Rookies and their Coach

This is Dave Hrechkosy. Wrecker. Herc. He had size and decent footspeed coming out of junior but didn’t score enough to get drafted (16-21-37 in 57gp in the WHL in his draft year) so he played in the low minors before getting noticed by the New York Rangers.

Hrechkosy was shipped to the Seals (with Gary Coalter) in exchange for a very good NHL defenseman (Bert Marshall) in March of 1973. The following season he scored 36 goals in the high minors (the pro WHL) and then made his way to Oakland, where he scored 29 goals on a line with Warren Williams and Dave Gardner.

The Seals coach that season was Marshall Johnston. Until January. Bill McCreary took over. In the summer, the Seals named Jack (Tex) Evans head coach, coming off an impressive season with the Seals minor league team in Salt Lake City. McCreary was bumped up to GM.

That summer McCreary said “we developed some good rookies last season. Larry Patey, Dave Hrechkosy, Rick Hampton, Ron Huston, and we expect them to improve.”

For Hrechkosy, Evans represented his third NHL coach in a little over one season. Predictably, he and the other rookies from the previous year struggled:

  1. Patey fell from 25 goals to 12, getting traded to St. Louis during the season.
  2. Hrechkosy fell from 29 goals to 12 goals, getting traded to St. Louis during the season.
  3. Rick Hampton double his point total under Evans.
  4. Ron Huston fled to the WHA.

The funny thing was California had a bunch of shiny new rookies to replace them:

  1. C Dennis Maruk popped 30 goals
  2. RW Bob Murdoch scored 22 goals
  3. LW Bob Girard surprised with 42 points
  4. C Ralph Klassen scored 21 points straight out of junior.

The Seals always had lots of talent. Hell Charlie Simmer played for both teams mentioned above. The problem with the Seals wasn’t procurement (the Central Scouting Bureau was created for teams like the Seals and Caps because the prevailing wisdom stated they couldn’t find talent. Balderdash. Garry Young is one of the great forgotten names in NHL lore, his scouting and management resume a lost gem in the game’s long history).

The problem with the Seals is they could never stand still, create an environment where rookies could succeed and then build on their success. They were so busy plugging holes and moving bodies (and firing coaches) there was never a chance for anyone to find their way. I have little doubt a player like Rick Hampton would have had a much better career if he’d been drafted by another organization. Others, like Simmer, did find their way when given a second chance by another team.

For the Edmonton Oilers, creating a situation in which a young player can succeed and then build on it is vital. Since he became head coach, MacTavish has dressed over 40 rookies. The important ones pre-lockout (00-01: Comrie, Horcoff; 01-02: Markkanen; 02-03: Hemsky, Chimera, Pisani, Semenov; 03-04: Torres, Bergeron, Stoll) are all gone save Horcoff, Hemsky and Pisani.

MacTavish has shown an ability to take what the procurement department gives him and suss out the winners without regard to pedigree. The three keepers from the rookie crop pre-lockout feature one first rounder and a couple of guys from the outside the top 50.

So when we look at the important ones since the lockout ended (Kyle Brodziak, Ladislav Smid, Tom Gilbert, Zack Stortini, Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner, Marc Pouliot, Matt Greene) I think it’s important to remember that draft position means nothing and that MacTavish has been able to give rookies enought at-bats to see what they can do and then have them build on that the following season.

What hasn’t happened is a “Charlie Simmer”: a player flushed from the system only to have tremendous success elsewhere. Just as impressive to me is the fact that there have been very few “Larry Patey” and “Dave Hrechkosy” types: guys who showed well in their first year and had no sustain.

The “oops” players from the NW division this decade (Umberger, Kobasew, Tom Gilbert) come from other cities, and the last “one that got away” from this organization (Matthew Lombardi) never had a chance to play for Craig MacTavish.

One final note: I think we can agree that this fall/winter will be the final shot for Marc Pouliot. I’m at a point where it’s time to cheer, but if the Oilers trade him or send him down and lose Pouliot on waivers none of us can make the argument he didn’t get his 500 at-bats.

Right?

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25 Responses to "Rookies and their Coach"

  1. Jonathan says:

    For the Edmonton Oilers, creating a situation in which a young player can succeed and then build on it is vital.

    One of the most under-rated things that MacTavish does is put young guys places where they can flourish. He looked crazy from time to time trying to balance the playing time of all the rookies, but he somehow got away with it.

    Of course, guys like Stoll and Reasoner paid the price, but that’s what those guys are for.

  2. Black Dog says:

    Right.

  3. James says:

    You make a good point that between MacT & Lowe they have never let a "gem" get away. All the young players they have dealt "Woywitca, Lynch, MAB…ect) have gone on to nothing. An exception could be made for Brewer, but you can't get Pronger for a bag of pucks. Although we almost did.

    MacT seems to really have an invaluable skill at assessing talent.

    What does that say for Schremp? Does MacT think he has no future, or just not ready? I hope it's the latter.

  4. Lowetide says:

    James: I think Schremp has earned a chance, problem being that there probably isn’t any room.

    An injury could change that, though. Or a poor TC by an incumbent.

  5. HBomb says:

    Lowetide: would you say Miro Satan would qualify as the worst example of a “Simmer” by the Oilers in the past 15 years? Would Arnott also fall into this category, or was his case not so much being stifled by the system, but by the expectations of the fanbase?

  6. Lowetide says:

    They had to get Satan out of town because Ron Low refused to see what he was. He kept saying “if he can’t play on the third line…” which is nuts since Satan was absolutely killing the opposition wherever he played. Age 20, in the AHL, 40 points in 25gp.

    As for Arnott, I don’t think there’s an executive in pro sports history who could have figured a way out of that one.

  7. Schitzo says:

    Isn’t there a quote somewhere from very frustrated Slats re: Satan where he admitted “I just traded a 30 goal scorer because the coach wouldn’t play him”?.

    And I agree that the oilers have been extrememly good at cutting bait at the right time.

    Not counting Marty Reasoner, the prospects we gave up in the ’06 stockpile were Rita and Salmelinenenenne. Anyone regretting losing either of those?

    One final thought – how comforting is that analysis if you’re Matt Greene?

  8. doritogrande says:

    “The “oops” players from the NW division this decade (Umberger, Kobasew, Tom Gilbert) come from other cities, and the last “one that got away” from this organization (Matthew Lombardi) never had a chance to play for Craig MacTavish.”

    I’ll call your attention to Jason Chimera. MacT hated having to play him, but you gotta admit, the kid’s found a niche in Columbus to be sure. Two Mens World Championships don’t lie.

  9. Schitzo says:

    Dorito – not that Columbus is in the NW division, but a valid point. However, I don’t know if that’s so much a player who slipped through the cracks so much as a victim of an abundance of 3rd liners.

    If we’re talking Columbus, lets wait 2 years and see where Torres ends up on this list

  10. Lowetide says:

    I know the Oilers sent Cleary away when Pisani emerged, but who replaced Chimera?

    Torres? I’ve forgotten.

    Either way, Chimera’s a good player no doubt

  11. Vic Ferrari says:

    Yeah, I could never really accept the Chimmer trade, mostly because the return was nothing (4th rounder from PHX iirc, no?) and because it was very obviously a useful player shifted out because of a personality conflict with the coach.

    The guy left marks on the boards most nights, stood up for teammates, and could create enough offense to stay on the plus side of the ledger, given his role on the team. And he came cheap.

    Granted, I never foresaw the day that he’d be Hitchcock’s overwhelming favourite winger to send out for own zone draws, and that Andy Murray would be hard matching him against the Satan/Demitra/Gaborik line at the WHCs. But good for him.

    Cleary was a miss as well, that Horcoff/Marchant/Cleary line never got love from many fans, but they lifted stupid weight and drove possession for this team when they really needed it (Comrie and Carter were on that squad, let’s not forget, bless ‘em both).

  12. HBomb says:

    I know the Oilers sent Cleary away when Pisani emerged, but who replaced Chimera?

    It was actually Jani Rita. No lie.

    Chimera was dealt at the 2004 draft to clear space for Rita the next time hockey was played.

    And, as we know, that didn’t last until the end of January. By that time, the Oilers had Smyth-Torres-Moreau going down the left side and added Samsonov at the deadline.

    The rest, as they say, is history. It’s sad that of those four LW’s, Moreau is the only one left, because he’s number four on my list if they’re ranked in order. Any “intangibles” he may have are cancelled out by only being able to supply those for 20% of the last two seasons (32 games played TOTAL).

  13. George B says:

    Vic, the trade was as follows..

    Edmonton Oilers traded Jason Chimera and a 3rd round selection in 2004 to the Phoenix Coyotes for a 2nd (Geoff Paukovich) and 4th round selections in 2004.

    Agreed on all counts LT, Schremp might not get the ABs, and if Pouliot doesn’t at least get his OB percentage up, he is toast.

  14. goldenchild says:

    LT I have seen you write Schremp has earned a chance quite a few times and that may be true but the fact that MacT clearly seems to have a pretty good eye for which guys are NHL players isn’t that even more of an idictment of Schremp that he hasn’t been given that chance?

  15. Scott says:

    I can only remember the ‘Schremp has earned his shot’ talk starting from LT this summer. Others have said it since he was 19, I suppose, but that’s not the point.

    It appears to most, now, that he has earned a shot at this upcoming training camp and season (as injury fill-in at least). Prior to this, he really hasn’t earned his shot (in my mind anyway).

    Pouliot’s had his at-bats, but he hasn’t improved his consistency at all. If he comes out flat again in training camp this year, Marc has only one person to blame when he’s on waivers.

  16. doritogrande says:

    schitzo:

    Neither are Umberger and Kobasew. The way I understood the original thought was that the three players mentioned all slipped through the cracks of a NW division team, and were then traded away. Umberger from Van, Kobasew from Cgy, and Gilbert from Col.

  17. Scott says:

    You could add Ballard to the NW list, although they did pretty well with that 2nd rounder…

    On a related note, if drafting kids with family pedigree is our thing, shouldn’t JP’s son and Peter’s (better) son be Oiler property?

  18. mc79hockey says:

    Cleary was a miss as well

    Tough to give it to them too much on Cleary. He was in a spot where he was making too much money for the role that they wanted him to fill (leaving aside whether that was right or wrong) and there were still some off-ice issues, no?

  19. raventalon40 says:

    I especially like how Horcoff and Brodziak have developed. And Hemsky, unlike many other offensive players, has a tendency to do some backchecking.

  20. Scott says:

    Even Clearly will admit that MacT was part of his turnaround, along with off-ice things like his marriage after he was dropped from the Oil.

    We didn’t really miss on Cleary, he (by own admission) drastically changed himself after we were forced to drop him.

  21. Dennis says:

    Vic: Nice to see someone else remember that old STD line. I remember there was a game on HNIC what that line scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win over the Avs and it seemed to me to be the culmination of an excellent stretch of play from that line.

    That’s always the time that I point to when I tell people that I previously believed that Cleary had it in him as a checker.

    And, yes, agreed for the most part on how many AB’s 78 has seen and/or deserved. I will say that I think he could’ve gotten 12-15 games more down the ’08 stretch and then perhaps we’d have even more of an idea of what he can do.

    That being said, the kid’s a bugger to score against and that’s worth something.

  22. Schitzo says:

    dorito: Brain cramp, you’re right.

  23. Vic Ferrari says:

    Tough to give it to them too much on Cleary. He was in a spot where he was making too much money for the role that they wanted him to fill (leaving aside whether that was right or wrong) and there were still some off-ice issues, no?

    That’s a fair comment, and I thought they were right to walk away from the dollars at the time, even though I rated Cleary much higher than most Oiler fans. Still, if the Oilers could have a do-over I think (hope) they would have hung on to both Cleary and Chimera.

    As for the off ice stuff, sometimes I think we give that too much creedance. The 80s Oilers were an off ice train wreck, but they were one of the best teams of all time on the ice.

  24. Lowetide says:

    Vic: Agreed, but I think the current management group (which included two former hell raisers from the Glory Days) puts a premium on leadership and maturity.

    All good, but lots of complete dinks are in the HOF.

  25. Doogie2K says:

    Isn’t there a quote somewhere from very frustrated Slats re: Satan where he admitted “I just traded a 30 goal scorer because the coach wouldn’t play him”?

    Isn’t that the point where you can the coach, not the player? Honestly.

    Cleary was a miss as well, that Horcoff/Marchant/Cleary line never got love from many fans, but they lifted stupid weight and drove possession for this team when they really needed it

    Yeah, but Cleary’s problem was in a bottle at the time, so I don’t think you can hold that against MacT. He gave Cleary the tools he needed to succeed in the NHL, he just didn’t use them until he was on his last chance on a tryout deal with Detroit.

    As for the off ice stuff, sometimes I think we give that too much creedance. The 80s Oilers were an off ice train wreck, but they were one of the best teams of all time on the ice.

    Fair enough, but I think all that says is that the Boys on the Bus didn’t let it get out of control and follow them onto the ice (Fuhr’s suspension notwithstanding).

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