With Toni Rajala’s release this week, we have another player to scare ourselves with–he’s another “one that got away” for Oilers Nation. Do these players ever amount to anything? What’s the system of measurement to inform us about a truly shameful loss? Is it NHL GP?
I think the answer, increasingly, is no. Let’s take a player like Patrick Thoresen. He wasn’t drafted, but showed enough in the SEL for the Oilers to sign him, spring 2006. Oilers coach Craig MacTavish–who didn’t give a rat’s ass about draft pedigree, let me tell you–was impressed enough with the young Norwegian to keep him on the club. He hung around all year and then the following season Edmonton felt they could move on (and they did, although I expressed my unhappiness, using almost the same wording as I did for the Rajala flush) using men like Geoff Sanderson.
Since then Thoresen has found a home in the KHL and at 30 I’d imagine he’s pretty much established in Russia. Question for you: do you believe Patrick Thoresen is a better hockey player than some of the men Edmonton is auditioning for their bottom 6F’s this season? How many would you estimate? As a guide, using Vollman’s NHLE equivalency number, Thoresen is just off a KHL season that suggests 82, 26-37-63 is the line in the sand (NHL equivalency).
Which brings me to another question. In an article for Oilers Nation yesterday, Jonathan Willis wrote the following:
- For one, it already makes a mediocre 2009 Draft look worse. The Oilers found a real player in Magnus Paajarvi at 10th overall (since cashed in for another real player, David Perron). Four years out, Rajala was one of three guys contributing at the AHL level, and the only one scoring – the others are defensive specialist Anton Lander and backup goalie Olivier Roy. One pick (Troy Hesketh) is already a clear bust and two others look to be well on their way: Cameron Abney, who can’t crack the Oilers’ AHL lineup, and Kyle Bigos who is on a one-year AHL contract with the Worcester Sharks.
I don’t have an argument with any of what Jonathan wrote, the Rajala flush DOES make the 2009 draft look worse. My question is: should it? Now before you roll your eyes and decide this is yet another way for me to defend MBS, hear me out please. In the first half of the last decade, Oiler prospects (from Rita to Mikhnov to Niinimaki to Trukhno and on it went) would get a chance in the AHL, possibly move up to the NHL for an audition, and then head back to Europe with an answer about their NHL ability (fringe players).
Nowadays, and I’m going to bunch Thoresen in with Omark and Rajala and Hartikainen and let’s include Liam Reddox too, “fringe” NHL players have other, more lucrative opportunities than the AHL. Unless you’re sure that an NHL offer is coming, and that’s what caused Teemu Hartikainen to leave (as I understand it), then the KHL (or other Euro league) has to be an attractive option–especially if it’s at or near home. Right?
Now, we have a player in Rajala who–without the money from Europe calling–would have stayed, built on last season and possibly received some NHL playing time. After that, you never know.
So, back to my question: because of the change in European offer size, is it reasonable to adjust our thinking in regard to draft success? Is it reasonable to say “well, Rajala may or may not have emerged as an NHL option but he reached that career plateau where the Euro dollars outflanked the NHL possibilities?” and further can we reasonably suggest that the Rajala pick was a success even without an NHL appearance?
From my point of view, the AHL has become a farm team for the KHL (as well as the National Hockey League) and at some point we’re going to regard the KHL as something similar to the WHA 40 years ago: another (lesser) major league. And if that’s the case, then Patrick Thoresen covered the bet.
I believe the change in the weather means we have to adjust our sights. Thoughts?