Oilers 2002 draft evaluation

By Guy Flaming

The 2002 NHL Entry Draft was held in Toronto and would see the Edmonton Oilers with their busiest weekend since 1994.  Fifteen players were chosen by Edmonton over the two-day event, the highest number the club has drafted since 1994 when they selected 16 players.

The end result of the 2002 draft from an Oiler perspective is truly a mixed bag — one absolute bust, a pair of strong NHL contributors, a smattering of still-developing prospects, one player who was forced to retire due to injury and one other selection that left the NHL with a bit of egg on its face.

At the time, Edmonton’s prospect pool appeared to have some stellar top-end players but not an extreme amount of depth and so the club was looking to add draft picks as the event neared.  During the draft Edmonton swung deals with Montreal and Buffalo but had previously acquired picks from New York and Minnesota as well they received a compensatory pick from the NHL for losing a group III free agent.

In all, the 15 draftees have accumulated a total of 313 NHL games for an average of 20.9 games per pick, slightly below the league average of 22.5.

Jesse Niinimaki, C – 1st Round, 15th Overall (Ilves Tampere – FIN)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Edmonton began the weekend in possession of the 14th overall pick but feeling very confident that the player they wanted would still be available, the Oilers flipped positions with the Montreal Canadiens thus dropping down a single position and adding an eighth rounder (245th) to their stockpile.  When they announced Niinimaki’s name at the podium it sent broadcasters and fans at home scurrying to try and find the player on any pre-draft ranking list.  A huge gamble that never paid off, Niinimaki is the only blown first-round pick thus far by the current managerial team.

Niinimaki showed a lot of promise until a severe shoulder injury 10 games into the 2003-04 season ended his year.  The shoulder was devastatingly smashed and required a longer than normal recovery period.  He began the 2004-05 campaign in Finland but transferred to North America to play with the Edmonton Road Runners during the NHL lockout.  Completely ineffective during game situations but clearly talented in practice, Niinimaki quickly frustrated the coaching staff and the organization and the Oilers subsequently allowed the player to become an unrestricted free agent last summer and gladly accepted a second-round compensatory pick in 2006 for him from the league.

Niinimaki played 37 games in the SEL with Lulea and another nine for Krefeld in the DEL totaling 28 points in 46 games between the two leagues.  
 
Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, G – 2nd Round, 31st Overall (Chicoutimi Sagueneens QMJHL)
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The Oilers made a much bigger trade to begin the second round by dealing Jochen Hecht to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for two second-round picks they had previously obtained.  With the first of those two options the Oilers looked to fill a hole between the pipes and chose Chicoutimi netminder Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers.  While Niinimaki was a major reach, JDD’s situation was just the opposite having been rated as a mid-first rounder by many in the business.

Since being drafted, JDD has floundered in the minors first with the Edmonton Road Runners where he played behind veteran Tyler Moss and fellow Oiler prospect Mike Morrison.  Drouin-Deslauriers would only appear in 22 AHL games in 2004-05 and just 13 in a completely wasted 2005-06 season.  Finally this past season the 23-year-old got to play half the games for Wilkes-Barre and fared decently thus rekindling some hope in the organization that he can still develop into a contributor at the NHL level.

Jarret Stoll, C – 2nd Round, 36th Overall (Kootenay Ice – WHL)
Status: NHL Regular
NHL Games Played: 205 regular, 24 playoff games.

The second pick acquired from Buffalo has easily turned into the best decision the Oilers made at the 2002 draft when they opted to select Stoll.  The Kootenay captain had re-entered the draft after failing to come to an agreement with the Calgary Flames and that team’s inability to trade his rights to Toronto thanks to a fax machine malfunction.

Since joining Edmonton’s organization Stoll has continued to improve every year.  Once it was considered that Stoll would eventually become an excellent fourth, perhaps even third-line center in the NHL but after three years in the big league he has shown that he can handle more of an offensive role if needed by the team.  Some speculate whether or not Stoll could in time develop into a number one center although most feel he’s best suited for a second or third-line role.

Stoll has appeared in 205 NHL games with the Oilers and has picked up 129 points in that span including 45 goals.  Excellent at the face-off dot, Stoll is reliable defensively but has developed a cannon of a slap shot that has made him a fixture on the power play as a triggerman. 

Always well respected for his leadership abilities, Stoll has already become the leader of his generation of Oilers in the dressing room and most consider it only a matter of a few years before he is handed the captaincy of the team. 
 
Matt Greene, D – 2nd Round, 44th Overall (North Dakota Fighting Sioux – NCAA)
Status: NHL Regular
NHL Games Played: 105 regular, 18 playoff games.

What the Oilers wanted to do in the early part of the decade was increase their size and toughness and they did both when they looked Matt Greene’s direction.  Believed by the scouting staff to be one part Jason Smith, one part King Kong, the Oilers were anxious to add a player of his potential to their future blue line.

The move has reached fruition as Greene has completed his second season in the NHL and now has surpassed the century mark in regular season games.  It meant leaving North Dakota after his junior year but it’s not a decision that Greene regrets for a minute now that he is an established NHL blueliner.

During the course of his Edmonton tenure the Michigan native has been partnered with several different players but has continued on in his collegiate role of defensive defenseman who plays rough and tough.  Greene is still young and takes more than his fair share of penalties but his experience and confidence blossomed as last season went on, especially down the stretch when injuries meant he played a much larger role than normal.

On the ice he’s a fierce competitor who loves to bang and crash.  Off the ice he might be the only player to have wrecked an SUV without ever stepping foot in it.  Greene was strolling down the sidewalk in a trendy part of town when a vehicle jumped the curb and partially struck him as it crashed.  The end result:  Greene missed about a week but the vehicle was apparently written off.

Brock Radunske, LW – 3rd Round, 79th Overall (Michigan State Spartans – NCAA)
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Edmonton knew that Radunske was going to be a bit of a project when they drafted him.  They liked his size and he’d shown some skilled hands with the puck but to that point his consistency was very far off.  That didn’t get a whole lot better during his time with Michigan State so after three years he bolted and decided to turn pro.  It was a bit of a surprise but the Ontario-born winger had actually expressed interest to the Oilers after his second year that he wanted to leave NCAA but the club declined at that time.

It was unfortunate that the year Radunske left school happened to be the same as the NHL lockout that erased the 2004-05 schedule.  The result saw Radunske begin the year in the AHL with the Road Runners but he was quickly shuffled off to Greenville of the ECHL which was a split affiliation scenario with the Chicago Blackhawks.  Ice time in his first pro season was at a premium and because he was a rookie, getting his opportunity took time.

2005-06 saw Radunske return to Greenville where he had a strong year and likely showed enough to warrant a recall to the AHL level.  However, the Oilers had mothballed the Road Runners and no longer had enough openings in the AHL to accommodate everyone that deserved a spot meaning again Radunske’s development suffered.

This past year Radunske began the campaign with Grand Rapids but saw next to no action before venturing to Switzerland for three games and then somewhat reluctantly dropping back down to the ECHL in Stockton.  It was with the Thunder where he proved he was deserving of a steady AHL gig because in March when he played he was named the ECHL player of the month and had a 16-game scoring streak where he was averaging two points per night.

His three-year entry level contract has expired and although the Oilers will retain his rights, Radunske appears headed to Switzerland to play the 2007-08 season.   

Ivan Koltsov, D – 4th Round, 106th Overall (Russia)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Edmonton traded Rem Murray and Tom Poti to the New York Rangers for Mike York and this fourth-round pick at the trade deadline.  An unmitigated and complete disaster, Ivan Koltsov was the first player of the Lowe, Howson, Prendergast regime that was determined to be an out and out bust.  No player disappeared from the team’s radar faster than Koltsov who played in the unimpressive Russia-3 league for Lipetsk shortly before officially being dropped by Edmonton. 

He was big measuring in at 6’5 but the team quickly found out that there wasn’t a whole lot more in the package than the wrapping on the outside had to offer.  

Jonas Almtorp, C – 4th Round, 111th Overall (Modo – Sweden)
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

“The Torpedo” flew under the radar for much of the last five years playing in Sweden but limited to mostly a checking role.  He signed a contract with Edmonton that will see him playing in North America next year, likely in the AHL with the Springfield Falcons, but there are those in the organization who feel with his experience he could realistically be on the call-up list should the need arise.

Almtorp has spent the last three years with Brynäs in the SEL but told The Pipeline Show last fall that his dream was to play in the NHL and that he was very much looking forward to getting to move to North America.  It appears he will realize that dream in 2007-08.

Robin Kovar, D – 4th Round, 123rd Overall (Vancouver Giants – WHL)
Status: Selection Voided
NHL Games Played: 0

Talk about bizarre moments at the NHL Entry Draft.  The Oilers were given a fourth-round pick as compensation for losing defenseman Igor Ulanov to unrestricted free agency and the New York Rangers.  With that pick Edmonton chose Czech defenseman Robin Kovar who was playing with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL.  However, Kovar was ruled ineligible due to age although the database made available to the teams at the draft said otherwise.  The end result: the Oilers wasted the pick that year but received compensation from the league in 2003 for the NHL’s screw-up.

By the way, Kovar was not drafted in 2003 and returned to the Czech Republic where he has played for two different squads.

Glenn Fisher, G – 5th Round, 148th Overall (Ft. Saskatchewan Traders – AJHL)
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Having already grabbed a netminder earlier in the draft, Edmonton still had an interest in adding another to the organization, especially a collegian who they could wait four development years on.  The Oilers chose local boy Glenn Fisher who backstopped the now defunct Fort Saskatchewan Traders of the AJHL in large part because he was committed to Denver, a program the NHL club has shown a great deal of respect for.

Fisher won two national NCAA titles as a member of the Denver Pioneers although he was a backup the first year and did not get the start in the finals the second time around although it was his turn in the regular rotation.  Fisher’s senior year was impressive despite the team’s overall sub-par performance that saw the defending champs fail to reach the 16-team tournament.

Edmonton signed Fisher to an entry-level contract just this past May and recently the goalie was in town partaking in the team’s offseason prospect camp.  Ready to begin his pro career, Fisher is likely headed to Stockton of the ECHL but will be given the opportunity to fight for an AHL job in the fall when he makes his NHL training camp debut.

Mikko Luoma, D – 6th Round, 181st Overall (Tappara Tampere – Finland)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 3

The policies of drafting the best player available or not drafting for need were ignored when Edmonton selected 26-year-old Mikko Luoma out of Finland.  There are a handful of players drafted after him that have played more than the three NHL games that Luoma did but none were ready at that time to contribute like the veteran Finn.

Holes on their blueline depth saw Edmonton draft Kari Haakana and Ales Pisa the year prior and Edmonton simply felt they might be able to use Luoma as another stop gap until they acquired or developed more permanent players of their own.

Although his NHL career was extremely brief, it was never intended to be lengthy and the fact that 65 games for the AHL affiliate rather than in the big club expedited his move back to Europe where he continues to play today. 

Jean-Francois Dufort, LW – 7th round 205th Overall (Shawinigan Cataractes – QMJHL)
Status: NHL bust — retired due to injury
NHL Games Played: 0

Edmonton acquired Minnesota’s seventh-round pick by shipping now deceased center Sergei Zholtok to the Wild in June of 2001 in exchange for future considerations.  With the pick the Oilers 20-year-old forward J.F. Dufort who had split the QMJHL season between Shawinigan and Cape Breton. 

The winger had good size and decent numbers to go with his collection of penalty minutes but his career came to a screeching halt the next season when he sustained a devastating injury.  Dufort suffered a concussion after 51 games in 2002-03 and was forced to retire from the game when his health issues persisted well into the following year. 

Patrick Murphy, LW – 7th Round 211th Overall (Northern Michigan – NCAA)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

As a strong and muscular specimen Patrick Murphy had a lot of potential to be a tough power forward.  However, at the NCAA level he didn’t show enough aggression for the Oilers and once his career with Northern Michigan was over, so was his tenure as an Oiler prospect.  Murphy made a couple appearances in Edmonton at various offseason camps as well as the token invite to pro camp after graduating from college but Murphy never caught on with the Oilers.

Murphy’s 2006-07 season consisted of five games in the CHL with the Laredo Bucks.

Dwight Helminen, C – 8th Round, 244th Overall (Michigan Wolverines – NCAA)
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The former Michigan Wolverine was another character rich, role-playing forward the Oilers chose in 2002.  Small but built like a fire hydrant, Helminen was trade to the New York Rangers along with goalie Steve Valiquette and two draft picks in exchange for Petr Nedved and Jussi Markkanen. 

Helminen spent time in the ECHL with the Charlotte Checkers but has skated the last two years in the AHL with the Hartford Wolf Pack.  The Michigan native recorded 55 points in 77 games in 2005-06 but saw his offensive out put drop significantly last year.

Tomas Micka, LW – 8th Round 245th Overall (Havirov Femax- CZE)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

To complete the Montreal deal that took place in the first round, Edmonton took a flyer on a Micka, a gangly 6’3 forward who had a cup of coffee in the CZE league as a 19-year-old.  Micka never progressed inside the Oiler organization and after bouncing around between three different ECHL teams in 2004-05, he returned to Europe and has seemingly dropped of the face of the hockey planet.

Fredrik Johansson, C – 9th Round, 274th Overall (Frolunda – Sweden)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The 15th and final player chosen by the Oilers was Swedish forward Fredrik Johansson.  Another long-term project, Johansson is still property of the Oilers after having signed a contract last year that will see him playing in North America this season.  Although Johansson does have 110 games in the SEL under his belt, he still has yet to break the 10-point mark, not a fact that should excite anyone.

Johansson was a reluctant participant at last year’s training camp but returned to Frolunda in time for the start of the SEL regular season.  In 50 games with limited responsibility and ice time he recorded only five points.

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