Luck be a lady, a tune that head scout Barry Fraser and General Manager Glen Sather will most likely be singing in the 1999 entry draft. The Oilers organization as a whole seems to treat the draft as a crapshoot, they try to hit the homerun with their picks. A few gems have eeked their way through in the 90′s (Ryan Smyth, Jason Arnott, Martin Rucinsky), but the number of gems pales to the number of players who ‘did not work out’. There’s first round embarrassments such as Tyler Wright, Scott Allison, Joe Hulbig, Nick Stadjuhar, Jason Bonsignore, and Steve Kelly. The recent picks of the Oilers (excluding Boyd Devereaux) were all attempts to hit homeruns (Bonsignore, Riesen and Henrich in particular), statistically Riesen and Henrich look like duds, but they are still young and both possess a great deal of talent. The crap shoot they call the NHL entry draft has not been kind to the Oilers in quite some time, however that trend may be changing. The Oilers have had two strong entry drafts in a row, in 1997 the Oilers chose 7 players who may play in the NHL (Riesen, Yerkovich, Eloffson, Chimera, Sarno, Hinz, and Fomitchev), the 1998 draft looks just as promising with Henrich, Henry, Horcoff, and Spiridonov. So, we move onto the 1999 draft, the Oilers pick 13th overall in the 1st round, 41st overall in the second round (pending compensatory picks) and will receive a mid to late second round pick due to the singing of Curtis Joseph. What will they do with these picks?
The Oilers have an awful time putting the puck in the net, like many teams in the NHL, and they would most definitely like to improve their scoring from the wing. Dan Cleary, Michel Riesen, and Michael Henrich were all drafted/traded for to help fill that need, though they are still a few years away (although Riesen may be closer then most think). A bona fide 2nd line centermen, Jozef Beranek is on two wonky knees and may be expansion bait. Now that we’ve identified the two biggest needs by the Oilers lets take a look at how they will fill that need.
Prospects a plenty
The Oilers have the prospects to fill the first need, scoring from the wing, they have arguably the best talent, prospectwise, off the wing. What they miss is a solid centermen, Sarno and Hinz have put up the numbers in juniors, but will they do it in the NHL? Another strength in the organization is the Oilers depth at goaltending (Heffler, Fomitchev, Passmore, Minard), they will look to Passmore to be Salo’s backup and Heffler and Fomitchev to split duty in Hamilton. Defensive defencemen, Alex Henry, Mathieu Descouteaux and Chris Hajt should become capable defensive defencemen in the NHL someday.
Best Player Available or Draft By Position?
Usually this question is a no brainer, you go for the best player available. Well, the answer is a little harder to find with the Oilers. They will draft 13th overall, a spot where most of the better offensive centermen will be taken and where defensive defencemen and goaltenders take over the draft. The Oilers have to look at the fact that Doug Weight is approaching unrestricted free agency, which in Edmonton basically means “your no longer an Oiler”. What this means is that possibly the Oilers would pass up a guy like Nick Boynton, Kiril Safranov, or Steve McCarthy and take a run at a forward who is lower down on everyone’s list (Martin Havlat perhaps). They appear to have solidified their scoring from the wing, but still Cleary and Henrich are not sure things, so perhaps a goal scoring winger may tickle the Oilers fancy. The point is that if the Oilers are faced with a choice between Kiril Safranov and Scott Kelman, although Kelman may not have as much potential he still is talented and since he’s a centermen the Oilers for the first time in their drafting history would look past the better player and take pick by position.