During the Prendergast era, the Edmonton Oilers developed a strange habit of getting great value from supposed “weak” drafts (in 2002–a weak draft–KP plucked two actual players in Stoll and Greene in the second round and added another who has played in the show in JDD) and whiffing on some great opportunities (the top 90 in 2003 was chock full of talent, and the club had 3 picks in 2007 and two of those have not developed as the organization hoped).
I think these were the main reasons Kevin Prendergast got the bump and Stu MacGregor moved into the director’s chair in time for the 2008 entry draft. Glen Sather told his troops in 1994 that they didn’t have to hit a home run with the two early picks (4 and 6) but he needed those two kids to be NHL players. KP and the scouts got it right on Ryan Smyth and missed by a mile with Jason Bonsignore.
From 2001-07 (I call it the Prendergast era of drafting but Kevin Lowe was certainly a big part of it) the Oilers had several irritating habits:
- Drafting for need. Plante is a perfect example of it. The big defender was projected by many as a first round selection but a reach at that spot.
- Drafting mountain men out of order. Several times during this era the club would select big forwards miles before their projection.
- Not bringing Euro kids over in a timely fashion. Jani Rita is the obvious example but Mikhnov and Zoukov and a few others in the last decade had all kinds of issues that impacted their development.
- AHL oprhans. The Bulldogs turned into the Roadrunners who turned into a dog’s breakfast and in the last couple of seasons there just wasn’t enough quality on the minor league team to deliver success and properly develop these young men.
In the thread below we talked about the value of measuring progress after the draft. I’ve always believed that you can learn a lot about a prospect each season. Is he healthy? Did he perform at a higher level than last season? Is he making progress similar to quality players who have come before? I believe this has exceptional value.
Let’s take a player like Johan Motin. Oilers picked him in 2008 and not only got him over here for TC but he stayed in North America in 2009-10 and played an NHL game. We shouldn’t underestimate the value of AHL experience, it’s an extremely tough league for these kids (especially G and D) to navigate. This sort of career path just didn’t happen that often earlier in the decade and there’s a trail of failed draft picks from Sweden, Russia and Finland to show it. Would Alexander Bumagin be a better NA style player if he’d come over early (or at all)? At the very least, the depth chart is deeper when your draft picks are in the minor leagues and available for recall during the season.
I call them arrows. Pouliot’s arrows were a mixed bag from the beginning (even his draft day scouting reports stated some concerns and his injuries go back pre-draft) and even though we forget about those down arrows they still impact a career. So when we talk about the 2008 entry draft and give credit to the organization for having what looks like a strong one, we’re also paying due respect to blind damn luck and the God of injury.
And two years is in fact a long time. We had concerns about all measure of first and second round picks by the time they signed pro contracts during the KP era. Here’s a list of top 50 selections 2001-07 and what we thought about them two summers after their draft day:
- Ales Hemsky: He was in the NHL by 20 and was on his way.
- Doug Lynch: Good arrows until after his 20-year old season and the wrist injury.
- Jesse Niinimaki: Severe shoulder injury just past 20.
- JDD: Did not improve in the season after his draft.
- Jarret Stoll: Drafted at 20, he was tracking well all down the line.
- Matt Greene: Strong resume through 20th birthday.
- Marc Pouliot: Injuries have had a major impact on his career, beginning pre-draft.
- Colin McDonald: We knew he wasn’t developing as a scorer very early on.
- Devan Dubnyk: Ran in place as a junior.
- Rob Schremp: There were skating and attitude concerns pre-draft.
- Roman Tesliuk: He was a mistake and they knew early on.
- Andrew Cogliano: Arrows were all good (save size) through 20.
- Taylor Chorney: Size was a concern on draft day.
- Jeff Petry: Solid arrows through 20.
- Sam Gagner: Only concerns I recall were with regard to early UFA status.
- Alex Plante: Injuries a major concern right after draft day.
- Riley Nash: The organization has soured on him in a big way.
From that list of 17, we can safely say that all of Pouliot, McDonald, Schremp, Tesliuk, Plante and Nash were real concerns by age 20. We could also add DD and JDD but goalies develop in a wonky way, so we won’t count them. So about 35% of the top 50 picks during the KP era had injury or performance issues by the time they reached 20.
This is why I think we can give some credit to Macgregor (and thank Lady Luck) for the impressive two seasons after the draft from Eberle, Motin and Hartikainen. For a five pick draft (with tweener Cornet and organization pick Bendfeld) this thing is tracking quite well. For Macgregor to select Eberle at #22 is a very impressive statement based on his performance since that day.