This is Jani Rita, wearing the Jokerit (SM-LIIGA) jersey that he probably should have been wearing all along. He popped 32 goals in Finland this season and was among the league leaders in that department all year.
For Edmonton Oiler fans, Rita represents what is wrong with tracking prospects. From the 1999 draft and rolling out several years, Rita was the top rated prospect in the organization (I believe Hockey News had him #1 Oil prospect four years in a row). In each of those years Fernando Pisani was overlooked by all (and I mean ALL, you show me a publication that called Pisani a player of interest 1996-2002) and Rita was regarded being one of the best players outside the NHL at one time.
Not so much.
So when anyone ranks prospects, we should all take it with a grain of salt. When a fan like me ranks the Oilers top 20 prospects, you need to throw the grain of salt in the ocean.
This Friday is the Entry Draft, with Edmonton picking 4 times in the top 36. The chances of them coming out of the weekend with a better player than any on this list is quite high, I’d say about 90%.
Unlike most Oilers fans, I think the procurement department has done fairly well since 2001 (when Kevin Prendergast became the leader of the scouting department from day 1 of that draft year). Getting Ales Hemsky outside the top 10 is worthy of bold on any resume, and several players are either NHL level players or on the way. The list includes Hemsky, Markkanen, Stoll, Greene and a host of young players who look like they’ll have a career. We can’t really look at any of the drafts in this regime and make a blanket “success” call, but Hemsky in 2001 would have to go pretty freaking badly from here on out to be considered a “failure”. 2002 has Stoll and Greene and a player like Almtorp or Fisher might improve that season too.
Although I’m a fan of this group, the current top 20 is flawed at the top. There aren’t enough guys who could end up being difference makers, and too many who look exactly like the next guy. With no separation between number 1 and number 5, the chances of making a mistake are increased immeasurably.
I’ll update this list about a week from now, but as we head into draft week here’s my Oilers top 20.
- LW Slava Trukhno (#1 in Dec). Highest ceiling imo on the list, so he goes number 1. Less likely to have a career than Cogliano and probably Gilbert, this guy has had two very nice seasons in the Q and I’m really looking forward to his first pro season. 06-07 numbers hurt by injury.
- C Andrew Cogliano (#4 in Dec). From the Dave Keon family of smart, aggressive forecheckers who play center, he’s coming off an outstanding NCAA season.
- D Tom Gilbert (#6 in Dec). When I used to play rotoball, this is the kind of guy I’d like to draft for a buck. ALL the indicators are positive, just everything. Mature player who’s well clear of Triple A based on his stats and he showed well when given the chance. Pick 10 guys who’ve been in a similar spot and I bet 7 succeed. Terrific 12 months ahead.
- C Rob Schremp (#2 in Dec). It’s not so much a knock on him as a market correction. Schremp’s silly ATOI and our inability to properly measure it led to a lot of people thinking he was something else. Trade candidate.
- D Taylor Chorney (#10 in Dec). A very nice 2005 draft shaping up with Cogliano and this guy in the top 5 (until next week). Solid puck mover whose skill set is much more attractive in the post-CBA world of the NHL.
- G Devan Dubnyk (#7 in Dec). No reason to move him down, if he can have a solid AHL season the Oilers may have something here.
- C Ryan O’Marra (recently acquired). Injuries are the main concern, he’s a talented player with some gumption.
- D Denis Grebeshkov (recently acquired). He’s got an NHL job waiting for him, and the Oilers do real well finding defenders (long list since Lowe’s arrival, bookends being Staios and Hejda). The question would appear to be how well he plays without the puck.
- LW Jean Francois Jacques (#5 in Dec). He was awful with the big club, but really looked strong in the AHL from all reports. He’s definitely slipped on the organizational rankings, but if you’re going to get stubborn on a prospect it’s best to go with the giants.
- C Kyle Brodziak (#14 in Dec). Hell we’re all trying to overlook the guy but he keeps on coming. His difficulty is that the Oilers have so many options, and he may have to rely on a back door 13/14F roster spot and hope for an injury/slump from the young gun who wins the 4line job (my guess would be Schremp).
- D Jozef Hrabel (#9 in Dec). I hope they bring him over eventually because the stats always ring true for this guy. He’s young, clearly skilled, and has experience in some of Europe’s best elite leagues.
- D Theo Peckham (#16 in Dec). You cannot find a discouraging word about the guy. He appears to be legit and has consistently improved all down the line. He may be one of those guys who shows up and plays for a decade.
- D Jeff Petry (#15 in Dec). Another guy who didn’t do much wrong this season, but it’s hard to know how good he is until he plays at a measurable level. He certainly is getting lots of publicity compared to his supposed ability.
- LW Alexei Mikhnov (#8 in Dec). I admit to getting stubborn on certain players, and the idea of a Russian Paul Bunyan is too good to give up on after only 6 NHL shifts.
- C Jonas Almtorp (#17 in Dec). Two way center with tweener offense gets a bump here because of graduations and the fact that the Oilers have been able to get actual players from Europe in the last 12 months (Hedja, Thoresen).
- D Mathieu Roy (#18 in Dec). He had a quality season and is probably still underrated on this list. Coachable player who has already lept over many higher picks.
- D Cody Wild (#20 in Dec). Puck moving college man reminds me of those power hitters on awful clubs. You love the 30 homers, but wonder why he only has 75 rbi. The reason? Crappy, crappy team. The forward pass was apparently outlawed in that part of Rhode Island.
- RW Zack Stortini (not ranked last time). On the list because coach MacT keeps raving about him so he’s going to get ab’s. A limited player in terms of talent and being able to help a team win games.
- D Bryan Young (#13 in Dec). He’s slipped behind some others here but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a player. Defensive defender on a team crying for a puck mover.
- RW Colin McDonald (not ranked last time). His name didn’t come up much at the recent development camp, but I’d bet they sign him and see what he can do in the AHL. I’ll call him a Pisani dark horse (although his college numbers are not comparable).
- Those ranked in December who graduated: Marc Pouliot
- Those who fell off the list: Deslauriers, Fisher
- Those who are no longer Oiler prosperty: Umicevic
- I’ll update this next week, with the new players included.