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Mike Sillinger reviews the Oilers' last five first-round picks

by Kristi Hennessy / Edmonton Oilers
2010 Draft Coverage Articles Line-up:

The Edmonton Oilers did not have a first-round draft choice in 2006 but in the three drafts since that time, they have collected five first rounders. The team had three first rounders in 2007 with the first of those selections - Sam Gagner - making an immediate impact.

The Oilers had not planned to use Gagner the season after selecting him but a strong performance in the Canada-Russia Superseries that August followed by an impressive training camp gave the Oilers no choice but to insert the rookie in their opening night lineup. To-date, Gagner has more points than any other 2007 draftee with the exception of first overall selection Patrick Kane.

While Oilers fans have been instantly gratified by the production of Gagner, more patience has been preached for fellow first rounders Alex Plante and Riley Nash.

Plante played his first pro season this past year while Nash will likely have one more year at Cornell University before turning pro in 2011-12.

2008 and 2009 first rounders - Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, respectively - will both be in Edmonton this fall for training camp and both will be given every opportunity to make the squad. Each player will participate in their first North American professional season and their performance in camp will determine if that will begin in Edmonton or Oklahoma City.

We had a chance to sit down with Oilers Director of Player Development Mike Sillinger recently to talk about the recent progress of these Edmonton first-round selections.

Sam Gagner - C
Drafted 2007 (6th overall)

Sam Gagner was drafted 6th overall by the Oilers while London Knights teammate Patrick Kane went 1st overall to the Chicago Blackhawks. (photo: Getty Images)
The Oilers had Sam Gagner ranked to be chosen in the top five of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft after his brow-raising World Junior Championship performance. They would need some help if they were going to be able to pick Gagner sixth, which luckily enough worked out for them.

Gagner, 20, joined his hometown London Knights for the 2006-07 season. The small, speedy centre had a phenomenal season posting 35 goals and 118 points in 53 games for the Ontario Hockey League Knights. He added 29 points in 16 playoff games that year.

Gagner put on a show at his first training camp in 2007 which earned him a spot on the full-time Oilers roster. In his rookie season as an 18 year-old, Gagner put up 13 goals and 49 points.

“I wanted to believe that I could (make the NHL),” said Sam Gagner. “That’s the only way it’s possible, if you believe you can. I came in with that mindset, just wanting to prove I belonged every day. I still have to approach it that way, try to improve every day and prove to myself that I still belong here.”

Among Oilers forwards who had played 40 or more games, Gagner was fourth on the team in plus/minus behind only Dustin Penner, Zack Stortini and Andrew Cogliano. The improvement over his first season when he was second-worst on the team at minus-21 has been impressive. 

“He came into the league as an offensively gifted player,” said Oilers Director of Player Development Mike Sillinger. “Now he’s really taken a lot of pride playing at both ends of the rink and taking faceoffs and wanting to kill penalties. He wants to be on the ice all the time.”

Continuing with his rapid development, Gagner put up 16 goals and 25 assists in 76 games by the end of his second season in the big show. Last season, Gagner pretty much duplicated his prior season by tallying 41 points in only 68 games but once again for the third year in a row saw his faceoff numbers improve. He has been widely used throughout the Oilers line-up over the past couple of seasons as he continues to develop.

“There are many nights in which he’s been among our top three best forwards,” said then-Oilers GM Kevin Lowe back in Gagner's rookie season (2007-08).

“He’s very smart, has a good understanding of the game, and maybe his best attribute is that he’s passionate about the game. Generally, it’s the great ones who have the ability, the sense, and the passion.”

Alex Plante - D
Drafted 2007 (15th overall)

Alex Plante had nine points in 49 games this past season for the Springfield Falcons (AHL).
Plante, the Oilers' second choice, 15th overall, in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, played his entire junior hockey career in the Western Hockey League for the Calgary Hitmen. He graduated from the WHL after his fourth full season. The 6’3”, 225 pound defenceman from Brandon, Manitoba had 45 points (8G, 37A) in 68 games with 157 penalty minutes.

The 20-year-old defenceman led Hitmen blueliners in scoring during the playoffs in 2008-09 with 6-9-15 in 18 games with 41 penalty minutes. He was tied for 21st overall in playoff scoring in the Western Hockey League and fourth among defencemen.
Plante posted 89 points (18 G, 71A) with 344 penalty minutes in 224 career regular season games with Calgary from 2004-05 to 2008-09. His total of 45 points in 2008-09 was a career high.

Plante signed a professional contract with the Oilers and played his first pro season with the Springfield Falcons (AHL) last year. Plante suffered a concussion after 49 games with the Falcons and finished the season with nine points.

“He’s big and strong and tough in front of the net,” said Mike Sillinger. “This guy has lots of upside. He obviously has to work on his foot-speed but for 20 years old playing his first year in pro, he had a pretty decent first year.”

Plante acquitted himself well in his first NHL action this past season, putting up an assist in four games played. He also had a +1 rating.

Riley Nash - C
Drafted 2007 (1st round, 21st overall)

Riley Nash poses for a photo shortly after being drafted by the Oilers (photo: Getty Images)
Riley Nash, a Kamloops BC native, has just finished his third season playing at the University of Cornell for the Big Reds. During his freshman year in 2007-08, he led the Cornell Big Reds in power play goals (7) and assists (20), earning him the Ivy League Rookie of the Year Award. The following season, Nash led the Big Reds in scoring averaging a point and penalty minute per game. Nash closed out his junior year last season with 12 goals and 35 points in 30 games played.

Before going to Cornell, Nash dominated the BCHL’s Salmon Arm Silverbacks for a season, posting 84 points and 87 penalty minutes in only 55 games, finishing among the league’s top 10 scorers. He was chosen as the 21st overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers management plan to sit down with him this summer to decide what is best for Nash – either one more year in Cornell or have him turn pro and see what he is capable of.

“Riley has had a tough year, dealing with adversity at the start of the year,” said Sillinger. “He’s had a lot of pressure to lead his team in scoring again. Riley really concentrated on his all around game and by the end of the year he started to put some more points up and start doing what he has done in the previous years.”

Jordan Eberle - RW
Drafted 2008 (1st round, 22nd overall)

Oilers prospect Jordan Eberle gets the puck past Norway's Ruben Smith during World Championship action in Germany May 14, 2010. (Photo by Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images)
The Edmonton Oilers selected Jordan Eberle for their first round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Having grown up in Regina, Eberle was a childhood fan of the Oilers, even after his family moved to Calgary when he was fourteen years old. Being drafted by his favourite team was a dream come true.

After four successful seasons with the Regina Pats, Eberle graduated from the WHL and turned a page in his career book. Eberle left the WHL with a lasting impression, posting 50 goals and 106 points in 56 contests and was awarded the CHL Player of the Year Award for 2010.

“You don’t win the CHL player of the year by fluke,” said Mike Sillinger. “He definitely deserved every award he got. He was Regina’s best player and maybe the WHL’s best player.”

Internationally, he has competed in two World Junior Championships for Team Canada, winning gold in 2009 and silver in 2010. He was named Tournament MVP and Best Forward at the 2010 World Junior Championships and is Canada's all-time leading goal-scorer at the tournament.

“The tournament is unbelievable to play,” said Eberle. “As a kid you grow up watching the tournament and to play in it twice, this year in my home province and my home country the last two years is great. It’s such an amazing experience even though we were a little short this year.”

After Eberle and the Pats failed to make the playoffs and his junior career came to an end, the Edmonton Oilers assigned Eberle to their AHL farm team in Springfield for the remainder of the AHL season. He played in 11 games with the Falcons posting six goals and 14 points. He capped off a tremendous year becoming the first junior player to ever participate at the World Hockey Championships for Canada. He had four points in his debut match, earning Player of the Game honours.

“He’s two steps ahead of everyone on the ice,” Sillinger said. “He already knows what plays he wants to make. I sort of compare him to a Ray Whitney. Every time he goes into a corner he finds a way to come out with the puck and once he gets the puck, you can’t get it from him.”

Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson - LW/RW
Drafted 2009 (1st round, 10th overall)

MANNHEIM, GERMANY - MAY 18: Magnus Paajarvi Svensson of Sweden celebrates his team's first goal with team mates during the IIHF World Championship group E qualification round match between Switzerland and Sweden at SAP Arena on May 18, 2010 in Mannheim, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson is coming off of a busy and very successful season. The 6’1”, 201-pound native of Norrkoping, Sweden, has spent the last three seasons playing with the Timra Red Eagles of the Swedish Elite League (SEL) finishing last season with 29 points (12G, 17A) in 49 appearances.

“This kid has ‘Pavel Bure’ speed,” said Oilers Director of Player Development Mike Sillinger. “He’s so fast and hits the holes at the right time and has a great shot. I think this guy is a game-breaker. His best asset is definitely his speed.”

Paajarvi-Svensson suited up for Team Sweden at the 2010 World Junior Championships in Saskachewan last year where he was a key factor to Sweden’s success. The tournament marked Paajarvi-Svensson’s second World Junior appearance. He picked up 10 points (3G, 7A) in the six games played for Team Sweden, helping lift his country to a Bronze Medal.

Last May, Paajarvi-Svensson was able to suit up again for his country, this time representing Team Sweden at the World Championships in Germany. Paajarvi-Svensson led Sweden in scoring by putting up nine points (5G, 4A) in as many games and finished in third place in tournament scoring behind Russia's Ilya Kovalchuk and USA's Brandon Dubinsky. He was also named to the tournament all-star team.
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