This is Jesse Niinimaki. He caused a major google user spike during the 2002 NHL Entry Draft seconds after the Edmonton Oilers announced his name (he was the 15th player chosen that day, with 26/30 having played at least one NHL game by now) on a day that would have a major impact on the Oilers fanbase (Carolina would choose Cam Ward at #25, and Pitkanen, Lupul and Stoll were all high picks that day).
In the thread below, Ribs made a statement I feel deserves a longer look: Please let us ride out a few of our prospects before we cash them in for refunds. PLEASE.
Without putting words in his mouth, Ribs appears to be saying the Oilers send away their prospects before they’re established NHL players and have paid a high price for it once the deal is made.
Is that true? DO the Oilers show a lack of patience on legit big league prospects? What would a player who fits the description look like? Can we name this player? Is there a former Oiler draft pick who showed signs of being a player that Edmonton gave up on too quickly? How much did it hurt them? Did the player establish himself at the NHL level after being dealt? Let’s have a look, 1994-2000:
- Jason Bonsignore, 1994: I think we’ve established that based on his junior numbers this guy was overhyped by the “saw him good” crowd based on physical appearance. He never did deliver an offensive season that could be construed as elite in junior (Desjardins’ NHL has his best junior season being the equivalent of 82gp, 10-26-36) or in pro (his 20-year old AHL season was 78gp, 21-33-54, well back of Vic’s 1/1 rule). The Oilers cashed him, Steve Kelly and an established veteran blueliner for Roman Hamrlik. Hard to fault the decision or the payoff.
- Ryan Smyth, 1994: Clearly the Oilers drafted well and kept Smyth for (probably) more than half of his NHL career. No matter your view on the Smyth debacle that was the contract negotiation, he had long graduated from prospect status so doesn’t qualify as a hit based on our requirements.
- Mike Watt, 1994: He’s still playing, you know. Muskegon (IHL) after getting a game in with Grand Rapids (AHL). He put up some solid offensive numbers in college before turning pro in 1997. Had a good AHL season at 21 and then a cup of coffee with the Oilers before being dealt for Eric Fichaud. The Oilers did trade him early in his pro career but filled a need with the deal so this doesn’t qualify.
- Steve Kelly, 1995: The fans called this better than the braintrust did, and that’s for sure. Chants of “Doan, Doan, Doan” are still ringing in our ears. His Desjardins’ NHLE suggested we could expect another Bonsignore (82gp, 9-26-35 by Desjardins metric for his best junior year) but he was a more complete player than Bonsignore. His 20-year old AHL season (48gp, 9-29-38) showed promise and you could have argued he was sent away too soon had Kelly turned into something. But he didn’t.
- Georges Laraque, 1995: When he finally left the Oilers, BG had long since graduated from prospect to useful NHL player.
- Boyd Devereaux, 1996: We should blame Dallas Drake more than anyone. I don’t think he’s a candidate for being dealt too soon based on the injury risk at the time but he’s had two careers since the dirty hit and Dan Lacouture’s finest moment. Thoughts? Could the Oilers be faulted for sending him away too soon?
- Matthieu Descoteaux, 1996: He played in the AHL for awhile before being sent away for Igor Ulanov. Even if he’d had a career, Oilers did well here.
- Tom Poti, 1996: I think the Oilers did give up on him too soon. He has had an up and down career but looks like he will be a better player in his 30s than his 20s. Either way, he was no longer a prospect so doesn’t qualify based on our requirements.
- Michel Riesen, 1997: No.
- Jason Chimera, 1997: He’d played 130 NHL games before being dealt away, so doesn’t qualify under the “prospect” umbrella we’re looking for. Chimera was dealt for two picks, a 4th rder that I believe EDM traded before using and the pick that was Geoff Paukovich. He’s making a million, playing like 2.5 and has established himself as an NHL player. I wish the Oilers still had him, but he was an NHL player when traded.
- Alex Henry, 1998: I like Alex Henry as a player, in fact had they not changed the rules of the game I suspect he’d still be in the NHL as an everyday player. You can’t fault the Oilers for losing him on waivers imo.
- Jani Rita, 1999: No. Hey, I was a Rita booster from the get-go until the final whistle (I’m still keeping tabs on him) but the Oilers gave him chances and he did not burn them with a productive NHL career once sent away.
- Alexei Semenov, 1999: No. I’m still in his corner but am pretty much alone. He’s played some for San Jose this season but they’re not very good on the blueline and he’s probably one of the reasons why. Million dollar arm, ten cent head. Or so it appears.
- Mike Comrie, 1999: People may not remember the deal now, but it was Comrie for Jeff Woywitka and the picks that turned into Rob Schremp and Danny Syvret. He was clearly an NHL player before being sent away, so any arguments about him being traded too soon would have to be in the “established NHL regular” category.
- Tony Salmelainen, 1999: No. He’s a favorite and one of those guys only 5 people will remember 20 years from now but the Oilers got more than equal value and didn’t give up on him too soon.
- Brad Winchester, 2000: I don’t think so. He needed to be a little meaner, and based on his early performance in his new town the message must have been receieved.
So, in the period 1994-2000, of the 16 draft picks who were good enough to be considered legit prospects AND who were sent away, none of them went from prospect to legit NHL regular for a number of years AFTER being sent away. Arguing Tom Poti, Jason Chimera and Mike Comrie should have netted better returns is different than saying “Please let us ride out a few of our prospects before we cash them in for refunds. PLEASE.”
It’s too soon for some, maybe Brad Winchester ends up having a career. However, if we place a certain value on the last roster spot on each team, can you really fault an organization for not using it on Brad Winchester? The Oilers management team has made some huge errors since Kevin Lowe took over in 2000, but it appears this area hasn’t been a big concern.