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Oilers have plenty of options at 22

by Marc Ciampa / Edmonton Oilers
Oilers GM Kevin Lowe steps up to the podium to make the team's first selection last year. (Getty Images)

Whereas one year ago the Edmonton Oilers scouting staff was preparing for a multitude of early picks in the NHL Entry Draft, this season the process has been very different.

Last season, heading into the draft the Oilers had four picks among the first 36 selections while this year that 22nd overall pick is the only one on the board through the first three rounds.
“Only having one pick in the first three rounds has obviously been tough on us. It means we’ve got to make good on that one pick at this point – hopefully we can change it at the draft and get a couple more,” said Prendergast.

“We’re going into this draft with excess bodies which is something we haven’t done in a long time. Kevin’s in a pretty good situation, he doesn’t have to make trades but certainly if something comes available where we feel we can add a couple picks in the draft we’ll look at that – or even in next year’s draft which we consider a good draft, too.”

However, 2008 is a deep draft and the Oilers feel they would be satisfied with whoever they select in that position if the club is unable to move up.

“We certainly feel at 22, our pick, there’s four or five players that we have high interest in. It’s just a point of separating them and getting ready for the draft.”

Prendergast talked about the main differences between drafting towards the end of the first round versus the top six.

“Last year you knew you were getting a high-end player, a player who certainly had to make your hockey club (eventually). We didn’t anticipate Sam was going to step in and make the team right off the bat but at 22 we don’t feel there’s any immediate help coming but certainly it’s going to be a good prospect – whether it’s a high-end junior player, college player or European.

“We feel that we’re going to have our choice of either a forward or defenceman at that point. We know that down the road it’s going to be a good player for us.”


Nikita Filatov (left) is the top ranked European in the draft.
Oilers head scout Stu MacGregor has also been impressed with this draft class, and particularly what he saw at the combines in Toronto at the end of May.

“To be very honest, we had probably the best interviews we’ve had in the eight years I’ve been with the Oilers,” MacGregor remarked.

“We had some great young men who came in there, were well-prepared and very professional," MacGregor continued. "What jumped out as us this year more than anything was how open and engaging the Russian players were: (Nikita) Filatov, (Vyacheslave) Voinov and (Kirill) Petrov."

Oilers VP of Hockey Ops Kevin Prendergast was also very impressed with the Russian draft class, particularly how they conducted themselves at the draft combine in Toronto.

"The Russians at the combine, we were very impressed with all of them. They tried to speak English and don't sit with their head down. They're happy to be there and answered questions as best they could," Prendergast remarked. "They gave us a pretty good insight within the Russian Federation as to where they stand, what their goals are as far as coming to North American to play. It was a real eye opener for us."

MacGregor agreed.

“In the past they were a little bit hesitant and maybe not as trusting because of the language barrier, that sort of thing. These young men speak English very well, are a little more open to the world and have been exposed to North American people and life a little more than in the past.

“They really shone through. You could feel they were a little bit more relaxed and engaging.”

However, MacGregor was quick to point out that the interviews are only a small part of the entire evaluation process.

“We put some stock in the interview process but it’s something you have to be very careful with because everybody can be prepared for an interview. You have to evaluate the player on how he plays on the ice and what type of contributor he is,” he stated.

“The process of the interview is just getting to know the player, maybe getting a little bit more information on the player, doing a little bit more follow-up on the background of the player.”

In addition to the interview, the players take part in a personality test.

“It gives us an idea of some of the personality traits and what type of person or player they may be,” MacGregor said.

Once the team has all their data from the combine, they meet to decide the final rankings.


Lowe chats with Washington Capitals GM George McPhee.
In terms of draft preparation, the scouts met in Salmon Arm, British Columbia last week to put together their final ranking of the 2008 draft class top 150.

“We first break them down by league – Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League and then the Quebec Junior Hockey League. US High School, US Junior, Canadian Junior and Junior B and college prospects,” MacGregor noted. “Once we rank them in their leagues then we take those lists and start to put a master list together which is what we use at the draft.”

At the same time, the professional scouts are meeting with Kevin Lowe to discuss other teams’ players should the team decide to make a deal on draft day.

“(The pro scouts) work a little bit earlier in the morning and do their ranking of particular players that are on each team’s protected rosters. They evaluate them and what type of interest they have in them as possible futures for us.”

The rankings are now complete with only some minor tweaking ahead. The scouts have had the weekend to mull over their selections and they will get together again Tuesday night to make some final adjustments.

“We have our list narrowed down pretty tight. We will go back over it again when we arrive in Ottawa on Tuesday. We may have a couple further interviews of players and prospects that maybe we’d like to ask a few more questions, meet again or try and find out a little more about them.

It’s unlikely our list will change a lot. It might change slightly due to situations or scenarios that do develop,” MacGregor said.

Despite the fact there will only be minor changes, the meetings that occur this week hold great importance. Last year, it wasn’t until the final few days before the draft that Sam Gagner moved ahead of Jakub Voracek and while the jury is still out on Voracek as a high-end NHL prospect, the Oilers were very pleased with the performance of Gagner last season.

Check in with all week for more on the draft. We will be in the scout meetings and will provide updates on all aspects of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa.
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