Oilers 2008 draft preview

By Guy Flaming

Top 10 Prospects

1. Jeff Petry D
2. Taylor Chorney D
3. Rob Schremp C/LW
4. Riley Nash C
5. Jeff Deslauriers G
6. Chris Vande Velde C
7. Theo Peckham D
8. Cody Wild D
9. Devan Dubnyk G
10. Ryan Potulny C

The Edmonton Oilers are a team in the midst of an injury-forced restructuring and are looking forward to the new season thanks to an inspiring finish to 2007-08.  Massive injuries struck the club’s NHL roster for the second consecutive season but unlike in 2006-07, the Oilers had terrific success with the youth that stepped into larger roles. 

The graduations of Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Robert Nilsson, Zack Stortini, Kyle Brodziak, Curtis Glencross, Denis Grebeshkov and Tom Gilbert offset the lengthy losses of several veteran players.  That fact has many fans believing that a return to playoff team status is much closer than it looked this time last year.  

Thanks to the offer sheet acquisition of Dustin Penner last summer, the Oilers don’t have a lot of picks heading into the draft.  General Manager Kevin Lowe has made it clear that with an overabundance of NHL caliber players in the system, he’ll be looking to make changes this summer.  Whether those moves come before, during or after the draft is the question, although the scouting staff would obviously like to have some more work to do in the second and third rounds.

The Picks (5):

Round 1 – 22nd Overall (acquired from Anaheim Ducks)
Round 2 – none (traded to Anaheim)
Round 3 – none (traded to Anaheim)
Round 4 – 103rd Overall
Round 5 – 133rd Overall
Round 6 – 163rd Overall
Round 7 – 193rd Overall

Team Needs

Edmonton scored 235 goals last year, that’s more lamplighters than six of the eight Western Conference teams that qualified for the playoffs had but only the LA Kings allowed more goals against than the 251 that beat Oiler goalies.  Doing a better job of keeping the puck out of their net has to be a top priority but certainly the rash of injuries that knocked the veterans out of action had more than a little to do with that last year.

One could argue that Edmonton’s biggest need is simply to stay healthy, but that’s not something you can address through player transactions, aside from not acquiring ones who are injury-prone.  

Currently the Oilers are overstocked at every position and a handful of players would have to be pushed through waivers to get to the minors including Mathieu Roy, Jeff Deslauriers and Ryan Potulny unless moving players higher up the food chain can make room for them. Speculation is that Lowe may try to upgrade his roster by making package deals to solve that problem.    

Between the pipes, Dwayne Roloson lost his starting job to Mathieu Garon and with Deslauriers knocking on the door, the Oilers have said they’ll start the year with three goalies if need be.  That obviously is not the preferred scenario but unless they can offload the 38-year-old Roloson and his hefty contract to a team needing an experienced goalie, the three-headed monster is what they’ll have.   

Unrestricted free agency will only affect three Oilers this summer.  Utility man Marty Reasoner is a high priority for head coach Craig MacTavish while negotiations with Curtis Glencross continue.  Only Geoff Sanderson appears certain not to return.  Key restricted free agents include Jarret Stoll, Zack Stortini and Joni Pitkanen. 

Organizational Strengths

Edmonton’s mission to improve the mobility and puckhandling ability of their defense will begin to show itself in Springfield this coming season with Cody Wild, Taylor Chorney, Josef Hrabal and Sebastien Bisaillon all in the minors.  Springfield’s defense will be young but with Theo Peckham, Bryan Young, possibly Roy, an older AHL veteran still to be signed as well as a probable return of Mike Gabinet, there will be a good mix of defensive and offensive blueliners. 

If there is one thing the forward group of prospects has, it’s grit and character with its checkers and role players.  Liam Reddox, Tim Sestito, Troy Bodie and Tyler Spurgeon lead that group and carry out their job description well.  Rob Schremp had a near point-per-game season and finished in the top 10 of AHL scoring.

Devan Dubnyk will be the starter in Springfield with Glenn Fisher the likely reliever while pro rookie Bryan Pitton gets the bulk of starts in the ECHL with Stockton.  It will be Dubnyk’s year to shine after being the understudy to Deslauriers last season only appearing in 33 contests. 

Organizational Weaknesses

Offensive skill is lacking in the prospect system, especially with the number of graduations the Oilers had last year.  Certainly Schremp is the brightest star in the system when it comes to offensive creativity and goal scoring but he can’t do it all himself.  Springfield will need Slava Trukhno to pick up from where he ended last year, Colin McDonald to rediscover his pre-college form, Stephane Goulet to take another step forward and Ryan O’Marra to click with the new coaching staff.

The farm team struck for 2164 shots for last season but surrendered 2666 shots against; that’s being outshot by nearly 25%.  The Falcons spent far too much time in their own end because they couldn’t move the puck or skate it out.

In general, Edmonton’s prospects are fairly one or two-dimensional; the checkers may be gritty enough but can’t chip in with the secondary offense needed or the offensive defensemen are lacking in their own end.  They don’t have many players in the system who can contribute proficiently both ways.  There is also a shortage of NHL-bound players with size and that’s something Edmonton will try to address at the 2008 draft but it’s secondary to the search for skill.   

“In the first round we’ll take whatever we want, but after that we need to get big,” an Oiler source told Hockey’s Future.  “It was one of the problems we had last year in Springfield so we need to get some size in the system.”  

Peckham, Jacques and O’Marra would be the three big men with the most NHL potential, but none are expected to be point producers if they make it to the highest pro level.

Draft Tendencies

This is a franchise with a relatively weak drafting record when it comes to Europeans unless they are selecting CHL imports like Ales Hemsky in 2001. They did take Slovakia’s Milan Kytnar last year, and again he played in the CHL as an import player.  Russians appear to be the biggest headache for Edmonton while Sweden has been the most popular Euro nation for the Oilers over the last few years and may be again this year with a solid crop coming from the Scandinavian nation.

In regards to the CHL, since Lowe took over the club, all three leagues have basically been drawn from equally.  The NHL squad only had three players in the CHL last year and with Pitton turning pro and Kytnar’s roster spot in jeopardy, Alex Plante is the only certain major junior player Edmonton has at this point. 

Collegians are prime Oiler fodder because they are allowed to develop longer than their counterparts from Major Junior or Europe and with a glut of youth at the pro level currently, having players in a four-year option is advantageous.  Some of the NCAA programs Edmonton’s scouting staff clearly admire include North Dakota, Wisconsin, Denver, Michigan and Michigan State.  

Junior ‘A’ and U.S. High School players have become an increasing trend for Edmonton as they have chosen five such players in the past three years; Cogliano, Chris Vande Velde, Robby Dee, Matt Glasser, Jeff Petry and Riley Nash last June.

Hockey’s Future expects that the Oilers perfect scenario with the 22nd overall selection would be an available scoring forward, with size if possible but that’s a secondary concern in round one.  However, if the forwards that Edmonton covets are all off the board, the Oilers will not hesitate to add another talented defenseman  and believe there will be several high-caliber blueliners available late in the opening round.  There are also some goaltenders in the draft that would be of interest to the team as the franchise no longer has any netminders playing at the amateur level.     

Hockey’s Future Staff Mock result:

22nd Overall – Tyler Cuma, D (Ottawa 67’s OHL)