Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Oiler in Memorial Cup for 2nd straight year

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The CHL import draft is underway, and while the Edmonton Oil Kings aren't overly concerned without a pick in the first round, their parent club the Oilers were watching closely.

When the number 14 selection rolled around the Red Deer Rebels decided not to use it, but rather wrap it in a paper airplane and sent it across the prairies to the Brandon Wheat Kings.

The day began when Brandon general manager and head coach Kelly McCrimmon acquired Medicine Hat’s first round pick (44th overall) in exchange for a sixth round bantam pick in 2011 or a flip of first round Import picks in 2011.

The Wheat Kings then traded that pick as well as 20-year old veteran Nathan Green to the Rebels in exchange for the fourteenth overall selection. With that pick, Brandon took the 5’10” 163 lb. Rajala
So with the 14th pick, the Wheat Kings grabbed Finish scoring sensation Tony Rajala. If that sounds familiar, it's because the Oilers just selected him in the NHL draft over the weekend. To read a complete review of Rajala and others click here. While it would have been nice to see him quite often here with the Rebels or down highway two in Red Deer, it should mean - barring a trade or injury - that he'll get to suit up in The Memorial Cup this May as the Wheat Kings are hosting it. However it will depend on the contract status of Rajala in Finland. To me though getting a chance to get used to North American hockey and play on a big stage should be enough to bring him across the pond. If it happens It will mark the second straight year an Oilers prospect has played in one of The Pipeline Show's four majors, with Phillipe Cornet skating with Rimouski last year.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Springfield Free Agents

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Last week I wrote a lengthy Oilers update that seems to have gone under the radar, I'm guessing because it came out on a weekend. With July 1st on the horizon fans are wondering which Edmonton prospects will or won't be re-signed and although I already passed on the information that I had on the subject, I'll quickly do so again.

Forwards - Stephane Goulet, Hans Benson, David Rohlfs and Tyler Spurgeon.
Defencemen - Sebastien Bisaillon, Mathieu Roy, Josef Hrabal (buy-out)
Goalie: Glenn Fisher

Bryan Young is being asked to accept a minor league deal and at this point I do not have an update on whether that will happen or not. Troy Bodie and Freddie Pettersson declined the same offer and became free agents.

Kevin Prendergast will be on The Pipeline Show on Tuesday and we'll check to see if there are any corrections that need to be made to my list. New Oiler prospect Kyle Bigos will make his debut on the radio program tomorrow night as well.

That update I linked to above also listed a few AHL players the Oilers have in mind for Springfield next year.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dave Barr Wild About Minnesota

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The Pipeline Show, on the TEAM 1260 in Edmonton, has learned that Dave Barr (pictured right standing beside Tony Granato) will be joining the Minnesota Wild as an Assistant Coach. The Wild hired Todd Richards as their new bench boss just 12 days ago. Barr was a victim of the Colorado Avalanche house cleaning this off season, when the Avs finally got around to relieving Tony Granto after letting him drift in the wind for weeks. Before his gig with the Avalanche, Barr was the head man for the Guelph Storm of the OHL over a 4 season span, winning coach of the year honours in 2006. He was also Canada's Head Coach for the 2007 Ivan Hlinka U-18 tournament. This you might remember was when Kyle Beach ensured he would never play for Canada as a junior aged player, by covering the maple leaf with an OHL logo, as the Blackhawk prospect thought OHL players were getting preferential treatment.

As for Barr, it seemed like he was destined to return to junior hockey. Word is Barr was offered the Head Coach and G.M. position with the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL recently, but turned it down to stay in the NHL as an assistant coach.

That still leaves two openings for the Hurricanes. While Rich Sutter's name keeps coming up as G.M. TPS has even heard that Michael Dyck could return as Head Coach and even Perry Pearn's (pictured) name has surfaced. I saw Pearn in the airport on Saturday, he was returning from the NHL draft in Montreal where he participated in a coaching clinic. I asked him if he had any irons in the fire and he said he was talking to a few people. I think he would make a great fit in Lethbridge until another NHL job comes up.

Edmonton Oilers 2009 Draft Review

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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'.

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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?

1st- Svensson
2nd- Lander
3rd- Rajala
4th- Roy
5th- Bigos
6th- Hesketh
7th- Abney"

I think he's got a point, that would have pleased many of those who were grumbling along the way.

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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)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Pretty Swede Draft

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The 2009 NHL Entry Draft has come and gone and produced more surprises than most years even though there wasn't a ton of NHL player movement.

Of course the Chris Pronger trade at the beginning of the event was significant, Jay Bouwmeester's rights now belong to Calgary while Florida gets the rights to Jordan Leopold and Kyle Brodziak moved to Minnesota. Outside of that, the excitment of the weekend was definitely on the floor where mock drafts were destroyed with surprising regularity almost from the get-go.

There were a few people who though Oliver Ekman-Larsson could be a Top 10 pick, just as many who didn't, but as far as I know the only mock that had him going 6th overall to Phoenix was at Hockey's Future. I can't recall anyone that envisioned Scott Glennie going to Dallas at the number 8 spot either.

The fact that Brian Burke failed to move up and get either of his two much-publicized targets was as surprising to me as the player they chose - I saw Nazem Kadri ending up in Ottawa (as Bryan Murray clearly did) and was quite stunned to see him go to the Leafs instead.

Our TEAM 1260 panel consisting of Dean Millard, Wil Fraser and myself all liked the way Columbus was able to move back in the draft, get some more picks and then move back up to get defenceman John Moore who inexplicably dropped to 21. At the other end of the spectrum, we hated the decision from the Islanders to move up from 16 to 12 and grab Calvin De Haan, a player no scouting agency or media outlet had ranked in the top 20.

Flames fans ripped us after our interview with Tod Button because they thought we implied their blueline prospects were thin. (for the record, I like the defensive prospects Calgary has). I wonder how happy Calgary fans are after seeing their team take a defensive defenceman from Sweden instead of some of the offensive talents who were still available to them. Dean thought the fit of Landon Ferraro and Brent Sutter was a natural and I thought Carter Ashton fits Darryl Sutter's draft trends of late.

We were surprised that both Drew Shore and Jeremy Morin last well into the second round. Both US-NTDP players were considered 1st round level talents by everyone we spoke with. That said, we're also a little surprised that 13 teams passed on them again in round 2 before Florida and Atlanta scooped them up.

I felt that Finnish netminder Mikko Koskinen was a real wild card heading into the weekend but even I didn't think he'd be the first goalie taken in the draft. It wasn't a great year for netminders in general but I was still confused as to why guys like Mike Lee and Olivier Roy fell as far as they did.

The first Edmonton Oil King that went in the draft wasn't Tomas Vincour but Philip Samuelsson. The late round pick of Edmonton played in the USHL and is headed to Boston College in the fall but no one I spoke with felt he was a better prospect than Vincour who lasted until round 5 before Dallas grabbed him.

There were also a few players who didn't get drafted at all that I thought were worthy of selection. Saskatoon forward Burke Gallimore comes to mind and does Kelowna defenceman Collin Bowman. Cass Mappin in Red Deer is another.

Overall it was a fantastic draft for Sweden who saw 12 players go in the first 2 rounds. That's terrific for a country that not that long ago was struggling at events like the WJC. Now, after two consecutive silver medals and this break out year at the draft, there is little doubt that Sweden is back on top with the U.S. for non-Canadian hockey production.

Dean and I quickly went through the individual teams to see who stood out for us as winners for the entire weekend (and not just Round 1) and we both agreed that the list should include: Colorado, Atlanta, Anaheim, Florida, Detroit and Tampa Bay.

I want to take a minute and thank Wil Fraser and Robin Brownlee for getting the TEAM 1260's live draft coverage started yesterday before Dean and I moved in at 5 PM. Both guys provided great comments and some good laughs too through the first hour of the draft, it was a lot of fun. Dean and I were joined again by Wil later on in the event which gave our panel a solid trio of opinions. I also want to give a shout out to The Sports Doctor, Taylor Medak, who was pushing the buttons and answering all the phone calls for us from 2 PM until we finally decided to wrap it up a little after 11 PM.

We also chatted with Hockey Hall of Fame writer Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal, who I was forced to apologize to on the air, and also A.J. Jacubec who is the voice of the Oil Kings (and president of the Carter Ashton fan club). Our pal Jimmy Connolly of USCHO.com also gave us a surprise call to vent his frustration with the lack of NCAA picks in the first round.

We recorded our entire NHL Draft Show and I will upload it so that you can go back and listen to our coverage (if you missed it live) and relive the event as it unfolded. Undoubtedly some of our comments and predictions are going to look rather silly now... but we take solace knowing that we're far from the only ones who were off the mark this year.

For the record, Dean went 24/30 on his mock and I went 25/30 on mine... not bad considering how much parity there was in prospects this year.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Draft: Our 4th Major

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Tennis has it's 4 Grand Slam events in the Aussie, French, U.S. Opens and Wimbledon.

Golf features The PGA Championship, The British and U.S. Opens and The Masters.

We here at TPS also have our 'Big Four' as well:

The Frozen Four

The Memorial Cup

The World Junior Championship

The NHL Entry Draft

I've been to 3 out of 4 events in the past and would really like one day to attend the NCAA championship tournament. For that reason alone the Frozen Four is the my PGA Championship. The Memorial Cup is the U.S. Open for me, while the Draft is the British. That leaves the WJC as The Masters for this guy, which are my 2 favorites in golf and hockey.

How about you? Also while you're chiming in, let us know who you think your favorite team is going to draft tonight.

And don't forget about the TEAM 1260's draft coverage today. We start with Just A Game at 2 PM, then Guy and I take over and lead you through the draft and beyond at 5PM MST. Were scheduled to be on until 9 PM tonight but if things go late, so will we. Rounds 2-7 will be covered off by The Fourth Period radio show starting at 8 AM Saturday. Hope you tune in tonight and we hope to hear from you after the draft. You can listen online through our site.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Werek's World - Part 7

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For the last several month we have been fortunate enough to have a foursome of 2009 eligible prospects guest blogging with us. With the draft almost here, Ethan Werek of the Kingston Frontenacs has found time in his busy schedule to update us once again on what's happening right now as he gets set for what might be the biggest day of his life thus far.

With the 31st selection, TPS is pleased to pick...

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So here's the deal, if The Pipeline Show was an NHL franchise and we owned the 31st pick, here's who we would have as the first 30 picks in front of us. These are the 30 best players, in our opinion, for this year's draft. The guys we think will make the best NHLer down the road.

Millard
1.John Tavares-C
2.Victor Hedman–LD
3.Matt Duchene–C
4.Brayden Schenn–C
5.Evander Kane–C
6.Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson-LW
7.Jared Cowen-LD
8.Dmitri Kulikov-LD
9.Nazem Kadri-C
10.John Moore-LD
11.Scott Glennie-C
12.Oliver Ekman-Larsson-LD
13.Jordan Schroeder-RW
14.Jacob Josefson-C
15.Louis Leblanc-C
16.David Rundbland-RD
17.Ryan Ellis-RD
18.Zack Kassian-RW
19.Carter Ashton-LW
20.Drew Shore-C
21.Kyle Palmieri-LW
22.Chris Kreider-LW
23.Landon Ferraro-RW
24.Peter Holland-C
25.Jeremy Morin-C
26.Simon Despres-LD
27.Ethan Werek-C
28.Dimitri Orlov-LD
29.Jordan Caron-C
30.Ryan O'Reilly-C


Flaming
1. Victor Hedman-LD
2. John Tavares-C
3. Matt Duchene-C
4. Jared Cowen-LD
5. Magnus Parjaarvi-Svensson-LW
6. Evander Kane-C
7. Brayden Schenn-C
8. Dmitri Kulikov-LD
9. John Moore-LD
10.Scott Glennie-C
11.Jordan Schroeder-RW
12.Nazem Kadri-C
13.Oliver Ekman-Larsson-LD
14.Kyle Palmieri-C
15.Zack Kassian-RW
16.David Rundblad-RD
17.Jacob Josefson-C
18.Carter Ashton-LW
19.Chris Kreider-LW
20.Landon Ferraro-RW
21.Ethan Werek-C
22.Ryan Ellis-RD
23.Peter Holland-C
24.Louis Leblanc-C
25.Jeremy Morin-C
26.Drew Shore-C
27.Ryan O'Reilly-C
28.Tim Erixon-LD
29.Calvin deHaan-LD
30.Simon Despres-LD


Disagree? Let us have it.

Don't forget the TEAM 1260 draft show, Friday starting at 5 PM MST. We look forward to hearing from you after your team makes it's pick.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Draft Day Trades

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It's been 10 years since Brian Burke pulled off one of the greatest draft day deals by working his magic so he could draft both Henrik and Daniel Sedin 2nd and 3rd overall. Will there by some big deals at this year's draft? A lot of people TPS has spoken to think there could be 4-5 deals made in the first round alone.
Here is some scuttlebutt that I've been hearing over the last little while.

Senators and Canucks talks could be heating up
Dany Heatley wants out of our nations capital and the Canucks need to get the Sedins signed. I've heard the twins could be swapped for the disgruntled 50 goal man. All 3 players have the same agent in JP Barry, and Brian Murray shouldn't be looking for a better deal if this one is on the table. There might be picks on the table in this one as well.

Lecavalier leaving Lightning?
A storm is brewing in Lightning land and the infighting between owners might be getting to Vincent Lecavalier. Oren Koules wants to deal the captain and his massive contract, (even though he's the one that gave it the green light) while Len Barrie wants to keep Lecavalier and build around him. I've been told Lecavalier recently made a trip south to Tampa and met with management about getting him dealt. His no trade clause kicks in July 1st, so the bolts would be wise to deal him at the draft and get some extra picks in a draft with tonnes of depth.

The Tootoo train could be rolling into Edmonton
The Oilers need to get grittier and Nashville could use some more skill. Robert Nilsson hasn't lived up to expectations offensively in Edmonton and maybe it's a change of scenery he needs. It's my belief that the teams have talked trade, but I also think the Oilers might have to throw in a mid round pick this year to complete the deal. While Tootoo doesn't have the offensive updside that Nilsson might some day reach, he's more consistent and would give the Oilers some sandpaper.

Pronger done as a Duck, Jack might not be back in LA
The trade that was supposed to send Chris Pronger to LA for Jack Johnson and the 5th overall selection this year didn't happen, but as I heard it from an NHL source recently "it doesn't mean it still won't." Pronger was the centre piece of a 2009 trade deadline deal that fell through at the last second. As it was told to me, the Ducks were sending the former Oiler to Boston for a package that was to include Patrice Bergeron, Mark Stuart and 2008 first rounder Joe Colborne. Another possibility for Pronger could be heading back to St. Louis. As for the Kings another NHL management type added that "Jack Johnson isn't the easiest to deal with" despite his complete innocence at the 2006 WJC when Steve Downie went down due to a supposed Johnson elbow. Johnson has already forced one trade from an NHL team when Carolina shipped him to L.A. and now is reportedly asking for around 5 million from the Kings.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Final Pipeline Show Mock Draft

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For the past month we have been releasing our team-by-team draft previews - one per day... one player at a time.

When we began we decided that we simply had to lock in our picks for the month or else, as our opinions changed, we could realistically see one player ending up with 4 or 5 different teams.

Instead we locked them in a lived with them for the month and the fans of those teams weren't always shy about letting us know how we did. Some of our picks were praised, some of them were shredded but thankfully, no one can say we were wrong. Why? Because now we get to change our minds!

As we stated before the monthly previews started coming out, today is the day when we announce or official mock draft. We've had 30 days since we revealed our thoughts for the Islanders with the 1st overall pick. Since then we've spoken with several scouts, NHL GMs or other executives... we've picked the brains of players who were at the combine... chatted with other media guys covering other teams and leagues... and we've polished our crystal ball and tried to read the tea leaves too.

You'll notice something different about our mock draft pretty soon after you start checking it out.

A few weeks ago Dean and I decided that it would be cool and unique in our write up to include potential trades. As we've learned since making that decision, it's also pretty frickin' hard! Afterall, there is the potential for a bazillion different trades to go down and we're not party to the behind the scenes negotiations that may occur. Predicting trades is probably 50 times harder than predicting the order of the draft.

EDIT* - some folks who have read the mock below are getting a bit bent out of shape over the trades suggested. Instead of arguing that the names thrown out there aren't enough to get it done... just assume that whatever the trade particulars are, both teams come away happy. The important part of this little exercise isn't the particulars of the trades... it's just that a trade was made and how that changes the draft this year. That's it.

But it's kind of fun and it is unique so screw it... here we go.

Here's how we'd like you took look at this: The order of the players in the mock draft we're taking a lot more seriously than the trades... the swaps, (while we think plausible), are more for fun so take those with a grain of salt. Since we're not stating a specific list of transactions you'll just have to assume that both teams received enough of a return in the deal to make it worthwhile. (There will be some footnotes at the bottom where we explain the rationale behind the trades predicted). Fair enough?

One more thing. On Thursday we will be offering up our own personal Top 30 lists; not a mock draft, but our list of who we feel the 30 best prospects available to be. They won't get picked in that order but if we were doing the picking, they'd be the first 30 guys on our team's list.

OK, enough stalling. Here now is our FINAL PIPELINE SHOW MOCK DRAFT:

GUY FLAMING

1. Victor Hedman - NYI
2. John Tavares - TOR*
3. Matt Duchene - COL
4. Evander Kane - ATL
5. Brayden Schenn - TOR**
6. Dmitry Kulikov - PHX
7. Jared Cowen - TBY***
8. Magnus P-Svensson - DAL
9. Nazem Kadri - OTT
10. John Moore - EDM
11. Oliver Ekman-Larsson - NSH
12. Scott Glennie – MIN
13. David Rundblad – BUF
14. Zack Kassian – FLA
15. Jordan Schroeder – ANH
16. Jacob Josefson – CLB
17. Chris Kreider – STL
18. Ryan Ellis – TBY*^
19. Kyle Palmieri – NYR
20. Carter Ashton – CGY
21. Peter Holland – PHI
22. Simon Despres – VAN
23. Louis Leblanc – NJ
24. Drew Shore – WSH
25. Ethan Werek – BOS
26. Landon Ferraro – SJ^
27. Jeremy Morin – CAR
28. Zach Budish – CHI
29. Calvin deHaan – DET
30. Jordan Caron – PGH

Trade Notes:
* Toronto swaps 1st round picks with Tampa Bay by also including one of either Pavel Kubina or Tomas Kaberle (plus whatever else was necessary)
** Toronto also aquires the 5th overall pick and Jack Johnson from LA in exchange for a package highlighted by goalie Vesa Toskala, either Kubina or Kaberle (whoever TBY didn't take) as well as picks to balance it out. In my world the Leafs are comfortable making this deal because they know goalie Jonas Gustavsson is on the way to them.
*** Missing out on Hedman, Tampa uses the pick they just got from Toronto to take another possible franchise defenceman in Cowen.
*^ New ownership, the draft in their own backyard... what better time or place to finally pull off the trade that brings Vincent Lecavalier to Montreal? TBY gets the 18th overall pick, Chris Higgins plus a slew of prospects while the Habs and their fans get the center they've been desperately seeking.
^ With no picks in round one but a pair in the second, GM Doug Wilson puts together another packaging that enables his scouting staff to land a potential impact player - a sniper out of the WHL. The Islanders have shown a willingness to add assets and picking up a pair of 2nd rounders from the Sharks for a late 1st definitely fits the pattern.

DEAN MILLARD

1. John Tavares – NYI
2. Victor Hedman – TBY
3. Matt Duchene – COL
4. Evander Kane – ATL
5. Brayden Schenn – TOR *
6. Dmitry Kulikov – PHX
7. Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson – LA*
8. Jared Cowen – DAL
9. Nazem Kadri – OTT
10. Scott Glennie – EDM
11. John Moore – FLA **
12. David Rundblad – MIN
13. Zach Kassian – BUF
14. Louis Leblanc – NASH **
15. Oliver Ekman-Larsson – ANA
16. Jacob Josefson – CJB
17. Jordan Schroeder – STL
18. Peter Holland – MTL
19. Drew Shore – NYR
20. Landon Ferraro – CGY
21. Ryan Ellis – PHI
22. Chris Kreider – VAN
23. Kyle Palmieri – NJ
24. Jeremy Morin – WAS
25. Simon Depres – BOS
26. Jordon Caron – NYI
27. Dimitri Orlov – CAR
28. Ethan Werek – CHI
29. Dylan Olsen – DET
30. Zach Budish – PIT

Trade Notes:
*Toronto moves up 2 spots sending Pavel Kubina to LA for the 5th pick. The Kings in the past have taken a player off the board, and with all the concerns about MPS they are happy to take him after he slides to 7, as well as picking up a veteran blueliner, although they might have to throw in a later round pick to complete the deal.
**Losing Jay Bouwmeester to impending free agency, Florida needs a replacement, and John Moore might end up as a better skater than Bouwmeester. To move up 3 spots will likely only cost Florida a 2nd round pick. The Preds can trade down and still get a nice player in Louis Leblanc.

So there you have it... our official 2009 Mock Draft. Here's a friendly reminder that tonight on the show we'll have Trevor Timmins of the Montreal Canadiens on to talk about the Habs draft strategy heading in (NO I didn't mention to him about my Lecavalier trade theory!).

It's also our Annual ISS Draft Preview Show. Mike Oke from ISS will be answering your emails all night in regards to prospects available for Friday's big event. Visit our main site for more details on the big show.

Top 5 Tuesday: Surprise Draft Picks

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Now I'm not going to go back too far in the history pages but there have been some surprising selections in recent years at the NHL Entry Draft - some have worked out and some have not.

A person could go to Hockeydb.com and check out the past drafts and look up 1980 and see that Denis Savard went 3rd that year behind Doug Wickenheiser. Montreal's choice was clearly a bad one; had they picked the French kid 1st over all, the '80's could have been much different indeed.

Today's list is going to be much more recent. I'm only going back 5 years and I'm picking out the 5 players who were, at the time, considered reaches. When the team announced the name, it caught a lot of onlookers by surprise.

5. Carey Price - 5th overall in 2005

While it was a surprise, I don't know that I would label the selection of Carey Price at 5th overall by Montreal as a "shocker". It raised a few eyebrows because the Habs still had José Theodore in net and
weren't really rumored to be goalie shopping. Price was the top ranked goalie though by ISS but I don't think anyone believed that he'd go quite that early. The next goalie selected was Tuukka Rask who went 21st overall to Toronto. The ISS mock draft that year predicted Price would end up with Phoenix who were picking 15th.

Price has played two years in the NHL - one was outstanding while the other has some fans wondering what year #3 is going to be like. Price's resumé reads like a best seller though so there is every reason to think he can bounce back.

4. Alex Plante - 15th overall in 2007

Outside the top 10, the 2007 draft rankings were really all over the place. Still, most didn't project Alex Plante to be in the top 20 so when Edmonton grabbed the big blueliner from the Calgary Hitmen, it turned some heads. ISS had Plante slotted 28th overall but Central Scouting had him well back of that mark.

It sure didn't look promising for Edmonton when Plante spent most of the 2007-08 year on the sidelines with various injuries but the 6'5 defender bounced back with a strong season and even better playoff for the Hitmen. Signed and ready for the step up to the AHL, Plante looks like a gamble that could still pay off for the Oilers.

3. Devin Setoguchi - 8th overall in 2005

The Saskatoon Blade (a later Prince George Cougar) was considered a 1st round talent but was projected to be selected in the latter third of the opening round. Instead, the San Jose Sharks did something they are often fond of doing - traded up to get their man. The Sharks dealt their 12th overall pick along with the 49th and 207th picks in the 2005 Draft to the Atlanta Thrashers for the eighth overall pick and stepped up to grab Setoguchi. The trade up was a surprise in of itself but then to take a player most pundits had ranked well outside the top 10... that was a shocker.

It's worked out rather well though for GM Doug Wilson and Tim Burke, the head honcho of a strong scouting staff. Setoguchi is now a budding star in his own right after his 31-goals and 65 points this past season in the NHL.

2. Thomas Hickey - 4th overall in 2007

It's not to say that Hickey wasn't expected to be taken in the 1st round but according to ISS he was the fourth best defenceman available in 2007 but was chosen ahead of all of them by the Kings. Karl Alzner, Keaton Ellerby and Nick Petrecki were ranked higher by the independent scouting agency but that didn't slow down LA. Was it a mistake? Too early to say one way or the other with any certaintly since it's only two years later, but, Hickey just finished his WHL career with Seattle and capped it off with 7 points in 7 games with the AHL's Manchester Monarchs.

Fair to say it was a surprise but it's not looking one bit like a mistake.

1. Blake Wheeler - 5th overall in 2004

The Phoenix Coyotes stunned everyone when they drafted the big high school kid with the 5th overall pick because in predictions leading up to the 2004 draft, Wheeler was projected to go sometime in round two or three. TSN's Bob McKenzie didn't have him ranked in his top 30 and that when someone as dialed in as he is can still be surprised, you know the pick came out of no where.

Wheeler has gone on to prove that the Coyotes were well within their rights to grab him that high. The first round of 2004 has produced almost as many misses as hits and the fact that Wheeler had 45 points this past year as a rookie has him on the positive side of the ledger. The bummer for Phoenix is that this NHL success is happening for Wheeler as a member of the Boston Bruins.

Monday, June 22, 2009

San Jose Sharks Draft Preview

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First Round Position: N/A… yet

Best Picks of last 3 Years:

Nick Petrecki (D) – 1st round 2007
Jamie McGinn (LW) – 2nd round 2006
Logan Couture (C) – 1st round 2007
Harri Sateri (G) – 4th round 2008
Tyson Sexsmith (G) – 3rd round 2007

Coming Down the Pipe – NHL success and rapidly developing prospects like Devin Setoguchi have left the Sharks somewhat depleted depth wise when it comes to prospects. That’s not to say there aren’t some terrific players on the way and defenceman Nick Petrecki looks like a guy who could be a feared rearguard for years to come. Ottawa 67s alum Logan Couture and Jamie McGinn should eventually make the jump to full time Sharks. And as usual, San Jose is overflowing with goaltending prospects including Tyson Sexsmith, Alex Stalock, Thomas Greiss, Harri Sateri and Taylor Dakers.

Draft Trends – It’s half-joke and half-serious but there are two things for which the Sharks can be counted on at the draft – Germans and goalies. The German selections have tailed off in recent years but the system is still ripe with talent drawn from the still growing hockey nation. San Jose has shown a fondness for goalies having taken 9 in just the last 5 drafts. The Sharks don’t draft a lot out of the Q, only 2 of their last 29 picks. Finally, GM Doug Wilson has always shown a willingness to make deals to move up that will help Tim Burke and his staff to select the player they want. They might not be slated to pick in Round 1… but that might change on draft day.

Millard:

Flaming: Felix Bruckman – yes it’s a joke… but he is the highest rated German goalie by Central scouting so maybe he’s a late rounder for the Sharks. For an honest guess... how about giant Finnish netminder Mikko Koskinen as a late second rounder?

Pittsburgh Penguins Draft Preview

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First Round Position: 30th overall

Best Picks Of Last 3 Years:

Jordan Staal (C)-1st Round 2006
Angelo Esposito (C)-1st Round 2007 (Now with Atlanta)
Kevin Veilleux (C)-2nd Round 2007
Casey Pierro-Zabotel (LW)-3rd Round 2007
Luca Caputi (LW)-4th Round 2007

Coming Down The Pipe - Pittsburgh didn't have a pick in the first 3 rounds last year, and their first round pick Angelo Esposito is gone as he was in the Marian Hossa 2007 trade. Pierro-Zabotel was a 100 plus point guy for Vancouver in the WHL this year while Veilleux played in the Memorial Cup with the host Rimouski Oceanic.

Draft Trends: The Pens don't 'go west young man' very often. They haven't drafted from the WHL since taking now Oilers property Ryan Stone in 2003 (CPZ was drafted out of the BCHL ).

Millard: Jordan Caron - Pittsburgh didn’t have a pick in the first 3 rounds last year and are hoping Caron who plays for Rimouski is half as good as another Oceanic player they took…Sidney Crosby.

Flaming: Calvin de Haan – 63 points on a poor Oshawa team and played for Canada at the U18s in Fargo. There are some questions about size but he’s in the Tyson Barrie/Ryan Ellis group of undersized blueliners that produce.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Detroit Red Wings Draft Preview

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First Round Position: 29th overall

Best Picks of last 3 Years:

Brendan Smith (D) – 1st round 2007
Daniel Larsson (G) – 3rd round 2006
Jan Mursak (LW) – 6th round 2006
Shawn Matthias (C) - 2nd round 2007
Max Nicastro (D) – 3rd round 2008

Coming Down the Pipe – Detroit is notorious for being extremely patient with their prospects and because they always have an elite team at the NHL level they can get away with stashing players on the farm allowing them to develop slowly. Players like Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader would probably already be in the NHL if they were with most other organizations. Defenceman Jakub Kindl might be in the same boat. The Wings have a couple of quality netminders in the system with Jimmie Howard and Daniel Larsson. Thomas McCollum had a year to forget but has the potential to rebound.

Draft Trends – Detroit has the reputation for mining Europe (and Sweden in particular) and uncovering franchise players. That has happened in the past but it’s been since 2004 that the Wings took Johan Franzen, the most recent selection fitting that description. Detroit hasn’t drafted a Euro with their first pick since Kindl in 2005 but they have selected at least one Swede in every draft since 1993.

Millard: Toni Rajala - His great outing at the U-18’s is enough for the Wings to overlook his small stature.

Flaming: Carl Klingberg – Maybe a bit stereotypical to predict Detroit taking a Swede but why deviate from a successful track record and this is one of the best classes ever for that country. This power forward’s stock appears to be on the rise.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Oilers News, Notes & Thoughts

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Maybe it's the calm before the storm. There hasn't been much news since the organization announced Pat Quinn and Tom Renney as the next era of bench bosses for the Oilers. Fan expectation is running rampant as Oilerville ponders the fate of impending UFA goalie Dwayne Roloson, what will happen at the draft, who will and won't be signed to new contracts for next season and a subset of the market is interested in knowing more about prospects camp in July.

Goalies

Plenty of other folks in the main stream media and the blog world have tackled the Roloson situation and I really don't have anything much new to add to that conversation. My understanding is that while Roloson may have once been asking for a 2-year deal it's possible he's upped his request to 3-years (though he'd "settle" for 2). As others have reported already, it's my belief that the Oilers will not entertain ideas of more than one season for the rapidly aging Roloson.

I get the impression that Edmonton is at the crossroads where they definitely want to know what they have in Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers and that if he plays well early on, he could find himself playing much more than most believe right now. In other words, Roloson's role (or that of another veteran goalie) might be more as a safety net for JDD in case he struggles as opposed to the other way around.

Not to suggest that Deslauriers is going to be handed the starters's job out of camp, that would be ludicrous at this point, but I won't be surprised if early on he receives more starts than most are currently expecting.

Cleaning out the Farmhouse

Several contracts will be coming off the books at the end of June as the Oilers want to distance themselves from the 50-contract limit and many of those cuts will come on the farm. The Springfield Falcons had a horrendous season and the focus from above will be to replace many fringe players with more talented and effective newcomers.

While the team won't make any special announcements for who won't be resigned it's common sense to expect a few prospects not to have their contracts renewed. I don't expect to see Mathieu Roy brought back again. Wingers Stephane Goulet (pictured) and David Rohlfs have probably played their last game as part of the organization as well. I believe that tough guy Hans Benson will not be returning to Springfield and rearguard Sebastien Bisaillon will be looking for a new team as well. The writing was on the wall for goalie Glenn Fisher when he was lent to Las Vegas in the ECHL.

It will be interesting to see what will happen with Edmonton product Tyler Spurgeon. A heart and soul type player, injuries slowed his development and with new managment looking to cut where possible I won't be surprised if Spurgeon is not re-signed. I'd feel bad for Tyler but I honestly don't see him with the Oilers come July.

The two prospects I think Edmonton would like to keep in the mix are Colin McDonald and defenceman Bryan Young. McDonald enjoyed a nice turnaround after the coaching change in Springfield last year and with Rob Daum at the helm I think the belief exists that they can still get the former 2nd round pick to take his game to another level.

As for Young, I know the scouting staff has always believed in the stay at home defenceman and his own-zone first attitude is a positive on a team laden with more offensive minded blueliners. Young might be asked to accept a minor league contract which would keep him in the AHL but out of the NHL. It's a tactic Edmonton has unsuccessfully tried in each of the last two years, first with Freddie Pettersson who promptly bolted for the Swedish Elite League followed by Troy Bodie who also declined, was then signed by Anaheim and actually made his NHL debut with the Ducks last season.

And then there is the case of Josef Hrabal who was injured for much of 2008-09 and then returned to Europe before the end of the season. Very recently Peter Adler via David Staples from the Edmonton Journal had a piece on the Czech defenceman where he spoke about his desire to impress the Oilers at main camp in September. Call it a gut feeling, but I don't think he'll get the chance... I think his stay in the organization has reached an end; he's been lost in the pack and will end up being quietly bought out.

Possible New Falcons

Clearly Kevin Prendergast and the Oilers have to find better AHL veterans if the Falcons are going to have any kind of success. I'm told the team has some players in mind who have a proven track record in the AHL that they are pursuing. I believe the Oilers would like to sign 3, possibly 4 players for Springfield who would play key roles both up front and on the back end.

A couple of possible candidates include a former Edmonton Road Runner named Martin St. Pierre. Well known for using a stick that was about 7 feet long, the 5'9 center played 18 games with the Road Runners during the NHL lockout after an impressive 4-year OHL career in Guelph. St. Pierre has spent the last 4 seasons with Chicago and Boston playing mostly in the AHL but managing to appear in 35 NHL games along the way. He's quick, talented and exactly what the Falcons need to jump start a miserable power play. He's also someone who could fill in with the big club in a pinch if necessary. Getting him might mean a contract that pays pretty well on the AHL side but is probably worth the effort for the results he's shown in the league.

How about someone like Chris Minard who has scored almost 100 goals over his last 175 AHL contests? He was a big part of Wilkes-Barre's offence last year and even suited up with the Pittsburgh Penguins for 20 games. The veteran has 7 years of pro experience under his belt and appears to still be getting better - he could be exactly what the doctor order for the Falcons.

Darren Haydar has been a force in the AHL over the last few seasons. He led the league in scoring by a country mile with 122 points in 2006-07 with Chicago and had 80 points last year with Grand Rapids. Like St. Pierre, Haydar is small but at the AHL level he is a scoring machine.

Downsized Prospect Camp

The annual summer get together between the organization and it's younger properties has been pushed back to July this year. This will enable the team to include the players that they will draft on June 26th. I wonder if it's also so time and money isn't spent on players who are about to leave the organization like the list above. If the camp was held in May or June like in that last few years, that would have been the case and there is no fiscal sense in throwing money out the window.

The list of camp participants will be limited to current prospect in the CHL excluding recently signed Milan Kytnar who is involved in a camp overseas. There are three such players: Jordan Eberle, Philip Cornet and Alex Plante. Also on hand will be the 5 NCAA prospect Edmonton currently has: Riley Nash, Jeff Petry, Matt Glasser, Robby Dee and Chris Vande Velde. The Oilers currently posses 8 draft picks and should that not change, all 8 will be invited to the camp. The two goalies will be Andrew Perugini and Bryan Pitton otherwise the only other pro players who will attend will be Jamie Bates and Jordan Bendfeld, the latter after missing most of the 2008-09 season due to injury.

Normally the Oilers will invite a half dozen or so players to camp to have a closer look but this year that number has been axed to just 3. The lone collegian is former Camrose Kodiak Jesse Todd who just finished his freshman season at Merrimack.

The other two players are both CHLers. Jesse Dudas was injured at Oiler camp last fall and was promised another shot - this is the Oilers holding true to their word. In the same vein, Oil Kings forward Jeff Lee joined the Falcons late in their season when they were desperate for healthy bodies. In exchange, the Oilers assured Lee's agent of a camp invite had he not signed with anyone else by then.

The prospect camp is set for the week beginning July 5th in Sherwood Park.

Speaking of Riley Nash, sources indicate to me that he will indeed return to Cornell for at least his junior year with the Big Red.

"With the 10th Overall Selection..."

It's interesting how much seems to have changed over the last month or so when it comes to players and their stock for the draft. Although there appears to be pretty much a consensus inside the top 8 or 9, the order those top players will actually be chosen seems very much up for debate.

I've heard from NHL people who believe Brandon forward Brayden Schenn will be chosen anywhere from 3rd overall by Colorado to a couple spots later to one of any number of teams including Toronto who might move up. The L.A. Kings might be happy to trade back with the Leafs because according to one source, they apparently like Nazem Kadri but not enough to take him in the #5 spot. The Phoenix Coyotes have been playing host to Russian defenceman Dmitry Kulikov fueling speculation that the Drummondville import might go higher than so far predicted. Swede Oliver Ekman-Larsson is loved by many in mock drafts and can be found well inside the top 10 on many of them but outside by just as many others. One insider predicted that if the Leafs fail to move up to grab either Tavares or Schenn that they may go off the board a bit and choose Peterborough power forward Zack Kassian - much earlier than anyone is thinking right now.

Basically, the names I keep getting suggested to me as the cream of the crop are (not in any specific order): John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene, Evander Kane, Brayden Schenn, Jared Cowen, Magnus Paarjarvi-Svensson and Dmitry Kulikov.

If you're one of the teams picking 9th-12th, the next handful of players to be considered the 'Best Player Available' may include London Knights forward Nazem Kadri and a trio of defencemen consisting of Swedes Oliver Ekman-Larsson and David Rundblad as well as John Moore of the USHL's Chicago Steel.

Kadri broke his jaw early in the season which probably eliminated him from WJC roster contention. After John Tavares joined the Knights, Kadri seemed to make it his personal mission to up his game and not play second fiddle. Scouts I've talked to have suggested that during the OHL series between London and Windsor, Kadri actually outplayed Tavares and won more than a few scouts over in the process.

He didn't get selected for the Swedish entry at the WJC in Ottawa and at the midseason point he was ranked well outside the first round by ISS, however, Oliver Ekman-Larsson's (pictured) stock has been skyrocketing as June 26th gets closer. He's a terrific skater and has solid offensive ability but some I've chatted up have questioned his mental toughness and wonder if he'll last in the NHL.

David Rundblad is ranked 10th overall by The Hockey News but that's higher than everywhere else that I've seen. He's been described to me as a really steady 2-way blueliner who played "in the SEL on one of the best teams and never looked out of place at all". He's a bit bigger and heavier than Ekman-Larsson and isn't getting near as much pre-draft hype but no one has mentioned the same concerns about Rundblad's mental toughness either.

There's a reason why we asked John Moore to do some blogging with us - he's a smart, humble, respectful kid who won us over when we had him on the show. That's the same sort of feeling scouts got when talking to him at the combine or at other times in the season. Not only is he a first class person but his skating is considered world class and the NHL team that takes him knows he's got two solid options of where to play next year - Colorado College or Kitchener. "We've only seen the tip of the ice berg with this kid, because he has no idea how good he actually is."

A wild card to keep in mind could be Brandon forward Scott Glennie who, despite a lackluster combine interview, possesses a few things the Oilers traditionally hold dear; speed, size and hands. Some have suggested that he benefited greatly from playing with Brayden Schenn and Matt Calvert all year but while both were tied up with Hockey Canada, Glennie showed he was able to do it himself.

For the Oilers, a five-name list doesn't really narrow it down all that much but what I do know for certain is that Edmonton's scouting staff will meet again all next week beginning on Tuesday night and I'm sure they'll be debating right up until Friday afternoon.

If I am reading the tea leaves correctly, I doubt that offensive but small players like Golden Gopher Jordan Schroeder and Ryan Ellis of the Windsor Spitfire are in the mix for Edmonton, at least not with the 10th overall pick.

Like I said, things have changed a lot over the last month. On Tuesday Dean and I will be unveiling our revised mock draft and you'll notice several alterations from a month ago when we started the process in its daily form.

(Photos Courtesy: Edmonton Journal, Brandon Wheat Kings,Springfield Falcons, Edmonton Oilers, Edmonton Oil Kings, QMJHL, ECHL)