Make no mistake about it, it's a new era in Oilerville. A new GM, a new coaching staff and a draft that saw Edmonton do some things they haven't done in a very long time.
Edmonton entered the draft armed with 7 draft picks including a pair of third round bullets but lacked one in the 5th round. The team made two trades during the event; the first was moving roster player Kyle Brodziak and their 6th round pick to Minnesota for 4th and 5th rounders. The second deal was short and sweet - they gave Ottawa their 7th for the Senators' 6th in 2010.
Here is a review of the draft from an Oiler perspective with comments from Head Scout (Amateur), Stu MacGregor.
Edmonton went into the draft with the same assumption a lot of people did; that the top 8 was pretty much set with John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene making up the 3-man vanguard, Evander Kane and Brayden Schenn the next two forwards to go followed by a combination of Jared Cowen, Pääjärvi-Svensson and Dmitry Kulikov.
After several attempts at putting my glass to the wall, I had a pretty good indication ten days ago that Edmonton had narrowed it down to about 5 players who they felt would reasonably still be available when their turn came around. Forward Nazem Kadri was one but my hunch was that there wasn't a strong consensus from the staff on whether he would be the Best Player Available. There were three defencemen in the mix led by USHL rearguard John Moore with Swedes David Rundblad and Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the conversation. I was led to believe that Brandon forward Scott Glennie was considered a "wild card" who might move higher up 'the List' when the organization got back together again in Montreal.
My sense was that by the time the draft was about to get underway, the Oilers had eliminated the two Swedes from serious consideration and that Kadri probably wouldn't be available leaving them with Moore and Glennie sitting neck-and-neck with equal value to them. The only difference between the two players being that the franchise is arguable more in need of a scoring forward than a top-3 defenceman making Glennie their man.
The draft began as expected, aside from Toronto not being able to trade up, but that changed once the top 5 were gone. When Phoenix selected Ekman-Larsson that essentially pushed one of Edmonton's top 8 down to the number 9 position and one spot closer to them. With Toronto taking Kadri, Edmonton's table must have been smiling because now they knew they were definitely going to get a player they really valued highly. Dallas surprised everyone taking Glennie in the 8th slot which guaranteed Edmonton would be looking at 2-3 of their top-8 players. Ottawa's selection of Jared Cowen cinched it; With both a forward and a defenceman who they didn't expect to still be available, Edmonton did as they would have with Glennie VS Moore and chose the forward.
Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson (LW) - Timrå Red Eagles (SEL)
Norrköping, SWE Shoots: Left
Height: 6'1 Weight: 201 lbs
The Oilers had not used a first round pick on a player based in Europe since 2002 (Jesse Niinimaki) but when the picks proceeded and MPS was amazingly available for them, Edmonton had no choice but to take him.
According to the player when he was on The Pipeline Show a couple of weeks ago, his name is pronounced "Pa-Jar-Vee" or even more like "Puh-Jar-Vee" when you hear him say it. In their combine interview the Oilers asked Pääjärvi-Svensson what he'd like his name bar to say on the back of his sweater when they drafted him and he told them "Paajarvi" which is also the way he wore it in Sweden.
Interestingly enough, "Pääjärvi" comes from his Finnish mother but unlike French-Canadian players such as Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, the Swede opts to drop his father's last name for the back of his jersey. It may or may not mean anything but I like the choice for two reasons: (1) He's the child of separated parents so this may be a nod to his mother and (2) he's playing in Sweden and sporting a Finnish name on his uniform... is that ballsy? I don't know but I like it anyway.
Pääjärvi-Svensson is an electrifying player who has speed, hands and charisma. Given a year or two, and he won't be coming to North America before the 2010-11 season, he could make for a great match with Ales Hemsky. Who Edmonton might squeeze in between them is another story.
Oiler fans will get their next chance to see Pääjärvi-Svensson up close in international action at the 2010 WJC in Saskatoon/Regina. He'll definitely be the headliner for Sweden as that country attempts to stop Canada's quest for 6 straight gold medals.
One of the things the Oilers feel really good about with their Swede compared to the others taken in round one is that, outside of Hedman, he may be the most physically mature. While the other five first round picks all weigh between 175-190 lbs, Pääjärvi-Svensson has cracked the 200 lb plateau.
As the first round continued and defenceman John Moore continued to be available, Edmonton began kicking tires to see what it would take to move up into an area where they might be able to take him. Moore is a player that Oilers Assistant GM Rick Olczyk knew well from his days spent in the Chicago area where he actually coached the defenceman at a younger age. It's my sense that Moore was very likely 10th on Edmonton's list, just behind Glennie, so if they could have found a way to get back into the first round, they would have. As it turned out, the asking price was a later pick in round 1 and they simply didn't have one so they watched with envy as former Oiler Scott Howson came away with another player Edmonton valued. (Maxim Mayorov in 2007 was another).
There was hope as round two began on Saturday morning that the unpredictable order from Day 1 would continue. Erie Otter Ryan O'Reilly is a player the Oilers would have been excited to select in the 40 spot but he went quickly to the Colorado Avalanche. Carl Klingberg, Alex Chiasson and Chris Brown were also players who I had the impression that Edmonton liked to a certain degree. When their turn came around again, the Oilers went back to Sweden and added another forward.
Anton Lander (C/LW) - Timrå Red Eagles (SEL)
Sundsvall, SWE Shoots: Left
Height: 6' Weight: 194 lbs
The first thing you'll notice is that Lander and Pääjärvi-Svensson are teammates and that quickly had some fans jumping to the conclusion that it played a major role as to why Edmonton chose him. Not so according to Stu MacGregor who chalks that up to simple coincidence.
"That just.. happens to be," said Edmonton's head scout, "It wasn't something that we focused on. Does it hurt anything? No. They played together before and played together growing up and that will obviously help them as they try and make the transition on their way to the NHL."
The more I hear about and read up on Lander, he's reminding me a little bit of a Swedish version of Jarret Stoll who, coming out of junior was considered a heart and soul, glue-in-the-room kind of player. Lander was the captain of Sweden's U18 squad in April and could very well be wearing the same letter at the 2010 WJC this coming winter.
Asked what Lander's current areas of weakness might be, MacGregor offered up the usual response but insisted that there is no concern about them either.
"Like every player at that age he has to improve his skating and strength but that's where his game has continued to evolve in his attempt to become a second line center," said MacGregor, "Anton is the kind of guy that provides skill and that character and drive."
It should be noted that during our ISS Draft Preview this past Tuesday, we asked head scout Mike Oke to suggest a player who might fit the boom/bust category and Lander was the first player that he mentioned. On the flip side of the coin, we asked Pääjärvi-Svensson a few weeks ago to name a couple Swedes he felt were being overlooked as the draft got closer and not surprisingly the first name out of his mouth was that of his buddy and teammate.
The selection of Lander represented the first time in their history that Edmonton's first two picks went to players based outside of North America. The only other year where European born players went 1-2 for Edmonton was 1999 where Jani Rita was followed by Alexei Semenov who was playing in the OHL for Sudbury. Tony Salmelainen was Edmonton's 3rd pick that same year.
With two forwards in the bank I suspected that Edmonton would begin to look more towards a blueliner for their next pick, the first of two chances in round three. As round two unfolds, big rearguards like Brian Dumoulin and Taylor Doherty are snapped up soon followed by Brayden McNabb in round three. Edmonton's desire to get bigger and look to the blueline leads them to take a player not even among the 210 North American names on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking.
Troy Hesketh (D) - Minnetonka Skippers (MN-USHS)
Minnetonka, Minnesota USA Shoots: Left
Height: 6'2 Weight: 178 lbs
The reaction from fans online was instant and venomous as their team dared select players they, as fans, had no familiarity with:
"What an absolutely atrocious pick with guys like Rajala and Roy still on the board. Massive fail." suggested a Hockey's Future Message Board member calling himself "doulos".
"Who the [heck] is Hesketh??" was the basic sentiment from several other fans.
Despite the non-ranking by Central Scouting, Edmonton's Stu MacGregor insists that his team wasn't the only one on the hunt for Hesketh in this draft.
"He was a player that after the draft was done, other guys were coming up to us and saying 'you guys snuck one here!'" said MacGregor. "New Jersey runs their own scouting combine and we knew that they'd had him in there and a number of other teams were on the radar for him right around that area so we knew we had to step in there and get him if we wanted him."
Hesketh has good size, put up 21 points from the back end in 25 games with the Skippers but is definitely considered a long term project because he's only just wrapped up his grade 11. He's still got another year of high school hockey ahead of him but is expected to then attend Wisconsin, one of the more respected NCAA hockey programs in the United States.
"Wisconsin has been recruiting some of the finest defencemen in college hockey over the last number of years now and they are extremely excited about him as a player," said MacGregor, "His brother and father are both much taller than he is so we think there is still some physical development to come."
He's a big 6'2 right now but could conceivable sprout up two or three more inches and get into that behemoth range.
"Mike Peluso, our scout in the Minnesota area, has an extreme passion for him," MacGregor said, "He's a projection player and we're really excited that a little over a year from now he'll be playing at Wisconsin and developing under their fine coaching staff there."
I have also seen reports that suggest Hesketh isn't due to arrive at Wisconsin until the 2011-12 season which would mean an extra year at a lower level.
Some fans will wonder about the fact that Central Scouting didn't have him ranked if in fact he's such a hotly sought after prospect. According to MacGregor, there have been "many" players over the years who have been drafted without being rated by CSS and it's not something the Oilers are worried about.
The last year that Edmonton drafted anyone directly out of the ranks of US high school was 2005 when they selected Robby Dee and Chris Vande Velde from Brock and Moorhead respectively. Taylor Chorney came out of prep school Shattuck St. Mary's that same year.
As their second pick of the 3rd round approached the Oilers wondered if players like Ryan Howse or Ryan Bourque might still be available. Neither were but the latter may very well have been the name called had New York not swooped in two picks ahead of them. Instead of Ray Bourque's son Edmonton latched onto a player who they believe might one day fill a role on the team that they don't currently have many prospect lined up to do.
Cameron Abney (RW) - Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Aldergrove, BC Canada Shoots: Right
Height: 6'4 Weight: 192 lbs
The online reaction didn't get any better for the Oilers when they selected the tough guy from the Silvertips. I'm sure even Everett was pretty surprised that Abney was drafted ahead of Canadian U18 forward Byron Froese and WHL rookie scoring champ Kellen Tochkin (who somehow went completely undrafted).
"This isn't even funny." typed 'ThePerfectStorm' at HFboards.
"Wow, just an epic fail on the draft today. I am so pissed." echoed 's7zark'.
"I wanna kick a baby. In the 3rd round man? 4 points? Really? I am not a happy man right now." seethed 'Sethis'.
There was a 70-point gap between Kellen Tochkin and Cameron Abney in the Everett scoring race and 66 minutes n penalties between them too. The big winger only appeared in 48 games for the 'Tips in 2008-09 but recorded 103 PIM during that limited time. His fight highlights are already making their rounds through the Oiler fan blogs but still many supporters of the club are unhappy with the use of a third round pick on someone many would categorize as a "goon".
"Right now he's a specific role player but he's a player with the potential to be more than that," suggested MacGregor. "He's a big kid that has grown a lot in the last two years so he's still getting his feet under him. Bob Brown really believes in him and thinks he's got some potential and again, he's another player where guys from a lot of other teams came up to us afterward to say 'hey he's someone that we were looking at'."
Obviously his skating hasn't yet caught up with his growth spurt but that's not to say that it won't provided Abney puts in the work.
In order to try and gauge exactly where they rate Abney right now, I asked MacGregor if the Everett forward reminds him of Zack Stortini (a 3rd round pick in 2003) and where he may have been during his draft year with Sudbury.
"I think Zack was a bit ahead of him at that point," said MacGregor, "[Abney] was hurt at the beginning of the year and didn't get a lot of playing time so maybe a year from now he'll be closer to moving in the same lines as Zack [in junior]."
Cameron Abney, who some have already tabbed as 'Bam-Bam Cam', is the first Everett Player that Edmonton has owned the rights to.
Edmonton made their first trade of the day sending Kyle Brodziak and their 6th rounder to Minnesota in exchange for 4th and 5th picks. The impact of that deal wasn't lost on Oiler fans who quickly realized that moving Brodziak left Edmonton with only one player on the roster who appears to have the ability to win a faceoff. Clearly a need which will have to be addressed via free agency or trade in the very near future.
An interesting and somewhat prophetic comment over at HF from 'Soli' read "Redeem yourselves with 101... Roy... Rajala... Someone I've heard of..."
However, first Edmonton announced their player with the 99th selection and I'll admit, this is a player that I am finding more and more intriguing as I unearth more information about him.
Kyle Bigos (D) - Vernon Vipers (BCHL)
Upland, California USA Shoots: Right
Height: 6'5 Weight: 230 lbs
This is a player that did actually come up in a pre-draft conversation that I had with an Oiler source but it was masterfully downplayed as just another interesting player as opposed to someone on the radar.
Bigos has come a long way in a very short period of time. I had a conversation early today with Vernon GM and head coach Mark Ferner and he helped shed some light on the gigantic blueliner. According to the coach, last summer Bigos was denting the scale at 250 lbs but dedicated himself to dropping some excess weight and getting into better playing shape so that he could potentially attract a NCAA scholarship. Like Dustin Byfuglien in the NHL, once he shed some pounds he became a much more effective player. He committed to Merrimack of Hockey East and is set to join the Warriors in 2009-10.
Coach Ferner spoke very highly in regards to the development in Bigos' on-ice performance over the last couple of years and told me that two years ago he was getting grilled for even having him on the team. Now though, Ferner and the Vipers are laughing all the way to the bank... or at least to the RBC Cup.
Vernon captured the RBC Cup this year and in the process Bigos was named both the Top Defensive Player and the MVP of the event as well. Bigos only scored 8 times during 58 regular season games but he struck for an absolute beauty in the RBC Cup title game against Humboldt. The game story from Hockey Canada says:
Bigos capped off an MVP tournament with an MVP-style goal late in the third, undressing three Broncos and tucking the puck around LaRochelle for the insurance marker."He's an extremely big guy but he skates pretty well for such a big guy," said MacGregor, "Shoots the puck well. His play really rose up as the playoffs went along for Vernon and was a huge factor for them winning the Royal Bank Cup."
Thanks to a terrific season Bigos started getting a lot more NCAA interest with programs trying to get him to jump ship from Merrimack but apparently he's stayed loyal to the Warriors.
"All the big schools were trying to get him to default but he stuck to his guns and said 'they were the ones who believed in me when I wasn't a highly regarded guy and I'm sticking with them' said MacGregor. "He's going to play against all those top teams in Hockey East and Merrimack's program is doing nothing but going on the rise."
Coach Ferner informed me that he'd been contacted by about 15 NHL teams in regards to the big blueliner so the Oilers certainly were not the only interested party.
Bigos is the first native Californian that Edmonton has drafted since former Edmonton Road Runner defenceman Jason Platt in 2000.
A lot of Oiler fans had been screaming two different names at their TVs and computer monitors since the third round and finally, with the 101st overall selection their unconventional prayers were answered.
Toni Rajala (RW) - Ilves Jr. (FIN-Jr.)
Parkano, Finland Shoots: Left
Height: 5'10 Weight: 163 lbs
If you wanted the Oilers to forget everything else and simply draft a guy for his skill and offensive potential, then you were happy when they chose the leading scorer from the World U18 tournament. The diminutive Finn broke Alex Ovechkin's U18 scoring record by collecting 19 points in Fargo, a total that was 4 points beter than anyone else in the same event.
Rajala fell in the draft simply because of his stature; his talent stuffed into an averaged size body would have been picked in round 1. Every team in the league looked past him but eventually the potential outweighs the risk of a blown pick and for Edmonton that was with the 101st selection.
"That's it exactly," agreed MacGregor, "You can't keep passing up players that have the hockey instincts and [abilities] to create the offence that he has. A lot of smaller players are playing and guys like Nate Gerbe are finding a place and with his high skill level and intelligence I think he's got a really good opportunity."
If you're small in the NHL then you'd better be a good skater and MacGregor confirms that speed isn't a major concern for their new Finn.
"He's quick, he's not going to race you and beat you up and down the ice but he's quick in small space and gets in and out of dangerous areas quickly because he's so agile," he explained.
So he's small like Tony Salmelainen but doesn't have that same breakaway speed. So is there another Oiler property that he might have a similar skating style too?
"He's like [Jordan] Eberle in a 20 foot space where he darts in and out."
Rajala would have to be considered as close to automatic as it gets in regards to the 2010 WJC. After his U18 performance where he outgunned top 2010 prospects Mikael Granlund and Teemu Pulkkinen, Rajala will likely join fellow Oiler prospect Teemu Hartikainen in Saskatoon/Regina.
With the disgruntled section of the fanbase slowly coming back on board the bandwagon thanks to the Rajala pick, Edmonton sets its sights on adding a netminder to the organization. Edmonton doesn't currently have a goalie under the age of 21 so picking one up this year is considered, to some degree, a priority.
In all of the conversations I had leading up to the draft I could not determine if there was one goalie that had set himself a part from the pack in any way. By the start of the 5th round most of the well known keepers were gone but Edmonton product Kieran Millan may have been in Oiler sights until Colorado intervened and took the BU freshman. In the end, Edmonton got a keeper with big potential and also further satiated the bloodlust of any disappointed fans.
Olivier Bellevance-Roy (G) - Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
Amqui, PQ Canada Catches: Left
Height: 6' Weight: 165 lbs
At one point early on in the year there were people who suggested the Cape Breton goalie was easily the #1 netminder for 2009. He and the Eagles got off to a screaming start before coming back down to Earth but he ended the year much like it began - on fire.
"He's not the biggest of goaltenders but he's a very competitive guy," MacGregor started, "We did some follow up on him and to us he was a guy who seems to have some real potential."
He's average height at 6' but coming in at only 165 lbs does sound extremely small considering Rajala is 163 lbs and described by many as 'tiny'. Roy went 35-12-3 this season and sported a 2.89 GAA and .905 save percentage. That's the 5th best GAA and SV% in the QMJHL amongst starters.
Roy is one of four goalies that have been invited to Hockey Canada's Summer Development camp, the first step in an attempt to play in the 2010 WJC for Canada. He is the youngest and smallest of the four invited netminders but will be channeling Dustin Tokarski's aura as a recent Canadian starter who was sub-6'.
Edmonton didn't have a 6th rounder as they moved it to Minnesota along with Brodziak. The Wild used that option to select Red Deer goalie Darcy Kuemper.
The Oilers were holding onto their final pick, a 7th rounder, and considered using it should a local product like Levko Koper still be available. Although Edmonton native Burke Gallimore ended up going un-drafted, Edmonton decided to flip their 2009 7th to Ottawa for their 2010 6th which is just a simple case of proper asset management.
With the draft officially in the books it was time to check in on the cyber-fanbase at HF:
"Sweet. Was the scouting staff drunk for the third round only? Maybe they were reading their list upside down or something. The guys we got in the 4th/5th should've been the ones we got in the 3rd. But who cares, we got 'em!" said 'ThePerfectStorm'.
"Man, EDM is putting on a clinic this draft!! MPS, Rajala, and Roy were all huge steals..." praised 'T-Cage;
Perhaps the best post as the draft wound up was this one by the always witty 'Mowzie':
"So if we just re-arrange the numbers, are we all happy with the draft at this point?
I think he's got a point, that would have pleased many of those who were grumbling along the way.
The Oilers entered the draft with 7 picks, they chose 7 players, added a pick for the 2010 draft but also parted ways with capable utility forward Kyle Brodziak. Two defencemen, both big to very big, an intriguing netminder and four forwards - 2 skill, one 2-way/character and one ruffian.
A little bit of everything including plenty of ups and downs for the fanbase.
(Photos Courtesy: ESPN, Vernon Vipers and Edge Photo, NHL, Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson, Everett Silvertips, Sportsline.com, and Getty Images)