Sunday Minor League Report

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. Most of us felt it was either Gagner or Voracek for the pick at #6.
  2. What upset people at #15 wasn’t that Plante was a “reach” pick, it was that they passed on Cherepanov (and maybe Esposito too).
  3. 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?

  1. The Gagner home run.
  2. The early impact of Nash.
  3. 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.

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37 Responses to "Sunday Minor League Report"

  1. doritogrande says:

    I don’t recall breaking beer bottles in Winnipeg, in fact I remember hitting the ceiling jumping for joy. The guy’s got the size of CFP if not the offensive skill which to me still means something in an NHL defender. True if he was a forward he’d be labeled a first-class “coke machine” but he could very well turn out in a Willie Mitchell/Hal Gill role and I wouldn’t be ashamed to admit I’m a Plante fan.

    Next year should be the make or break year for the kid. Alzner will surely be gone from the Hitmen leaving a huge hole and big minutes available for someone looking to pick up their game.

  2. Lowetide says:

    I forgot to mention that Plante is something like 9 months younger than a guy like Alzner too which is a factor at this age.

  3. DBO says:

    Great post LT. Happy to s someone see that is someone else is coming around to the Plante selection. Not sure which of the TSN commentaters said it, but they mentioned how big he was with speed and skill to boot, and his “raw talent” was as good as anyone. yeah he moved up the draft boards that year, and came out of no where for us in Edmonton, but they picked a guy they felt could develop into a Pronger style of player. We have a lot of young dmen coming up, but no one who combines the size and skill of Plante. is he eligible to be in the AHL next year? Or would he go back to junior as an overage player?

  4. mc79hockey says:

    Are those Guy’s thoughts on Plante or the Oilers thoughts on Plante?

  5. mc79hockey says:

    Just to clarify, I’m not trying to be snarky – a quote from the Oilers about how Plante makes sense at 15 doesn’t mean that they didn’t pick him too high – it’s still only their opinion. I’m not a big draft guy but that’s still a point worth making.

  6. Lowetide says:

    MC: It’s been a long time since he said it, but iirc Guy said “don’t be surprised if the Oilers take Plante at 15.”

    I have a pretty good memory but Guy pops in once in awhile and may have a different take.

  7. Pat H says:

    Everything you say makes sense, LT, but my displeasure with the pick stems from the direction the organization was – or at least IS – headed, and their philosophy on risk assessment.

    To the first point, if we’re rebuilding, and we have 3 picks in the first round, are we really doing ourselves a huge disservice by ‘risking’ a pick on a Cherepanov or Esposito? And this isn’t meant as a slight on Plante. But does he potentially fill a huge need? Or is it a case of Lowe having a fetish for western-bred boys, especially defensemen?

    I think this leads to the second consideration. I recall Lowe justifying the Plante/Nash picks (and being a little perturbed that he had to do it), and iirc, he more or less alluded to the lack of a transfer agreement, and the risk of drafting Cherepanov. Again, if you have 3 picks in the first round, and you’ve got your ‘lock’ pick with Gagner, can you really not afford the ‘risk’? But more importantly, if this organization wants to talk about risk analysis, let’s talk about Penner. How is the Penner acquisition LESS risky than drafting Cherepanov (or Esposito) in lieu of Plante?

  8. Pat H says:

    sorry, just to clarify. I don’t mean to say that we only draft defenseman that are born or bred from Manitoba westward. What I mean is that we 1. appear to have a preference for western guys in general, and 2. arguably have more of an ‘eye’ for defensive-type guys (not necessarily a bad thing, but it can become a bad thing).

  9. Guy Flaming says:

    I did correctly predict Edmonton’s first two picks on draft day while we were on the air and I remember telling LT to watch for Plante at 15.

    Call it an educated prediction. You ask the right people the right questions and it helps.

    The choices were Alzner/Gagner/Voracek at #6 and depending on whether they picked a D or a F there would decide at 15 between Plante and Colton Gillies. Cherepanov and Esposito were not in the mix. Perhaps at 21 they might have been.

    For the record, I was wrong about who they were trading up to get at 21. On the air, after the trade, I said “The only thing I can think of is that they’re going after Backlund”. I knew that he was very high on their list and I know that there was a lot of debate at the table between Nash and Backlund. I can only assume the Swede’s injury history was a concern and clearly, Nash has looked good anyway.

    did that answer your question MC79?

  10. Lowetide says:

    pat h: Yeah, I agree with that. I’m not saying the being upset over Cherepanov being passed over is ridiculous, in fact everyone who had a mic was saying he was the BPA (not just idiot Pierre but also Bob McKenzie specifically mentioned that he felt the whole transfer agreement was being overrated by the time Oilers picked at #15).

    In fact, in regard to the Russian it’s my own opinion that their experience with Mikhnov and the horrible Euro track record was at least as big a factor in his regard.

    But watching the WJC in his draft year you knew that if Cherepanov had grown up in Patrick Kane’s town that they would go 1-2 in that draft.

  11. mc79hockey says:

    I did correctly predict Edmonton’s first two picks on draft day while we were on the air and I remember telling LT to watch for Plante at 15.

    Call it an educated prediction. You ask the right people the right questions and it helps.

    Leaving aside what the Oilers think, did you share their assessment that Plante was the right way to go? That’s the question here I think – did people other than the Oilers who pay attention think that this was wise?

  12. Doogie says:

    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?

    I think this is exactly it. I’ve been watching the Hitmen all year, and while they do sometimes have a tendency not to show up or give less than 100%, they’re still clearly one of the best teams in the West, and they’ve done it without a guy who quickly became one of their two or three best defencemen, and played well in their playoff run last year. With everything that’s happened to the kid, wouldn’t you be inclined to bring him along slowly if you had that luxury, so you had a relatively fresh set of legs for the typically-gruelling WHL playoffs?

    As for actually taking him at the draft, I don’t remember offhand, but I’m pretty sure I was happy with the choice, not only because I was familiar with him, but because I actually did put some stock in the transfer-agreement problem. Plus, I’m pretty sure we saw prospect depth at the D position at the time, didn’t we? Did anyone want Alzner at #6, if he was still there?

  13. Traktor says:

    Edmonton has a clear need for a goal scorer.

    How does Edmonton aquire a goal scorer?

    We all know that no pure goal scorer is ever going to sign in Edmonton unless we are talking about 2nd tier players like Sykora, Carter ect..

    What’s the chances of Hossa signing in Edmonton? 5%?

    The only way for Edmonton to aquire a sniper is by trading for them or drafting them.

    What’s the chances of Lowe trading for a top line guy that can score 40 goals in the NHL?

    Edmonton passed on the best player available and past on the a player that would fill a need in the organization.

    How many offensive defensemen prospects does this org need?

    Plante had a monster playoffs so I can’t fault Oil Brass for being high on the kid but that doesn’t mean that I can’t say that pick his looking horrible right now.

    One would think a 15th overall pick would force himself back on the PP regardless of how deep Calgary is.

  14. Traktor says:

    I also can’t see how playing Plante 5on5 rather than soft 5on4 time is working him back slowly.

    Plante isn’t playing on the PP because he isn’t the best option available.

  15. GorillazXL says:

    Good analysis of the 2007-15th overall pick LT. There’s are alot of fans on HF that are in constant whining about why, who and at what spot, none of which can say that they analyze the draft with 20/20 hindsight. It has also made good fuel for Anti Lowe fans, that has used the Plante pick as a sign of Lowe being incompetent. How was anyone were to know he would be injured for 1/2 the season?

    I was one of the many fans that questioned why giving up the 30th and 36th for the 21st, and draft I guy that scouting agencies had at anywhere from 20-60…. glad I was wrong and the decision has paid dividends.

  16. PunjabiOil says:

    One would think a 15th overall pick would force himself back on the PP regardless of how deep Calgary is.

    I tend to agree with this. That being said, I don’t think it’s time to declare him a bust just yet.

    I recall Lowe/Prendergast in the interviews pre-draft mentioning they’ll take the BPA at 6th, and at 15 might draft based on team needs( defenceman). I mentioned it was silly then because needs change quickly (Pitkanen and Souray).

    It’s hard to blame Lowe solely though – the scouting staff liked Plante, and as a GM, you usually go with your scouts.

    http://edmontonsun.com/Sports/Columnists/Jones_Terry/2007/06/23/4283780.html

    (This article also shows how desperate Kevin Lowe was, talking about pending deals)

    Top-ranked Russian Alexei Cherepanov and early season projected No. 1 Angelo Esposito were available and Lowe went fishing?

    “You’ve got to trust your scouting,” said Lowe, who said Kevin Prendergast and his staff “were really adamant about him

    Plante may turn out good, but passing on Cherepanov was a mistake, and will remain a mistake.

    Too bad.

  17. PunjabiOil says:

    This from Matheson’s article:


    The NHL-Russian League transfer agreement, where the federation is asking for exhorbitant fees to release players to the NHL, affected his selection.

    “We checked it out with the NHL (to see if there was any thawing from the Russian side), but I didn’t get any encouraging words,” admitted Lowe.

  18. Bruce says:

    We all know that no pure goal scorer is ever going to sign in Edmonton unless we are talking about 2nd tier players … What’s the chances of Lowe trading for a top line guy that can score 40 goals in the NHL?

    Rightly or wrongly, I think Lowe saw Dustin Penner as being that 40-goal scorer who was willing to sign in Edmonton. Effectively he traded those three draft picks for him, so there’s a lot riding on that projection. Early returns are “mixed”; on the basis of this season I don’t think one can conclude that Penner is a surefire 40-goal guy, but neither has it been proven he never will be. Perhaps a moderate projection is Penner will produce around the Ryan Smyth level, ~30 goals ~30 assists and a lot of screens on the PP.

  19. Pat H says:

    LT: good point on Mikhnov and European picks in this organization (though obviously there are exceptions). I suspect that you’re right in suggesting that their prior track record has maybe left them a little gun-shy. But that’s not a good thing, in my opinion.

  20. rickibear says:

    Cherepanov’s real saw him good time was at the world Juniors (Jan. 2007.) His linemate was Bumagin. Everyone questioined whether Bumagin benefited from Cherepanov.

    Cherepanov’s colapse after that and Edmonton’s personal Knowledge of Bumagin surely had Edmonton question whether Cherepanov benefited from Bumagin.

    The choice not to draft Cherepanov and current high praise for Bumagin answers that one for me.

  21. Lowetide says:

    rickibear: I always enjoy your ability to frame an issue, but would respectfully suggest you may have “flown too close to the sun” with regard to who’s zooming who in the Cherry/Bumagin debate.

  22. Traktor says:

    PJO said: It’s hard to blame Lowe solely though – the scouting staff liked Plante, and as a GM, you usually go with your scouts.

    I agree that you always have to go with your scouts. The problem is Edmonton has the worst european scouts in the NHL. Kenta probably watched him play 5 times and the rest of the staff probably only watched him at the WJC’s. Hejda has been the pinnacle over the last decade.

    Bruce: I see a 30-30 guy in the future. But if Edmonton has to disrupt the NHL landscape and sign a RFA just to finally bring in a scorer it just goes to show why passing on the sniper Cherapanov was such a mistake. Cherry isn’t a sure bet to score 30+ in the NHL but he is a better bet than Lowe finding a sniper in the offseason or via trade.

  23. rickibear says:

    KP: drafted Bumagin and glows about him. I know you have no faith in KP’s draft ability (hee hee)

    Bumagin 19YR 9G 23P 40GM
    Cherepanov 19 YR 14G 27P 46GM

    He screams way ahead of Bumagin.

  24. Bank Shot says:

    Rickibear: Bumagin scored 5 points in his 19 year old season.

    Cherepanov also currently has a better PPG as a 19 year old then Bumagin thus far as a 20 year old.

  25. jon says:

    I love the draft and was very interested in this one seeing how I had nothing to look forward to from the deadline on.

    Few things I remember:

    In my hockey news I had circled
    1st pick Gagner
    2nd pick Nick Petrecki
    3rd pick Bill Sweat
    4th pick Backlund

    In hindsight, Lowe could have all of these picks except Backlund as he was picked up in the first round. Replace Backlund with Nash and I think Lowe comes out clean on passing on the russian and Esposito.

    I remember a quote from Pendergrast saying that everytime he went to watch Alzer play he left only remembering Plante’s performance. I am from Calgary and went to 4-5 Hitmen games last year and I noticed the exact same thing. I remember going to watch sutter for the rebels and the only real performance that stuck out was Plante. He is huge on the ice, it almost seems he is wearing football shoulder pads, his shoulders are that broad. His shot was a canon and he played a tonne.

    When the infamous passing on the russian happened I remember going…really? But after hearing that quote from Pendergrast it kinda made sense where their head was at. They go to watch Alzner play and leave wanting the raw potential of Plante.

    Only time will tell.

  26. rickibear says:

    Bankshot: What you are calling his 19 Yr I would call his 20 yr. KP came out and said he was playing hurt and his team was not looking out for his interests.
    Kp felt this year was the get to full health year.

    KP said that we need to get him over here to look after him.

    Bank shot then we should look at 18yr old years when they were both healthy.Bumagin 18yr old to start the 2005/2006 season
    Bumagin 18 YR: 9g 23p 40GM
    Cherepanov 18 yr old to start the 2007/2008 season.
    Cherepanov 18 YR: 14G 27P 46GM

    Don’t tell me the experience with Bumagin has not soured our team on the Rusiian you must take this pill young man system.

  27. Doogie says:

    Plante isn’t playing on the PP because he isn’t the best option available.

    But really, how would he “play onto the PP” when he’s been injured most of the year? With Alzner, Postma, and Stone taking up the lion’s share of the time, there’s not too much room to work him back in, anyway. The fact that the Hitmen power play is only middle of the road (17.8%, 14/22 overall) owes more, frankly, to the fact that they spend too much time on the perimeter and seldom have anyone cleaning up or causing trouble in front of the net. They pass too much and stand around too much, and it almost reminds me of the Oilers to a degree, minus Hemsky’s maddening yet sometimes awesome dipsy-doodling. And this is just what I see when they’re at home and their power play is actually good (21.9%, 3/22). As for the comment about leading him in slowly on the PP vs. at EV, it’s not like he’s been playing tough 5v5 minutes, nor a huge number of them. He’s not out there with Alzner against all the top guys like he was last year; while “guys Doogie has heard of” is not exactly the best measure of junior-hockey stardom, he certainly hasn’t played many minutes against anyone whose first name I could tell you without a program.

    So, sure, Plante was probably passed while injured, but given that this is a contending team that’s largely done just fine without him, I don’t buy that it’s killed his NHL potential just yet. If he dies while carrying the mail in ’09 with Alzner in Washington, then we’ll talk.

  28. Lowetide says:

    I promised never to quote Gare Joyce’s book (unless everyone who reads this blog promises they’ll buy it) but on page 287 he writes:

    I asked the scout about Cherepanov’s contract status. I know he’s represented by Jay Grossman, who has Ilya Kovalchuk and a bunch of other Russian players on his list of clients.

    To the scouts it’s an oblique, existential and incomprehensible war zone. “We didn’t go there—it’s Russia.” It has the faint echo of Joe Mantell’s words of comfort to Jack Nicholson in the classic movie: “Forget about it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

    I tell the scout that I can’t believe he didn’t push the matter further–a deal in Russia that supposedly pays him $1.5M might be up for discussion–bue he already has an explanation.

    “If he has a contract (with a Russian league team)he just gives them 2 weeks notice and he’s out of it,” the scout says. “You’re going to have to pay somebody, that’s a given, but so long as you’re willing to do it, fine. We didn’t even go there because we don’t think he’ll fall as far as our pick. The team that drafts him will probably have something already in place. Some teams will be afraid it will be hard to put together. Maybe someone’s got it set up that everyone else is cut out.”

    That’s the end of the passage from his book. I don’t believe that last sentence to be true, but that second last one is imo where the Oilers lie.

  29. Bruce says:

    LT: after reading the review on your fine blog (and Mirtle’s) this daily visitor asked for and received Gare Joyce’s outstanding book “Future Greats and Heartbreaks” for Xmas, and read it cover to cover while all other reading material just stayed on the pile. Highly recommended reading to anybody who frequents the Oilogosphere.

  30. Tyler says:

    I bought the book and the only problem I have with it is that if you knew nothing about hockey, you might think from reading it that MacLean and Co. had some idea what they were doing.

  31. PunjabiOil says:

    I promised never to quote Gare Joyce’s book (unless everyone who reads this blog promises they’ll buy it) but on page 287 he writes:

    Great book. Finally ordered from amazon.ca, and received it Friday. Already on Page 161 – hard to put down indeed.

  32. CM says:

    I guess my only issue about taking plane at 15 is that oiler fans were looking for hope in any place we could get it…I mean we’re still talking about schremp being jesus…I think taking cherepenov at 15 would have at least sparked a little bit of hope among oiler fans…it would have taken our mind off of the 2-20 slide that happend at the end of the year…

    It might have even put us in a situation were we wouldn’t have felt the need as a fan base to overpay for a souray because…eh we’ve now got jesus, moses, and some guy named sam as prospects in our system…

  33. garnet says:

    The conversation here has taken a different turn, but I just noticed that Angelo Esposito’s stats in the Q this year don’t exactly scream dominance. He has missed a few games; was he playing hurt as well, or has he come back to the pack a bit?

  34. Lowetide says:

    garnet: He got a huge bump the year he spent with Radulov (his 16-year old season) and has been pretty consistent since that day.

    He may have to re-invent himself as a two way player.

  35. Guy Flaming says:

    MC79: My personal choice would likely have been a forward but I wasn’t really against drafting a big, puck mover, big shot, blueliner either.

    I was happy they went with him over Gillies… I wasn’t really excited by his numbers.

    At that point in the draft the guys I really liked (Hamill, Eller, Sutter, Couture, Shattenkirk) were all gone.

    I hoped they wouldn’t go for Cherepanov, and that might be some of them rubbing off on me, that could happen.

    I would have taken Esposito over him, which shows how much I know. I think, clearly the shine is off of Esposito by now.

    It’s disappointing to see the year Plante has had but before I write him off I’d be willing to wait and see how he bounces back next year. No Alzner… he’ll be the big dog in CGY and things might get back on track for him.

  36. Jamie says:

    I happened to see Plante play on Saturday. He was unspectacular, but also did not make any glaring mistakes. He played a few shifts on the power play, and also played the last minute of each period. Obviously playing with Alzner helps, but I was not unhappy with the game Plante played.

  37. Master Lok says:

    I applauded the Nash pick because the Oilers clearly liked him enough to trade UP for him – when’s the last time that happened? And with his production in the BCHL and comparison with Zajac – those aren’t bad comparisons…

    As for Plante, his description sounds like a better skating Cory Cross or Marek Malik – but imo that’s not an insult.

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