Oilers 2007 draft preview

By Guy Flaming

Oilers Top 10 Prospects

1. Andrew Cogliano C
2. Robert Nilsson LW
3. Rob Schremp C
4. Taylor Chorney D
5. Marc Pouliot C
6. Denis Grebeshkov D
7. Slava Trukhno LW
8. Ryan O’Marra C/RW
9. Tom Gilbert D
10. Jeff Petry D

From Stanley Cup finalists 12 months ago to the sixth worst team in the NHL this past season, Edmonton’s fall from grace in 2006-07 was about as ugly as it could get.  From not re-signing their most popular player, a future Hall of Fame player abandoning the club, an onslaught of injuries to the trading of the face of the franchise, the Oilers experienced the season from hell and can’t wait to put the year behind them.  For fans of the team, 2007-08 begins on June 22 at the NHL Entry Draft in Columbus.

Edmonton has a lot of ammunition in the form of picks heading into the draft but how many of those bullets they plan to use hunting for prospects is up for debate.  General Manager Kevin Lowe has been very public in stating that he hopes to make a splash at the draft via trade in order to fix the NHL team immediately, but whether he’ll find a dance partner or not will be the key.

“We’re really going to look at getting a player or two at the draft via trade like we did the last time with both [Pronger] and Michael Peca,” head coach Craig MacTavish told the media during the club’s recent prospect camp. 

Most expect that the Oilers will have to overpay free agents to convince them to play for the NHL’s most northern team, so acquiring star players through trades would be the most cost effective way for Lowe to do business.  However, if the GM cannot accomplish that goal at the draft, the scouting staff is exceptionally prepared to use the assortment of draft picks the team has assembled.

The Picks (7)

Round 1 – 6th Overall, 15th Overall (acquired from New York Islanders), 30th Overall (acquired from Anaheim Ducks)
Round 2 – 36th Overall
Round 3 – traded to Minnesota for Dwayne Roloson
Round 4 – 97th Overall
Round 5 – 127th Overall
Round 6 – 157th Overall
Round 7 – traded to Buffalo Sabres for Jan Hejda 

Team Needs

The most painfully obvious area that Edmonton needs to address on their NHL roster is the blueline.  The absence of Chris Pronger and Jaroslav Spacek, arguably their top two defenders from their Cup run, created huge holes that were never really adequately filled.  The experienced members of the remaining group including Steve Staios and Jason Smith as well as free agent addition Daniel Tjarnqvist became worn down and succumbed to lengthy injuries.  Thanks to the M.A.S.H. unit, as the Oilers called their locker room, Edmonton employed a plethora of youngsters, many of who were pressed into NHL action before they were ready.  The likes of Matt Greene, Ladislav Smid, Tom Gilbert, Mathieu Roy, Bryan Young and others all had their moments at both ends of the performance spectrum but all gained invaluable experience in the process.  The biggest downfall for the Oilers was that their defense could not get the puck out of their zone and up to their forwards quickly or efficiently so any new personnel on the backend will have to have that ability in his repertoire.

Having traded Ryan Smyth at the deadline, the Oilers have a massive void on the left side of their top offensive line.  Ales Hemsky is a star still in the making but can’t do it alone and some would say that if Shawn Horcoff is your No. 1 center it means you’re not a good team.  Edmonton’s second line was in flux all year but Jarret Stoll rebounded from a slow start to become arguably the club’s most consistent player until concussion problems prematurely ended his season.  Young wingers Raffi Torres and Joffrey Lupul spent the vast majority of the season in MacTavish’s doghouse.  The early loss of Ethan Moreau sapped the club of its emotional leader so the role players like Patrick Thoresen, Marty Reasoner and Fernando Pisani were expected to carry that burden.

Between the pipes, Dwayne Roloson was the main man but perhaps played too much before the outcome of the season was clearly evident.  The rapidly aging Roloson was exceptional on many nights but had his share of starts where he appeared fatigued despite his terse denials of that being the case.  It appears that the coach did not have confidence in backup Jussi Markkanen’s ability to win games so Edmonton will probably be shopping for a new relief netminder this summer to support Roloson. 

Free agency may lead to the departures of Petr Sykora, Brad Winchester, Toby Petersen, Jan Hejda, Daniel Tjarnqvist and Jussi Markkanen meaning several more roster spots will need to be filled.     

Although they have three first-round picks to make in Columbus, it is not expected that Edmonton will be able to acquire anyone this year via the draft who will be able to step right in and contribute at the NHL level in 2007-08.

Organizational Strengths

Arguably, the area where Edmonton is deepest outside of the NHL is the same area where the NHL club is at its thinnest — on the blueline.  Unfortunately, the best defensemen in the prospect pool are still at least a year away from helping out in a large capacity as Taylor Chorney is headed back to North Dakota, Gilbert isn’t expected to be in Edmonton’s top six and Jeff Petry is just embarking on his freshman year at Michigan State.  Recently-acquired Denis Grebeshkov will look to secure a top six job in Edmonton but after a year in Russia no one can say for certain how he will perform this season.  Overall, Edmonton’s future blueline could be packed with offensive puck movers and power-play quarterbacks, exactly what they are currently missing in the NHL.  The club is not without some backbone though as Theo Peckham, Bryan Young and Mathieu Roy provide team toughness and a physical presence with every shift.

Edmonton’s forward prospects have a lot to prove.  Rob Schremp’s stats were a big disappointment until the final month of the AHL season after the organization added Robert Nilsson to the mix.  Nilsson himself has an opportunity to show that the Islanders gave up on him prematurely by sticking with the big club right from training camp. With Andrew Cogliano, Slava Trukhno and Ryan O’Marra entering their first professional seasons, Edmonton has some skilled players on the way.  Character and work ethic have rarely been questioned with this organization’s youngsters and that tradition continues with players like Kyle Brodziak, Tyler Spurgeon and Colin McDonald.

For the first time in a number of years, both Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk will be only be limited by the quality of their on-ice performances.  No longer having to play second fiddle because they’re on someone else’s farm team, the two Oilers goalies will battle each other for the right to be the go-to guy in Springfield this coming season.  The organization feels that both can still have a good future in the NHL. 

Organizational Weaknesses

Edmonton hopes that they stole Grebeshkov and Nilsson from the Islanders at just the right time, but thus far the jury is still out.  Rob Schremp will need to produce at a much more rapid pace this season to avoid the dreaded ‘Suspect’ label some are already try to stick him with.  J.F. Jacques and Marc Pouliot need to find a way to translate their AHL success into NHL performance if they want to remain in the team’s future plans.  In short, the numerous underachievers have to start living up to the expectations placed on them by the organization or created for them because of when and where they were drafted.

Neither JDD nor Dubnyk have seen enough quality AHL time for a definitive answer on the subject yet, but no one can tell for certain whether either goaltender can be a legitimate NHL starter one day.  This will be a pivotal year for both masked men and especially for Deslauriers who still has not been inked to a new contract.

The Oilers have prospects with skill and others who are big but don’t have much in the way of the combination of size and talent.  Geoff Paukovich, David Rohlfs, Zack Stortini and Jacques might be able to provide some team toughness but none are expected to be serious contributors to a NHL score sheet.  However, when asked if the club would specifically focus on addressing size via this coming draft, Edmonton’s head scout revealed that size doesn’t necessarily matter.  

“The big thing for us right now is we have to increase our skill level of our players,” Kevin Prendergast said on The Pipeline Show.  

Scorers, especially on the wing, are in demand for the Oilers.  They have a lot of set-up men in the system but would do well to enlist more players who can finish the plays started by their current crop of prospects.

Draft Tendencies

This is a franchise that is far better at drafting inside North America than they are at evaluating across the pond. Unless they are playing in the CHL or NCAA, the Oilers might want to take a pass on Europeans since they haven’t had one pan out in over a decade unless it was a CHL player like Ales Hemsky or Alexei Semenov.

In regards to the CHL, since Lowe took over the club, all three leagues have basically been drawn from equally (In the last 5 drafts: QMJHL – 7, OHL – 7, WHL – 9). 

Collegians are prime Oiler fodder because they are allowed to develop longer than their counterparts from Major Junior or Europe.  Some of the NCAA programs Edmonton’s scouting staff clearly admires include North Dakota, Wisconsin, Denver, Michigan and Providence. (NCAA players chosen in last 5 years: 14).  

Tier I junior and U.S. High School players have become an increasing trend for Edmonton as they have chosen five such players in the past two years (Cogliano, Chris Vande Velde, Robby Dee, Matt Glasser and Petry).

Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Results:

6th Overall – RW Jakub Voracek (Halifax)
15th Overall – D Alex Plante (Calgary)
30th Overall – C/RW Dana Tyrell (Prince George)

Comment on this story at the Oilers section of the Hockey’s Future Message Boards. Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.