Oilers post-draft Q&A with Scott Howson

By Guy Flaming

 

Who
ever said there was an “off season” in hockey sure never viewed things from
the management point of view.  Scott
Howson
, Assistant General Manager of the Edmonton Oilers, has had a hectic
two weeks.  He was in Nashville for
the annual NHL Entry Draft and then he was back in Alberta watching over a
couple dozen of the organization’s brightest prospects for a week. 
Of course there was the mad rush to put qualifying contract offers into
the hands of dozens of player agents before July 1st, not to mention
working out a couple trades and resigning Cory Cross as well. 




When
does a guy get to take a break?



“I’m
going on holidays next week,” says Kevin Lowe’s right hand man.



Fortunately
for us, Scott found some time before he heads off on vacation to reflect on the
past two weeks and what might still be in store for the Edmonton Oilers.



Q: 
How happy are you with the results of the weekend in Nashville?



A: 
Well we tried to move up but we didn’t get that accomplished but given
that small disappointment we’re certainly happy with the way things turned
out.  New Jersey made us an offer just before we were going to pick
(Marc-Antoine) Pouliot at no. 17 and we gambled that he’d still
be there (at no. 22) and moved down and got an extra second round pick which
turned out to be Jean-Francois Jacques. 
We still got Pouliot and we got Jacques as an added pick. 
I think that it worked out well for Jersey because I’m not sure that (Zach)
Parise would have lasted another five spots so I think it worked out well
for everybody.  We were pleased with
the draft.  We certainly added some
size and some depth at forward.



Q: 
A couple of days before the draft you told me, “All things being equal,
we’ll take a defensemen.”  But
you took your first blueliner with your 10th pick. 
Does that mean that when it came to your picks, that all things were not
equal?



A: 
I think the three defensemen that everyone had highly regarded: (Dion)
Phaneuf, (Braydon) Coburn and (Ryan) Suter,
were the ones that we were really interested in and after they went in the top
ten. We really go with the player we think will become the best NHL player and
it just so happened that it was forwards at the time. 
I guess if there is one little disappointment it’s that we didn’t add
to our depth at defense.  But we did
draft Mathieu Roy, and we’re in the process of signing him, and we have
Doug Lynch, and some other young guys like Ivan Koltsov and we
think Marc-Andre Bergeron is close. 
We also just signed a defensemen, Mikko Luoma that we drafted last
year.



Q: 
You have signed him (Luoma)?



A: 
Yeah we just signed him.  So
we think we have enough depth but we certainly didn’t come out of it with the
real top defenseman that maybe we had sought.



Q: 
Did you sign Luoma this week? 

A: 
Well we’re going to announce it tomorrow. 
We’re going to announce three defensemen being signed tomorrow. 




Q: 
Of your 12 selections, three are from the QMJHL and three were Swedes. 
This is a bit of a departure from previous years where Finns, US
Collegians and WHLers seemed to be prevalent. 
Is that just the way it worked out or was this by design?



A: 
No that’s just the way it worked out. 
We have no preference about where a player plays we just want to get the
person who’s going to be the best player. 
It just worked out this year that there seemed to be a little bit more of
an emphasis on the Quebec league of all the Junior leagues.



Q: 
What was it about Marc-Antoine Pouliot that separated him from the other
players who were still available at no. 22?



A: 
There was a lot of debate.  Our
top eight or nine went in the top 11 or 12 and that’s what we expected as they
were the cream of the crop.  There
was a lot of debate about numbers 11 through 18 and our scouts were very firm on
Marc-Antoine.  He played on a
horrible team this year that lost, I think, 34 of 38 games straight. 
They traded away all of their players so that they could get a shot at
this Sidney Crosby in the draft.  Our
scouts were very impressed with the way that (Pouliot) competed in what was
really a hopeless situation at times.  I
think what clinched it for our scouts was that he had an outstanding Under-18
tournament over in Russia.



Q: 
Rimouski was successful in getting Crosby, so you are expecting good
things for Pouliot then?



A: 
All indications are that Marc-Antoine is going to play with Crosby and if
he’s as good as everyone says, then (Pouliot) should be in for a banner year.



Q: 
It may not be fair to an 18-year-old to try and compare him to a current
NHLer but we’re hearing lots of comparisons to Simon Gagne. 
Do you think that that is a sensible comparison?



A: 
It’s too early to tell.  I
haven’t seen him play enough but I’ll see more of him this year in Junior. 
We did see him here at the prospects camp but that’s an unfair
comparison.  I mean, Simon Gagne is
a very good player and we’d certainly be more than pleased if he were to turn
out to be like Gagne.

Q: 
Can you tell me a little more about Colin McDonald?



A: 
Colin’s a guy that our scouts were extremely high on. 
They’d watched him play in the New England Junior League. 
He was a bit of a late bloomer and was under the radar screen a little
bit but he had a strong second half.  He’s
going to go to Providence College and we’ll watch him there for the next four
years.  The good thing about Colin
is that he’s going to a program that needs some forwards and they are counting
on him heavily so we think he’s going to play lots and hopefully have some
success there this year.



Q: 
With your third pick, J.F. Jacques, he’s described as a poser forward. 
I noticed last week at the camp though he played a lot of defense in the
scrimmage at the end.



A: 
He did but only because we were short defensemen. 
He’s a big, strong, power type of player that has some toughness to his
game.  He was there at the end of
the second round and we certainly didn’t want to pass on him. 
He skates fairly well so we were pleased that he was available.



Q: 
But for you he is a left-winger only?

A: 
He is a winger, yes.



Q: 
What can you tell me about the three Swedish league players: Joukov,
Olsson
and Umicevic?



A: 
I can tell you a little bit about Joukov in that he’s a Russian playing
in Sweden so he wasn’t eligible to play in any of the tournaments over there
in Sweden or Russia.  He played in
the elite league, his father’s a coach in Sweden and that’s why he’s
there.  He’s a big strong guy that
skates very well so we thought that, perhaps, he may be a little bit of a
sleeper and we decided to step up and take him in the third round. 
The other two I’m not too familiar with so you would have to talk to Kevin
Prendergast
there.



Q: 
Was Zack Stortini’s style of game something that you felt the
organization was lacking in the minor levels?



A: 
Not really.  We see Zack as a
real potential NHL player.  The thing that really attracted us to him was that he’s a
17-year-old, he made the draft by only three days, yet he was the Captain in
Sudbury.  I think that speaks
volumes to his character and the type of player he is. 
He’s got to work on his skating. He knows that, he’s gone to a
skating school now.  We’re really
excited about Zack, the leadership and the character. You can never have too
much of that.



Q: 
One of the purposes of the mini-camp was to get a look at some of the
players that you normally don’t get to see in the fall. 
Did any of them show you abilities you didn’t expect? 




A: 
It wasn’t a big evaluation tool for us. 
It was more to get the prospects here, get them familiar with each other,
the coaches and the management, give them hints on fitness and hopefully to
accelerate their preparations on their journey to become pros. 
I think we accomplished that.



Q: 
Brad Winchester will be turning pro next year. 
In your opinion, does he have the potential to be that big no. 2 center
that you have been searching for over the past few years? 

A: 
Well we have to sign him to a contract yet but we’re certainly
anticipating getting something done over the summer. 
He can play wing, he can play center. 
I’m not sure where he’ll play with us; I don’t think we project him
as a no. 2 center yet.  We certainly
need some size up the middle and he’s 6-5 like you mention. He’s got the
potential to be a big center that we’re looking for but to project him as a
no. 2 would be premature at this time.



Q: 
Matt Greene — unfortunately with the bad ankle he didn’t get to
see much time on the ice but he certainly looked good to me.



A: 
We think Matt’s going to be a good pro. 
He showed a lot of toughness and mental strength by battling through the
ankle injury and playing in the scrimmages at the end. 
We were very pleased with the way Matt competed in the camp and fought
through an injury.



Q: 
The two or three free agents you brought in to the mini-camp, will they
be back in the fall?



A: 
It’s hard to say, we haven’t made any decisions yet.



Q: 
In regards to your European prospects, are there ones you think would
benefit more by coming over to play in North America?



A: 
Probably not at this stage.  I
don’t think we are going to bring anybody over from the last two or three
drafts, I think we’re going to let them stay there and develop there. 
Unless a player is really prepared to come over we tend to leave them
there and that’s the route we are taking with our young Europeans at this
point.



Q: 
Now that you have moved (Jussi) Markkanen and Ty Conklin
is pretty much penciled in as the back up to Tommy this year, how does that
leave you for the Toronto Roadrunners?



A: 
We’ve still got Kristian Antila and Michael Morrison and
they’ll certainly compete for spots with the Roadrunners but we’re actively
in the market right now trying to sign a no. 3 goaltender for the organization
and no. 1 for Toronto and hopefully we’ll be successful in that route.



Q: 
Will the Roadrunners be 100% Oiler prospects?



A: 
Yes.



Q: 
Can I ask you for some updates on some of the players who were, or are,
in the organization?



A: 
Sure.



Q: 
Michael Henrich?



A: 
Michael Henrich was sent his qualifying offer and we expect to receive
that back and we expect him to be at camp in the fall.



Q: 
Jan Horacek?



A:
Jan Horacek will be announced as being signed tomorrow.



Q: 
J.F. Dufort?



A: 
Didn’t get a look at him in the prospects camp, I think he had a
concussion, so we look forward to seeing him in training camp.



Q: 
Jay Vancik?



A: 
No plans to bring him back at this point.



Q: 
Peter Sarno, is he still around?



A: 
Peter Sarno’s a group II and we’re going to talk to him over the
summer.



Q: 
Jake Brenk?



A: 
Jake goes back to Mankato State (in Minnesota).



Q: 
Eddie Caron?



A: 
Eddie Caron’s waiting for a ruling to decide whether he can play in the
fall or not if he’ll have to wait until Christmas, he’s back at UNH (University
of New Hampshire) right now.



Q: 
Joe Cullen?



A: 
Joe Cullen is going to graduate this year. He’s completed his senior
year at Colorado College and we’re in the process of trying to come to an
agreement.



Q: 
Lastly, is Eric Heffler still around?



A: 
No.



Q: 
Does the current list of UFA’s available, other than the goalies since
you already said you were looking for one, are there other positions you may
look at filling with a free agent?



A: 
We’re trying to fill some spots with some depth players; maybe some
lower level NHL players to either play in Toronto or challenge for a job. 
So, yes there’s interest out there in some of the depth players but
we’re not pursuing anybody at the NHL level, in terms of being established NHL
players.



Q: 
Only one team in the league this year sent qualifying offers to all of
its players, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that it was the Oilers. 
Does that come as a surprise?



A: 
I don’t like to comment on what other teams are thinking but in our
case, we didn’t have too much debate on who we were and who we weren’t going
to qualify.  We had realized that
with Jussi Markkanen there might have been an issue with three goalies so we
traded him before we came to that decision. 
We’re happy with the players that we have and that we qualified, we
think they’re all good players. 

Q: 
The current CBA expires next summer. 
How will that affect the way the Oilers handle contracts with your
current RFAs?  Will we see more one
year deals than in most years?  



A: 
That’s hard to say.  We’re
certainly not going to close the door on anyone who wants to talk about a
multi-year deal.  But it’s
certainly easier to get a one year deal done. 
We think we’re positioned well for the future and that’s not going to
change.  If there’s a deal that makes sense to us now then we’ll
certainly look into that.



As
is plain to see, there will be plenty of work piling up on his desk when Scott
Howson returns from his well-earned holidays. 
With more than a dozen NHL player contracts to be settled and even more
agreements to be done with minor league hopefuls, it is clear that the “off
season” is anything but that in Edmonton.