Edmonton Oilers netted several solid NHLers from 2007 draft

By Lawrence Bailey
Photo: Taken sixth overall in 2007, Sam Gagner may finally be starting to realize his immense offensive potential. In his last three games, Gagner has six goals and six assists including an eight point night on February 2nd. (Photo courtesy of NHL)

With a trio of picks in the first round, including the sixth pick overall, expectations were high for the Oilers to be able to pluck some key pieces in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Five years out, the results are disappointing to say the least.

Despite picking sixth, 15th, and 21st (after trading up from 30th and adding the 36th to make the move), the Oilers have emerged with only one quality NHL player from that bunch, Sam Gagner. The other two selections, Alex Plante and Riley Nash respectively, have been disappointments and may not ever become NHL regulars. It was also the last draft ran by former Oilers Head Scout Kevin Prendergast.

Sam Gagner, C, London (OHL) – 1st Round, 6th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 336

After an epic collapse to end the 2006-07 season, the Edmonton Oilers found themselves picking higher in the draft than they had in over a decade. Picking sixth overall, a team is expected to land a franchise caliber player, and while Sam Gagner isn't that, he is a quality top six forward at just 22 years old.

Gagner made the Oilers out of camp the fall after he was drafted, a surprise to many who felt he might need more seasoning in the OHL, and proceeded to have a very good rookie campaign putting up 13 goals and 36 assists for a still career high 49 points. He showed a lot of promise as a rookie, but he was very poor on faceoffs and was lacking defensively as evidenced by his minus-21 rating. Still, it was an auspicious debut.

The following three years were frustrating for those made believers by his explosive rookie campaign, as he stalled offensively posting 41, 41, and 42 point seasons. He also started missing time with injuries spending an average of 11 games out of the lineup each season during that time. He continued to be a useful NHL regular but based on expectations set in his rookie year he was widely seen as a disappointment.

So far in 2011-12 Gagner has 33 points in 45 games, a pace slightly higher than his prior seasons. More importantly, in the last month he has really hit his stride after a dismal start to the year. He has a greater maturity to his game this season, improving his faceoff numbers (48.4 win rate), playing better defensively, and getting stronger as the season wears on.

Looking forward, Gagner doesn't likely have the tools to be a top line player, but he is a quality second line center who could realistically score 20-25 goals and 60 points or more for many years. Not a franchise talent by any stretch but a good top six forward and solid value for a sixth overall selection.

Alex Plante, D, Calgary (WHL) – 1st Round, 15th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 10

Taken with the pick acquired in the Ryan Smyth trade, there was going to be extra pressure on whomever the Oilers chose with this pick. When the time came for their selection, dynamic but enigmatic talents such as Alexei Cherepanov (NYR) and Angelo Esposito (DAL) were still on the board, however the Oilers opted to go with a big, project defenseman from the Dub and chose Plante.

On draft day it was clear Alex wasn't going to be NHL ready anytime soon. He had great size, however there were significant gaps to be made up when it came to skating and decision making. After being selected by Edmonton a bit higher than most had him going (he was widely seen as a later first rounder) things went downhill for Plante.

He struggled through injury and ineffectiveness in 2007-08 with the Calgary Hitmen, battling back problems and only posting two points in 36 games. He got back on track the following season putting up 45 points in 68 games and amassing 157 penalty minutes. However the concerns about his skating and decision making persisted as he made the transition to the pro game.

For the last three seasons he has been an AHL mainstay, earning cups of coffee at the NHL level in each season. He's been improving as a minor league defenseman whose mean streak and simple defensive play define his game, still he doesn't appear to have the upside of much more than a depth NHL blueliner, if that. Defensemen are notorious for taking a while to develop, however at this point Plante has to be considered a disappointment based on his draft pedigree.

Riley Nash, C, Salmon Arm (BCHL) – 1st Round, 21st overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 5

The Oilers started the first day of the draft with the 30th pick but moved that pick along with their own 2nd rounder (36th overall) to the Phoenix Coyotes to pick Riley Nash at 21st. Nash was a surprise pick that high, most had him pegged as an early-to-mid second rounder, and when the deal was made many thought it was to land either Max Pacioretty (MTL) or Mikael Backlund (CAL).

Nash was a slight, skilled centerman coming off a dynamic season in the BCHL where he posted 84 points in 55 games and was already on his way to Cornell of the ECAC on draft day. He played for three seasons at Cornell at a near point per game pace, however in his third year at Cornell rumblings emerged that he wasn't happy with how the Oilers were handling him and that he wasn't planning on signing with them.

Backed into a corner in the 2010 off-season, the Oilers wound up trading Nash to the Carolina Hurricanes at the 2010 Entry Draft for the 46th overall pick (Martin Marincin). The downgrade from the 21st overall pick in 2007 to the 46th overall pick in 2010 and the apparent mismanagement of a first round prospect notwithstanding, Nash hasn't been too impressive a player since turning pro. In a season and a half of AHL hockey, he's scoring at less than half a point-per-game, and despite a brief appearance in the NHL this year, he doesn't look like he'll amount to much more than an NHL depth player or AHL veteran.

Linus Omark, RW, Lulea HF (SEL) – 4th Round, 97th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 56

Despite being undersized and dogged his whole career by questions about his commitment when it comes to the defensive aspects of the game, Omark brings incredible offensive skill and creativity to the table. Once drafted, he put up a pair of quality SEL seasons for Lulea posting 32 points in 55 games in 2007-08 and then a very impressive 55 points in 53 games in 2008-09. He followed those with a 36 point campaign (in 56 games) with Moscow Dynamo in the KHL before making his way to North America for the start of the 2010-11 season.

Omark blew the doors off the AHL with Oklahoma City, posting 31 points in 28 games and earning a call up to the Oilers where he registered a very respectable 27 points in 51 games, albeit with a minus-16 rating. It looked for all intents and purposes that he was in the NHL to stay, however through a combination of new young talent and offseason veteran additions, spots in Edmonton became scarce and after managing to suit up for only five games, Omark was the odd man out and was sent back down to the AHL.

He picked up where he left off on the farm, scoring seven points in seven games before breaking his ankle, an injury that has him sidelined until early February. It would be surprising if Omark didn't find his way back to the NHL sometime this season, especially considering the injury woes plaguing the club and the trade rumors swirling around. He may also be dangled as trade bait himself, as there is definitely interest in someone with his skill level, regardless of his failings in other areas.

Milan Kytnar, C, Topolcany (Slovakia) – 5th Round, 127th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 1

Drafted as a project, Kytnar came over to the WHL following his draft year and after an underwhelming 18-year-old season with the Kelowna Rockets, he posted quality numbers (64 points in 65 games) with the Saskatoon Blades in 2008-09. He followed that with an injury affected year with the Vancouver Giants (39 points in 42 games) while establishing a reputation as a solid two way forward.

His rookie pro season with the Oklahoma City Barons in 2010-11 was solid but unimpressive as he played in a depth role and did an adequate job. Due to veteran additions and prospects making the jump from the junior and college ranks he opened the 2011-12 year in the ECHL with the Stockton Thunder, but managed to play at the AHL level. He even managed to get into an NHL game as an emergency call up after injuries and illness left the Oilers a man short.

It is unlikely that Kytnar has much of an NHL future, however he has shown to be a capable AHL level forward. That said, he recently went back to Europe on a transfer to HPK in the SM-Liiga and there is a very good chance he won't be back.

William Quist, W, Tingsryds (Sweden) – 6th Round, 157th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Following the 2007 Entry Draft, many Oilers fans and followers were asking "Who is William Quist?" Today, just as many if not more are asking the exact same question. The lanky winger yet to play higher than the Allskaven (second highest league in Sweden) and has spent the past three seasons playing a level below that in Division 1 for both Nybro and Bjorkloven.

It's hard to fault a team for whiffing on a pick this late, however nothing in his pre or post draft resume suggests he'll become an SEL regular let alone challenge for an NHL spot.