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Oilers look to stock shelf in Columbus

by Marc Ciampa / Edmonton Oilers
As the 2007 NHL Entry Draft approaches, it’s a much different feeling for the Edmonton Oilers than a year ago.

“The big difference is we don’t sit around on our hands for three-and-a-half hours like we did last year. It’s awfully boring to sit there,” noted Oilers V.P. of Hockey Operations Kevin Prendergast.

Edmonton’s first choice was 45th overall in 2006 after having dealt away their first rounder to Minnesota in the deal that brought over Dwayne Roloson.

“Fortunately for us, the first rounder we did give away ended up helping us get to the Stanley Cup so it’s something we’d certainly give up at any time to get there,” Prendergast said.

The Oilers certainly will not be sitting around in the early going with three picks during the opening round on Friday followed by another early in the second round on Saturday giving them four picks among the top 36.

While this year’s draft is not particularly full of high-end talent, it does have a lot of players who look like they’ll be able to one day contribute at hockey’s highest level.

“With three first-rounders – one at six, one at 15 and one at 30 – we feel like we’re going to have our choice of players at each pick,” he continued.

After the first ten players or so, the draft is wide open. A player the Oilers may covet at 15th overall could still be around when they pick again at 30th. That could make for some interesting conversation as the Oilers scouting staff meetings continue this week.

“There’s a lot more preparation involved in this draft,” Prendergast remarked. “Funnily enough, going into last year’s draft when we left our meetings the one player we all had a consensus on that we hoped we’d get our hands on is Jeff Petry and that’s the player we got at 45. It was a long wait but we certainly feel that we got a diamond in the rough with him. He’s had a great year.”

Petry, named USA Hockey’s junior player of the year last week, is so far developing as planned. However, projecting 18 year olds is far from an exact science. A lot of different factors have to be taken into consideration from the player’s on-ice performance to their perceived attitude to their family background.

“We met a lot of kids (at the draft combine in Toronto two weeks ago). Kevin Lowe was with us and a lot of kids left good impressions,” Prendergast said. “It’s just a point of trying to find the right fit for our organization. We’ll go through all the physical testing that they did in Toronto, compare that with our notes on how they play on the ice, little things we know from their background and what we got when we met them and put our list together from there.”

The Oilers have to cover a wide range of prospects in their interviews and scouting analysis due to the fact that they’re picking at the beginning, middle and end of the draft.

“Obviously, the first pick (sixth overall) and 15th pick we’re going to want to take the two best players available and then we’ll readjust when we get back down to the end of the round to see what’s sitting there.”

So when you get right down to it, if they’re going to choose the ‘best player available’ what type of player do the Oilers ultimately want and what type of player will they pick with that coveted sixth-overall selection?

“From an Oilers standpoint, skating is always a priority and character is a second priority for us. A lot of kids fit that bill and there’s wild cards – some guys who might be 6’3” and weigh 160 pounds at this point but have certain skills that we like.

“We’ve always gone with skating and character – the two main things we’re looking for,” Prendergast concluded.

As the Oilers V.P. of Hockey Operations noted earlier, as the draft gets deeper the Oilers focus less on the best player available and more on organizational need.

“We have a feeling-out process as we get further into the draft where certain scouts like certain players and they have a real good feeling for them because they’ve seen them a lot or they know something about them that they’re comfortable with. We’ve done that in the past and we’ve been successful with it.”
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