Change of Times for the Oilers at the Draft Table

By John Christie

The NHL draft is the livelihood of a lot of NHL teams. Teams like
Calgary, Buffalo and other small market teams have to draft well or even
better then the rest since they cannot compete for high priced NHL

The Edmonton Oilers will be at the draft table for the 23rd time in
there brief NHL history. Edmonton has had both success and failure at
the draft table over the past 23 years. From 1979-1981, they drafted
players that were integral parts of their dynasty. No NHL team has ever
drafted players like Lowe (1979), Messier (1979), Anderson (1980), Kurri
(1980), Coffey (1980), Moog (1980), Fuhr (1981), Smith (1981) in three
straight drafts.

Last year, the Oilers turned over a new “leaf” in there franchise. Gone
are long time coach and GM Glen Sather and Barry Fraser who was there
chief scout since the Oilers inception into the NHL in 1979. Fraser and
his staff uncovered a lot of jewels in the draft in the early years but
from 1984-1992, no first rounder the Oilers drafted played more then 15
games for the Oilers.

The Oilers have one of the worst drafting records in the NHL. In the
1980’s, they had some excuses as they were continually winning and ended
up with low draft picks but in the 1990’s, they missed the playoffs for
a few years but again they continually came up with bad drafts. In
1993, they drafted Arnott and Nick Stajduhar in the first round. 1994
saw the Oilers draft Jason Bonsignore (4th overall) and Ryan Smyth (6th
overall) . 1995 & 1996 (the last years the Oilers would miss the
playoffs) saw them select Steve Kelly and Boyd Devearux. There were
lots of mistakes there and in 1997 and 1998, they selected skilled
players in Michel Riesen and Micheal Henrich but both not sure fire
NHLer’s and many are saying that neither will be an NHL regular. Again,
more mistakes at the draft table.

Usually, when mistakes are made in personnel, people’s jobs are on the
line. However, Glen Sather was very loyal to Barry Fraser and his staff
and did not make them accountable. That was a mistake on Sather part,
as he should know that in a small market, he couldn’t afford to have
years and years of bad drafts.

We have entered a new age for the Edmonton Oilers as Oilers GM Kevin
Lowe will have input into the players the Oilers draft. He also
re-shaped the Oilers scouting staff. The new chief of Oilers scouting
is Kevin Prendergast who has been with the Oilers since 1991. He has
held various titles with the Oilers. He is currently Vice-President of
Hockey Operations & Player Personnel Director. Even though no one in
Oilers management holds the title of chief scout like Fraser did,
Prendergast runs the entire pro and amateur scouting for the Oilers.
Lowe and Prendergast decide on who the Oilers will draft and what
direction the Oilers will take at drafting future hockey players.

Glen Sather never used to get involved with selecting players in the
draft. This philosophy is changing somewhat as Kevin Lowe has said that
he wants more players “grit, determination, size and players who will
pay the price to win”. Sather would always draft players with speed and
while that is not a bad thing, Sather and Fraser would miss other
attributes like Lowe mentioned he wanted. Personally, I like the change
in direction that Lowe wants. Also Prendergast will have different
ideas then Fraser and the Oilers should get back to drafting well again
as they did in there early inception.

The Oilers scouting staff is younger with some new people involved.
Having a new, fresher approach is a good way to go as Barry Fraser had
the same scouts for years and for years, the Oilers were continually
coming up empty at the draft table.

The Oilers go into the draft with a few needs. Their primary needs
according to many are:

Scoring Wingers
Power Forward with scoring touch
Centres with offensive ability
Offensive Defenseman
However, an NHL scout I talked to who scouts the OHL for his NHL team mentioned that the Oilers could use a power forward with a scoring touch in the Leclair, Guerin mode or a tall offensive centre iceman with offensive touch.

With that in mind, this year’s draft is a very deep draft and the
Oilers will get a good player regardless. The NHL scout informed me
that the Oilers would get a good player because they are sitting at a
good position (#13) and the move from 19 to 13 helped.

In the 1st round, the Oilers philosophy has always been to select the
best player available and that will not change with Lowe and
Prendergast. However, what has changed is that Lowe is looking for
more players with grit and passion but he also said that they need more
skilled players with the Oilers. Depending on which player falls to the
Oilers, there will be a lively discussion at the draft table. Lowe
mentioned he wanted more Western Canadians on his club and also players
like Ryan Smyth who play with grit, passion, desperation, heart and a
“never die” attitude that most NHL clubs look for in players.

It will be difficult to say whom the Oilers will draft and what will be
available at position 13. Some players who may / should be available at
13 include Duncan Milroy (winger) and Colby Armstrong (winger) of the
WHL, Mike Komiserek (defense) and Umberger (power forward) who play
hockey in the NCAA, Frederik Sjostrom (winger) of Sweden, Jiri Novotny
(centre) of the Czech Republic, Alexander Polushin (winger) and Kiril
Kolstov (defense) of Russia and Tim Gleason and Jay Harrison of the

The NHL scout informed me that Jason Spezza, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander
Svitov, Stanislav Tchistov, Dan Hamuis, Daniel Blackburn, Pascal
Leclair, Tuomo Ruutu will be gone before the Oilers get an opportunity
to choose there first rounder.

With NHL economics changing everyday, the Oilers have to ensure they can
sign there 1st rounders. Last year, the Oilers thought Jani Rita was
ready for North America but he wanted too much money to sign. Since
Rita is European, they own his rights forever so they won’t have to
worry about him re-entering the draft or becoming a free agent. The NHL
draft has changed last year as NCAA players have the option of going to
the OHL, QMJHL or WHL to play for one year then becoming an unrestricted
free agent. Mike Van Ryn and Mike Comrie took advantage of this rule
and signed incentive-laden contracts with there NHL teams. Last year,
only two players from NCAA teams were selected in the 1st round and this
year, may be two players again will be selected. No NHL team wants to
take a chance on NCAA players in the 1st round, as this loophole will
create a problem for them. Beginning in the second round and on, teams
will take NCAA players but not in the 1st round. Knowing this, the
Oilers probably will not select a NCAA player as Mike Comrie used this
loophole to get a 10 million-dollar contract from Edmonton. The Oilers
usually select a CHL or European and they will continue with this trend
due to the Van Ryn / Comrie loophole college players will continue to
use until the CBA will expire.

The Oilers go into Florida with the 13th overall pick in the 1st round
and two picks in round 2 (positions not determined as compensatory picks
go to certain NHL who lose high priced unrestricted free agents, e.g.
Oilers received 41st pick as compensation for losing Curtis Joseph in
summer of 1998 to Toronto). Kevin Lowe has said that second round picks
this year would be first rounder in other years. The Oilers should be
able to address there needs in the second round and beyond and get a
good player in round one.

There will be quite some intrigue leading up to June 23rd as this is
Kevin Lowe’s first official draft as Oilers GM. Even though he was GM
at last year’s draft, he took as GM of Edmonton, three weeks before the
draft and did not have any input as Sather, Fraser and Prendergast did
all the work. Now that Lowe has been GM for a full year and Prendergast
has been in charge of all scouting, we will see the direction and vision
they have for the club.