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Oilers top THN's Future Watch rankings

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers' number one feature inside the 2011 Future Watch issue of The Hockey News.

With the 2010-11 regular season nearing its conclusion, prospect analysis comes to the forefront with the start of the post-season at the amateur level. Soon enough, all 30 NHL teams will converge on the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota to continue the refueling process of the ever-valuable prospect pool.

While some teams will be looking to begin a new process at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, others will be looking to continue on an already solid foundation of promising young players.

Recently, The Hockey News released the 2011 Future Watch issue, which outlines the long-term outlook for all 30 NHL teams and ranks them in order of who they believe has developed the best group of young talent. This season, Edmonton has topped the rankings and set a new benchmark for what other clubs should be striving to establish at the prospect level.

Brian Costello, Senior Special Editions Editor for The Hockey News, walked us through the detailed process that is undertaken en route to the completed list.

"Right after the World Junior Championships, when the scouts are back from that, we canvas them and talk to each head scout or the director of player personnel, or even the general manager from each NHL club," Costello said.

"We talk to them one-on-one and we get an assessment of who their top 10 prospects are in their organization. It's all based on long-term upside. We're not looking at who's the next player to make it to the NHL; we're looking at who the best players are up to 10 years down the road. There's a lot of speculation there."

"Once we get the top 10 from each of the 30 teams, we then have a master list of 300 players. We send that back to the same scouts that we talked to originally, and we ask them to extrapolate five to 10 years down the road and tell us who the top 50 prospects will be among that list of 300.

Each of those scouts makes their top 50 list and they send it back to us where we plug it into a spreadsheet. It's kind of a weighted spreadsheet based on if the player is top 10, top 25 and so on."

Once that process is completed, Costello then discussed the grading system for current NHL players, which has proven to be the most vital component for some teams’ rankings.

"In addition to the grading, we asked the scouts to rank each team's top 10 prospects and 21-and-under NHLers on a letter scale, A-D. We include 21-and-under NHLers because we don't believe teams should be penalized for fast-tracking these players to the NHL," Costello explained.

"The Oilers are a perfect example of that. Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi are all 21-and-under. If we didn't include them in the grading, Edmonton would probably be middle of the pack at best. It's certainly a great thing for the Oilers that they have these four great NHLers in the organization."

Although the Oilers have a number of players already developing in the NHL, Costello explained that Edmonton’s deep prospect pool has been equally as valuable.

"There are also a number of Oilers prospects that ranked quite well in our top 50 rating, those being Jeff Petry (32), Tyler Pitlick (62) and Anton Lander (63). It's not just the NHL players that are bumping up the rankings. The Oilers have quite a few excellent prospects in their system helping their overall ranking."

Edmonton’s number one ranking is especially impressive when you consider the talented clubs that the Oilers have overtaken. Los Angeles, with Drew Doughty leading the pack, and Tampa Bay with Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman are only a few examples of the young talent highlighting the skilled competition. 

"LA has an extremely great list of prospects with Drew Doughty leading the way as far as an NHL players goes. Brayden Schenn is also the cream of the crop in terms of prospects; he was head and shoulders above the rest. I think the strength of LA is their list of prospects not in the NHL, as opposed to their group currently in the league," Costello explained.

"When you look at Tampa Bay, they're pretty much in the opposite position. Take Stamkos and Hedman off their list and I would say they could drop to the bottom third of the league rankings."

According to Costello, the Oilers have shown great strength in both areas.

"It certainly helps to have prospects in the NHL. If you were to go back a few years with Chicago, who is 23rd in our rankings this year, they were fourth last year. That's because guys like Toews and Kane have graduated from the list. Edmonton's got a pretty good balance in that respect."

That balance is something the Oilers organization is incredibly proud to showcase during this ongoing rebuilding stage. Head Amateur Scout Stu MacGregor commented on the ranking and what it means to his extremely talented scouting team.

Taylor Hall, one of Stu MacGregor's selections in 2010, most certainly established his name across the league this season.  (Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club)
"It's awesome," said an emphatic MacGregor. "People in the hockey world think we have some good prospects and that's encouraging."

"It makes you feel good that people look at your organization and think that you've done well in your selections. It's certainly very good for our group's confidence. It kind of invigorates them and helps them drive forward to try and be the best scouting staff in the National Hockey League."

Head Coach Tom Renney also commented on the ranking, praising the unsung work and dedication of the organization’s scouting and upper management team.

"It's people like that don't get enough credit for turning an organization around. I think our scouts and with [Steve Tambellini's] direction and obviously the help of Kevin (Lowe), they've done an outstanding job of identifying our needs and identifying future National Hockey League, legitimate, talent and players beyond that."

General Manager Steve Tambellini believes the ranking is a testament to the organization’s plan and overall hard work in recreating that targeted atmosphere.

"I think it's a great thing for the organization," Tambellini said. "When we made the decision that we were going to rebuild this organization, one of the primary focal points was obviously our drafting, and second, replenishing our prospects at different levels of our organization. We needed to make sure that we've got a group of young people that are coming up through the system, through Oklahoma City and eventually, hopefully, into Edmonton."

Naturally, the process is only beginning; a situation that the Oilers’ GM is most certainly keen to continue as the franchise eyes a return to the contender status.

"People have obviously recognized that there are some good young players here. Now our job is to maximize the potential of each and every one of those players that can contribute, hopefully, to the Oilers."

Part of the excitement surrounding the organization’s top ranking is that the list was compiled prior to the acquisition of bruising defensive blueliner Colten Teubert, in addition to another top pick this summer. Tambellini believes, while the excitement is certainly budding in Oil Country, that the process is reaching an essential moment.

"We're going to stick with the plan. These are the few years here where we know we're going to get good picks at the draft. These are the years where we have to make sure we're accumulating top-end prospects, people that, aside from the talent, have the character that we expect to play for the Edmonton Oilers and live in this community and be a part of this community. This is a very, very important two or three years here of drafting."

"We're excited about it. The one thing that's very clear is the direction about our hockey club. Our organization is very clear. I think the public in Edmonton and the league know exactly what we're doing."

The Oilers’ number one ranking underlines that point as this new squad, featuring some of the most dynamic young stars, has already turned heads across the league.

Author: Ryan Dittrick |
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