Line in the Water

The 2009 NHL Entry Draft is just a few months away now and this is the first of many posts on the subject. In photo is Alexei Mikhnov who cost the Oilers a first round draft pick and whose bio was so obscure it gave fans a chance to make up a history (Traktor Boy!) some of which can be reviewed by clicking on the label Mikhnov below this post.

Alexei Mikhnov is not completely off the Oiler radar, as I believe they still hold his rights. However, Russia may be gone completely from Edmonton’s final draft list as the lack of a transfer agreement combined with minimal success in this area suggest they look elsewhere for their prospects.

It’s probably a mistake.

There’s a gentleman who posts over at HF I’ve been reading for a couple of years now who is employed in a scouting capacity by an NHL team. The exact level of employment is unknown to me but his verbal is compelling enough for me to believe he does indeed have a connection to the scouting community in some way.

I find what he says about the Russian kids in the draft to be incredibly interesting: There is a greater disparity among scouts when ranking Russian players than with any other country. Until June, and even after, it can be hard to get a half-decently accurate grasp of how they rate. Even among Russian scouts, the disagreements about Russian players’ worth and potential are almost legendary- they tend to vary far more than the scouts and players of any other country or league.

Why would that be? Obvious reasons include lack of exposure on the international stage (U-17, that Russian touring team that gets their ass handed to them on a plate by CHL teams every winter, there aren’t many) and playing their own league games in faraway places in the Russian hinterlands.

I’m not certain but it’s likely a team that is mining the Russian juniors effectively will end up with a drafted list superior to a team that looks the other way. Even with the lack of a transfer agreement an NHL team should be looking to Russia because at some point the hockey men of the world will get together and sign off on something (the crumbling KHL may hurry this along) and the fact is that if you’re drafting a player with first round ability at 125 overall that can only be a good thing.

Since 2005, Edmonton has drafted 1 Russian in their 24 selections. Alexander Bumagin was a late pick who has certainly covered his draft bet (170th overall in 2006) by playing a regular shift in the KHL.

In 2008, the top Russians drafted were Nikita Filatov, Viktor Tikhnov and Slava Vojnov. All three are playing in North America and the first two are in the NHL at this time. It’s the Russians who are staying in Russia that are the concern and it’s my opinion that the best bargains available later in the draft will come from this talent pool.

NHL teams must fish where the fish are when it comes to drafting prospects. But if you can fish where the fish are ALONE is that not worth a try?

The Oilers built their dynasty in part by being the first to Finland at the draft. The Red Wings helped their cause by being far superior in Sweden and Russia and acquiring impact talents later than their talent level warranted. The next Fedorov may not be scouted by a dozen NHL teams. I don’t believe the Oilers are going to get him because they don’t have a line in the water.

I’m reminded of the day in 1981 when I first saw Fernando Valenzuela. Vin Scully told me the Dodgers found him so far back in Mexico the scout reported he’d stepped back in time 100 years when entering the village and the major problem for the young lefty was going to be culture shock.

The talented Russian kids who stay at home are a scouting “perfect storm” and it would be a good idea to have Frank Musil grab his tackle box and hit the water.

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17 Responses to "Line in the Water"

  1. Yeti says:

    I don’t think that’s a bad return, given the low value of backup goaltenders. Presumably Sabourin will be waived to allow a Roli / JDD pairing?

  2. Woodguy says:

    Interesting post LT.

    “We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.”
    - Warren Buffet

    Mr. Buffet is a pretty smart guy. His philosophy of going against the grain of the market when he sees value has worked well for him.

    Similarly, when running a business it is usually a correct strategy to try to exploit a niche that others are not. The lack of competition makes for much easier success than being the 15th supplier of good or service in a market when 8 suppliers would probably suffice.

    You are right that it would serve the Oilers well to go where others fear to tread. The KHL is not going to be as attractive in the future as is has been in the past, resulting in more good Russians taking a chance on the NHL instead of the sure thing in the KHL.

    Once a team or two gets lucky with some later rounds Russians the rest of the NHL will be forced to get better scouting over there, much like the Wings forced other teams to get better at scouting Euros.

    Best to be first in when the competition is low and its where others fear to tread.

  3. hunter1909 says:

    The Oilers are simply too rustic in their entire management mindset to ever be expected to lead the NHL in any way shape or form.

    Exhibit A – The way they botched up Mikhnov

    Exhibit B – Schremp

  4. doritogrande says:

    I’d rather stay where they’re having recent success. And in my mind, that’s Ontario, the West, and the US. This year however, I’d be all for throwing a mid-rounder at one of the nice-looking swedes. And for god’s sake draft a goalie this year! Bryan Pitton and Andrew Perugini will not cover the spread.

  5. bookie says:

    Given that there was a trade just a short time after LT posted this post, I felt sorry for this post as it will mostly be ignored, so this is just a sympathy comment so that this post won’t feel lonely. Now onto the trade post…

  6. Coach pb9617 says:

    The Oilers have had some success in the college ranks lately, and I’d like to see them step it up. There are still some squads that ignore college players altogether.

  7. Jonathan says:

    Great post, LT.

    Still, the fact that the Oilers took a run at Grebeshkov implies that Musil spends some time over there, yes?

  8. Black Dog says:

    And Hejda as well, wasn’t he in the Russian league?

    It behooves them to do their work over there, with so many teams getting out of the Russian game it seems that there would be a lot more to go around for the smart clubs.

  9. B.C.B. says:

    What I can’t figure out is why NHL teams don’t develop a complex scouting system for Europe. I mean you can only spend to the cap on players so it makes sense on spending more on drafting and scouting. Why a team, such as Katz’s Oilers, don’t set up a system where there is one guy in charge of the European operation (such as Musil), and other art-timers and full timers: one speaker of each Swedish, Russian, and Finish. As well as a goalie scout over there; see Jonathon’s post, at ON, on the number of good goalies in Europe. Developing a new system of scouting Europe, it can only help.

  10. DeBakey says:

    Lines in the Sand
    Lines in the Water

    I find it all very confusing

  11. Coach pb9617 says:

    LT – can you help me out with a search? Somewhere, you have a post about draft round and correlation to success in the NHL. I can’t find it.

  12. Lowetide says:

    Coach: All the things like that can be found on the menu on the RH side of the blog. You’re looking for Draft Odds:

  13. Coach pb9617 says:

    Draft Odds:

    Thanks LT!

  14. Sean says:

    Good post LT. I guess the Garon trade hijacked this one cuz I missed it until now. I’d agree with you that the Oilers should be investing more into Russia but like others have mentioned, better off in rounds 3+ There are too many good players out there to be rolling the dice on guys like Mikhonov

  15. Master Lok says:

    Meh, for once I’d have to disagree with you LT.

    Tell me – how would you feel if the Oilers used another first or second round draft pick on an unheard of Russian next season?

    Bad right? I feel a lot more confident in that same pick used on a North American prospect – why? simply because the Oilers have better scouting in N.A.

    My suggestion –
    Use your strengths, don’t do what others do simply because you have to.

    That being said, I’m fine with the Oilers using a 6th or 7th round pick in Russia. And it couldn’t hurt with MORE scouts in Russia, but the fact that there is such discrepancy in scouting reports on Russian prospects should add to the uncertainty, not convince one to pick more Russians.

  16. B.C.B. says:

    Hi, here is a link to ideas I have been working on for a while on drafting and Scouting in Europe:

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