Craig MacTavish is easily the most quotable coach/manager in the history of the Edmonton Oilers. I’ve been told that my criticism of MacT in past years was over the top, perhaps that’s true. If you read his words, hard to understand how he fell short. Here’s an example, a quote from the 2014-15 season:
“It (absence of drafted players from later rounds) undermines the performance of everything we do on and off the ice, and it has to get better. From the minute we took over we focused on improving our draft record. We’ve worked hard to improve all of our draft processes. We are more regionally focused. There’s more of an emphasis on getting to know the players, interviewing the players. We’ve integrated a lot of analytics into our decision making. We’ve integrated a lot of technology into our video scouting. We’ve got more management now in the field communicating with our scouts. We’ve got a draft philosophy since I took over in an effort to improve our draft record. Last year’s draft (2014) is tough to evaluate because we didn’t have a 2nd or 3rd round pick. The draft before (2013) I think we’ve added a lot of pieces & a lot of things that we needed.”
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THE 2007 DRAFT
The real culprit in the 2014-15 Oilers season was the 2007 draft. Kevin Prendergast presided over the draft 2001-07 for Edmonton and there were many problems—including several years when the team didn’t have an AHL club.
The 2007 draft came at a time when Edmonton badly needed to replenish the system, a problem that wasn’t solved when MacT took over over five years later. In 2007 summer, the Oilers were only one year removed from the 2006 SCF but the NHL roster was wobbly in many places and Ryan Smyth had left town.
The Oilers entered the draft with: The No. 6, No. 15, No. 30 and No. 36 overall picks.
A tremendous need for help everywhere meant the scouting department had all kinds of options available. Let’s review what they did at each point in the draft and how it has impacted the team since that weekend.
NUMBER SIX OVERALL
Before the draft, we discussed (on this blog) Edmonton getting one of Sam Gagner or Jakub Voracek at No. 6 overall. As it turned out, the LA Kings chose Thomas Hickey out of order, and the Oilers were left with their choice of the two players they coveted (well, Prendergast kept saying things about Karl Alzner but I digress). Edmonton chose wrong (Voracek>Gagner) but Gagner has enjoyed a solid career. Lowe and Prendergast didn’t get full value from No. 6 overall but did get value. Per 82 NHL games over his career, Gagner scored 16-29-45.
NO 15 OVERALL
Alex Plante didn’t work out—there were injury issues from the beginning, at the first rookie camp before main camp—but the idea of a big, strong defender with some offense was certainly defensible. The error with this selection: BPA. The club should have taken Cherepanov, and the fact the young man died tragically doesn’t change the point of BPA.
Plante was not the best defenseman still on the board (Subban), we know that today. What we knew draft day is that Plante wasn’t the best value at No. 15 and they should have either traded down or taken a more highly rated player. Ian Cole and Jonathan Blum were available and chosen shortly after Plante.
My other issue with this pick: Mobility. Plante’s problem, beyond the concussions, was his ability to change direction. It was like watching a big rig turn around in a phone booth: awkward, slow and exasperating.
NO 21 OVERALL: RILEY NASH
One of the things I’ve come to appreciate over these years is Red Line Report. Kyle Woodlief’s chat on USA Today draft week 2007: At Red Line, our staff loves Riley Nash, and I think he could go off the board possibly as high as #15 overall. A really well schooled, all-around player who can play it any way you want.
The choice at No. 21 was shocking because Edmonton gave up No. 30 and No. 36 to get a checking forward, a MacTavish, a player who would never play for them. The trade up, in draft value, was a massive overpayment but might have been justified had they chosen Max Pacioretty or David Perron. Edmonton had a real chance for skill in the first round, but only one of the three picks was devoted to that side of the game. Nash, for his NHL career, is averaging 9-16-25 over 541 games. Aim for the heavens in the first round.
FEBRUARY 1, 2015
I wrote the following about MacT and the 2015 draft on the first of February that year:
The Oilers have three high picks this coming draft, they currently hold No. 2, No. 23 and No. 32 overall picks (rest of season and lottery to come). I think they need to take three forwards, the best offensive options available, and avoid any of the second tier leagues. That’s BCJHL (for the love of God Almighty), AJHL, SJHL, MJHL, OPJHL, USHL, NAHL, all of it. They should draft players in the first three selections from the CHL, NCAA or Europe.
They should NOT factor in how many years they have to make a decision, that’s a chicken play when you’re drafting this high. They should NOT take any player in those three selections who hasn’t shown a clear ability to impact the offense. Full stop.
On the day Bob Green, Scott Howson and Craig MacTavish sit down to make the final list (I assume Stu MacGregor and the scouts will have been fired into the sun by the Nicholson cannon), they need to pay heed to the following:
- No size AND skating issues, no matter the talent
- No insane reaches
- No packaging up No. 23 and No. 32 to get to No. 17 (that isn’t value)
- No BCJHL or any other JHL
- No one with a long list of injuries already
- NO GOALIES (they won’t listen to this one)
- No picks that have questionable offensive resumes. This draft is deep enough to score three magnificent talents.
I think they should walk into the room and take (based on where they are now) Jack Eichel, Anthony Beauvillier and Jake DeBrusk.
THE 2015 DRAFT
I thought the Oilers should have held on to those picks but new general manager Peter Chiarelli went in a different direction. It’s unfair to say progress was flat though, as the summer 2015 list, with help from the MacT years, has some stunning talent at the top and the beginnings of true depth on defense and at center. Here’s my top 20 from 2015 summer.
- (NR) C Connor McDavid. The franchise.
- (1) C Leon Draisaitl. I love his passing, he’s a wonderful player.
- (2) D Darnell Nurse. Nurse does appear to have the full range of skills.
- (NR) D Griffin Reinhart. Big defender (6.04, 217) was a dominant junior player.
- (4) C Bogdan Yakimov. Big C impressed during TC, then struggled offensively for long stretches.
- (5) W Iiro Pakarinen. 6.01, 205 winger with grit and skill.
- (9) C Kyle Platzer. He emerged as a genuine NHL prospect in his final junior year.
- (6) C-R Greg Chase. Gritty forward with offensive ability.
- (17) L Anton Slepyshev. Slepyshev scored 15 goals in a tough damn league playing 12:26 a night.
- (NR) D Ethan Bear. Good skater, makes pinpoint passes, good decisions, calm feet and can hit hard.
- (16) G Laurent Brossoit. Brossoit’s numbers (.918SP) suggest an actual goalie prospect on the horizon.
- (14) D Joey Laleggia. Quality offensive defenseman at the NCAA level.
- (8) D Dillon Simpson. The jump from college to pro was a big challenge early for the young defender.
- (NR) G Eetu Laurikainen. A .933SP in any league is exceptional.
- (29) R Andrew Miller. Reminds many of Mark Arcobello and may win a utility role in 2015-16.
- (22) D Jordan Oesterle. He’s fast! You have to respect a player with wheels.
- (NR) D Caleb Jones. A mobile defender with a reputation for being a very good passer.
- (7) C Jujhar Khaira. If he could only score a little more, Khaira would be much higher on this list.
- (10) R Tyler Pitlick. I think he may need a second organization.
- (15) D William Lagesson. Physical defenseman with a reputation for being solid in coverage.
Who gets credit for the 2015 draft, after McDavid? I addressed this the other day, but it did take a village that included Chiarelli, MacT, Howson, even the departed MacGregor. MacT was directly responsible for Draisaitl, Nurse, Yakimov, Pakarinen, Platzer, Chase, Slepyshev, Brossoit (via trade), Oesterle and Lagesson.
I think MacTavish is a smart guy and if he’d been given more time it’s possible he would have been a successful general manager. He was a quality coach and did some fine work in the GM’s chair despite lacking experience. He contributed significantly to the Oilers team you see today.