Look for Oilers to Draft More Skill

By John Christie

With the NHL entry draft one-week away, the Edmonton Oilers have finished
completing their end of year scouting meetings in British Columbia. The
entire Oilers Hockey Operations personnel and scouts presided in British
Columbia for 7 days to look over scouting reports and formulate draft
strategies for the upcoming entry draft in Toronto. Oilers GM Kevin Lowe
and Oilers Vice President of Hockey Operations, Kevin Prendergast compiled
all the information on the players and did various scenarios of whom will be
available at 14.

Kevin Lowe referred to this year’s draft as “not a deep draft year … it’s
not as good as last year”. All team scouts and GM have said this is not a
quality draft and this year’s draft could be worse then 1996. In 5 years, we
will know if that is true.

The important questions facing the Edmonton Oilers is to draft for skill or
draft a player who will make the NHL. It is a gamble not only facing the
Oilers but the 29 other NHL teams. The Oilers have to look at the draft in
terms of the future because being a small market, when a player reaches
their peak in salary, it means good-bye. However, with the 2004 lockout
looming, the rules could change for small market clubs.

There are some skilled players in the 2002 draft. Some of the skilled
players who could be available at 14 include: Peter Taticek (f), Jakub
Koreis (f), Jiri Hudler (f), Pierre-Marc Bouchard (f), Alexander Semin (w),
Martin Vagner (d), Kiril Koltsov (d), Sergei Anshakov (w). Lowe said the
Oilers have enough gritty and role players and need to improve the skill in
the organization.

Some “safe and reliable” players in this years draft the Oilers could draft
are: Eric Nystrom (w), Dan Paille (w), Ben Eager (w), John Boychcuk (d), Rob
Globke (w).

In a draft of hit and misses, more teams would be more inclined to take the safe
and reliable player. Mike Smith, GM of the Chicago Blackhawks said you
“draft for skill and trade for character and grit”. Many people have
issues with Mr. Smith but no doubt, he has done a fantastic job at the entry
draft.

The Oilers will be looking for skilled players at any position. Their draft
philosophy is to “draft the best player available”, but all NHL teams say that.
After the first round, the Oilers will be targeting specific needs. If
the Oilers had their choice, the skilled player they take will score them 40
goals a year. A skilled winger who can score is at the top of their list.
This year’s draft may not produce any 40-goal scorers.

Skilled winger Ales Hemsky, power winger Jani Rita, towering defenseman
Alexei Semenov and two way defensive centre Jason Chimera in the system,
the Oilers would like another skilled winger or defenseman who can rush the
puck like Tom Poti did. Look the Oilers to draft a skilled player at 14.

With more teams drafting older Europeans, look for the Oilers to continue
with this trend. The Oilers were very happy with the work Jussi Markennen
did for them last season. He was a 25-year-old draft in the fifth round
last year and made the big club. He helped the Oilers down the stretch and
the Oilers finally have a reliable back up goalie since Essensa. Ninth round
draft pick Ales Pisa played well in Hamilton but struggled in Edmonton.
Columbus and Minnesota have been successful in drafting older Europeans. The
Oilers did well with Markennen and look for the Oilers to draft one or two
in the late rounds with the extra picks they receive from Minnesota in the
Zholtok deal and the NHL will award the Oilers for losing defenseman Igor
Ulanov.

Odds:

1. Odds the Oilers move up in the Entry Draft: Less then 10% because of the
asking price teams will want for a top 5 pick. Rumours are the Thrasher and
Lightning asking for 1 front line player and a high draft pick. This is
way too steep a price in a draft that may not produce any potential franchise
or impact players.

2. Odds the Oilers trade Down: 40%: Lowe is looking to get a player who can
play right away and dangling his pick. He is willing to trade down to get a 5th
or 6th defenseman.

3. Odds the Oilers trade out of first round: Less then 10%. The Oilers have
never traded out of the first round in their 22-year history. Look for them
to stay at 14 and make a European there first rounder again.

4. Jiri Dopita becomes an Oiler: 80% of this happening since Lowe has talked
to Jiri’s agent quite a few times and also talked to Flyers GM Bob Clarke.

5. Odds the Oilers make a trade: 85% since Lowe has five core free agents to
sign (Anson Carter, Mike York, Jason Smith, Eric Brewer & Todd Marchant) and
needs to clear some room (salary) to sign all five. All five are very
important to the club. Players like Ethan Moreau, Mike Grier, Dan Cleary,
Marty Reasoner could be dealt on draft day.

Next week: Oilers Draft Review and sounds and insights at the Entry Draft
(Oilers perspective).