Cashing in too Soon

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Georges Laraque, 1995: When he finally left the Oilers, BG had long since graduated from prospect to useful NHL player.
  6. 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?
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Michel Riesen, 1997: No.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.

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20 Responses to "Cashing in too Soon"

  1. madtown says:


    Long time reader, first time poster. This topic motivated me to finally wade into the oiler related discussion you generate with your blogs. I agree with what you wrote, but the bigger issue, at least to me, is giving up on young players who have established themselves as regulars too soon. Here is my list, off the top of my head.


    The top 5 are particularly frustrating, as the org receive little to nothing in return, if my memory serves me correctly. I wonder who we will be adding to this list from the current crop…likely at least MP and PThor in my view.

  2. Lowetide says:


    Yeah, I think there’s something there for sure. Halfway through writing the post I thought the more interesting angle would be to look at that 22-25 age group and who is sent away.

    Satan was silly at the time, it was completelely obvious the guy could play but Ron Low got stubborn on him. Hejda was similar to that, MacT was slow to recognize his ability (and even mentioned it) and then they didn’t sign him.

    Somewhere, someone made mention that “maybe the Oilers couldn’t sign him since he was UFA” and that could well be, but it was a huge error letting him go.

    Cleary, there were some issues we don’t need to get into, Comrie there were issues we’re all tired of, Maltby I don’t remember what happened, Chimera wasn’t a MacT favorite.

    Either way, your list is a strong one and the idea behind “giving up on young players who have established themselves as regulars” being the thrust of a post is a strong one.

    I’ll put it on the “to do” list.

  3. Mr DeBakey says:

    There’s another angle to this.

    Go to any of the boards and there’ll be a thread running about JF Junk, Denis Garbagekoff,or Pouliot the useless plug.
    Trade ‘em! is the battle cry.

    But regularly, the “can’t develop talent” story get retold – they’ll point to all the guys who got away – Chimera, Cleary, hell one guy on the radio last week mentioned Chad Kilger .

    Three teams, four coaches later and the guy is a player – But MacT/Lowe let him get away!

    It is a valid question, how long do you wait?

  4. Showerhead says:

    I too think that this article would be more impacting if you looked at “emerging nhl players” in the 22-25 range as you suggest than limiting it to prospects. In the past, you’ve taken looks at players who have gotten better vs. worse after leaving the oilers and maybe doing something like that for the up to 25 range would address the point you quoted more accurately. Sorry to sound grumpy about it – my November beard has begun to cause relationship trouble..

  5. Lowetide says:

    Mr DeBakey: Exactly. The reason I got thinking about this is Pouliot, who is at the ‘sink or swim’ with the coach that we’ve seen before. Worth looking at, for sure.

    Showerhead: Been there, done that. You’ll look pretty cool with that full grown beard, and as an added feature it’ll keep you warm when you’re sleeping in that cardboard box.


  6. Ribs says:

    I think my main concern is drawing out the process of rebuilding. The Oilers drafting record speaks for itself and has just recently started to get results where every other NHL team was outsmarting them every year for a long time. Should we really trade away the new box of green apples for the red bruised ones that were put out the week before?

    Your list is pretty sad, isn’t it? You’ve got one or two guys from every year and there’s only slim pickings for truly talented guys in the whole bunch. Looking back at a sample year of let’s say 1997′s amazing draftees…..

    R Michel Riesen
    G Patrick Dovigi
    D Sergei Yerkovich
    D Jonas Elofsson
    L Jason Chimera
    C Peter Sarno
    D Kevin Bolibruck
    C Chad Hinz
    Chris Kerr
    G Alexander Fomitchev

    Chimera is the only player in there and he managed to play 130 games with the Oilers before going bye bye. (I hated this guy, by the way)

    I don’t remember a time when the Oilers had so many talented prospects in the system post-Gretz and friends.

    It seemed like every year there for a long time there was one guy that might make the team and that was it. Today there is a sizeable group of talented kids fighting for spots and most, if not all of them, are going to be players in this league. This is unheard of in Oiler land! They even have a farm team!

    Maybe I’m holding on too tight. I can see that being a possibility. Going so long without may be hampering my sense of reasoning when it comes to trading away these guys…Maybe.

    I think I just like the idea of having players develop and having a bonafide team instead of trading for vitamin B shots and hoping for the best.

  7. Lowetide says:

    Ribs: Final sentence, classic line.

  8. RiversQ says:

    If anything the Oilers don’t cut ties with players fast enough. They are at the maximum number of contracts in the system and the Oilers KNOW a bunch of them won’t be NHLers?

    So what’s the point?

    I figure your farm system has to be treated a little like a fruit tree. If you don’t prune it, it won’t produce. Cut out some deadweight so you can get something for them ASAP and give the young players you’re pretty sure about plenty of room to grow.

    It seems to me that Lowe is unnecessarily adding degrees of difficulty to this rebuilding process. He’s seriously tied their hands on the salary cap, he’s hurt them by carrying too many marginal prospects, and he didn’t acquire veterans that provide the experience and results that a young team needs. I think they’re forcefeeding the gameday roster/game plan with too much youth as well.

  9. Bruce says:

    Maltby I don’t remember what happened,

    Interesting series of trades: Maltby for McGillis, McGillis for Niinimaa, Niinimaa for Torres (plus Isbister, minus picks). Hard to argue with that sequence, though one could argue the big winner was Detroit.

    Chimera wasn’t a MacT favorite.

    Say no more. This Edmonton native got sent packing despite size, speed, and promise. He was a diamond-in-the-rough to say the least, but he always looked to me like a young Ethan Moreau whom the Oil gave up on (in an Allan Rourke-type deal) WAY too soon. Those 130 games he played here were an investment in the future — too bad it turned out to be the Blue Jackets’ future. This one looks bad on both Lowe and MacTavish.

  10. Dennis says:

    Pouliot with two goals last night, Lain. Let’s hope he has another good performance tonight and then another on Monday afternoon, and that he’s back in the bigs by Wed’s game.

    I see from tonight’s game that Berry scored the Falcon’s first goal of the game while a line of Jacques-Pouliot-Schremp were on the ice. It was just 10 seconds after SF killed off the penalty so it was obviously one of those important first shifts after a PK.

    Note: SF is up 3-0 in the second period. JFJ scored the third goal, on the PP, with an assist from Pouliot.

    Some other stuff:

    Kelly – I’d bet money he would’ve been an NHLer under MacT. Wonderful passer and skater, and good work ethic too. The guy just couldn’t score though. That being said, I think macT could’ve found a place for him. BUT, you can’t argue with that deal. We bought super low on Hamr and though he didn’t put up the offence again like he did his first year, he was a good Dman for the Oil. And before I go any further, I was over at BOA talking about how Sutter built that team on trades and how rare it is to pull that off but Sather nearly did the same thing with the Oilers defense corps. He picked up Bo early on, Hamer later on and of course Niinimaa as well.

    Matlby – as much as Maltby’s still somewhat of a help, he never helped a team as much in his prime did Ninimaa. And, that was one trade step ahead of myself, ie McGillis for Janne, but when we picked up McGillis, we needed a D more than another forward. This was a hitting for pitching move.

    Chimera – One of the dumbest guys in his own end that I ever saw. I’d like to think that I’m not wrong a whole lot when it comes to assigning levels of value and usefulness with the Oilers but I was wrong on this guy. He was useful before Hitch showed up in CBJ and him and Malholtra and Fritsche are playing on a good line in CBJ.

    Cleary – played on a line with horcoff-marchant in his last year with the Oil and was showing signs of grit then. At the time, I said this guy would be NHLer somewhere and I thought it woudl happen in Phx. That wasn’t the case but if he was in Edm now, MacT would love him. To tell you the truth, MacT always did love him. He was giving him PP time and linemates that might unlock his potential, ie Weight back in ’01 which allowed Comrie to play with Smyth/Carter. There were two problems when Cleary was moved: he definetely needed a change of scenery and plus, the Oil were super cheap back then and we’re paying him an amount that didn’t befit a checker.

    Hejda- could someone get to the bottom of this? I’m sure that the first time Edm meets CBJ, you’ll get a little mention of it but there’s a story here somewhere.

    Satan: I remember getting home that day to turn on TSN and wait for trade updates. There wasn’t a deadline day show back then. Satan certainly had promise so I thought there must be something about Moore and Millar that made them worth gambling on. Turns out I was wrong.

    Whitney – It wasn’t until much later in the ’98 season that Scott Fraser showed up to team with Deano and Marchant to give us an actual second scoring line. Plus, the Oilers were always looking for a centre to take some of the weight off Doug;), well at least after Arnott was dealt, so I never understood why Whitney was released that early into that season. Some curious shit happened with Ron Low running the bench, didn it?

  11. Big T says:

    Whitney, Satan, Chimera and Hejda are the real head scratchers there. Whitney and Satan there is no defending… clearly bad, bad moves.

    Chimera I always liked, though I went to school with the guy in Beaumont. I was a couple years older than him, but the one thing I remember about him was he was never a very confident guy and I could never understand why.

    What I do remember about the Chimera trade was that he was dealt at a time when there a a lot of middle of the pack talent. It seemed to me to be one of those moves to make room for other guys coming up – kinda like what riversq was talking about earlier.

    Hejda, I don’t know that I’ll ever unuderstand. We’ve seen some crazy as f%$k moves in the last two years so you can’t rule out that mgmt just whiffed on this player but I have to think that he didn’t want to come back. Surely MacTavish saw he was an incredibly useful player, especially with Jason Smith being traded away. What a head scratcher???


  12. dwillms says:

    Here’s a quick list of players that were sent away in the 22-25 age group, from 1999-onwards. I didn’t specify that they had to be drafted by the Oilers, and I also skipped some guys who haven’t done anything since moving on (ex. Hajt, Lynch)

    It’s mostly the same as the prospect list you originally posted, but there are a few significant additions (ex. Hecht).

    Mats Lindgren – 24 (Traded Mar, 1999)
    Craig Millar – 22 (T Jun, 1999)
    Chad Kilger – 24 (T Dec, 2000)
    Sean Brown – 25 (T Mar, 2002)
    Tom Poti – 25 (T Mar, 2002)
    Jochen Hecht – 25 (T Jun, 2002)
    Alex Henry – 23 (Waived Oct, 2002)
    Josh Green – 25 (T Dec, 2002)
    Dan Cleary – 24 (Free Agent July, 2003)
    Mike Comrie – 22 (T Dec, 2003)
    Jason Chimera – 24 (T Jun, 2004)
    Bobby Allen – 25 (FA Aug, 2004)
    Jeff Woywitka – 22 (T Aug, 2005)
    Alexei Semenov – 25 (T Nov, 2005)
    Jani Rita – 24 (T Jan, 2006)
    Tony Salmelainen – 24 (T Jan, 2006)
    Joffrey Lupul – 23 (T Jul, 2007)

  13. MikeP says:

    dwillms, only guy in there that’s really a mistake is Cleary. And at the time, Cleary was dead in the water. Lupul could still make the Oilers look bad, but … see Cleary. It’s not clear he’d be doing as well in EDM this year as he is in Philly. Sometimes guys just need a trade or three. Nobody’s fault, really, but their own.

    Going back to the original list, I always liked Devereaux. Can’t fault the Oilers for believing the doctors, although maybe they should have gotten a second opinion like BD did.

    Where are all the guys who said Rita would blossom once he played on Crosby’s wing? Probably saying MacT ruined him.

  14. Lowetide says:

    I didn’t say Rita would blossom with Crosby (I can’t think of who you might be remembering), but I felt he’d be a player.

    As for Lupul, well I also thought he’d be a player, but if he does a Ken Hodge imo no one can really fault Lowe for offloading the guy. Lupul was a poor match for this team.

  15. Dennis says:

    Some guys can’t play for the Yanks or Red Sox. As much as Penner’s a slow fatty who isn’t making anyone look good, I have a feeling that he’s not gonna be bothered by people getting on him if it comes down to it.

    Lupul was a guy who just couldn’t play at Fenway Park and it was up to Lowe to be able to sniff that out. Of course it didn’t help that Lupul was a lazy prick while he played here, either. I just think he’s one of those guys that likes hockey but doesn’t want to be in the spotlight. Philly’s not an easy town to play in but how many hockey fans are there, really? And who’s gonna take the heat on the Flyers? Big ticket items and netminders.

  16. MikeP says:

    LT, nah, I didn’t mean you, just the hordes of HFboards posters. If I give you the gears, it won’t be over Rita, it’ll be Hajt. :-)

    Sorry for the blatant link-whoring, but Dennis, I’m going to follow up on your Penner comment in a bit more detail over at my own hockey home. I don’t want to hijack this thread and I don’t want to write a novel here.

  17. Bank Shot says:

    With only 15ish draft picks 2006-2008 and one of their first rounders already playing in the show, I think the Oilers can’t really afford to cut ties with any prospects that still have a shot at being legitimate. There really are no forwards coming in to fill the void for the next 2-3 years. The Oilers did waste some picks on some Euros in the later rounds, but who’s kidding who. Everyone knows they will bust in spectacular fashion. come’on.

    By all means drop guys like Paukovich, Almtorp, Kemp, and Sestito like bad habits, but the Oilers should be prepared and willing to keep Pouliot, Jacques and the fabulous Rob Schremp buried in the minors for another 2 years if they need that long to figure it out.

    Worst case scenario, these guys will make useful Rouke style call-ups so the Oilers don’t have to call up any wildly ineffective 20 year olds and ask them to sink or swim.

  18. Mr DeBakey says:

    – Hockey Analysis site showing who played with & against whom.

    There has been some debate about determining Tough Minutes.
    This site shows how many ES minutes each player plays against everyone else.
    Can it be used to determine Tough Minutes?

    Assuming the Toughest players play the most minutes:

    The 15 guys “A” plays against most often averaged 1200 minutes.
    While the 15 players the “B” faced most averaged 950 minutes
    Does this mean player “A” had Tougher Minutes than “B”?

  19. Jamie says:

    For the sake of argument, let’s delve deeper in the chosen player pictured under “Cashing in too Soon”: Jesse Ninnimäki.

    Quoting a Swedish story called Ninnimäki leaves Luleå Hockey from; “after once again another season where Ninnimäki could not deliver at an elite level, the inevitable, which everyone expected has happened: Jesse was on the outside looking in and has left for Devos of the Swiss league”

    Ninnimäki’s 2006/07 season began with a very promising 4 points in 4 games. Since then, it has been mostly downhill. The trend in 06/07 was of declining ice time and play in only 37 games, he opted mid-season to leave for Krefeld in the German league. His 07/08 return to Luleå was to be his second chance. In 5 games he had zero points and is now his changing club addresses again, this time to Switzerland.

    The article states that Ninnimäki possess good technique and hockey sense but has been called a glider who doesn’t play with the intensity needed to succeed at the Elitserie’s level (or equivalent). Jesse’s problem is even that he sometimes plays with too much hockey sense. Finding the balance between the difficult and easy situations is something with which Jesse never found with Luleå Hockey. He equally often confused his opponents with his passes as he did his own teammates.

    As much as I wish the Oilers had solid scouting and consistent draft success like it was 1979 or 1980 again, we do not! We’ve had too many Kim Issels, Joe Hulbigs or Jason Soules to mention.

    Maybe Jesse Ninnimäki needs a good mentor/coach to set him straight. Could the change of scenery to Davos lead to a renewed prospect? I doubt it.

    The NHL draft is a hit and miss activity – for all teams, not just the Oilers. I think it is equally much what we do with these kids once they are drafted that leads to real players.

    The Oilers need to continue to dialogue with the junior teams, college, european clubs and farm teams to get as much bio info as possible, as well as the normal physicals, (and mentals) etc at training camp.

    But this issue is the same that occurs at any company or job anywhere. How do we recruit well? How do we retain and build talent within the organization? How do we win?

    IKEA seems to be successful. Maybe we should do some leadership partnering – Ingvar Kamprad (IKEA’s founder) taking over the Oilers for a few months could be intriguing. Ballroom for the kids at Rexall anyone?

  20. sir john a. says:


    David Vyborny comes to mind, though he narrowly misses your 1994 cut-off. Second round pick, excellent rookie season in the AHL at 19, good showings in the Czech and SEL.

    Would you agree? Seems like Vyborny should have played on those awful mid-90s teams Edmonton had.

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