This photo was taken draft day 2007, in the middle of the first round. Alex Plante has just been selected by the Oilers and there are howls and breaking beer bottles (which is a sin, btw) all over Northern Alberta. The 6-3, 225 defender follows an often used Lowe-era plan that says after drafting a forward (Gagner) the team addresses D with the next pick (Hemsky-Lynch in 2001, Cogliano-Chorney in 2005).
Since the draft I think Oiler fans have started to forget a few things about the draft and the players who were selected and passed over at the time. This often happens with fans but rarely so quickly as in the case of Plante.
So let’s go back to draft day and see what everyone was saying about Alexandre Plante.
Redline: Alex Plante has come a long way since the beginning of the season. At 6-4/215-pounds, he showed surprising offensive skills, particularly on the PP, where he can act as either trigger man or quarterback. He’s not a big baggage smasher, but will use his body in front and to tie forwards up along the walls.
ISS: Great size, not afraid of rough stuff. Has improved speed, good first pass, rarely gets beaten one on one. Pro size with hockey sense. A good defender who could play in all situations. Without a doubt one of the biggest draft wildcards. The number one attraction of this player is his combination of outstanding size and skill. He is blessed with a genetic gift and a relatively high level of skating and puck skill for a player this big. Plante is an intense player who is mean and not afraid of playing along the boards or competing physically. He has a good stride and his agility is improving. This has led to a definite improvement in his overall play and a climb up our rankings.
One “non-truth” that seems to be coming up a lot lately is that Plante was a “reach pick”, a player ranked much lower than his draft number. This is not correct, as several organizations had him well within the first round. I believe the best pre-draft prediction came from his agent (through the words of Plante himself): “I really had no clue where I was going to go. My agent said I could go in the first round or I could go in the third, it was a pretty wide open draft. I was excited and honoured when I heard my name. It’s such a great hockey organization, it gave me a chance to stay up here in Canada, it was all around unreal.”
Much has been made of Plante’s poor offensive statistics this season but in reality that can be easily explained: he is not being used on the powerplay. This comes as no surprise, as the Hitmen are extremely deep and found other options when Plante was hurt. We also have good evidence that they are bringing him along slowly. Here are Plante’s EV numbers by season:
- 05-06EV: 54gp, 1-3-4
- 06-07EV: 58gp, 2-9-11
- 07-08EV: 16gp, 1-1-2
Plante went 6-21-27 with the man advantage in his draft year and if he were back on the PP and half those numbers one doubts that the wringing of hands would be so widespread. The real problem for Plante has been that the injury has hurt his playing time. Head coach Kelly Kisio earlier in the season: “We haven’t had a chance to play him this year. But over the last couple of years he’s improved a great deal. His foot-speed has come a long way, his natural instincts have come out.”
Since then (the Kisio quote came maybe early December) he has been able to play more and although they are bringing him along slowly Plante is up to 30 games played (he was in 58 a year ago). In early February HF’s Guy Flaming posted a couple of items on Plante: “It’s been a month or so since I talked to him but when last I did (mid-January) he said he felt great and he played that night against the Oil Kings. Since then he’s missed a couple games here and there which could be a couple of different reasons I think:
- injuries, or maybe not 100% so they are bringing him back slow. The last one was a concussion so, maybe some days he feels unable to go so they rest him. I don’t know, that’s just speculation on my part.
- The Hitmen are deep and really, they’ve been the #1 team in the Eastern conference without him… if he was 100% I’d find it hard to believe they’d scratch him but they are pretty deep as they make a Memorial Cup push. It might be a combination of the two, he’s not 100% and they’re deep so why play him if you didn’t have to?”
Which seems reasonable. If we want to place the Oilers 2007 1st round in proper context, then we must agree:
- Most of us felt it was either Gagner or Voracek for the pick at #6.
- What upset people at #15 wasn’t that Plante was a “reach” pick, it was that they passed on Cherepanov (and maybe Esposito too).
- The “reach” pick was clearly Nash and there was plenty of upset about how much it cost to move up in the draft to get him.
I honestly believe Oilers fans need a re-boot on this issue. Why has so much been projected in such a small amount of time?
- The Gagner home run.
- The early impact of Nash.
- The injury to Plante.
Why is it important? It just is. Facts are facts folks. We can agree that Oiler nation was right to boo when Steve Kelly’s name was announced at Northlands, were right to say “wtf?” when Jesse Niinimaki’s name was called, and had a right to wonder openly about the price paid to get Nash at #21 with so much quality still available.
What we can’t do is re-write history enough to make Plante a “reach” pick and a huge error the moment it was made based on Plante’s projected place in the draft. On the day he was drafted, I wrote about Plante “talked to Guy Flaming earlier today and he mentioned Alex Plante at 15 (he really did, I’m not making this up). Guy mentioned a nice size, decent speed package with skill and that he didn’t get beaten much one on one. I think Plante is a classic example of “draft for need”, an Edmonton Oilers tradition that dates back several years. The Oilers passed on Alexei Cherepanov and Angelo Esposito by taking Plante and THAT imo will end up being the most often quoted “mistake” from Kevin Prendergast this draft. Best Player Available wasn’t served with this pick.”
THAT was the mood of the day. No “reach”, no “injury prone”, no “error.” Anyone who said it that day and is talking credit for it now was projecting beyond what was known.
And that is completely unfair to Alexandre Plante.