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Oilers Last Six First Round Picks

by Marc Ciampa / Edmonton Oilers
Last year was a draft drought. The Oilers first pick came in the second round. Now, with three choices in 2007's round 1, the total is the most in franchise history and with the first pick at sixth overall, the highest position in over 10 years.

In recent history, the team has generally drafted anywhere from the mid teens to mid 20s but for the most part the Oilers have done well in finding a player who will one day play in the NHL.

However, in the NHL it takes time for most players to find their way. Edmonton’s crop of first rounders since 2001 are no exception.  

Drafted in 2005, 25th overall

So far, only six players in Cogliano’s draft class have made their way as NHL regulars and only two from the top 10, including one Sidney Crosby.

However, after a successful sophomore campaign with the University of Michigan Wolverines, Cogliano opted to turn pro and try his hand at making the NHL this upcoming season.

On the outset, it looks like his timing couldn’t have been any better. With only 195 goals scored in 2006-07, the Oilers welcome the chance to add an offensive dynamo like Cogliano to the squad.

“I think everybody’s looking forward to seeing Andrew here this year,” said Oilers V.P. of Hockey Operations Kevin Prendergast. “It’s unfortunate to Michigan that he left but it’s fortunate to the Oilers that he did leave.”

“Michigan was always a goal of mine since I was 15 years old. I had a great time there, a lot of friends and the hockey was unbelievable,” said Cogliano. “I just thought it was time to move on. It was my time to want to be a pro and experience that lifestyle. I’ll never look back at that decision and regret it.”

In 38 games last season with the University of Michigan, Cogliano had 24 goals and 50 points – almost doubling his entire output from his freshman campaign.

“He brings something to the table that we need in that he’s got exceptional speed and the ability to finish,” Prendergast also went on to say that size isn’t an issue for the speedy forward. “At 5’9” 185 pounds in today’s game it’s not going to hurt him.”

Drafted in 2004, 14th overall

2004 was a draft class considered above average for goaltenders with four taken in the opening round. Of the four, only Marek Schwarz – selected 17th overall by St. Louis – has seen any action. Schwarz appeared in parts of two games for the Blues this past season.

Oilers prospect Devan Dubnyk, taken 14th overall, has not seen any NHL action as of yet but of course neither has Al Montoya despite being taken sixth.

“Not having our own farm team this year probably hurt Devan a little bit but he got the opportunity to play and he played exceptionally well for them,” remarked Prendergast.

This past season, Dubnyk was the go-to guy for the Stockton Thunder (ECHL) and performed admirably with a 24-11-7 record, 2.56 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.

“Devan is just loaded with talent at 6’5” 200 lbs. With goaltenders you need a lot of patience with them. He was given every opportunity there to be the number one guy and he certainly succeeded in that role.”

The next step for Dubnyk is to show he can translate his play to the AHL level. In small doses, he was able to do just that in 2006-07.

“He had four games in the American Hockey League and was 2-1,” Prendergast said. “He’s ticketed for Springfield with Roli still here. We can’t have him sitting around as a backup, we need him to play. Him and Jeff Deslauriers will get that opportunity to play a lot next year.”

Drafted in 2004, 25th overall

13 players in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft have become regulars in the NHL including Montreal’s Mark Streit, selected in the ninth round, 262nd overall as well as Islanders defenceman Chris Campoli in the 7th round (227th overall) and Detroit’s Johan Franzen at 97th overall in round three.

Rob Schremp, taken 25th overall by the Oilers in 2004 with a draft choice acquired in the Mike Comrie trade, is still waiting for that chance. After his first pro season, he could make that step soon.

“Schrempie was coming a long way this year. At the end of the year, was playing exceptionally well and in the last game of the season he blows his knee out with a check,” said Prendergast.

Schremp started off slow with AHL Wilkes-Barre but really came on near the end of the season. However, he had his season cut short with that season-ending knee injury.

“Unfortunately for him and unfortunately for us, we were really looking forward to seeing what he was going to do in the playoffs, “ he said. “He’s here rehabbing his leg. He’s out of the cast and out of the brace; he’s starting to walk on it and is ahead of schedule.”

With talk how high-end skill is rarely ever available late in the opening round, the Oilers made their pick count when they took the dynamic Schremp in the 25 slot.

“He brings to the table something every team needs. He’s going to make our power play better. He has great offensive skills and instincts,” Prendergast stated.

Training camp 2007 is another big step for Schremp. A place in the top six could be available and it will be up to him to try and challenge for it.

“His skating has to get a little bit better. The parts of his game we wanted him to work on last year in Wilkes-Barre, he worked on them. He came a long way as far as getting there and we’ll see how he does in training camp.”

Drafted in 2003 – 22nd overall

Every player from the opening round of the 2003 draft has now played in the NHL with the exception of Hugh Jessiman (NY Rangers) at 12th overall and Brian Boyle (Los Angeles) at 26th.

Considered an above-average draft that scored the likes of Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal, Thomas Vanek, Dion Phaneuf and others, the Oilers selected Marc Pouliot 22nd overall.

Pouliot made a splash in his rookie professional season being named MVP of the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2005-06 with 15 goals and 45 assists in 65 games. This year, Pouliot split the season almost right down the middle between the NHL and AHL.

“Marc had a big sniff this year with the big team. It was up and down for him a little bit,” Prendergast said. “He played centre, played the wing, had a lot of positives and had some nights that we weren’t so sure.”

In 46 games with Edmonton, Pouliot scored four goals and added seven assists for 11 points. However, at the AHL level he really found his game averaging almost a point per game with 14 goals and 31 points in 33 outings.

“He’s a young player, went down to Wilkes-Barre at the end of the year. Some nights he was exceptionally good in the playoffs and other nights he was just average.”

Pouliot put up five goals and 10 points through 11 postseason games.

“In order to play on this team on a consistent basis, that’s what he has to develop – his consistency,” said Prendergast.

Pouliot showed some of that same brilliance on certain nights in Edmonton but other nights had trouble finding his game.

“He understood it. We had a long talk at the end of the season in Wilkes-Barre. Having that sniff to play in the National Hockey League, he knows he can play up here with these guys,” Prendergast continued. “It’s just up to him to have a great offseason of training and show the coaches he can come in here and do it.”

Drafted in 2002 – 15th overall

You can’t win them all.

That’s the sentiment Edmonton’s scouting brass has when reflecting on 2002. 26 of the 30 players taken in the opening round have gone on to play at least one game in the NHL but Oilers 15th overall pick Jesse Niinimaki is not one of them – nor will he be.

“We went into the draft having just watched him play in a tournament in Russia and he was by far the best player in the tournament,” said Prendergast. “He was loaded with talent but it was a learning process for all of us.”

Heading into the draft, Niinimaki was ranked to go in the second or third round but the Oilers liked his size and skill and felt they couldn’t pass him up.

“We probably should have a little bit more on the background end of Jesse. We needed skilled centres at that point, coming into the organization and he certainly fit that bill to a tee but it just never panned out.”

If you look deeper into the 2002 draft, it should be noted that the Oilers took two players in the second round that are key contributors to the team today – Jarret Stoll at 36th overall and Matt Greene at 44th overall. If the Oilers did wait until the second round to get Niinimaki perhaps one of these players would have slipped through the cracks.

“Unfortunately for him and unfortunately for us it didn’t work out but hopefully we made up for it with later round picks. After it, we got Matt Greene and players like that,” Prendergast remarked.

“That’s the bad part of the draft – you’re wrong more than you’re right. But we have learned from it and we’ve worked even harder to try and get better at it.”

The spirit of Niinimaki lives on in Oilerland. The team’s first pick in last year’s draft – 45th overall – was awarded to the team for compensation after not signing Niinimaki. That player? Promising young defenceman and USA Hockey’s player of the year, Jeff Petry.

Drafted in 2001 – 13th overall

As disappointing as the 2002 first rounder may have been, the fact that the Oilers selected Ales Hemsky at 13th overall in 2001 is mind boggling.

“Ales is the tip of the iceberg. I don’t think he’s attained the peak yet or even got close to it,” said Prendergast.

If the 2001 draft could be done again today, Ilya Kovalchuk would still go 1st overall, Jason Spezza would probably go 2nd overall and Ales Hemsky would go third. The Oilers did that well.

“He’s our most exciting hockey player and I know if we can get him to shoot the puck a little more, score a few more goals, he has a chance to be one of the best players in the NHL.”

In terms of point totals, with 194 in his career to-date, Hemsky is already one of the best players in his draft class by far.
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