This is Alexei Cherepanov, the highly rated Russian player who ISS ranked 4th best for the 2007 draft. He fell all the way to New York Rangers (17th) and howls could be heard from fans of the other 29 NHL teams.
The Russian who reminds some of Alexei Kovalev (style-wise) fell for two reasons: he was only average at the U18′s in Finland and there is no agreement between the NHL and the Russian Federation in regard to transfer agreements.
Russian players are “unsafe”, and many teams (certainly those picking above New York) decided to use their first round selections on players who have fewer options. With the news this weekend of a special “Super League” in the frozen Tundra that is Russia (and friends) there may be no “safe pick” for NHL teams beginning this fall.
However, that aside, how ARE these kids doing this winter? And how does this affect the opinions of fans who were so upset this summer?
Here are a few issues and the early results:
- Selecting Gagner over Voracek (EDM). This was a pretty big deal for many and I don’t know that it is going to be resolved any time soon. Gagner made the Oilers this fall and appears to be taking a step forward lately (he’s 33gp, 3-13-16, -7 overall and 1-5-6, +3 in his last 8gp), but Voracek is destroying the QMJHL (25gp, 16-34-50, +12) and currently 6th in total points. His Q points-per-game total has improved year over year from 1.45 to 2.00 and I still haven’t read anything bad about the kid. This may be one of those times when there wasn’t a bad choice. I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed with Gagner.
- Selecting Thomas Hickey 4th overall (LA). ISS rated Hickey 17th overall and compared him to Brian Rafalski as a player. The 2007 draft had a bunch of offensive defenders from the dub whose defensive coverage ranged from outstanding (Alzner) to just very good (Hickey, Ellerby), but the Kings tagged Hickey because they “saw him good.” He’s playing well for Seattle in the WHL but he doesn’t yet have clearance from Alzner (who was rated #6 by ISS and went 5th overall).
- Selecting Plante ahead of Cherepanov (EDM). Plante has been hurt for all but 8 games this season (1-1-2) and has not had a chance to show much this season. His injury cost him a chance at Team Canada for the WJC’s and in a very important development year he’s lost some time. Cherepanov is healthy and playing in the RSL, although his scoring level is off slightly from last season. Signability remains the issue and it should be noted that the “Rangers will sign him, bring him to camp and he’ll make the team this fall” panic in the streets was a slight overstatement.
- Passing over Esposito twice (EDM). Few mention this as an issue at this point in time, as Esposito is scoring at about the same level as last season (he should be taking a step forward) and he was passed over again for the WJC’s. Jury is still out on this being a mistake but early returns suggest he was not the BPA at #6 and #15.
- Trading picks at #30 and #36 to trade up for Riley Nash (EDM). Phoenix took Nick Ross (defenseman for the Pats) and Goalie Joel Gistedt with the picks. Nash has played well in the NCAA and would have to be considered “on target” at this point, but the Oilers moved up 9 slots to get him and left David Perron on the table. I considered it a “miss” on draft day and still do despite the promising results for Nash.
For the Oilers, I’d say the Gagner pick looks shrewd, the Plante pick has delayed results due to injury but the outlook is somewhat better due to performance by the Russian and the continued lack of a transfer deal, and the Nash pick has worked out better than expected on first blush.
So far, pretty good. For a fan like me who can remember the dark days of the 1990s, having one of the three in the NHL and another playing well in college smells like napalm in the morning.