interesting. I think it was a bit of blowing smoke to keep spirits up for the rest of the year. But this may have come out of the meeting he had with the leadership group. Maybe MacD is upset that too many players are not invested enough in wins and losses. Of course I have no insight into the working of the oil locker room but I doubt if the players are materially less invested in wins and losses than the next. A very young, maybe too young captain, may be struggling with this and told BN this. Oil problems are mostly talent.

  • Ko-D

    Listening to Bob Nicholson talk about how he sees that the current roster isn’t the problem and that the team is mainly lacking character give me zero confidence this is going to turn around with a new GM. This team needs to scrap Nicholson and the background voices and hire a CEO that is young, energetic and forward thinking. No more half brain dead old ‘hockey guys’ resting on their 40 year resume’s and are stuck in their ways of thinking. Nicholson liked the team after Hitch driven almost solely by unsustainable goaltending performances after being outshot and outplayed nearly every night. The team is only lacking talent, difference making players, guys who sway the direction of play when they step in the ice. Swagger and character will come if the team has the on-ice talent.

  • Ko-D

    Listening to Bob Nicholson talk about how he sees that the current roster isn’t the problem and that the team is mainly lacking character gives me zero confidence this is going to turn around with a new GM. This team needs a CEO that is young, energetic and forward thinking. No more half brain dead old ‘hockey guys’ resting on their 40 year resume’s and are stuck in their ways of thinking. Nicholson liked the team after Hitch driven almost solely by unsustainable goaltending performances after being outshot and outplayed nearly every night. The team is only lacking talent, difference making players, guys who move the needle when they step in the ice. Swagger and character will come if the team has the on-ice talent. Love me some character, but talent is what wins consistently, not just soft skill, Big Buff and Tom Wilson are a massive upgrade over Lucic and Russell.

  • 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?

  • SlovakOiler

    “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.”

    That right there should be the reason why he’s wrong for the job. We’re capped out and have 5 NHL players!!!

  • tkfisher

    He’s been assisting Peter. THAT IS WHAT SCARES ME. I’m concerned because for every stupid thing Chiarelli did, likely the first person to know (BEFORE IT WAS OFFICIAL) was Keith Gretzky. He clearly didn’t push back hard enough to stop the stupid. Unless of course there was another level of ludicrous mode stupid that he was able to stop, and we just saw the stupid that he wasn’t able to squash. I’m leaning towards Keith was complicit enough in the bad choices of the previous GM for me to have next to no faith in him.

  • Oilers fans know “what’s bad in the water”. Why does Bob not know after 3.5 years?

    The methodology has been insane for about two decades because it’s been the same cycle of decisions:

    1. Poor scouting of young talent
    2. Poor draft picks
    3. Poor player development, especially on the few good picks, and particularly the goalies (why do they get worse?)
    4. Expectation of young players to play above their ability and experience
    5. Trading those players for low draft picks or worse talent for not meeting expectations, then trying to fill that very position with downward-trending pro players
    6. Very poor pro scouting
    7. Signing and resigning undeserving players to long-term, expensive and unmovable contracts while letting upward trending players go for nothing
    8. Not being current with the type of talent the league is trending toward in order to compete
    9. Not creating a classy, respectful professional culture by not scapegoating good staff, having the tact to properly fire people in a timely manner, letting heart and soul players go over chump change negotiations, and not being patient enough with young players by backing and defending them to the media and fans
    10. Not communicating often to fans and media about all of the above.

    This is more than a drop of water in the bucket. It’s been a lake of fire that evaporates any good drinkable water away.

    At least Bob recognized that the next GM needs to be good at assessing talent and/or have the right staff to do so and advise, and that drafted players need to spend more time in the AHL to be overripe enough to hit the ground running. This strongly hints that Mark Hunter is a good fit for that description.

  • daryl

    He has at least been much better than the previous scouts we do have a better farm team than we did before just wished they went with Dobson rather than Bouchard.

  • Oiler Al

    I guess cant complain, drew the golden card in 2015, but Oilers didn’t have a pick until 118 @ 4th rd [Jones] which was a good pick.This a banner year:
    Mcdavid, and Eichel at the top but list goes on… Barzal,Marner,Boeser,Konecy,Aho,Connor, just to name a few.Oilers need a couple of good picks in the 2nd and 3rd rounds to bolster their anemic prospects pool.You never know could have landed Boeser.

    I support the fact that Barzal would have been the obvious better pick than DeBrusk.,with all du respect to DeBrusk, who would look better on the Oilers than others here.

  • Big Jacks Meat

    Bobby Nicks ? A man at his level has a Burger [ way overrated , sound familiar?] after him. He reminds me of Gomer Pyle , or Mr. Dress up.
    This isn’t team Canada Bobby where the best we have to offer is made available to you to look like a genius. Its a watered down league, where you better know what the heck you are doing. And you Boob . oops Bob , could be the next to go and I doubt we would be worse off.

  • Towers-of-dub

    so the guy who had a hand in scouting and salary decisions that led to the team being capped out with non-character, talentless hacks is not the interim GM? If he had a say in scouting and contracts he’s as much at fault as Chiarelli, unless Chiarelli did exactly the opposite of what Gretzky said.

  • Mc.Rib

    The GM should have an excellent scouting staff, whoever he is..This team has a very poor draft record, and That’s bad when hardly any free agents want to play in Edmonton.

  • The Dave

    You lost me for a bit when you called Jake Debrusk a bad pick. Dude’s on pace for a 25 goal year, and has a pretty good shot. That’s not bad for a mid first rounder.

  • WeirdG

    Not sure how you can say Keith struck out on Boston’s three 2015 draft picks, when Debrusk has been contributing for the Bruins. 43 points in 70 games last year, and he’s not too far off that pace this year.