Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Top 5 Tuesday: Oiler Euro "Mistakes"

This could be a pretty long list considering the numerous European players the Edmonton Oilers have drafted over their history only to have them not develop, fail in North America or simply stay home. I decided to go back to the 1999-2006 drafts to cut it down significantly and because those players are still playing at various professional levels.

You'll notice the quotation marks in the title of this blog post, that's because I'm not one that considers all of the following draft day choices to be mistakes. Some of them clearly were, some of them weren't and there might be a player or two that only now are starting to show some of the results Edmonton foresaw when they selected them.

You be the judge.

Every once in a while I pick a topic that won't fit in a top 5 and this is one. In my opinion, there are 6 key Europeans drafted in that time frame and a smattering of others that I'll briefly update just for the sake on interest. Also, the order the players are listed in aren't really in sequence of worst pick or anything like that. In fact, I'd suggest it might be the opposite... you could say the order is determined by who might still be the most interesting player.

Ivan Koltsov (4th round, 2002) - Maybe the worst Euro draft pick the Oilers made in this time span because not only did he not live up to expectations but he was done playing by 2008. Career Stats

Aleksandr Lyubimov (3rd round, 2000) - All I can tell you is that this was before my time covering the Oilers and statistically, his best year as a pro came when he was playing for the Odessa Jackalopes of the CHL. Career Stats

William Quist (6th round, 2007) - OK so I broke my own time parameter rule already but I only include Quist because he's playing pro and not still in junior like Milan Kytnar who was in the same draft class. Quist has never played in the SEL but has bounced around the lower levels in Sweden for the last few years. I know he really wanted to play in North America, he told me a couple of summers ago that he'd gladly report to Stockton just so that it meant the Oilers had signed him. That didn't happen and it would be hard for anyone to argue that Edmonton made an error on Quist. All size and potential that never came together thanks to poor decision making on not coming to play in the CHL. Career Stats.

Mikhail Zhukov/Misha Joukov (3rd round, 2003) - I remember when I was writing Oilers prospect stuff for Hockey's Future how frustrated the Oilers were with Zhukov's indecisiveness in regards to where he wanted to play. They drafted him out of Sweden but then he bolted back to Russia where he's done absolutely nothing. Well, his career high of 11 points is more than nothing I guess... it's 11 points more than I have scored in the KHL. Career Stats.

Roman Tesliuk/Teslyuk (2nd round, 2004) - Not the best find for Edmonton head scout Stu MacGregor, who was still an area scout back in 2004. The big blueliner played in MacGregor's backyard with the Kamloops Blazers and had a ton of potential but quickly faded and was never signed by the Oilers. I am not even sure if he's still actively playing competitive hockey. Career Stats.

Tomas Micka (8th round, 2002) - Back when the draft went 9 rounds, taking a guy like Micka wasn't out of the norm. At 6'3 he had the size Edmonton was seeking but he never really filled out and never really developed on the ice either. He bounced around the ECHL and is currently playing back in the Czech Republic. Career Stats

Mikael Svensk (6th round, 2001) - The big rugged Swede has played in the lower Swedish pro levels for his entire professional career. I seem to recall that the Oilers nearly signed him one year but either ran out of time or ran out of available contracts. I could be wrong. Career Stats.

Tomas Groschl (9th round, 1999) - If I remember correctly, the Oilers made history when they chose Groschl because he was the first player from Hungary to have ever been drafted. That's where the interesting stuff ends. Groschl is still playing but after one year in the ECHL, he went back home and never even went to a good league in Europe. Career Stats.

Alex Bumagin (6th round, 2006) - Apparently he's highly skilled but his career high 23 points came during his draft year and since then he's only scored half that much in a single season. Until this year when he recorded 21 points in the KHL. Career Stats.

Evgeny Muratov (9th round, 2000) - A lot like Bumagin actually, skilled but never came out of Russia. Career Stats

Josef Hrabal (8th round, 2003) - The Czech defenceman has come full circle. He began his career in his homeland and after stops in Russia, the AHL, the ECHL and Sweden it's back in the Czech Republic that Hrabal played this past year. He's still listed as property of the Oilers although I was told last summer that they had bought him out. I think it's a moot point anyway, his North American days are behind him now. Career Stats.

Kari Haakana (8th round, 2001) - The big Finn has played in several pro leagues in Europe, the past year in Italy, but did come to North America for parts of 2 seasons. Like some others on this list, Haakana was drafted because he was older and the Oilers need immediate depth which he provided, at least at the minor league level. Career Stats

Fredrik Johansson (9th round, 2002) - There was a time when the Oilers felt they may have gotten a late round steal as Johansson's junior career continued to unfold. He played in the 2003-04 WJC and had 4 points in 6 games, but outside of 1 year spent in the AHL/ECHL, Johansson has played in the second best league in Sweden. It's interesting to note that he plays with another former Oiler pick in Kalle Olsson. Career Stats.

Mikko Luoma (6th, 2002) - The Finnish blueliner has done alright for himself but only appeared in 3 NHL games with the Oilers. He was drafted as a 26-year-old overaged player at a time when the club needed depth in the organization but Luoma's time in North America was mostly spent in Toronto with the Roadrunners. Career Stats

Kalle Olsson (5th round, 2003) - Even in Sweden Olsson is considered a decent minor league player. He's put up decent points playing for Västerås but that's in the Allsvenskan, a step below the SEL, where he's played his entire pro career. He was a good junior player and played in the 2005 WJC in North Dakota. Career Stats.

Ales Pisa (9th round, 2001) - Pisa spent two seasons in North America, mostly with the Oilers although he was traded to the New York Rangers at the end of the 2002-03 season. Immediate depth as a 9th round pick, it would be hard to argue that he didn't fill the short term job that the Oilers hoped he would. Career Stats

Bjorn Bjurling (9th round, 2004) - Here's an example of a pick that hasn't worked out but that I would argue should not necessarily be considered a bust. It's a 9th round flier on a player that simply has never come over but continues to play well in Sweden. There was talk a couple of years ago about trying to sign him but the player was not willing to forgo a bigger pay cheque to play in the AHL. His best year came in 2007-08 with Södertälje. Career Stats.

Jonas Almtorp (4th round, 2002) - The Torpedo played one season in North America, split between the AHL and ECHL, in 2007-08. The two-way forward didn't pan out in North America but has done alright back home in the SEL with Södertälje where he recorded 32 points this past season, a career high. Career Stats

Jussi Markkanen (5th round, 2001) - I don't think the Oilers get enough credit for adding the likable Finn to the fold. He may not have become a steadfast starter in the league but he was a capable back up and did help Edmonton in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final when Dwayne Roloson was injured in Game 1. Since leaving the NHL, Markkanen played in Russia, Sweden and most recently Switzerland. Career Stats

6. Jani Rita (1st round, 1999)

At one time he was considered a sure-fire NHL star - projected by the Hockey News one pre-season to be a Calder trophy candidate as rookie of the year. Rita was dominant as a junior player but hindsight shows us that he reached his peak very early on and has never been able to take his game to the next stage. In the meantime, those that he once skated circles around, they got better and most bypassed him on their development curve leaving him behind. Rita spent 4 years in North America, mostly on the farm where he recorded 131 points in 204 games. His career back in Finland has been decent, his best year was in 2006-07 after leaving the NHL; he amassed 32 goals and 52 points in 50 games with Jokerit. Career Stats

5. Dragan Umicevic (6th round, 2003)

I heard it yesterday on the TEAM 1260 (Oilers Lunch with Bob Stauffer I think) where Umicevic had a cult-like following among Oiler prospect fans. It's true - before Rob Schremp and Linus Omark, "Trogdor" was the guy Oiler fans talked about wanting to see in North America. That never happened and the skilled forward has played in the SEL ever since. This past year Umicevic put up career highs in assists (25) and points (36) which was good enough for 21st place in league scoring. I don't know if he would have panned out over here at all but I wish we could have seen him at camp at least. Career Stats

4. Jesse Niinimaki (1st round, 2002)

One of the most talked about Oiler busts of all time, the Finn that had a strong junior career and then suffered a massive shoulder injury at the start of his second professional season with Ilves. Niinimaki had 17 points in 41 games as a rookie in 2002-03, that's .41 points per game. (That compares to .45 for Oiler prospect Teemu Hartikainen's rookie year). After lengthy recovery from the smashed shoulder, Niinimaki came to North America and was around the Edmonton Road Runners during the NHL lockout. I say "around" because he hardly played and when he did you didn't notice. Off the ice he had the body of a 14-year-old girl, pretty much skin and bone. Edmonton decided to take their lumps (and a compensatory pick) and cut ties with Niinimaki before the 2006 draft. Since then Niinimaki has seemingly been looking for a home - he's played in the SEL, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, lower Finnish leagues and the SM-Liiga as well. However, might things be turning around for the Tampere kid? Last season he delivered a career best campaign for Ilves by totaling 34 points, good for 40th in league scoring and one point more than Hartikainen. Is he just a really, really REALLY late bloomer?? (tongue is in cheek) Career Stats

3. Tony Salmelainen (2nd round, 1999)

The other Finnish Flash sure could dash but didn't have much finish, at least not when he was in the Oilers organization. I'd be interested to hear Robin Brownlee's thoughts on Salmelainen because he traveled with the Edmonton Road Runners when they were in town so got to see him on a personal level. I always got the sense that Tony was well liked and tried his best but just couldn't translate his speed to offence. He put up strong numbers at the AHL level but his NHL career never developed and he returned to Europe in 2007-08. The speedster has been playing in Switzerland the last couple of years and was very successful playing for Servette. Salmelainen finished with 53 points in 50 games this past year, 5th in league scoring. Career Stats

2. Alexei Mikhnov (1st round, 2000)

I honestly don't know how a 1st round 6'5, 220 lb scoring forward, that it took 5 years of convincing to get to come over to North America, only got 2 games in the NHL to make an impression. He'd patiently sat in the Edmonton press box for a month before "his chance" and his AHL numbers after that lengthy stretch of inactivity were not bad. But I'm not Craig MacTavish so I have no idea what he did wrong, or didn't do at all, but it seems to me guys like Brad Isbister and Brad Winchester and Marc Pouliot had a lot more leash not to produce than the import with all the attributes the team was lacking. Now, he might have been lacking some internal fire or perhaps the lack of communication was a factor but I still stand by my argument that giving up 3 draft picks and a 5-year contract to Dustin Penner was needless when the team already owned a similar player. I know... I'm in the vast minority but it's my opinion. Mikhnov had two pretty good seasons in Russia prior to this past year which was shortened due to injury. Career Stats

1. Fredrik Pettersson (5th round, 2005)

I've always liked Freddie Pettersson. He always struck me as the anti-Swede stereotype, all character and guts and fire even if he wasn't the most skilled guy on the ice. He played two years in the WHL with the Calgary Hitmen and put up impressive numbers both years. He was a two-time WJC participant for Sweden in the 2006 and 2007 events. I remember watching training camp in Fort Saskatchewan one year and Kevin Lowe coming over to me to ask my opinion on the prospects on the ice. We both agreed that Pettersson was the guy showing the most and days later I recall Lowe waking by me and saying "48!", the number Pettersson wore in camp.

I was disappointed that when his WHL career ended the Oilers couldn't find room to sign him to an entry level deal. Knowing he could play in the SEL if he went home, Pettersson declined the minor league offer from Edmonton and he hasn't looked back. He had 26 points two years ago for Frölunda and this past season he upped his personal best to 20 goals and 38 points in 54 games. That comes in 17th overall in SEL scoring. I won't be surprised if Pettersson is signed by someone and pops up in the NHL at some point down the road. Career Stats

Now I'm sure I'm going to get hammered for some of my thoughts here... but that's fine. Just keep it civil.


jon k said...

Looking at a lot of these players, the common trend seems to be going for size over skill or playing ability in the later rounds. That sort of struck me as interesting because if you anecdotally look at teams who have historically drafted well out of Europe in the later rounds (Detroit, St. Louis, Ottawa?) it seems like they tend toward the opposite, picking up highly skilled smaller players and hoping they physically grow. Off the top of my head I'd guess the list of examples would be Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Alfredsson, Demitra, Cajanek,Holmstrom... Even more recently with Detroit we see players like Nyquist and Almquist being prime examples.

Are you guys aware if there has there been any change in philosophy in the European scouting since MacGregor took over? Or perhaps are there any indications of internal pressure on the European scouts within the organization? The unmitigated failure of our European scouting for some time is frankly very disappointing and on some level must contribute to the organization's problem of depth throughout their prospect system.

Guy Flaming said...

the change occurred after the lockout when the team decided to go skill over size... now they're kind of going for skill + size (like everyone else).

They've drafted a lot of small skilled guys because of that, and now the team is too small.

Omark, Rajala, Eberle, Cornet, Bumagin are all examples of that change since the lockout.

Lowetide said...

The two that I'll always remember are Rita and Mikhnov. Rita really looked like a player, I know we rip scouts but lordy he could score nice goals.

Mikhnov was always such a myster (Traktor Boy!) because there was so little information on him and there was always something (agent, passport, girls).

Mikhnov was pretty slow, though.

Mike said...

I was definitely hoping for Mikhnov to pan out, as it did seem he possessed that rare combination of size and talent. Indeed he might have turned out a lot like Penner. Never going to throw his weight around, but using it effectively to protect the puck and work the cycle. And soft soft hands.

However as you mentioned he never seemed to get a chance. Hopefully the organization has learned from these mistakes and will draft and manage euro prospects better in the future.