Scared Straight

This is Dennis Sobchuk. He had a terrific junior career with the Regina Pats (part of the Memorial Cup team that also included Clark Gillies, Greg Joly and others).

The following paragraph comes from Hockey Draft Central: Sobchuk is famous in hockey history for being the first underage player to sign with a professional team before leaving major junior hockey. After the end of NHL player sponsorship and prior to April 1973, no junior player had ever signed an advance contract with an NHL or WHA team. Sobchuk, drafted by the WHA’s expansion Cincinnati team set a new precedent when he chose to sign at age 19 despite his intention of returning to the WCHL to complete his major junior eligibility. This was no inconvenience to Cincinnati, since the Stingers were not scheduled to begin WHA play for another two years. Sobchuk’s final year in major junior was a success, as he led Regina to the Memorial Cup.

Sobchuk’s unusual career continued through pro, as he quickly established himself as a quality offensive player in the WHA, scoring 32, 32, 44 and 26 goals in different seasons in the outlaw league. In the 1978-79 season, he played for the WHA Edmonton Oilers and scored 74gp, 26-37-63. He was claimed by Philadelphia Flyers in that ridiculous draft that basically stripped WHA teams of their players and then dealt to Detroit for a 5th round draft pick.

Sobchuk didn’t fare well with the Red Wings. They were a poor team, but had Dale McCourt as their big star and his skill set closely matched that of Sobchuk and he never did catch on with them. Or the Nordiques. In fact, although Sobchuk arrived at the NHL gates summer 1979 with a nice resume from the WHA and was quite young (24), he would play a total of 35 games in the show.

Total.

Sobchuk is a cautionary tale for fans like me who get ahead of ourselves when watching fine young players walk into the pro ranks and have early success. You never know.

Why did Sobchuk fail? Why did Dale McCourt fail? There are answers but the bottom line is among the group that emerged last season (Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Brodziak and Stortini) odds are at least one of them is going to end up with a disappointing career from here on out.

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25 Responses to "Scared Straight"

  1. Schitzo says:

    among the group that emerged last season (Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Brodziak and Stortini)

    Did anyone else get the old Sesame Street song in their heads?

    “One of these things, is not like the others…”

    I think cogs is most likely to fall back to earth, but that’s mostly a product of him raising the bar ridiculously this year. We’ve gone from praying he has better hands than Todd Marchant to wondering how much above 18 goals he can hit.

    Gagner’s too good to drop off the map, and Brodziak just has to keep working hard and things will go his way.

    Nilsson… well… lets hope he doesn’t get lazy and he should be alright.

  2. doritogrande says:

    And here I thought this was going to be a talk about Stamkos, who signed as a minor today. Boy did you get me.

    I was all for thinking Cogliano would be the odd one out last year, but damned if he proved me crazy, so I’ll not bet against him this year. I think Gagner’s the one to take a bit of a fall, but not as epic as one Jordan Staal this year. I think he goes very similar to his counting numbers this year, while getting torched at evens again. The other 4 mentioned have one thing on Gagner; age. 89′s going to be 19 this year and I think teams seriously underestimated him. They won’t do that this year, and may in fact key on him when it comes to questionable hits (Hello Brazilian Wax, Boogeyman, Rypien)more than Hemsky. Teams know Ales can take their crap, Gagner’s younger, smaller and IMO easier to intimidate into playing a perimeter game.

    Nilsson and Cogliano especially took huge steps forward in their defensive games this past season, but I didn’t see that in Gagner. Cogliano’s speed can get him out of many a jam, and Nilsson shows the ability to play two ways like a saavy veteran when he wants to. Gagner doesn’t have the speed or the history of getting the cold shoulder from a team, which I believe can really get one motivated.

    Gagner’s going to be a gooder, but he may be the best candidate for running in place for a season. Which isn’t a good thing with Robbie working his ass off at Camp Cali lookin’ for a place to happen.

  3. Oilman says:

    Did anyone else get the old Sesame Street song in their heads?

    Yes – and I’m glad to know it wasn’t just me!

  4. dstaples says:

    I was in the crowd the night that 17-year-old Mark Messier of the Cincinatti Stingers beat the living hell out of Sobchuk, blow after blow right to the face.

    Sather watched that, and it my recollection is correct, it’s one of the reasons the Oil took a chance on Mess in the second round of the draft.

    Sobchuk was a skinny guy with a helluva slap shot, not much at all for defence.

    Which of these young Oilers could fall off the right path? Much depends on injury, of course.

    Other than that, I have no idea. But Gagner has the most potential for greatness by a million miles.

  5. DeBakey says:

    Why did Sobchuk fail?

    Does the answer rhyme with Tolson?

    That first generation of kids with the big bucks ran into a few problems.
    Of course, some do today too. I think overall their careers are better managed now.

    Sobchuk was pretty inconsistent. so-so one night, in total control the next.

  6. HBomb says:

    …odds are at least one of them is going to end up with a disappointing career from here on out.

    On the flip side though, at least when it comes to Stortini and Brodziak, some would argue they exceeded any expectations we may have had for them when they were drafted five years ago.

    I still think Zack is most likely to be a marginal NHLer in the long haul, back and forth between the show and the AHL. Nilsson could bust as a skill guy depending on who is handling him (MacT seems to be doing OK, but I worry about how Buchberger and he will interact). Brodziak is going to have a career, even if it’s just as a role player.

    Gagner and Cogliano? I refuse to bet against either of these guys.

  7. Bruce says:

    among the group that emerged last season (Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Brodziak and Stortini)

    Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it, LT?

    …odds are at least one of them is going to end up with a disappointing career from here on out.

    I agree that it’s law of averages, one of the guys gets hurt or something, but it’s a mug’s game to guess which one is “destined” to fall back. All five of those guys played their best hockey of the season down the stretch and all appeared to be “getting it”, on both the individual and team level. No doubt there will be speed bumps as they continue to develop, but this fan is pretty happy with the shape of the learning curve for each guy.

    “One of these things, is not like the others…”

    Two of them, actually. The first three have first-round talent, and the other two have to distribute their six balls a little differently.

    Sobchuk is a cautionary tale for fans like me who get ahead of ourselves when watching fine young players walk into the pro ranks and have early success. You never know.

    Sobchuk was a real hot shot in both junior and the WHA. He was a kingpin for the Regina Pats squad that lost to the Oil Kings in the WCJHL finals in 1972; looked like a guy who couldn’t miss. Later in the WHA, I just salivated over him when the Stingers came to town. He was traded to Oilers near the end of my first year as a season ticket holder, and up close and personal the warts started to show.

    That said, he certainly had his moments for the one-plus season he was here. Looked like Dale Hawerchuk on occasion … he could lift you right off your seat. Had a bit of a rep as a high liver as I recall, and that may have contributed to his downfall. It sure wasn’t lack of talent.

  8. Kevin says:

    Basically LT will look good on this one almost any way. Strotini is almost sure to have a nothing career imo. We signed him to try to trade him at worst he clears waivers at some point and plays as a half-decent player in the AHL. But truth is, we’d be better off if he was claimed. If he plays all 3 seasons with the oil and has anything of a career after, it’ll be 1 in 100 at best.

    Law of averages is right though, One of Cogs, Nilsson, Ganger, Brodziak…add Schremp, Brule, Potulny to that list and at least one will probably fail, and that’s not a half bad list looking at it now.

  9. Bruce says:

    Strotini is almost sure to have a nothing career imo. We signed him to try to trade him at worst he clears waivers etc. etc.

    Kevin, you say “We” like you’re an Oilers fan. So where’s the love?

    I would say we drafted him to develop him, and signed him long-term because “we” were happy with his progress to date. So far “Strotini” has played 95 more NHL games than anybody would have dreamed on first appearances. Instead of tipping your hat to the kid, you just put the “diss” in “belief”.

    I’m sure the Oilers just love having fans like you “behind” them.

  10. Chester says:

    HapiBlogging to you my friend! Have a nice day!

  11. Jonathan says:

    Law of averages is right though, One of Cogs, Nilsson, Ganger, Brodziak…add Schremp, Brule, Potulny to that list and at least one will probably fail, and that’s not a half bad list looking at it now.

    Add Schremp, Potulny and Brule to that list, and you’ve probably got three failures. I’d say Potulny’s probably the farthest away from an NHL career, while Brule has been mishandled and is a constant injury risk and Rob Schremp has big-time skating issues and to this point seems like a one-dimensional player. I’d be willing to bet on two out of three of them busting.

    Strotini is almost sure to have a nothing career imo. We signed him to try to trade him at worst he clears waivers at some point and plays as a half-decent player in the AHL.

    How does that reasoning work? 600K is a super-cheap contract for a guy to play bottom-6 or pressbox minutes, and I see no reason at all why the Oilers would be forced to trade him. They may chose to, but I can’t for the life of me imagine why they’d be planning to.

  12. Lowetide says:

    I don’t know that Stortini will be the failure. As mentioned above (by Bruce) it’s impossible to know which one will fail at this time, but we can list the positives:

    Gagner: So far ahead of the curve we’re talking about as good a talent as the Oilers have received from the procurement department since the glory days. Intelligent, driven, has lived the hockey life.

    Cogliano: Speed never goes into a slump, so even if he’s not scoring buddy can help. Also from the smart class and he has a nice touch around the net.

    Nilsson: Slow developing skill players are a dime a dozen but I don’t think anyone can reasonable argue against the light going on this past season. We know a little about his Dad and consistency but it’s a lot to cut and paste that tag onto the boy just because Dad had it.

    Brodziak: I think he might be a guy who struggles if placed in the wrong environment but should have a nice career in Edmonton. One thing we need to remember about draft pedigree is the lower echelon gets fewer chances and a shorter leash. Should the offense dry up, Brodziak is a candidate to slide down the depth chart rather quickly.

    Stortini: You know, he did score 12 points as an NHL rookie. He’s not completely hopeless offensively and appears to be incredibly coachable.

    I’m not going to guess about which of these fellows falls back, and will also mention they’re pretty damn lucky to be entering the NHL (exception: Nilsson)with a fairly stable management team and coach.

    One of the things I’ve always felt is that bad teams have awful track records with good looking rookies. One day I’m going to post a piece on it, and will call it “The Dave Hrechkosy family.”

  13. Sean says:

    What about Gilbert or Grebeshkov? They should be included in the list that emerged that could drop off

    If one of Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Brodziak and Stortini drop off I think I know who we’d be hoping for. I wouldnt bet against Cogliano but this could be the year MacT tries to make him a complete player.

  14. Lowetide says:

    Sean: Yeah, I was just talking about forwards. If we include defenders, then we can bring those two in. I guess it’s just me being terrified to talk about a dropoff by either of them.

    I will be posting on the D soon, though.

  15. Rick says:

    Since Gilbert was just brought up, I wonder how telling the contracts that have been handed out this summer are in terms of who the Oilers see as the most likely to fall short.

    Gilbert is exactly 2 years older than Nilsson so that is a consideration but beyond that they both fall in the “talented” category and both have similar NHL experience but with Nilsson having the better pedigree.

    So considering all the comparisons does it say something that Nilsson will be making half of what Gilbert is and for half the term?

    Obviously free agency is a consideration but they could have test driven Gilbert for one more year to make extra sure that they have the player they think they do and still kept his rights.

  16. Lowetide says:

    rick: I think free agency has taught us defensemen are extremely well paid compared to forwards, especially forwards who might be considered one dimensional.

    Gilbert hasn’t delivered on the bet, but if he is in fact a “wide range” defender (defined as a D who can help you in the defensive zone without the puck and in all areas with the puck) then he’ll certainly be worth the money.

    Would you trade Tom Gilbert for Robert Nilsson (contracts included) straight up?

  17. Rick says:

    Lowetide;

    Not a chance, but if we are talking about which players we expect to not cover the spread I am also predicting that Nilsson is going to be that guy.

    I just find it interesting that the Oilers were prepared to give Gilbert the contract they did when the real pressure to get it done wouldn’t occur until this time next year. It suggests to me that they are convinced on what they have in Gilbert.

    Then on the flipside, Nilsson signs the type of contract usually reserved for a player that is seen as having more to prove. Which suggests to me that they are not convinced on what they have in Nilsson.

    I get that the difference in positions has to be considered but at the same time a forward as naturally talented as Nilsson is will command similar dollars if or when he finally figures the little things out.

  18. andy grabia says:

    Damn. I was really hoping this thread was going to be about Walter Sobchak.

  19. Dennis says:

    Looks-wise this fellow’s a combination of Dale Hawerchuk and the guy who was the lead cop on Da Vinci’s Inquest; he was partners with Doc Roberts;)

    Some of our kids have a lot of things going for them that would seem to indicate they’ll have successful careers; 89 with the smarts, 13 with the speed and 12 with the sublime passing ability. When it comes to the forwards, those are the guys you’re gonna bet on.

    On the D, we’ve seen great stretches from 37-77 but those guys are older so they Should look better at this stage of their career.

  20. godot10 says:

    //Obviously free agency is a consideration but they could have test driven Gilbert for one more year to make extra sure that they have the player they think they do and still kept his rights.//

    Nope. Gilbert could have signed his qualifying offer this year, and then opted for arbitration next year, which would have taken him to UFA status.

    i.e. Gilbert had a clear road to UFA status unless he was signed long term this summer. The Oilers had NO choice but to do the deal now.

    Gilbert would be in Jay Bouwmeester’s position next summer.

  21. Rick says:

    “i.e. Gilbert had a clear road to UFA status unless he was signed long term this summer. The Oilers had NO choice but to do the deal now.”

    I disagree.

    Obviously the Oilers are more than prepared to pay top dollar for the guys they identify as core players. So in terms of going to arbitration the only other reason would be to facilitate a move out of town, again clearly not a priority in Gilbert’s case.

    In Bouwmeester’s case it seems his motivation is more about getting out of Florida than anything else.

  22. godot10 says:

    Gilbert was “effectively” an unrestricted free agent already.

    As of this summer, the Oilers had no effective control.

    If Gilbert had signed his qualifying offer this year, and opted for arbitration next year, the Oilers had ZERO effective control over him.

    The only bargaining chip the Oilers had was that Gilbert would have no long term financial security if he chose that unblocked route to unrestricted free agency, and would have to endure being underpaid for the next two years.

  23. ryanbatty says:

    Sobchuk is from the same very small town in Saskatchewan, Lang, that my parents originally hail from. I know that around there he was always, and still is for that matter, thought of as one hell of a hockey player.

    I actually remember the big ass blue 70s style Monte Carlo that my parent used th drive had a Stingers sticker in the back window from his days in Cincinnati.

    Nice post, I guess when the future looks bright some times we need to remember to try and keep our feet on the ground.

  24. danny says:

    I don’t think buying UFA years is really that big a monetary boost anymore. Good RFAs get their league-wide value on RFA contracts. UFA contract values have been hampered by teams paying the younger guys.

    The guaranteed windfall of Unrestricted just isnt as sigificant as it used to be. The only real advantage Id think is relocation freedom, and the toronto maple leafs annual overpay lottery.

  25. RiversQ says:

    godot10 said…
    Gilbert was “effectively” an unrestricted free agent already.

    As of this summer, the Oilers had no effective control.

    Easily one of the most silly things I’ve read on here. You didn’t even factor in Gilbert’s Jedi Mind Trick.

    danny said…
    I don’t think buying UFA years is really that big a monetary boost anymore. Good RFAs get their league-wide value on RFA contracts. UFA contract values have been hampered by teams paying the younger guys.

    Agreed to a large degree Danny. The market is certainly more efficient now. Players are being paid for production over years of service moreso than ever before.

    And yeah it sure looks like one of these years a UFA crop will be squeezed because major extensions RFAs have used up most of the cap space. It would be nice to keep the powder dry for that day.

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