Thursday, April 30, 2009

Oil Kings & the WHL Bantam Draft


The Edmonton Oil Kings managed to do something today that their parent NHL club has repeatedly failed to do - they traded up in the draft and took how one of the truly elite players available.

More on that in a second.

The Portland Winter Hawks had the first decision to make on the day and opted to take Derrick Pouliot, a defenceman who played in Weyburn Saskatchewan. International Scouting Services had Pouliot slotted 9th on their list and had this to say about him in their WHL Draft Guide:
"A tremendously intelligent puck moving defenseman, Pouliot is often on the ice at the same time as Balog and shows incredible poise and control in finding his, often well covered but extremely gifted, teammate in open ice. Pouliot has great two way speed and great control of his angles and gap against puck carriers. He controls the lanes well in his own zone and once he gains control of the puck he has the hands and poise with the puck to get out of pressure and move down ice. He will carry the puck end to end and has a very strong shot from speed. Any team looking to add offence from the back side without sacrificing too much defensively will have Pouliot high on their list."
After the draft I had a chance to chat with Winter Hawks GM and Head Coach Mike Johnston and you can hear his comments on why Pouliot was the right guy for Portland... HERE.

The next team to the podium was the Moose Jaw Warriors. I spotted Chad Lang in active discussions with several GMs during the course of the day and in fact his club did make a few draft pick swaps. However, the Warriors were only too happy to have the #2 pick in the draft and wasted no time in choosing Morgan Reilly. The blueliner played Notre Dame this past season but hails from West Vancouver originally. ISS had Reilly ranked 4th and earlier in the week I offered up their comments about him. HERE, Chad Lang expalins why Rielly was the right man for the Warriors.

The Chilliwack Bruins were slated to pick 3rd but the host team decided to make a splash instead.

GM Bob Green pulled the trigger on a the day's biggest deal as he packaged Edmonton's own 1st round pick (9th overall), Prince George's 3rd round pick (acquired last year for Cameron Cepek), veteran forward Shayne Neigum as well their 2009 Import Draft pick to Chilliwack in exchange for the 3rd overall selection and the Bruins' Import pick in 2010.

With the 3rd pick of the draft Edmonton continued the parade of defencemen by selecting Griffin Reinhart. The son of former NHL defenceman Paul Reinhart (CGY & VAN) spent this past season with the Hollyburn Midget A1 Huskies in B.C. Here is the write up of the deal from the Oil Kings site. According to his dad/coach, Reinhart is 6'4 and 190 lbs... as a 14 year old! This guy could easily grow a couple more inches and end up Colten Teubert or Alex Plante sized which is exactly what the Oil Kings have really been missing from their blueline.

Not to be overlooked in this deal is the swap of Import Draft picks. With Tomas Vincour and Robin Soudek coming back, the Oil Kings really have no use for their 2009 pick but could conceivably need 2 this time next summer and the Bruins one is likely going to be much earlier than Edmonton's.

There was a 15-minute break after the first round during which time I had a chance to talk to Assistant GM Randy Hansch about the trade and the selection of Reinhart. Listen HERE.

Instead of me describing all the picks of the day I will suggest you read Alan Caldwell's blog called Small Thoughts At Large as he did a bang up job during the course of the day and lists stats for each player too.

I will get into some description of the rest of Edmonton's picks though starting with the round 2 selection of Left Winger Mitchell Moroz. Moroz, a power forward from Calgary, was ranked 18th overall by ISS and the Oil Kings were able to land him with the 30th pick. ISS:
"Few players in this draft are as competitive as Mitch Moroz. The heart and soul of the Northstars this season, Moroz is an energic animal who loves to battle. His great size and strength help him push his way through the boards with the puck. Moroz attacks with great speed and loves to shoot, in fact it’s not often
that he looks to set up a play or pass, he loves to get the puck on net and drive in hard. Moroz is not afraid to mix it up after the play either, if he doesn’t like something, he’ll be sure to react to it. Moroz protects the puck very well and will
punish anyone who tries to keep it away from him. A solid checker, Moroz can change a game with his stick, his effort or a big bone crunching hit.

WHL Potential: Excellent secondary scoring option and energetic role player
Round 3 saw Edmonton taking Center Morgan Zulinick of Kamloops. At 5'8, Zulinick is definitely small but he's quick and talented. ISS had him ranked 40th overall so Edmonton does well here to get him 52nd overall. Here is what ISS had to say about him:
"Plays like a big man, similar in mold to a Joe Thornton type player. Zulinick is an excellent passer who loves to set up the play, but can also score when called upon. Zulinick is very smooth with the puck and can dazzle with his quick hands and great body control. Turned many scouts heads when he was selected to the KIBIHT all star game last season as a first year bantam player, a feat that isn’t very common."
Matthew Miller became Oil King property in Round 4 when the home team called his name in the 74th spot. Miller did not appear in the top 100 for ISS blueliner of the Winnipeg Monarchs has decent size and can play at both ends of the rink.

The first local boy Edmonton took this year was forward Tristan Sieben who ISS had ranked 17th overall. They also had him 2nd in the "best hands" category and 5th for "Pure Scorer". Here are the comments from ISS:
"A tremendously gifted offensive talent, Sieben can dominate players with his extremely high skill level. A tremendous puck handler, Sieben dances his way through players and has the skating ability to get free and into dangerous scoring areas all
on his own. The biggest knock on Sieben is that he can be a bit selfish at times and will try to do it all on his own.

WHL Potential: Great goal scorer"
Edmonton's 6th round choice was Cody Pettapeace, another defenceman. The blueliner is in line for a jump to Midget AAA next year after his last season in Saskatoon.

In Round 7 the Oil Kings did something I didn't expect - they drafted a goalie. Wade Moyls is a 6'3 14-year-old playing in Kamloops. I was surprised because of Edmonton's depth at the position but as GM Bob Green told me afterwards... you can never have enough goalie depth.

Ashton Saunter was Edmonton's 8th round pick, a defenceman from small town Saskatchewan. He's of average size but he had more than a point per game for Weyburn this past season.

In Round 9 the Oil Kings added Bowen Croft to their organization. He's a 5'10 forward that had 40 points in 32 games this past year with Sherwood Park. I happened to be out of the room when this pick was made and neglected to ask Bob Green about the player... as you'll notice when you listen to his post-draft comments.

Edmonton ended their participation in the days events with back-to-back picks in round 10. The first pick was thier own and they chose Anthony Borri of the Coquitlam Chiefs. Interestingly enough, the Prince Albert Raiders offered their 10th pick to Edmonton "for a Heineken". The Raiders were done for the day and in the end the Oil Kings took the pick with an agreement to swap their 10th rounders in 2010.

With P.A.'s 10th round bullet Edmonton grabbed AJHL forward Darren Kramer, a tough guy who racked up 221 PIM in 38 regular season games with the Grande Prairie Storm. This sounds like a player that fans are going to get to see next year and are going to get to like. He's going to be riding shot gun protecting the small skilled guys like Michael St. Croix and Dylan Wruck.

As I mentioned, I spoke with GM Bob Green after the draft and got a breakdown of each player they selected (except Croft). You can hear those Bob Green comments HERE.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wednesday Re-Set

Tuesday night was an all-WHL show as the league's awards banquet and the 2009 Bantam Draft are all in Edmonton this week. That gave us the unique opportunity to have one in-studio guest that we would otherwise not have had plus we spoke with a slew of other people in and around the league as well.

First up was the Commissioner, Ron Robison. We began with a discussion revolving around the league's stance towards the decision by the Calgary Flames to bring their AHL affiliate into very close proximity to one of their WHL partners - the Chilliwack Bruins.

We also talked about a variety of other topics including the reason behind bringing this week's events to Edmonton. Then Dean hit the Commish with a series of "If I were King for a Day" ideas to make the league even better.

From the commish we moved on to Randy Hansch who is the Assistant GM of the Edmonton Oil Kings and the guy who will pretty much be calling the shots for the local 'Dub club at the draft table on Thursday. Are the Oil Kings looking for a specific type of player, is there a position they need to address and who are some of the names to watch for... all talked about with Mr. Hansch.

From Edmonton we went south to Lethbridge and were joined by TPS regular, 'Rodeo' Roy Stasiuk, the GM of the Hurricanes. We talked about the year the 'Canes had including the highs and the lows and the trades - especially Kyle Beach and what he was like after coming over from Everett. Also... if you haven't heard WHY Beach and Akim Aliu were sent home by the Chicago Blackhawks from their AHL affiliate (Rockford), you won't believe it.

At the top of the second hour we were joined in studio by Prince George Cougars forward Brett Connolly. The rookie ended up collecting some hardware on Wednesday as he was named the league's top freshman player. We also discussed his role with Canada's entry at the U18s in Fargo. This is a guy to keep an eye on... he's the real deal.

Bad Ass Trivia was focused on the WHL draft and the awards and while some were stumped, Bart Hunter called in to say he could answer the question regarding the trophy named after his father, the legendary Bill Hunter.

Finally, Everett Silvertips forward Byron Froese joined us from his home in Winkler, MB. We talked about the year in Everett and also his time in Fargo at the World U18 Championship where he skated on a line with Brett Connolly. He wasn't on the 2009 list for Central Scouting or ISS before the tournament but he's in the top 100 for both agencies now. On the rise and a guy who might surprise with how early he goes... I'm thinking late 2nd round candidate.

If you missed any of these excellent interview, you know what to do: Click the Archive... HERE.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Geat Outdoors for the WHL?

I've been hearing for a while now that the Western Hockey League is planning an outdoor game, possibly next season. The site I've heard is Taylor Field in Regina. Makes sense to me. Can fit a lot of fans into stands, would bring whole province in for it and keeps it in the prairies which is the heart of the WHL. This week the WHL awards and bantam draft are being held in Edmonton so I'll be trying to sniff out the details on this.

Speaking of the WHL awards, here's picks from TPS:

WHL Rookie of the Year - Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy
Eastern Conference: Jordan Weal – Regina Pats-Flaming
Western Conference: Brett Connolly – Prince George Cougars-Millard

WHL Goaltender of the Year - Del Wilson Trophy
Eastern Conference: Braden Holtby – Saskatoon Blades-Millard/Flaming
Western Conference: Chet Pickard, Tri-City Americans

WHL Defenseman of the Year - Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy
Eastern Conference: Paul Postma – Calgary Hitmen-Flaming
Western Conference: Jonathon Blum – Vancouver Giants-Millard

WHL Coach of the Year - Dunc McCallum Memorial Trophy
Eastern Conference: Lorne Molleken – Saskatoon Blades-Millard/Flaming
Western Conference: Don Hay – Vancouver Giants

WHL Executive of the Year - Lloyd Saunders Memorial Trophy
Eastern Conference: Kelly Kisio – Calgary Hitmen-Millard/Flaming
Western Conference: Scott Bonner – Vancouver Giants

WHL Player of the Year - Four Broncos Memorial Trophy
Eastern Conference:Brett Sonne-Calgary Hitmen-Millard
Western Conference:Casey Pierro-Zabotel-Vancouver Giants-Flaming

3 New AHL Cities Next Year


"What did the 5 fingers say to the face? SLAP!" - Dave Chappelle on Chappelle's Show

The line came during the infamous Rick James sketch and it's a beauty. It came to mind to me today when I heard the that the news was official - the Calgary Flames are moving their AHL affiliate from Quad City to Abbotsford B.C. for next season. Here's the release on the AHL site.

"What did the Calgary Flames say to the WHL? SLAP!"

Dropping a pro hockey franchise into the backyard of the Chilliwack Bruins isn't going to go over very well with the WHL. The Flames aren't making any friends with this move, unless it's quietly the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks who might welcome having their AHL teams located closer and just needed someone else to set the precedent.

The Flames own the Hitmen which makes this an even bigger mess. There will be WHL owners outside of just Vancouver and Chilliwack who oppose what the Calgary ownership is doing.

The news about Austin Texas getting into the AHL is interesting too, especially thr part about it be contingent on them owning a AHL franchise within a year.

Gee, I wonder if there are any AHL franchises available, say one that has been on the shelf for a few years just waiting for an interested partnership.

The Texas Stars will start out being affiliated with Dallas but it might be a good fit for the Oilers in 2010-11 too.

Lastly, the Philadelphia Phantoms are on the move to Glenn Falls, NY. I'm actually a bit surprised by that move considering the Flyers were the envy of every other NHL club in that their farm team was at the end of the hall. Obviously the sale was contingent on the team moving and although I don't know that neck of the U.S. geography off the top of my head, it's not like the Phantoms are moving to Iowa; They'll still be close.

I still think it would be great if Utah, Stockton, Las Vegas and maybe another one of the California based ECHL teams could somehow become AHL Affiliates. With Oklahoma City and Kanasas City still looking for pro hockey teams and the current western AHL clubs, you could have NHL clubs out west much closer to their farm teams which would be a positive. The downer would be that it would mean the relocation of a few Eastern based AHL teams and that is never a good thing... unless the fanbase doesn't care anymore.

Dean Clark is the New Cat in Town

The Prince George Cougars announced earlier today that they had come to terms with Dean Clark on a 5-year deal to be their new head coach.

It will be Clark's 4th WHL coaching position after four years behind the bench of the Clagary Hitmen ('97-'01) and Kamloops Blazers ('03-'08) with a single Brandon season squeezed in between. Clark guided the Hitmen to their only Memorial Cup appearance back in 1999.

Jim Swanson of the Prince George Citizen had the news.

Now maybe the Cougars will get around to updating their jerseys too. Last fall the team revealed a new logo but for some reason... the only place they didn't use it was on their uniforms which begs the question: What was the point?

Top 5 Tuesdays - WHL Bantam Draft Prospects

This week I am going to rely on our pals from International Scouting Services (ISS) who recently released their WHL Bantam Draft Guide. You can get your own full and in-depth copy by going HERE.

The 2009 WHL Bantam Draft is set for Thursday, here in Edmonton. While The Pipeline Show prides itself of shining the spotlight on tomorrow's NHL stars... Dean and I aren't out watching much Bantam level hockey. But these are the guys who we will be watching closely for the next 4 or 5 years.

5. Nicolas Walters
Position: Left defence
Born: 4.11.94
Height: 6’00”
Weight: 160
Current Team: St. Albert Bantam

According to ISS: Any and every team would be lucky to have Walters patrolling their
blueline in the near future. A solid and smooth defender, Walters makes anybody, with an appreciation for the defensive aspects of the game, drool. A solid containment and intelligent blueliner, Walters may not jump out at you like Dumba and Rielly, but he as consistent and steady as they come. What you get with Walters is leadership and the peace of mind that your end is taken care of when he is on the ice, and that the first pass is going to be hard and accurate. At 6’ and 160 lbs Walters is big and mobile and in great shape. Walters is primed to climb the rankings as potentially the best shut down and responsible defenceman available.

WHL Potential: A player you want on the ice with the game on the line.

4. Morgan Rielly
Position: Left defence
Born: 3.9.94
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 168
Current Team: Notre Dame

According to ISS: Rielly is a tremendously gifted offensive defenseman. His ability to lead the breakout is unparalleled in this draft class. Combine that with a great shot and an excellent work ethic and you can see why many WHL clubs will be looking to add Rielly and groom him into their power play quarterback. The Notre Dame captain, Rielly, is a strong skater with excellent mobility and can slow the play down perfectly or burn opposing teams with his quick reactions and superior up ice vision. The MVP and top defender at the St. Albert Bantam AAA tournament, Rielly put up over a goal a game during the regular season and finished with 52 points in 23 games.

WHL Potential: Top 2 defenseman, power play quarterback

3. Mike Winther
Position: Center
Born: 1.9.94
Height: 5’09”
Weight: 155
Current Team: Airdrie Xtreme

According to ISS: Last year’s AMBHL rookie of the year, Winther built off a solid rookie season, establishing himself as perhaps the most purely talented prospect in Alberta. Winther is a dynamic skater, with fantastic speed and an excellent first step. Explosive doesn’t begin to describe Winther with the puck, his quick reaction time and ability to read the play around the net leads to much of his success. Winther is most dangerous away from the puck in the offensive zone, as he is near
impossible to contain and will always find space to become a dangerous scoring threat. Winther was named top forward and was the top scorer in Alberta in the regular season and playoffs and led his team in scoring and was named top forward again in their dominating win at the Western Canada championship.

WHL Potential: Top line scoring forward

2. Connor Rankin
Position: Forward
Born: 11.30.94
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 185
Current Team: NSWC Bantam

According to ISS: The best way to describe Rankin is work horse. Perhaps the hardest
working player available in this draft, there is no question that Rankin is the best prospect in British Columbia this season. A very unselfish and self-sacrificing
player, Rankin is a leader and an example of what hard work can do for a player. Not the most skilled in any aspect of the game, he is good at everything and there are no real holes in his game. Anybody who has seen Rankin battle for a puck knows what a special player he is. Rankin makes everyone around him better and for this reason alone should be considered one of the elite prospects in this draft. Rankin also has the potential to put up very good offensive numbers.

WHL Potential: Future WHL captain

1. Matt Dumba
Position: RD
Born: 7.25.94
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 165
Current Team: Calgary Bronks

According to ISS: A prototypical franchise defender, Dumba is a force from the backend. Dumba is a terror to play against. His ability to separate players from the puck is outstanding and only outshined by his ability to separate players from the ice. A phenomenal physical presence, Dumba’s hits are punishing and almost unavoidable as a result of his very strong mobility and skating ability. Dumba is also a strong puck mover and has great vision and offensive instincts with the puck.
Dumba will certainly make whoever doesn’t draft him very sorry they didn’t. Dumba led his team in goals this season with 20 in 33 games and also added 18 assists and 96 PIM. Player’s with this physical, defensive and offensive potential do not come around often.

WHL Potential: Franchise Defender

Other notables - One name that I've heard a lot is that of Tayler Balog who plays in Weyburn Saskatchewan. He comes in as the 6th ranked player for ISS but I won't be surprised if he goes in the top 5. Again, I don't watch this age level so I can only go by what others have told me or what I've read online and this sounds like a pretty talented kid.

Dion Phaneuf's little brother is available this year. The defenceman plays with the Edmonton SSAC and will probably be a 1st round selection - and not just because of his last name. It sounds like Dane Phaneuf can make a name for himself as opposed to riding off his big brother's coat tales.

The Edmonton Oil Kings own the WHL rights to Philip Samuelsson, former NHLer Ulf Samuelsson's son. Ulf's got another son available this year and Henrik Samuelsson might be the best of the bunch. He's playing south of the border and the fact that brother Philip appears NCAA bound might hurt Henrik's stock on Thursday. ISS has him as a late 1st rounder though.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Giant Killers

The Kelowna Rockets have defeated the Vancouver Giants in 6 games and will now face the Calgary Hitmen for the WHL Championship and the right to represent the league at the 2009 Memorial Cup.

It was a dramatic and controversial game 6 in Kelowna as the final goal came at the 4:00 mark of overtime. Mikael Backlund's (CGY) third goal of the night was reviewed as a possible high stick but it was eventually declared legal thus the Rockets advance to the league final.

The Giants held a commanding 4-2 lead with less than five minutes to go in the third period after scoring on a Tyler Myers (BUF) 5-minute major. However, Jamie Benn (DAL) and Cody Almond (MIN) scored 33 seconds apart to close the gap and force the extra time.

Myers was ejected from the game for a serious hit from behind that he laid on Giants defender Craig Schira (OTT) who was badly cut on the play. The hit will be reviewed by the league and could lead to a suspension for Myers.

Vancouver netminder Tyson Sexsmith (SJ) arrived after his teammates as he fought the flu. There was some question whether he would play tonight as he did not travel with the team but joined them as late as possible in order to rest.

2009 top prospect Evander Kane had a pair of goals for Vancouver in the losing cause while Backlund led Kelowna in the game with the hat trick. Ian Duval (UFA) and Tyson Barrie ('09) both had a pair of assists while Almond had a goal and a helper.

The rockets have the top 2 scorers in the WHL playoffs with Jamie Benn leading the way (11-17-28 points) and Cody Almond (8-14-22 points).

The WHL final will begin on Friday in Calgary as the undefeated Hitmen will have home ice advantage. The Hitmen have been unbelievable at home this year losing 3 times in regulation at the Saddledome all year long... the last coming February 28th against the Kelowna Rockets.

The Hitmen are definitely going to be well rested although the 3-day break over the league awards and Bantam Draft will also help the Rockets re-fuel in time for Friday.

The League will hand out it's annual awards on Wednesday in Edmonton with the WHL Bantam Draft set for Thursday in the Alberta capital.

Swinging For the Fence

I get the sense that many Oiler fans want to see their team go hard after a big name or two this off season whether it's via trade or free agency. Owner Darryl Katz has the cash, so why not - right?

Last summer Marian Hossa was a big name target who turned down ridiculous money for a 1-year deal with Detroit, a team he correctly assumed would be a Stanley Cup contender. Unless the Red Wings find a way to keep him in the fold he'll be a UFA again this summer and one has to wonder if the Oilers will be in hot pursuit again.

Georges Laraque was targetted by Darryl Katz, you'll have a hard time making me believe that it was a Lowe/MacTavish idea, and it sounds like he could easily be had from Montreal. He might not be considered "big money" but he's a big name in these parts.

Vincent Lecavalier... well, who wouldn't want him on their team? I personally don't think it would be a good fit though. I find it hard to believe a guy can spend his entire career in South Florida and then be content playing in the NHL's northern most franchise. That could have Pronger-gate written all over it.

There was a time when I was an Oiler fan. However, since working my way into the 'media' side of things, the fan part of me is far less team specific and so now I find myself cheering more for players, coaches or organizations that I've come to like via my dealings with them for the show or for whatever writing projects I've done.

That said, I live in the Edmonton area and would like to see the local team prosper. It's the NHL team that I deal with the most so naturally there are people in the organization that I would like to see have success and eventually win the Stanley Cup.

But in regards to making a splash this summer, I think they can do so without backing up the truck. I would like to see the Oilers be aggressive in their pursuit of free agent goalie Jonas Gustavsson and win out as the team that is eventually able to sign him.

If you want to show the rest of the league and the players that you are ready, willing and able to win free agents, here's a great place to start. It's been reported that in the neighborhood of ten teams are vying for Gustavsson's signature and that the deal should close after the World Championships.

Here's an impressive story on Gustavsson via The Hockey News from late last month.

Do the Oilers have a need for a goalie? I outlined to Millard a few weeks ago that I would understand if 40-year-old Dwayne Roloson took a page from Hossa's book and signed on with a true Cup contender like Detroit or Philly. Dean wrote a piece mentioning Gustavsson last week as well.

Since then TPS has been told that while the Oilers would like to sign Roloson to a 1-year deal the veteran goalie is likely looking for 2-years at significantly more dollars than Edmonton would be willing to pay out this time around. Jason Gregor is forewarning Oiler fans of the same thing.

So yes... the Oilers are in the market for a goalie (or will be once the Roloson-era officially ends).

Can Gustavsson be a starter in the NHL? No one can guarantee that either way - he might be an instant star or he could totally tank it, but he has been successful in the Swedish Elite League and those I've talked to suggest the hype is for real. The Oilers have back up in Jeff Deslauriers and Kevin Prendergast recently told everyone he feels JDD is ready to take on a bigger role in the organization.

Would a tandem of 25-year-olds in Deslauriers (May 15th) and Gustavsson (Oct 24th), with little and zero NHL experience, be a smart move? It certainly wouldn't be without risk but I don't consider the Oilers to be contenders next year any way, not even close, so it would be a terrific opportunity to help hone both prospects for the time when the team is in fact a force.

It would also be cheap.

According to Deslauriers made $550K last year although I believe the cap hit was $625K and will be the same next year. (If someone knows differently, please leave it in the comments section). How much could Gustavsson reasonably expect? Taking into consideration that he's an unrestricted free agent that's in demand, would $1.5-$2 Million be more than reasonable? (I'm usually horrible with predicting signings so I could be completely out to lunch, again, YOU tell me.)

The point is, it'll be a cheaper duo than the Oilers have recently had while being potentially very productive which makes the risk much easier to digest.

I also like the fact that Bryan Burke and the Leafs have publicly declared their intentions to sign Gustavsson, somehow draft John Tavares, sign Matt Gilroy (oops!) and grow a clone of Darryl Sittler.

Knowing full well that the Leafs (and others) are going all out to get Gustavsson, what would it say if the Oilers were somehow able to come away with the prize instead?

Personally I think Edmonton is a much better fit for Gustavsson than a lot of places anyway, especially if he wants to play. In Toronto he'd be behind Vesa Toskala, in Dallas they still have Marty Turco.

The organizations that I see where Gustavsson could potentially step right in and play are fairly limited; Colorado (Raycroft is UFA and Budaj is... average), maybe the Islanders who have DiPietro until 2016 or so but two UFAs behind him and Philadeplphia with no sure-thing in the system to replace Biron and Niittymaki (although I still think they go for a vet like Roloson).

To me Edmonton is a perfect fit for him.

It might not be the big free agent battle some are envisioning but winning the fight for Gustavsson could pay off just as well as rolling the dice on an A-list UFA and would cost the Oilers less if it turned out poorly.

Swing for the right fence... there might be a home run waiting.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Omark on the Mark at Worlds

There were no hilite reel goals where he flipped it over the goalie in the shoot out, or scored from between his legs, but Oilers prospect Linus Omark (pronounced Leenus)indeed dazzled those watching the Sweden-Austria game. Omark set up the first 3 Sweden goals, then picked up assists on 2 more Swedish goals in the 3rd for a 5 point night. Omark was +5 and took 3 penalties. 2 for hooking, one for roughing. The 4th round pick from 2007 did it all while playing a shade under 15 minutes for the Swedes who won the game easily 7-1.

Sweden faces Latvia Monday and the U.S.A Wednesday, which is when the Oilers North American brass plans on getting to Zurich, as they are busy scouting the ongoing NHL playoffs.

Friday, April 24, 2009

U18 Check Up

A couple of Tuesdays ago I listed 5 players that I thought could really up their stock with a strong U18 performance. I just wanted to take a brief look to see if any of them did in fact raise their ranking now that ISS and Central Scouting have released another update.

Toni Rajala went into the tournament ranked 39th overall by ISS and thanks to a tournament high 19 points in 6 games, is now slotted as a first rounder - 30th overall.
"The player who perhaps had the most eyes looking his way didn’t shy away but rather further pushed the spot light his way. Rajala needed to have a big tournament to cement his top round NHL draft pick potential. And do that he did, Rajala finished the tournament with 19 pts in 6 games, eclipsing the previous U18 scoring record set by some kid named Ovechkin, and he did it in one less game."
Edmonton Oil King import Robin Soudek is still unranked by ISS and NHL Central Scouting. He had just a pair of assists for the Czech Republic. I'm wondering if the winger's spot with the Oil Kings is secure for next season ir if the team has their eyes on a different player in the Import Draft to split the duties with Tomas Vincour in 2009-10.

I was being cheeky when I listed "Sweden" as a candidate and really, after their 5th place finish, I don't know that anyone on the club saw their stock go up. Maybe Anton Lander who had 9 points. I had singled out netminder Robin Lehner but if anything, he took a bit of a hit with a 3-2 record. ISS now has him ranked as the 6th best goalie available. Jacob Josefson scored rave reviews as a two-way forward though. It was William Wallen who seemed to impress ISS the most though:
"Wallen was consistently the most productive and effective Swedish player during the tournament. He is smaller but extremely elusive and quick, and very tenacious around the puck. Wallen played the point on the powerplay and packs a very strong shot. Although his size is a concern, Wallen plays a fearless game and squeaks away from checks with the puck but can also throw good physical hits as well, as illustrated on one shift against Canada where he took down McNabb and Doherty on the same shift. Wallen put up 8 points in just 4 games during the tournament. Wallen is very difficult to play against and his feet never stop moving."
USA's Kevin Lynch was ranked 82nd by ISS heading into the tournament but has come out sitting in the 42nd spot thanks to his 10-point performance. Central Scouting has actually dropped him from 93rd to 100th though so... who knows?

The guy I expected to see the biggest jump has vaulted up the charts. Everett Silvertips forward Byron Froese went from being unranked by both ISS and Central Scouting to #74 for ISS and #85 in N.A. for Central. ISS had this to say afterwards:
"Exposure at the world U-18s was great for him as he stepped up his game. Was consistently dangerous and cashed in chances around net. His defensive game is
solid and he often takes all the crucial faceoffs in all zones."
There are still two months before the draft and much can happen. The CHL playoffs are still ongoing and of course the NHL Combine and the interviews are ahead as well.

Really, the story of the U18s was the performance of the under-age players involved. The 2010 draft is already looking stellar with several players putting themselves on the map even more than they were prior to the Fargo-Moorhead games.

Canadians John McFarland, Joey Hishon, Brett Connelly and Erik Gunbrandson were all more than fillers on the roster - they were all impact players.

Finland has a pair of top prospects for next year in Mikael Grandlund and Teemu Pulkkinen.

German forward Tom Kuehnhackl (pictured) was first brought to our attention last November by team personnel in Camrose as someone we should keep our eyes and ears out for and he was impressive at the u18s.

Of course the Russians will have a very strong 2010 class, that's no secret. Kirill Kabanov and Maxim Kitsyn have been on the radar for a while now and Vladamir Tarasenko followed up his impressive WJAC last November with another strong effort in Fargo. All 3 should be considered 1st rounders for 2010.

(Photos Courtesy: Everett Silvertips,

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Here's a confession for you: I grew up a comic book dork. A Big time nerdo, that's me.

Spider-man, The X-Men and all the other Marvel titles especially although as I got older and moved to the the city where actual comic book stores existed I discovered titles like Grendel, Watchmen and Sin City.

The big dude pictured here is Cain Marko, better known as The Unstoppable Juggernaut. At the risk of going all-out geek on you... The Juggernaut was one of the absolute toughest dudes in the Marvel Comics universe. Once he started moving he'd use his momentum and nothing could stop him - buildings, tanks, bombs, the Hulk... nothing.

That's kind of how I see the Calgary Hitmen right now.

The #1 ranked CHL team has reached the league championship with a perfect 12-0 record after steamrolling over the Edmonton Oil Kings, Lethbridge Hurricanes and now the Brandon Wheat Kings. Calgary completed their 4-game sweep of Brandon yesterday on the strength of a 6-4 road victory.

A perfect 12 game streak is impressive, even more so considering the teams they have beaten along the way. The Hurricanes with Luca Sbisa, Zach Boychuk, Kyle Beach, Carter Ashton and Colton Sceviour were expected to give the Hitmen a run for their money and yet arguably were not as tough of a challenge as Edmonton presented in round 1.

The Wheat Kings had reached the Conference final riding an unblemished playoff record of their own and people wondered if they might be the team to bring Calgary back down to Earth but that didn't happen.

What is the most impressive thing to me about Calgary is that although the quality of their opposition is naturally getting stronger as the playoffs advance, they see to be getting that much better as well.

The Hitmen scored 15 goals against Edmonton, 19 times against Lethbridge and then struck for 24 goals versus the Wheaties. They had only allowed a total of 7 goals against through the Edmonton and Lethbridge rounds but Brandon was finally able to show that Calgary can be scored on, finding the back of the net 14 times... not that it led to a better fate.

How are they doing it? With unbelievable depth.

Eleven players have at least 10 points through the 12 games Calgary has played to date and four of them are defencemen. Joel Broda (WSH), the only 50-goal scorer in the WHL this year, leads the team with 18 points. Often overlooked Kyle Bortis (UFA) is right behind Broda with 17 points. Brandon Kozun, who went undrafted last year but will get picked up this June, has continued his strong 108-point seasonal play.

Kris Foucault has come out of nowhere (tier I) earlier this season to become an impact player with the Hitmen. He only played 26 regular season games this year but has been money in the playoffs and his offence has been coming in bunches. He's only been held of the score sheet in 3 of the 12 playoff games but 8 of his 14 points have come in 3 other games.

He missed a few games due to an undisclosed injury but Brett Sonne (STL) still has 10 points in 8 contests. Fellow Blues draft pick Ian Schultz has been a catalyst as has Carson McMillan (MIN).

Dean and I have spoken often about the strength of Calgary's back end but when I look and see that Alex Plante (EDM) is leading the group in scoring - I have to admit being surprised. Plante (pictured) has become known more for his defensive play but with 11 points he's also showing the ability to contribute at the other end of the rink too.

Recently signed Paul Postma (ATL) is tied with Plante in scoring although they were separated by almost 40 points during the regular season. Postma is considered by some as Calgary's MVP so teams are likely keying on him which might account for a bit of a dip in production.

Keith Seabrook (WSH) also has 11 points after a solid 55-point campaign. Michael Stone (PHX) rounds out the top four on the blueline and has 10 points under his belt.

Between the pipes you find Martin Jones (LA) who hasn't been nearly as forgettable as his common-man name. He's got a 1.73 GAA and a .917 sv% which are good but not over-the-top mind-blowing like we've seen some WHL goalies produce in the past (see Dustin Tokarski, Chet Pickard and Tyson Sexsmith in 2008).

Calgary now sits and waits to see who survives the Vancouver/Kelowna series and either opponent should, on paper, have what it takes to legitimately challenge the Hitmen. But considering the speed bumps that Calagry turned Lethbridge and Brandon into, I'll believe it when I see it.

I called it back in March - I said the Hitmen are the best team in the CHL, my pick to not only be WHL Champs but to win the Memorial Cup and I've seen absolutely nothing to make me change my mind. They are an Unstoppable Juggernaut and only getting better.

(photos courtesy: Calgary Hitmen, WHL, Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Congrats to Guy

Just wanted to send out some congrats to my co-host Guy Flaming after his story regarding Kenndal McArdle appeared in the latest edition of The Hockey News. I don't know about you, but I consider this a pretty big deal. THN was my bible growing up and it's pretty cool to work with someone who's made it into the bible....even though Guy likes that other book called the bible.

Congrats Guy, the magazine is on store shelves now.

The Oilers will be Gustavsson hunting this off season.

Dwayne Roloson was terrific down the stretch this year for the Oilers. Even the most Oiler hating Flames fan could see that. But he's 39 years old and there is no guarantee he'll be back with the club next year. Will he take a one year deal which is likely what the Oilers want to offer? Will the Oilers give him a 2 year deal which is surely what Roli the Goalie is looking for? It would be a perfect situation if Roloson was to settle for a one year deal as it would give the team a year to bring Jeff Deslauriers along in a 50-50 split and then turn the reins over to him for the 2010 season. But as Guy has pointed out to me a few times, doesn't Roloson want to win a cup before he retires? If he's going to take a one year deal why wouldn't it be with a legitimate contender like Detroit, Philadelphia or even Ottawa who could all have a spot open next year.

So let's say Roloson doesn't come back. What are the Oilers options? Well we know Jeff Deslauriers is one of them. Is he ready to be a number goaltender in the NHL next year. Hell he played in only 10 games this year and had bench sores from watching Dwayne Roloson so much down the stretch. We asked Oilers Assistant G.M. Kevin Prendergast that last night on TPS and you can hear his answers starting at the 9:53 mark of Kevin Prendergast interview part 1 by clicking here. As Prendergast points out it would be best if they didn't have to have a platoon of Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk, but it could come to that. It's highly unlikely that the team will go that route.

Instead they could go fishing on the UFA market or trade spare parts for a veteran. Here's a few guys who could fit that bill:

Scott Clemmensen-New Jersey-UFA
Clemmenson was brilliant for the unholy this year when Martin Brodeur went down with an elbow injury. He won 25 games with New Jersey, that's as many games as he had previously started in his career with Jersey over 5 previous seasons dating back to 2001. The UFA will be looking to hit the jackpot this summer though and dollars and years of the contract he might want could be to rich for the Oilers stop gap preference.

Kari Lehtonen-Atlanta-RFA
The Oilers could throw an offer sheet at the 2nd overall pick from the 2002 draft. It's one the Thrashers might not match because they have Ondrei Pavelec and Johan Hedberg as options, who combined will make almost a million less than what Lehtonen made this past year. Lehtonen comes with a buyer beware tag though. He's only had 21 plus wins once and because of injuries and inconsistencies has played 50 plus games only once. A long shot scenario for the Oilers.

Nikolai Khabibulin-Chicago-UFA
Unless he takes a major pay cut and a short term contract he's not in the Oilers plans, but stranger things have happened, and he's a former Jet so I've included him on the list.

Craig Anderson-Florida-UFA
Anderson made almost 5 million dollars less than Tomas Vokoun this year and for a while had stolen the number one job away in Florida. Anderson had career highs in games played (31) wins (15) and shut outs (3). He's only 27 years old and made just under 600 grand last year, so he'd be attractive to the Oilers from those two stand points. Through November and December Anderson had just 3 regulation losses in 16 games while compiling 7 wins and 3 shutouts. He also finished the year with 4 wins in 5 starts.

Antero Niittymaki/Martin Biron-Philadelphia-UFA
Only one of them will be back with the Flyers, or who knows maybe Philly let's them both walk starts fresh. Biron made 3.5 million last year, Niittymaki was 1.3. Both were also pretty inconsistent but at the right price either could be the short term fix Edmonton is looking for. Getting Biron would probably make Bob Stauffer happy as he really wanted the Oilers to get him a few years back when they traded for Roloson.

Brian Boucher-San Jose-UFA
This is a really interesting one. Boucher would see Edmonton as a chance to play more than the 22 games he started this year. He's seen action in only 59 games since the 2002 season as he fell into the career back up hole. His ticket was only 650 this year and could be a good fit to allow Deslauriers to play 60 per cent of the games. Remember when he did his best Bernie Maddoff impression by robbing NHL shooters in 03-04? He had 5 straight shut outs and a perfection streak of more than 332 minutes. I'm not saying he could ever get to that level, but he did have a stretch this year where he had straight starts without a regulation loss (8-0-1 from Nov 13-Feb 26) He also started the year with 3 straight wins, 2 of them shut outs from (Oct 12-Nov 8)

So there's a list of potential options within the league. But what about in Europe. I've been told that Bjorn Bjurling, whom the team drafted way back in the 9th round of the 2004 draft, would be to risky right now. But Jonas Gustavsson isn't risky business. We talked to Kevin Prendergast about the Swedish sensation last night. You can here his thoughts on Gustavsson, the Oilers interest and if they've spoken to him by clicking here and zooming to the 9 minute mark of the Kevin Prendergast part 3 interview.

If the Oilers could land Gustavsson it would be quite the big fish they would be reeling in, but it would likely be bad news for Jeff Deslauriers. If Gustavsson turned out to be as good as the hype surrounding him it would be great for the Oilers atleast in the short term, depending on the contract, but in the long term might put Deslauriers in the same situation he was in this past year. In order to lure the 6.04, 180 pound pipeman, who threw down a 1.96 gaa and .932 save percentage in 42 games with Farjestad of the SEL, Edmonton might have to guarantee him playing time and pay big bucks. The money might not be an issue, but if they weren't going to give one of their own prospects (Linus Omark) a spot as atleast the 13th forward, are they going to secure starts for a goalie? They'll also have to get in line with cheque book ready as Gustavsson will have a long line of suitors this off season. The most imporantant thing is the Oil are interested and who knows maybe they end up with a version of Niklas Backstrom and hit the jackpot. The off season of change might not just be with the coaching staff and a sniper, there could be new faces in net as well. Stay tuned.

Wednesday Re-Set

Yesterday's running of The Pipeline Show was the Season 4 edition of our annual audit on the Oilers and their prospects. Being located in Edmonton we naturally spend a bit more time talking about the Oilers and once a year we have a exec from the team come in and give us his State-of-the-Union address on the prospects.

June 20th, 2006 was Kevin Prendergast's first in-studio visit. In Season 2 we spoke with Kevin Lowe for an hour. Prendergast was back in studio right before the 2007 NHL Draft. In Season 3 we again had Kevin Lowe in for an hour, shortly after the trade deadline on March 25th.

Last night we continued the tradition by having Kevin Prendergast join us for a little more than an hour. You can hear the entire show in the media archive located HERE.

The hour is divided in three segments. In the first we tried to stay focused on the current Oilers but from a prospects perspective - Why the trio of Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson all seemed to have the stereotypical sophomore slump this year... has Theo Peckham shown enough to be pencilled in to next year's roster because he brings something the team is missing on the back end... Liam Reddox and why he had success... the encouraging recovery of JF Jacques... Jeff Deslauriers and what the future might hold... and whether the NHL coaching change might help some prospects who couldn't play for Mactavish.

The second segment was designated as our Springfield slot: The first question was basically "WTF!?"... Is Rob Daum the guy Edmonton wants running the show in Springfield next year?... was there a lack of AHL depth?... A few Rob Schremp questions including his struggles, the ramfications of MacT's comments about Schremp and Europe... Gilbert Brule and why TPS has always been on the fence with him... Ryan Potulny... Taylor Chorney vs Cody Wild... the implosion of Slava Trukhno... Colin McDonald's evolution since college... where Ryan O'Marra fits in the organization going forward from here...

Segment 3 with KP began with the upcoming NHL draft and the catch-22 they are facing... Drafting for positional need... what happened with the negotiations with Linus Omark... are the Oilers in the hunt for Swedish UFA goalie Jonas Gustavsson?... Are any of Edmonton's Euro prospects in the mix for N.A. next year?... is the door closed on Alexei Mikhnov?... With Darryl Katz look to increase the size of the scouting staff, specifically in Europe?... Alex Plante and Milan Kytnar contract plans... Will any of their collegians leave the NCAA and turn pro?... a tentative schedule for the summer prospects camp...

So LOTS of ground covered by KP for Oiler fans to digest.

Also last night we spoke with Mike Oke from International Scouting Services about the World U18s - who went up and who went down on the newest rankings because of how they played?

If you missed it live, click the archive... HERE.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Top 5 Tuesday: Getting Better With Age

Like a nice bottle of Red, these players should age nicely in the next few years, but their also not bad right now. Here's 5 kids soaking up the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

5. Jonathan Ericsson-Detroit
The Wings unveiling yet anoter late round pick that could turn into a gem. This time it's 6.04, 200 plus defenceman Jonathan Ericsson who scored the game winner in game one vs Columbus. Hey his minutes rose by more than 2 so the Wings are using the guy who played just 19 games in the regular season. Not bad for a 9th round round pick in 2002. Do the Red Wings just store these guys somewhere?

4. Ryan Parent-Philadelphia
He was a shut down guy when he was with Canada in the World Juniors, and is looking pretty good against a World Junior opponent from that year, Evgeni Malkin. Parent who has just 54 regular season games on the back of his hockey card but is playing almost 20 minutes a night and helping an underrated - to this crackpot anyway - defence group in Philly get back in the series. The Flyers picked up a really good player in Brayden Coburn when they dealt Alexei Zhitnik to Atlanta, and may have an even better blueliner in Parent whom they grabbed from Nashville as part of the Peter Forsberg trade.

3. Bobby Ryan-Anaheim
He wasn't on anybodies Calder trophy lists at the start of the year, but he might just win. Remember this guy? He was drafted number 2 behind Sidney Crosby in 2005. Some G.M's haven't been that fond of him and some people thought he might be a bust. But it wasn't his fault he started the year in the minors because the Ducks were doing 3-5 for bad cap management. 31-26-57. I'm trying to figure out what kind of women that would make, but it was Ryan's point totals this year in just 64 games after getting called up in November. He scored a power play goal in game 2 against San Jose, and if the Ducks can get to round 2, this guy could do some damage with Getzlaf and Perry, a trio the Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson has dubbed the next coming of the Legion of Doom line.

2. Simeon Varlamov-Washington
Ok so he doesn't have the stance going yet.

But Simeon Varlamov does have a few things in common with Ken Dryden. Like Dryden, Varlamov could still win the Rookie of the Year award after debuting in the playoffs. I'm thinking the 20 year old Russian wants to copy Dryden in another way by leading the Caps to a Stanley Cup while taking home the Conn Smythe as well. Varlamov was good in a losing cause against New York Sunday, only getting beat by Ryan Callahan on an odd man rush. He was perfect in game 3, giving the Caps some life with a 33 save shut out, with great saves against countryman Nikolai Zherdev and another Rangers acquisition this year, Markus Naslund

1. Claude Giroux-Philadelphia
I do something during the season called fantasy draft prospect pick up and I've wanted to get Giroux in there for a while. I wish I would have. Did you see the kids set up for Simone Gagne in the Flyers first win of the series Sunday. He spins away from Letang, then slides one to a wide open Gagne. This after he scored a go ahead goal on an equally as nice pass from Daniele Briere. I thought his spirit would be crushed after taking a penalty in game 2 that led to the pens game winner in overtime. Nice bounce back for the rookie leading scorer right now with a goal and 2 helpers in 3 games.

I also like the dangling from David Perron on the Blues and the fiestyness from BJ Crombeen and Rick Rypien, and can't wait to see T.J. Oshie and David Berglund in future playoff series. I'm really hoping the Blues can mount a comeback as this series should go 7 games for our enjoyment. Last year we were talking about Richards and Carter from Philly and those guys could land on the Olympic team. Maybe some of this year's STP freshmen will make similar impacts.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Prendergast and Player Aquisitions

There is one final subject I want to discuss concerning Edmonton Assistant GM Kevin Prendergast and his history with the Oilers and that is in the area of trading.

What’s the role that the head scout plays when the NHL team he works for swings a deal? I don’t know if it’s the same with every team, although I assume it’s probably pretty similar, but Prendergast’s job is to give input from the scouting staff on the players either being offered by the other team or on the other assets the team has that the Oilers should be targeting. Pretty straight forward, I’m sure that’s hardly a stunning revelation to anyone.

Scenario 1 – GM: “KP, we need to find a _____ type of player. Who is out there that we might be able to trade for?”

Scenario 2 – GM: “KP, we’re in trade talks with _____ and they are offering _____. Is he a fit for us or do they have someone else we should be targeting?”

Prendergast oversees all hockey operations including the scouting staff which is comprised of two groups – amateur and pro scouts. At my last count, the Oilers have 3 pro scouts; Dave Semenko, Morey Gare and Mike Abbamont that cover the NHL and the AHL. Rob Daum was also in this group for a brief period.

On the amateur side covering all of the Major Junior, Canadian Junior A, USHL, NCAA, U.S. High School and Canadian University leagues, the Oilers employ a greater number of bird dogs. Stu MacGregor now heads up the amateur scouting department and his staff is comprised of Bob Brown, Bill Dandy, Brad Davis, Kent Hawley, Chris McCarthy and two summers ago former NHL tough guy Mike Peluso was added as well. Player Development coach Bob Mancini still watches prospects while he’s doing his job with the Oiler properties. Former Assistant to Kevin Lowe, James McGregor, has evolved from his internal office position to become a part time WHL scout. Long time Oiler scout Lorne Davis passed away this past season.

As was mentioned in the first part of this series, the entire amateur scout staff crisscrosses territories in order to see all prospects playing in all leagues.

Kent Nilsson and Frank Musil are the team’s two European based evaluators and they perform the duties of both pro and amateur scouting on that side of the Atlantic.

I’ve spoken with a few people recently to try and get a handle on the level of Prendergast’s (and the scout staff) involvement in deals over the last number of years and I’ll use the key ones that were brought up to me as my examples.

March 8, 2004 – Tommy Salo + 6th (Justin Mercier) for Tom Gilbert

The Colorado Avalanche were headed to the playoffs with a netminding duo of David Aebisher and Philippe Sauve and were looking to upgrade with a veteran who could produce confidence as a back up. With the Oilers having re-acquired Jussi Markkanen from the Rangers, Salo (an impeding UFA) was readily available. Salo’s play had tailed off considerably that year and most fans felt that if the Oilers could get anything for him it would be a good move.

My understanding is that the Avalanche made several offers that Kevin Lowe discussed with Scott Howson and Prendergast but it was the latter that insisted that the Oilers should hold out until Colorado offered Wisconsin defenceman Tom Gilbert. The Minnesota native was taken at the end of the fourth round in 2002 by the Aves and was just finishing his sophomore season with the Badgers.

While Colorado had initially offered other defencemen (I believe 2002 2nd rounder Johnny Boychuk to be one), Lowe, acting on Prendergast’s recommendation, countered with Gilbert and Colorado approved.

Few would argue that the Oilers won this deal although Justin Mercier, the Miami RedHawks forward Colorado drafted with Edmonton’s 2005 6th round pick, will begin his pro career next year so it’s impossible to say right now.

There is no denying that Gilbert has turned into one of the better players Edmonton has graduated from prospect to NHLer this past decade. For all his defensive flaws and soft play that fans have focused on this year, he has 84 career points in little over two NHL seasons and has appeared in all 82 games the last two years. He plays a major role on the team and is regarded by most as either Edmonton’s most valuable trading chip this summer or a cornerstone worth keeping and building around.

July 3rd, 2006 – Chris Pronger for Joffrey Lupul + Ladislav Smid + 1st (Riley Nash) + 1st (Jordan Eberle) + 2nd (given to NYI)

Let’s not get into the whole debate about whether the Oilers should have forced Pronger’s hand by sitting him out instead of giving in to his wishes and trading him. Can we just focus on the assets that Edmonton got in the deal? (and if I'm a bit off on the final draft names above, someone leave it in the comments, thx!)

First, it doesn’t come to me first hand but I was told back then by someone who would know that there were five serious suitors for Pronger, four other than Anaheim. If my memory serves, three of them were Chicago, San Jose and Los Angeles. I do recall that although the Florida Panthers were a rumored destination at one point, talks with them didn’t last long and in fact none of the teams in the final hunt were from the Eastern Conference – which would have been Edmonton’s preference.

The Oilers wanted a pair of young players who could step in and contribute right away as well as an assortment of draft picks. In Joffrey Lupul they acquired a sniper who had just scored 28 goals in only his second NHL campaign. He was also a hometown product that was already friends with a few of his new teammates that were deemed to be the future core of the team – Jarret Stoll and Raffi Torres. Lupul was a player that Prendergast and the staff had ranked highly during the 2002 draft where he went 7th overall. All indications were that this was a top-notch player who was still on the upswing of reaching his potential, the organization believed he was of the right age for the dressing room and because he grew up in the area, getting acclimatized to Northern Alberta would not be a complication like it had been with Pronger.

The reasons for Lupul’s failure are either plentiful or few, depending on whom you ask. Some will say he couldn’t deal with the stress of playing in the fishbowl environment in his backyard. Others will argue the coach misused and mistreated Lupul (and others that year) to the point that the player basically quit. Still, Lupul’s 16 goals were third highest on a team that was either decimated by injuries or down right bad. He scored 28 goals the year prior to his Edmonton season and then 20 (in 56 games) and 25 for Philly in the two years since.

Defenceman Ladislav Smid was highly regarded during the 2004 NHL Draft and it was not a surprise when he went 9th overall, the second highest blueliner taken that year. Conversations I had with scouts prior to the draft, including Edmonton’s, suggested that next to Cam Barker (CHI), Smid might have the most latent offensive potential because of how well he skated and passed the puck. At the time of the trade, the fact that he was 19-years-old and playing in the AHL against men suggested a quick transition to the NHL and sure enough, he played 77 games in Edmonton the year following the trade.

Smid’s NHL career with the Oilers has run the gamut with fans, media and coach Craig MacTavish. At points over the last three seasons the Czech native has looked awful and then fantastic, inexperienced one week and mature the next. In one of his first exhibition games as an Oiler, in Winnipeg against Phoenix, he hammered Georges Laraque with a big league hit. If there has been one aspect of his game that has been consistent it’s been the physical play, which at times has included a willingness to fight. There aren’t many 23-year-old blueliners in the NHL with 200 games under their belt but Smid is one of them, and his young age might be something some Oiler fans forget when they argue the team should deal him. At this point he is a solid third pairing defenceman but it’s not unreasonable to think with a few more years of experience that by the time he’s 28 he could be 2-3 on the depth chart.

July 2006 – 7th (Nick Eno) for Jan Hejda

Really, what needs to be said about this transaction? Oiler fans wish that they could draft an impact player late in the draft well, they weren’t the team that originally drafted Jan Hejda but it only cost them a 7th round pick and the player is now a top-pairing rearguard in the NHL. The fact that he’s not with the Oilers now is certainly not the fault of Prendergast and his staff, the group that first identified Hejda as a target from the Sabres. Full credit should go to Frank Musil who followed Hejda’s progression in Europe.

Hejda played part of one season in Edmonton and by the end of the year he had Craig MacTavish regretting not playing him early. It was a major mistake for Edmonton to not resign Hejda at the end of the 2007 season. He was quickly snapped up by Scott Howson in Columbus and has since turned into one of the league’s most underrated defensive defencemen and plays on their top pairing.

February 18th, 2007 – Marc-Andre Bergeron + 3rd for Denis Grebeshkov

Here’s a deal that involved a pair of players that Prendergast and the scouting staff identified.

The Oilers scouted and signed undrafted defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron as a free agent out of the QMJHL and he went on to play 189 games in Edmonton over four seasons. However, his final year in Edmonton was a tumultuous one that had Oiler fans split on whether the diminutive rearguard’s offensive gifts outweighed his defensive flaws.

Edmonton decided to deal him along with a 3rd round pick to Long Island in exchange for Denis Grebeshkov. Grebeshkov had been drafted by the L.A. Kings in the 1st round in 2002 but failed to stick in California, was dealt to the Islanders but didn’t appear to be in their plans eitheras he toiled in Russia. At the time of the Edmonton trade some people (including me) questioned why it was the Oilers who had to add the extra pick when they were parting with a proven NHL player for a borderline first round bust.

However, Prendergast and the scouts had Grebeshkov ranked highly back in 2002 and had been keeping tabs on him ever since. I’ve been told that the Oilers had discussed acquiring the defenceman in the past so when they were told he was available from the Islanders they jumped at the opportunity. Personally I think everyone in Edmonton deserves a ton of credit for the way Grebeshkov has turned out including MacTavish who continued to play him despite a very poor start to the 2007-08 season and he eventually turned it around. But it was Prendergast and his staff that identified him in the first place and now the Russian is looking every bit the 1st round pick that he was.

February 27th, 2007 – Ryan Smyth for 1st (Alex Plante) + Robert Nilsson + Ryan O’Marra

Contract negotiations aside, trading Ryan Smyth was a polarizing move by the Oilers that infuriated a large portion of their fan base. Still to this day there are plenty of people who feel Edmonton didn’t get enough of a return for the player that was once the face of the franchise. (Although I think Islander fans would be quick to admit that giving up 3 first round picks in exchange for 18 regular season and 5 playoff games from Smyth hardly constitutes a “win”).

The first part of the deal was the 1st rounder from the Islanders. Next Edmonton wanted a younger prospect that could develop into an impact player. With their request for Kyle Okposo shot down, Nilsson became an integral part of Edmonton’s demands.

Robert Nilsson was one of Edmonton’s main targets during the 2003 Entry Draft and not because of who his father is. Nilsson had put up impressive numbers in Sweden as a junior player and had 20 points in 53 games as a NHL rookie in 2005-06. Despite the strong rookie year, Nilsson failed to make the team as new head coach Ted Nolan made him an early cut from training camp. Nilsson’s debut Oiler season created a lot of buzz as he teamed with Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner to carry the offensive load down the stretch. He ended the year with 41 points.

Edmonton wanted more from the Islanders and 2005 first round pick Ryan O’Marra was the final addition to the deal. Considered the “safe pick” from that draft class, when the Smyth deal was first announced the thought was that O’Marra was the only “sure thing” that Edmonton was getting. The opposite has actually happened with the former 2-time WJC gold medal winner spending all his time as an Oiler property down on the farm including a stint in the ECHL.


The end results of the trades listed above have been mixed but that’s not the point. The point of this exercise was to show Kevin Prendergast’s role in the deals and in all cases, the Oilers acquired players who, at the time, were either considered to be promising prospects or were wrongly thought of as failed prospects (Hejda, Grebeshkov). When prospects are involved in trades, the scouting staff, or Prendergast at least, is consulted before hand to get his evaluation of the players in question. What they do or fail to do once they become Oiler property had largely been out of his control until 2007-08 and he assumed control of the farm system.

The coaching staff and the scouting staff have often been at odds which I’m sure is the same for most NHL clubs. The organization asks the scouts to supply players that will fill specific roles or have impact in target areas but it’s the coach who ultimately decides how to utilize those players in games, or who not to use at all.

That said, if Smid is played as a forward, Ales Kotalik or Erik Cole on the left-wing or Fernando Pisani takes shifts as a center… that’s not on Prendergast. Likewise if Georges Laraque is used as a 2nd line injury replacement for Radek Dvorak ahead of a 1st round offensive prospect like Jani Rita (during the 2005-06 season). Those are coaching decisions that quite frankly drive scouts crazy.

You can be sure that the offer sheet to Dustin Penner, that cost Edmonton a number of draft picks, wasn’t a plan formulated by the scouts. It’s my opinion that the EIG put pressure on Lowe to do something significant that summer and he responded with the two offer sheets (Vanek and Penner).

Alexei Mikhnov was never given a realistic chance at the NHL level and yet the Oilers threw big money and a number of draft picks away to secure what is basically his North American clone. Mikhnov and Penner are both big left wingers who play small, can score on one shift and look invisible the next, they’ll both drive coaches crazy with their laid back attitude and will invoke ire from the fans for appearing slow footed. After the verbal beating Penner took from the coach and the fans this year, I wonder if Edmonton’s brass wishes they could rewind to 2006-07 and give Mikhnov a do-over. At least they would have saved a ton of payroll and a trio of solid picks.

It’s my humble opinion that too often, Oilers management asked for and received round pegs from the scouts only to see Craig MacTavish try to work them into square holes.

* Two paragraphs removed - see comments section*

Does a different coach give more chances to Ryan Potulny and/or Gilbert Brule or do they move on to different teams, potentially prospering like those on the list above?

It’s been said that the Oilers are too small now. Does that mean that players like Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Gagner, Cogliano, Penner, Nilsson and Kyle Brodziak all magically shrank since 2007-08? They’re the same players they were then and yet this year they ALL saw a drop off in their offensive production.

A lot of media outlets predicted the Oilers to not only make the playoffs but challenge for the Division title. Did everyone really overestimate the talent level Edmonton has or was the problem on the bench? I wasn't around the team this past year as much as the previous few so I honestly don’t know for certain. Personally, I would like to see what a new coach and bench staff could do with the players that are in place because, outside of a few needed additions (a faceoff specialist like Stoll and a physical shutdown blueliner like Greene) I do think the talent is good enough.

With the team missing the playoffs for the third consecutive year, of course changes must happen. However, with Craig MacTavish gone and Steve Tambellini clearly in charge , outside of demanding a better result next year in Springfield, for me, enough off-ice personnel shuffling has already been done.

Prendergast Grades

Drafting: +B
Player Development: 2001-07 - A for creating summer prospects camp and development coach hires of Geoff Ward, Kelly Buchberger and Bob Mancini. 2007-09-D for the Springfield Falcons disappointment this year.
Player Acquisition: -B

A reminder that Kevin Prendergast will be making his annual 1-hour, in studio appearance on The Pipeline Show this coming Tuesday (April 21st). Edmonton prospect questions for the Oilers Assistant GM can be emailed in to: