Oilers 2005 draft review

By Guy Flaming

The Edmonton Oilers were one of the biggest losers of the NHL’s draft lottery held a week before the draft itself. Next to the Florida Panthers, the Oilers dropped the farthest in the pecking order when compared to their last regular season finish. Beginning the event from the 25th position meant that a chance at selecting one of the players they really coveted early was highly unlikely.

What the Oilers were seeking heading into the draft was to increase the level of skill inside the organization. With their first pick they wanted to make sure they added a pure offensive forward, and if they accomplished that, then they were going to shift their focus to the blueline for the early second round selection.

As it turned out, for the second consecutive year the team immediately before them nabbed the player the Oilers were really hoping to select. In 2004 the Buffalo Sabres practically stole Drew Stafford out of Edmonton’s hands and this year it was the St. Louis Blues who did them in. When the Blues chose T.J. Oshie it made Edmonton’s decision simple and they drafted diminutive speedster Andrew Cogliano with the 25th overall selection.

ANDREW COGLIANO, C (St. Michaels Buzzers ONT Jr A)
Born: 06.14.87 Height: 5’10 Weight: 180

“We had Cogliano right next to (Oshie) so we knew once it got to 24 that if St. Louis took one of them that we’d get the other one,” Oiler VP of Hockey Operations Kevin Prendergast explained. “I don’t think we lost out at all, it’s just that one of the players we had rated very high was taken ahead of us.”

In Cogliano, the Oilers have garnered themselves one of, if not the, fastest skaters available in the draft. He is an explosive skater who possesses a skill set to match his great speed. More importantly, with his terrific hockey sense the center can perform in full flight. That fact has resulted in one of the more memorable descriptions the Oilers have offered up in recent memory.

“Marchant… but with more skill, sense and hands.”

Sure it can be interpreted as a slight to the former Oiler but really, if Cogliano is as advertised then it’s probably more true than insulting to Marchant. After all, although he was amazingly fast, Marchant was never mistaken for having any offensive abilities whatsoever.

Other players being mentioned in comparison to the newest Oiler recruit from both inside and outside the organization include Doug Weight and Mike Comrie. Perhaps the most accurate way to describe the Toronto-area native would be to say that he has Marchant’s world-class speed, Comrie’s size and Weight’s finishing and playmaking abilities. That, or to simply say Cogliano plays like Andrew Cogliano.

Like Comrie and former Oiler prospect Dwight Helminen (NYR), Cogliano’s path to the NHL is going to lead through the University of Michigan and that was a positive factor in Edmonton’s evaluation of the 18-year-old center.

“Something we always look at when we’re drafting kids is what program they are about to go to,” said Prendergast. “Red Berenson has had a lot of success there at that school and has developed a lot of great hockey players and Red being a former center too sure won’t hurt this young man.”

Cogliano’s statistics are impressive, but need to be taken with a grain of salt because of the level he was playing at. In just 49 games, the center scored 36 goals and added 66 helpers for a whopping total of 102 points, but it was in the Ontario Junior ‘A’ league. Next year will be a more telling barometer, as he’ll be skating as a rookie with the Wolverines in a far more challenging CCHA conference.

The other knock on Cogliano is in regards to his size although many of the top offensive players who were available in this year’s draft were all around the same height. In considering the expected changes to the game and the resulting free flowing style, the Oilers are sure his size will not be a negative.

“Well, we’re banking on that Guy, they say that they’re going to clamp down on the rules, open the game up and create more offense and this kid brings a lot of offense to the table,” confirmed Prendergast. “Although he’s only 5’9.5, he’s not all that smaller than Crosby or Brule. When you’ve got speed and great hands to finish, you can hurt people with it, plus he’s going to a great school in Michigan so he can only get better.”

TAYLOR CHORNEY, D (Shattuck-St. Mary’s USHSW)
Born: 04.27.87 Height: 5’11 Weight: 182

With the talented forward already in the bag from the first round, Edmonton held true to plan and selected a puck moving defenseman with the 36th overall pick in the guise of high school rearguard Taylor Chorney. While the immediate reaction from many fans was “Who!?” as more information comes out about the 18-year-old the choice seems to make a lot more sense.

During the year Chorney patrolled the blueline at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, the same hockey factory that produced Sidney Crosby (PGH) and Jack Johnson (CAR). On a couple different occasions, Chorney was able to head overseas as part of the National U18 team and he enjoyed a lot of success.

“At the November U18 tournament in Sweden he played extremely well and then again at the U18 World Championships he again played very well,” said Prendergast. In April, Chorney was one of only two American defensemen to register a goal in the tournament and although it was his only point over the course of the six games, his performance left a lasting impression. By the end of the tournament Chorney had held down a +5 rating, one of the best records on his gold medal winning team.

“He’s a kid who is a great skater, he’s got really good glide, he’s able to get back and grab the puck and move it up really quickly,” Prendergast added.

Chorney impressed the Oiler scouts who had a chance to watch him play this year and then did so again during the team’s interviews, which was beneficial for the staffers who hadn’t seen him. A well-spoken and mature individual, he’s a player that stood out from many of the other Minnesota high school kids when it came to the personal interviews.

On the ice Chorney has been compared to Brian Rafalski, but one Oiler scout cautions Oiler fans that they might be getting the wrong impression of the defenseman.

“He’s not a pure offensive defenseman like I’ve read on your message boards at Hockey’s Future,” said scout Chris McCarthy. “He’s a two-way, puck moving guy. He needs a little work on his defensive game but he’s a guy who makes a great first pass, can skate it out when he has to, he has very good hockey sense in that he doesn’t make poor decisions with the puck and he’s always using his head.”

McCarthy likens Chorney more to Calgary’s Jordan Leopold although concedes that the new Oiler’s offensive game isn’t as developed as his Calgary counterpart’s at this point.

“I don’t think he’s quite as offensive as him yet, but Leopold isn’t a pure offensive defensive defenseman either,” said the Boston based scout. “He’s smart and doesn’t get himself into trouble. I think his offensive side will come so I don’t think that’s an issue.“

Chorney was heavily recruited but has committed to joining the Fighting Sioux of North Dakota for the fall, which Edmonton regards as a terrific place for him to go.

“They play in a great conference where every team is competitive,” pointed out Prendergast. “North Dakota is going to go through a rebuilding year but when you have Denver, Wisconsin and teams like that in your conference it makes every game crucial so he’s going to be put to the test right away.”

The Oilers believe that Chorney will step right into a top-four role with North Dakota and will be expected to play on the power play, which will obviously help develop his offensive game.

The fact that Chorney also played at a lower level in his draft year is reason for at least a little concern for his long term projection as a NHL player but there is no denying that he has big time skill in a smaller body.

DANNY SYVRET, D (London Knights OHL)
Born: 06.13.85 Height: 5’11.5 Weight: 203

Perhaps the most recognizable name the Oilers drafted in 2005 was with their first of two selections in the third round. Danny Syvret had a breakout year playing on two of the strongest junior teams in history; the Memorial Cup winning London Knights and Canada’s entry in the 2005 World Junior Championships. The 20-year-old defenseman had been passed over in the two previous drafts but when he was available at turn number 81, Edmonton couldn’t resist grabbing him.

“He’s a steadying force, he’s incredibly mature and responsible and not only the leader of the London Knights but he’s the real rock of that team,” described OHL based scout Brad Davis.

“He’s a special kid; he was the leader on that club, kept all those guys focused and everything we have checked on his background is absolutely positive,” said Prendergast. “He’s great in the community, he’s got excellent hockey sense and even though he’s 20 years old maybe he just felt more confidence that he could do more things this year than he did in the past and he showed that. He had all kinds of characters on that team, a bit on the wild side and he controlled them. He kept tabs on everything, organized things for them. He’s mature for his age and I don’t think turning pro is going to change him at all.”

There are those who question Syvret’s long-term potential based on the fact that his breakout season came so late and it was while playing with arguably the best team in Canadian Major Junior history. Is it unreasonable to question how inflated his stats and performance were while playing on such a juggernaut of a hockey team? To his credit, Syvret was one of the key components that helped make the Knights the success they were so he deserves his share of the credit too. However, there are those who feel that if Syvret is going to have a NHL career it might only come after a lengthy stint in the AHL.

It should be noted that minutes after the Oilers selected Syvret, the Dallas Stars were at the Edmonton table requesting that the blueliner be part of the group sent to their shared AHL affiliate in Des Moines. Officially, only the agreement with Hamilton has been revealed by the Oilers, but a source inside the organization confirms that another announcement will be coming soon to confirm Iowa as another partner.

One thing going for the likeable blueliner is that Syvret was considered one of the top offensive defensemen available in the draft. International Scouting Services ranked Syvret behind only Jack Johnson for offensive potential and it’s that mindset coupled with his maturity and leadership skills that could make him a steal from the third round.

ROBBY DEE, LW/C (Breck, USHSW)
Born: 04.09.87 Height: 6’01 Weight: 187

With their second selection of the third round, the Oilers went back to the schoolyards of Minnesota and snatched forward Robby Dee from Breck School in Minneapolis. The highest scoring player in the state, Dee is a talented forward who saw his draft ranking vary wildly from list to list. The Oilers believe that with Dee they’ve landed a real offensive threat who will only get better as he moves up to the USHL next season and to Maine the year after.

“He has excellent hands, he’s a great skater and his points will attest to the fact that he knows what to do offensively,” beamed Prendergast when asked about the pick. “Here’s another kid that we have four years to wait on while he develops and we think he’ll be a terrific player down the road. He can play all three forward positions. I think he’ll probably play center this year in the USHL but I don’t know what the depth situation will be like for Maine the following year, although I think they’ll be going into a rebuilding phase too.”

In the off-season McCarthy had the opportunity to coach Dee at a Boston area prospect tournament and couldn’t say enough good things about him.

“He usually plays on the wing but I asked him about playing center and if it would be a problem and he said that he’d do whatever I wanted him to do so, I told him to play center,” recalled McCarthy. “He really saw the ice well, especially on his weak side (his backhand side). He finds his teammates, makes a solid pass, has a good shot, he’s not a pure offensive guy but he is a very, very good playmaker. He’s got good positioning and he knows how to play the game. He’s a good-sized kid with a really good skating stride and he’s strong on his skates. He’s got really good on-ice vision.”

Dee’s performance this past season was good enough to be named a finalist for the Mr. Hockey Award handed out to Minnesota’s top high school player.

Next season Dee will play for Omaha in the USHL where he is expected to be an impact player.

CHRIS VANDE VELDE, C (Moorhead, USHSW)
Born: 3.15.87 Height: 6’02 Weight: 190

When asked for who they felt might be their sleeper pick of their 2005 crop of players, one name that some members of the scouting staff offered up was that of Chris Vande Velde. The Moorhead pivot already has better than average height and might not be done growing upwards let alone filling out. It’s not out of the question to envision Vande Velde eventually playing at closer to 6’3 and 215 lbs if not more.

Vande Velde is a bit of a late bloomer in that he only played two seasons for Moorhead including this past year. However, the talented center was an important part of his varsity team’s success this year. Scoring over a point a game is a clear indication that the strong forward knows how to handle the puck and can find the back of the net on more occasions than not.

“Most of our scouts saw him and they all really liked him; he’s a great kid,” said Prendergast. “Great stickhandler, great hockey sense, a great skater and he’s a scorer too and that’s what we were looking for.”

When it came to selecting with the first of two picks in the fourth round, the Oilers were not sure whom to take.

“We were talking about a couple guys but there wasn’t really any kind of buzz about the one guy downstairs at the table and I felt he might slip to our next pick but felt that Vande Velde might not be there,” recounted McCarthy. “I really like Vande Velde. We’ve got five years on the kid now, he’s going to the USHL to play for Lincoln and I think it will be a good year for him to play in more games and with a little better competition that he had in high school. In the state tournament he really took the team on his back and carried them. He’s a really good penalty killer, he’s smart, has a long reach, a hard shot, soft hands for a big guy, and he can score!”

“I think he has a ton of upside, I was thoroughly impressed.”

After his stint with Lincoln, Vande Velde will join Taylor Chorney at North Dakota where the Oilers know he’s going to develop physically both on and off the ice.

“In that school, with what they have there as far as training facilities, he can only get better,” agreed Prendergast.

VIATCHESLAV TRUKHNO, LW (P.E.I., QMJHL)
Born: 02.22.87 Height: 6’0.5 Weight: 197

With their second fourth round pick the Oilers were still hoping to be able to pick up the player they were debating on taking with the Vande Velde selection. As it turns out, they were able to and nabbed Russian winger Viatcheslav Trukhno with their sixth pick of the day.

The decision to draft a European playing in the CHL is consistent with previous draft picks like Alexei Semenov, Ales Hemsky and Roman Tesliuk. Trukhno, although born in Russia, actually grew up in Denmark and is pursuing Danish citizenship. The Oilers have had more success with European players playing in North America than those who develop over seas and there is no indication that Trukhno is going anywhere.

“I don’t anticipate it,” stated Prendergast. “His English is really good, he’ll have next year in PEI and he could play the following year as an overager if there isn’t anything for him in the AHL. He told us his big goal was to play in the NHL so he came over here to learn the language and he’s now played against kids in junior like Sidney Crosby so we’re pretty confident that he’s going to stay in North America.”

This is a player whom each Oiler scout Hockey’s Future consulted with after the draft agreed was probably their “steal” of 2005. Most publications had the gritty forward ranked much higher than where Edmonton picked him.

“He goes to the net and hangs out in the tough areas,” Prendergast outlined. “He’s never going to be a big goal scorer, but he’s going to earn his points because he competes from the blueline in. He needs to improve his skating a bit but it will be his second year in the QMJHL so he’ll understand the process better and we think he’s a kid that has a lot of upside to him.”

McCarthy had perhaps the most exciting description of the winger when he said, “He’s a prototypical rusher; powerful legs, powerful skater, really great jump, he can change gears and blow right by guys. He’s got really quick hands and he can thread the needle with a pass. He’s very impressive to watch.”

One understated aspect of what Trukhno brings to the team is the fact that although he’s listed as a winger he did play as a center at times this year making him a versatile player who can fill any forward hole. Some have suggested that he might make an effective checker, but it seems the Oilers feel there’s too much offensive upside to tinker with a checking role.

“I would rather see how good he can be as an offensive player,” laughed McCarthy. “He’s very good on the power play, I wouldn’t want him being a checker. I think we’re going to let this kid run with it and see in a couple of years where he fits in.”

Aside from Danny Syvret, Slava Trukhno will likely be the first player ready to contribute at the professional level.

Fredrik Pettersson, LW (Frolunda, SWE Jr)
Born: .06.10.87 Height: 5’10” Weight: 175

As stated above, the Oilers have not fared very well in recent years with their European selections so the team’s selection of pint sized Swedish forward Fredrik Pettersson is another chance. However, not only is Pettersson an exciting and dynamic player to watch, but he’s also on his way to play in the WHL next season.

As the story goes, Pettersson ventured to Calgary to partake in the Mac’s Midget tournament and really hit it off with the family that he billeted with. The connection was so great that the families got together over the summer and Petterson, who was having contract negotiation problems with Frolunda, informed his agent Don Baizley that he would be willing to play in Calgary for the Hitmen.

Sure enough the Hitmen selected the exciting forward in the CHL Import Draft in June and so Pettersson will play in the Alberta city next season. That fact was a definite selling feature for the Oilers and considering how badly Swedish scout Kenta Nilsson wanted to draft him, it was a simple decision for Prendergast to make.

“He’s all skill; he’s very competitive, he has excellent speed, he’s very deceptive with the puck and he creates very well,” said Prendergast before comparing him to the Oilers’ top prospect. “He has a lot of Schremp in him where he’s very patient with the puck and he’ll hold onto it until the last second. He finds holes and he makes the players around him better.”

And don’t think for a second that the irony of having their player develop in the city of their archrivals has escaped the Oilers.

“It’s so much easier to keep track of them plus they’re learning a North American system, especially the physical system which is why we brought Niinimaki over here last year,” said Prendergast. “In the U18’s this year he was one of the best Swedes in both tournaments and hopefully he’ll step right into Getzlaf’s place in Calgary. Plus, he’s in Calgary and he’s an Edmonton Oiler so that’s even better, it’s beautiful!”

MATT GLASSER, LW (Fort McMurray, AJHL)
Born: 01.11.87 Height: 5’10 Weight: 180

With their final pick of the day, Edmonton looked closer to home and selected one of the top players in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Matt Glasser is a Calgarian playing in the northern-most team in the tier II league where he put up a respectable 49 points in 62 games. According to the Oilers, Glasser was an interesting choice for a couple reasons.

“He was a 17-year-old on the second best team in the league and he was the second leading scorer there,” described Prendergast. “He has excellent vision and he’s a strong skater. He’s going to be back in Fort McMurray next year and then he’ll be off to Denver, which again, is another great program.”

Glasser will join Geoff Paukovich in 2006-07 at Denver University, the current two-time defending national champions, despite having gone through a lot of turnover the last couple of years.

“George Gwozdecky has done a great job in Denver and so we felt it was a great thing for the organization to bring an Alberta boy in,” added Prendergast. “(Glasser’s) got really thick legs, he’s built like Raffi Torres, and he was one of the youngest guys on the team.”

Glasser turned 18 midway through the season, his second in the AJHL, and will take on a far bigger and more demanding role next year with the Oil Barons.

Analysis

Did the team have a successful day at the draft table? The best way to answer that question is by looking back at what the team wanted to accomplish heading into the weekend.

The Oilers wanted to increase the level of skill in the organization and seemingly did that with each selection by drafting a player who is either offensive minded or is no less than a two-way player. The offensive upsides of Cogliano, Dee, Vande Velde, Pettersson, Glasser and Trukhno up front, plus the blueline potential of Chorney and Syvret are all noteworthy traits for each player.

The Oilers also wanted to increase their depth pool up front and specifically on the wings and again succeeded in doing so. Pettersson and Glasser are both left wingers and both Trukhno and Dee are capable of playing there as well. Vande Velde appears to be the truest center of the lot and already Edmonton can envision Cogliano eventually filling a wing position alongside one of their deadliest prospects.

“I can see Cogliano (on the wing) down the road with his speed,” Prendergast allowed. “I believe that Cogliano is absolutely meant for Schremp; with that extra ice surface and room to skate freely, as soon as Robbie figures out how fast (Cogliano) is they’ll hook up pretty good. It’s the same with Pouliot.”

When told that all his team needed to do now was to find that duo’s future linemate, Prendergast chuckled and said, “That’s right but we’ll get that guy next year.”

Did Edmonton get a pure sniping talent that will help them score goals? Possibly. Cogliano and Robby Dee racked up a lot of points this past season and would appear to be the two closest things to snipers, but that theory will have to be proven next year as both players step up to a higher level of competition. Chris Vande Velde also appears to be someone who could become an intriguing prospect to watch. He’s already got decent size but he’s still going to get bigger and at North Dakota he is going to have an excellent opportunity to develop his skills.

Keeping true to tradition, the Oilers once again showed a preference for leadership as the majority of the draft class wore a letter on their jersey this past year. Chorney and Syvret wore the ‘C’ for their teams while Vande Velde, Pettersson and Cogliano were alternates at some point over the year.

“These guys don’t get to be captains or assistant captains unless they don’t have skill and character,” smiled Prendergast.

Negatives?

One of the larger issues about the draft class is the fact that so many of the players will potentially be tied up at the NCAA level for four to five years. But with the new rule that players will achieve unrestricted free agency after seven years of service, NCAA players may actually receive much more draft attention in the new era.

Also, the Oilers actually have several prospects who will be turning pro in the next couple of years and wanted to avoid numbers issues, especially considering that they currently don’t have their own AHL team all to themselves.

“Now we don’t have a logjam of players where we might push a guy aside a bit too early because of others guys coming out; everybody is going to get a fair shake,” reasoned McCarthy. “We have five years on some of these guys, they can develop at their pace and when they’re ready to go our NHL roster will be solid and we won’t have as many AHL prospects fighting for limited jobs. We didn’t go into the meetings saying that we need to draft only high school kids or anything. We were looking for the best players and it just so happens that we have five years to wait on three of them.”

“They will get stronger, they’ll play with men in college for the next four or five years and that’s good for development,” added Brad Davis. “These are young kids going to top-notch schools and they’re kids that those top schools fight to get. They aren’t add-on players, these are guys that schools are looking at to be their big wheels.”

“These guys were all neck and neck with juniors who still had two years left when the time came for us to pick,” said Prendergast before reminding critics of one fine point. “It doesn’t mean that all of these kids are going to stay in school for the full four years though, some of them might be ready to come out after two.”

It should also be kept in mind that in 2004, the Oilers drafted a total of ten players, eight of which were from one of the three major junior leagues in Canada. Combined, the two years see a total of 18 players: 10 CHL, six NCAA-bound, one overage European goalie and Pettersson this year who comes from Sweden but will play in the WHL next year.

The last area some nay-sayers have focused on is that the Oilers failed to trade up during the draft to take a different player or just add more picks. According to the organization, not only were attempts made during the opening round but at other points in the day as well.

“We tried in every round, outside of the seventh round, to try and do something,” confirmed Prendergast. “We actually tried to move inside the top 20 when one player started falling, but we sort of knew that there wasn’t going to be a lot of movement in that first round. We tried to get extra second or third rounders; it wasn’t for a lack of trying but teams weren’t really eager to move. We had about 15 guys that we sort of looked at where if they were still there in certain areas we wouldn’t give away picks if we felt we could get them so that’s what we did.”

Ryan O’Marra (NYI), T.J. Oshie (STL) and Kris Russell (CLB) are among the players that were held in high regard by Edmonton and yet slipped away.

Looking ahead

Next up for the scouting staff is to take in the Lake Placid, N.Y. summer camp and tournament for the US, Sweden and Finland U20 national teams. The Oilers will have a trio of players taking part for the Americans in Rob Schremp, Geoff Paukovich and now Taylor Chorney plus Fredrik Pettersson will also be on hand for Sweden.

Meanwhile in Whistler, B.C. the summer camp for Team Canada will open in mid-month and there will also be a triad of Oilers at those sessions consisting of Devan Dubnyk, Liam Reddox and Andrew Cogliano.

The Oilers will open prospect camp on September 6th as a lead-in to the main Oiler camp to follow about ten days later. It is expected that the annual UofA Golden Bears vs Oiler rookies contest will be held again as well. The first preseason Oiler game will be at home against the Dallas Stars on September 18th.

Comment on this story at the Oilers section of the Hockey’s Future Message Boards. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.