a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

Welcome to Oil Acumen. What follows is a blog dedicated to ending the tyranny of Oilers management, and making hockey fun to watch again, dammit.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

04/30/11 12.2 Playoff Updates

Here's some quick hits from the playoffs:

- Ryan Strome's Niagra Ice Dogs were eliminated from the playoffs in 5 games by Mississauga. He had 2 assists in the series and was a minus-5. Obviously Mississauga keyed on him in this series, and he wasn't really able to break though. His chances to impress the scouts are all done for now. Strome's playoff run ends with him having accumulated 12 points (6-6-12) in 14 games.

- Continuing their dominant showing in the QMHJL playoffs, Jonathan Huberdeau' St John Sea Dogs swept the Lewiston MAINEiacs and have advanced to the QMJHL finals. It looks like they will be facing the Quebec Remparts in that series, but their opponent is not yet set. Huberdeau had 3 goals and 1 assist for 4 points in the four games against Lewiston, and he was a minus-2. He continues to impress, and hockey fans and draft-watchers will get a good look at him if his teams makes it to the Memorial Cup.

- Buffalo, Chicago and Montreal all being eliminated from the NHL playoffs means that the Oilers know where that LA pick will fall. Just as expected, it will be 19th unless the Oilers can use it to trade up. Still a good pick if they don't.

- Epic comeback by Tampa Bay in their opening round series, though granted Pittsburgh was without two of its best performers. If Crosby and Malkin were in the lineup, the Lightning don't have much chance in that series. Roloson looks like it's 2006 again. It will be interesting to see how far he can go, because this is one of his last shots at glory.

Just a short list today. That's all for now until there's more to report.

Friday, 29 April 2011

04/29/11 19.0 The Case for Trading Ales Hemsky

Note: this article is intended to play Devil's advocate. Trading Hemsky is not necessarily the best thing for the team, but if it was, this would be why.

The 2011 Trade Deadline came and went, and although the much maligned Dustin Penner was traded to the Kings, Ales Hemsky remained - at least for the time being - an Edmonton Oiler. The fact that Hemsky was not traded seemed to be a signal that he was indeed a part of the long-term plans of Oilers' management. But is that the case? More importantly: should Hemsky be a part of the future?

Of course the easy answer to that question is yes. Hemsky has 395 points in 490 NHL games. He's not quite at a point per game pace, but he's near to it at 0.81 points per game over his career. He'll turn 28 this August, which means that he still has some of his best years ahead of him. He's been the straw that stirs the offensive drink in Edmonton for a long time.

So why trade him?

First, Oiler fans tend to over value Hemsky's offensive production. Every season pundits and fans ask the question: is this the year that Hemsky finally has that breakout, point-per-game season? It would certainly be fair to ask that same question again for 2011-12, now that the Oilers have put together some elite offensive support for #83. However, close to 500 NHL games is a pretty good sample size for a player's ability to produce offense. At 0.81 points-per-game over that span, Hemsky is actually quite close to Martin Havlat, who has produced 512 points in 621 games (0.82 ppg). The similarities between the two don't end there, with Havlat having been repeatedly injured a few years ago, which contributed to the Blackhawks finishing low enough in the standings to draft some of their stars.

Havlat is perhaps a better goal-scorer than Hemsky, but their offensive totals are close enough together to say that they are similar players when it comes to how much they can contribute overall. Both are solid players who can put up points and are even All Stars, but would anyone say that either player is elite?

It's not that Hemsky has to be elite to be valuable to a team, but it's also not as though a team couldn't get by without him. The Blackhawks let Havlat walk as a free agent and signed Marian Hossa before winning the Stanley Cup.

Hemsky certainly helps to drive Edmonton's offense, but the kids the Oilers have put together will soon be the key to that more than anything. When you get right down to it, Hemsky's point production probably isn't what it is because of the team around him as much as the fact that he takes nights off. There can be stretches of three or four games when you're thinking the Oilers should trade him the heck out of town, and then he has a two or three game explosion where he gets 6 points. Those explosive nights make it hard to want to trade Hemsky, but what does the team do on the nights when he's invisible? In the NHL it's not about points that a player gets, it's about the points a team gets. If a team's best offensive performer takes every third game off, it will be hard for that team to make the playoffs.

Also, if Hemsky needs better players in order to live up to his potential, that means the Oilers will have better players. When that happens, Hemsky will be expendable.

Secondly, what if Hemsky does not want to re-sign? The fact that Chicago won the cup eliminates the sting of the fact that they didn't get anything for Havlat, but the Oilers are not in the same position. The Oilers are a couple of years away from being able to compete for a playoff spot, let alone a Stanley Cup, which means that letting Hemsky walk for nothing would be a disaster. If he manages to stay healthy and has a good year in 2011-12, the Oilers should be able to get quite a bounty of futures for him. It's too early to speculate on what exactly they could get, but whatever it is would be preferable to seeing him leave town for diddly squat. Hemsky has said that he's happy with the direction the team is heading, but that doesn't mean that he won't want to test the free agent market and secure his retirement fund. If a team without snow 6 months of the year throws a huge deal at him, will he be able to say no?

And finally, there's the injury concern. 69 games in the last two years is not inspirational on the injury front. Hemsky hasn't played a full season of 80 or more games since 2005-06 when he played 81. In each season since then he's played 64, 74, 72, 22, and 47 games, or 279 of a possible 410 games. If Hemsky can't stay in the lineup, and he doesn't show up for every game he does play, then he's only effective maybe half as much as he should be. Would it be better to try and replace him with a player who isn't as oft-injured, or maybe give the overlapping skills of Linus Omark a chance on the second line? Is it better to have a player who isn't quite as dynamic but who is consistent and hard to play against?

One more reason to trade Ales Hemsky would be to move up at the draft. If the Oilers packaged Hemsky and LA's pick to move up this year, it would essentially mean that they will have traded Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky for a top ten draft pick. That is a very, very steep price, but realistically that is what it takes to acquire a pick in the top ten. Those picks are extremely valuable, especially in a salary cap world where young and cheap talent are paramount to a team's success. The Oilers could end up having their cake and eating it too by taking Nugent-Hopkins and a top ten defenseman. Considering that trading Dustin Penner was the right thing to do, and trading Hemsky might be too, it's not such a steep price after all.

Naturally there are plenty of reasons to keep Hemsky too; not least of all being the chemistry that he showed in brief glimpses with Taylor Hall. Steve Stamkos has Marty St. Louis, and while Hemsky isn't quite at that level, it's a similar tandem.

Whatever happens with Ales Hemsky, the Oilers are still in an enviable position. To be able to trade a player of Hemsky's quality means that they have some real legitimate offensive weapons on the rise, and that's a very good thing. In fact, no matter what management decides, a strong case could be made that it was the right thing to do.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

04/26/11 18.0 The Best of the Rest

Now that we've looked at some possibilities of how the Oilers could use the Los Angeles Kings' pick to move up at the draft, it's time to have a look at some of the players that might be available and of interest to the Oilers at number 19 overall. The Kings being eliminated on Monday by San Jose means that the pick the Oilers receive will be no worse than 19th. For the sake of argument let's assume that's where it will be. What if the Oilers don't trade up?

The Oilers would probably like to select a defenseman with the 19th pick if they use the 1st pick on a center and the opposite would probably be true if they take a defenseman 1st. Because we don't know who the Oilers will pick first, the following list is comprised of both centers and defenseman that might still be around at 19th overall. Also, in the latter half of the draft it's especially important to take the best player available, which means it would be alright to take two centers or two defensemen if that's what the scouts deem is best. There are two wingers on this list as well.

Scott Mayfield: D 6'4", 197 lbs, 52 games played in USHL, 7-9-16, 159 pim, minus-18

Perhaps the poor man's Duncan Siemens in this draft, Mayfield is a big, nasty defenseman with a good first pass. His skillset may be a bit overlapped by players already in the Oilers' system like Alex Plante and Colten Teubert, but you can never really have too many of these guys kicking around. He's the type of player that could easily go inside the top 20, or could fall to somewhere in round 2. He was #24 among North Americans in Central Scouting's final rankings, which is why he is on this list. His intention is apparently to take the college route and play for the University of Denver next year.


Zack Phillips: C, 6'1", 178 lbs, 67 games in QMJHL (St. John), 38-57-95, 16 pim, plus-48

A talented player on a very talented St. John team, Phillips is sharing time on the Sea Dogs' top line with Jonathan Huberdeau. He currently has 17 points in 11 playoff games with a plus-7 rating. Phillips took 969 draws during the regular season and won 435 of them, for a modest 45% success rate. In the playoffs he's been slightly better, winning 49% of 197 draws taken. Phillips is ranked at #15 among North Americans by Central Scouting, but there are several Europeans who could potentially go ahead of him, pushing him back to 19 or later.


Mark Scheifele: C, 6'2", 182 lbs, 66 games played in OHL (Barrie), 22-53-75, 35 pim, minus-22

2010-11 was Scheifele's first season in the OHL, which means that he will be a bit of a project forward for the team that takes him. He has good size and a good set of hands and is an adept playmaker, as evidenced by his 53 assists. He's ranked 16th among North Americans by Central Scouting.


Matt Puempel: LW, 6'0, 196 lbs, 55 games played in OHL (Peterborough), 34-35-69, 49 pim, minus-33

After putting up 64 points in 59 games (1.08 ppg) as an OHL rookie, he managed just a 5 point improvement this year with 69 points in 55 games (1.25 ppg). These aren't massive numbers by any stretch of the imagination, and any hopes that Puempel might break out offensively as a sophomore were never quite fulfilled. It's been said about him that he has good puck control and isn't afraid to do the dirty work in the corners. Will probably need more time in the OHL. He's ranked at #28 by Central Scouting.



David Musil: D, 6'3", 198 lbs, 62 games played in WHL (Vancouver), 6-19-25, 83 pim, even

A strong possibility for the 19th overall pick, Musil is a very big body who can skate well and possesses a good pass. His father Frank is a scout for the Oilers who played 797 NHL games of his own, including 69 for Edmonton. He's not an overly physical player despite his size, but he isn't afraid of physicality either. Musil's point production is down this year from 32 points in 2009-10 to the 25 he had this year, but if he's still available when Steve Tambellini goes back to the podium, don't be surprised if his name gets called. He's ranked #38 in North America by Central Scouting, so if he slips to #31 overall the Oilers might snag him there.


Boone Jenner: C, 6'1", 204 lbs, 63 games played in OHL (Oshawa), 25-41-66, 57 pim, plus-10

A young man who models his game after Jarome Iginla, Jenner is another big body (noticing a trend here?). The Oilers have an organizational mandate to get bigger, and Jenner definitely fits the bill. He has good offensive tools but he's not a prolific scorer, though he did manage better than a point per game this season. His Oshawa Generals ran into Ryan Strome's Niagra Ice Dogs in the playoffs and were eliminated, but Jenner managed 12 points in the 10 playoff games (7-5-12). Ranked 18th in North America by Central Scouting, Jenner is another player who could potentially slip to the early second round.


Tomas Jurco: RW, 6'2", 187 lbs, 60 games played in QMJHL (St. John), 31-25-56, 17 pim, plus-46

Another trend that's forming is the quality of prospects on this year's St. John Sea Dogs - Huberdeau is not alone. Jurco is a wizard with the puck and isn't afraid to use his size to score. He's a shootout afficianado, and he's very difficult to move from the front of the net. These may seem like contradictions (see: Dustin Penner in shootouts), but he has combined size and puck skills. Jurco has also posted 14 points in St. John's 11 playoff games (5-9-14). This player may be a bit more of a long shot, but he will probably go some time late in the first round. Central Scouting has him ranked 20th in North America.

***

Of course, there are many other players who could happen to go 19th overall, and without the lists of every NHL team there's no way to know how they rank these players. Dylan McIlrath was set to go late in the first round last year before the Rangers selected him 10th overall. Tyler Pitlick was projected by The Hockey News to be a late first round pick and ended up slipping to #31 (much to the Oilers' delight). The above names are just some of the players that the Oilers might be interested in.

Musil seems like a good bet to be picked by the Oilers at some point in the draft because at least one of their scouts is extremely familiar with him, but much will depend on Stu McGregor and what Tambellini deems that the team needs.

None of these players look like they could step right into the NHL next year - not that that matters, as Tambellini has said - so if the Oilers are picking 19th, don't get too excited for a new game-breaker at training camp. Still, that 19th pick would help to add depth to an organization that's still in dire need of it. The injuries to the parent club have exposed the inability to make callups who can have a real impact at the NHL level, so continuing to add depth is paramount; especially as the crops of high-end youth step up to the Oilers full time. The Oilers are improving on that front with the likes of Hartikainen and Omark, but when those players make the NHL it will be even more important to have depth talent trailing behind.

Some of that talent could be had at 19th in this year's entry draft.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

04/24/11 11.1 Odds & Ends

Hope you had a good Easter! Here's the latest...

- If not for a massive 51 save game by Jonathan Quick, the LA Kings would be finished and the draft picture would be coming into focus. This is what we know so far:

The Rangers will be picking 15th overall because they had the least amount of points of the teams that made the playoffs and they were eliminated in round one. Oiler faithful are cheering for Montreal, Buffalo and Chicago and obviously cheering against the Kings. The way the draft order works is that if Montreal, Buffalo and Chicago all made it to the Conference Finals, they would pick later in the draft than the Kings even though they finished the regular season with fewer points than LA. Unlikely though that may be, if it were to happen it would mean that the pick the Oilers receive would be 16th overall. Any time one of these teams makes it to the third round, the LA pick moves up a spot. As it is though, the pick will probably be 19th overall, unless by some horrible miracle the Kings manage to advance to the Western Conference Final.

- Things have finally started to calm down after a string of 5 suspensions in twelve days. Some could argue - and with some truth - that Raffi Torres should have been suspended a second time for his hit on Brent Seabrook. However, it may turn out that no suspension was the best thing that ever happened to the Hawks. Does it help them more to have a grinder like Torres out of the series, or to have him in the series to serve as motivation? Interestingly, a Torres hit on Michalek in the Oilers' 2006 cup run changed the complexion of that series in favor of the Oilers. The Hawks, who have proven that they have the mental fortitude to win a Stanley Cup, rallied around the Torres hit and now they are poised to be the second team in two years to come back from a 3-0 deficit.

- The Oklahoma City Barons' season is over. The Barons lost 4-1 this afternoon to Hamilton, ending their short playoff run. Still, just the fact that the Barons made the playoffs is a positive, and they also managed to win two of the three games at home. The thrill of winning playoff hockey should help to arouse the interest of potential fans, and the ones who were at the home games will probably be back next year.

- I get the feeling that Aaron Ward is going to end up in coaching at some point. His analysis on TSN has been insightful and in-depth, and most teams would like to have a 3-time Stanley Cup Champion steering their defence. Ward is a winner, and as such I'm sure he'll want to win again. His playing days may be done, but his chances to win another Cup may not be...

- Ryan Strome's Niagra Ice Dogs got crushed on the shot clock on Saturday 45-24, but the score was kind to them in a 3-2 overtime loss. Mississauga is up 2-1 in the series, which will continue Monday. Strome has just one assist in the three games and a minus-1 rating. Strome has 11 points in 12 playoff games, which may see his ranking come back down to earth somewhat.

- Jonathan Huberdeau's St. John Seadogs are up 2-0 in their series against the Lewiston MAINEiacs. Huberdeau has scored one goal in the series so far and he's a minus-1. Huberdeau has 22 points in 11 playoff games. The series continues on Tuesday.

Next time we'll have a look at the best players available if the Oilers don't move up with LA's pick. Who might still be there at 19th, and who do the Oilers need most?

Until next time..!

Friday, 22 April 2011

04/22/11 17.0 How to Trade Up at the Draft

There is nothing that Oiler fans would like more than to get another top-ten pick at this year's draft. Of course, many fans wanted that last year, and so did the organization. Steve Tambellini tried hard to gain another pick in the first round on draft day, but it was not to be. In fact, no team that wasn't already picking in round one last year was able to trade into the first round on draft day, and not for lack of trying. This year the Oilers have the added bonus of a second mid-range first rounder, which may help them to move up. If they had had one last year, they might have been able to get into the top 5-15. Can it be done this year? And if so, how?

The 2010 draft gives us one clue as to the value of a pick higher than your own, and what it takes to move up. The LA Kings were able to move up four spots last year from 19th to 15th. This is a great example for Oiler fans because it's likely that the Oilers will have exactly the 19th pick this year from LA. The Kings gave up a second round pick in the same draft to Florida to acquire the 15th overall pick, and the pick that Florida gave up was one they acquired previously from Boston. So, the price to move up four spots at last year's draft was a second round pick, and only because the 15th pick was Florida's second 1st round pick.

Colorado has a second first-rounder in this year's draft - 11th overall - that came from St. Louis in the Erik Johnson deal. Could the Oilers acquire that pick?

The trick to moving up in the draft is not to think of it as moving up. What is actually happening is that Team A is giving value to Team B to move down. As such, the team trying to move up must put themselves in the other team's shoes and think what it would take for them to move down. In this case, if the Oilers were the ones picking 11th overall, what would it take to get them to move down 8 spots? Most fans would say that it would take a lot. Then again, it helps that Colorado is already picking second overall too, and potentially filling a major hole.

Colorado is in an enviable position because there is so much similar talent at the top of this draft. Is it better to be picking 1st and 19th or 2nd and 11th this year? Which team is really in a better position? Colorado's management likely knows what a good spot they are in, which means it would take more than the Oilers would like to give up to get them to trade the 11th pick. Ales Hemsky is one of the Oilers' somewhat more expendable forwards now. Could the Oilers trade the 19th pick and Ales Hemsky to the weak-winged Avalanche for the 11th pick? That's a steep price, but if the Oilers don't think they can or will re-sign Hemsky, it may make sense. Then again, Hemsky is entering the final year of his deal and he's also played just 69 games in the last two seasons. He's probably not enough for a team that's still in rebuilding mode.

In fact, Hemsky is almost certainly not the most desirable piece the Oilers have for any team that's picking in the top ten, except for the Boston Bruins.

If the Bruins fail to win the Stanley Cup this year, GM Peter Chiarelli will be looking to make a big splash for next season to push his team over the top. Taking Tyler Seguin second overall last year gives the Bruins some real breathing room when it comes to trading draft picks, and it may make them willing to move the 9th overall pick that they acquired from Toronto. Boston is in win-now mode, which means that the fact that Hemsky's contract is almost up isn't as detrimental to a potential deal. Add to that the fact that Boston right-winger Mark Recchi is likely to retire after this season and you have the makings of something interesting.

Despite all that, it would be hard for Boston to trade themselves completely out of the first round. The Oilers could move up ten spots by trading Hemsky and the 19th pick for the 9th overall pick. If it took Los Angeles a second round pick to move up four spots, it will take at least Hemsky for Edmonton to move up ten. The way that this draft is shaping up, it could still be wide open at number 9. If players like Ryan Murphy, Duncan Siemens, or even Sean Couturier were available at number 9, this could be a good trade for the Oilers.

Even if it's not Hemsky who gets traded, the Boston Bruins are the most likely avenue for the Oilers to get a second top ten pick. The fact that this year the Oilers can offer a replacement pick makes it all the more likely. It's still probably a long shot that Boston will trade a pick in the top ten, but if any team would, it's them. And, even if it's not Edmonton who gets the 9th overall selection from Boston, expect that pick to be in play.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

04/21/11 16.0 The Swan Song for the Yotes?

Is this the end of the Phoenix Coyotes? It's too early to tell, but this is certainly a franchise that's barely hanging on.

Still, after watching the Coyotes get swept in four games by Detroit, one can't help but feel bad for the fans who actually did embrace the team in the desert. There weren't enough of them enough of the time to keep the team viable, but what fans existed showed up for game four. Many of them embraced the white out, some were in full Coyotes regalia and a few were even sporting the ugly jerseys from the team's early days in Arizona. All looked dejected after the loss. Some were even in tears.

And why not? Canadian hockey fans can sometimes talk out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to the game they love. On one hand we say that hockey would never fly in the certain parts of the U.S. and on the other hand we say that this is the best game in the world. If it's the best then it can fly anywhere, and some of the fans in Phoenix showed that. Hockey certainly doesn't have the foundation in Arizona that it has everywhere in Canada, but the game actually is the best in the world and it is good enough to make people love it, even if they aren't living in a traditional hockey market. For that reason, every Canadian hockey fan should feel just a little bit for the fans that did exist in Phoenix, who face the very real possibility of losing their team. Many of them became fans even though it wasn't an inherent part of their culture, and they should be applauded for that.

Speaking of Canadian hockey fans, the citizens of Winnipeg know all too well the pain of losing their NHL team. It's been 15 years since the Jets left town and it makes a certain kind of sense that they would ultimately return there. It's almost as if Phoenix was just tending the store while Winnipeg got all its ducks in a row. It still may not happen, but below is a breakdown of the key things to know if the Coyotes move back to Winnipeg.

The Key Players:

David Thomson:  The richest man in Canada and 17th richest in the world, Thomson is the man with the money to make it all happen. The cost of around $170 million for the troubled franchise is but a drop in a bucket for Thomson, who is chairman of the information company Thomson Reuters. He currently resides in Toronto but he is a partner with Mark Chipman in True North Sports & Entertainment, which owns Winnipeg's new arena, the MTS Centre.

Mark Chipman: Founder of True North Holdings, which built and owns Winnipeg's arena. Chipman is on the Board of Directors of Hockey Canada, and he is governor of the Manitoba Moose. Chipman was born and raised in Winnipeg.

Financial Viability:

Winnipeg's MTS Centre has a capacity of just a shade over 15,000 for hockey games. If an NHL team were to play there, it would make it the lowest capacity building in the league. However, according to ESPN, 7 of the league's teams played to crowds of less than 15,000 per night, regardless of the capacity of their buildings. Included among those teams was - of course - the Coyotes. 15,000 fans actually represents an improvement of almost 3000 per game (provided that Winnipeg sold out every game). It doesn't matter how big your arena is if you can't fill the seats - just look at Jobing.com Arena, which has more than 17,000.

CBC's Scott Oake did a rundown of the basic numbers in March and they look something like this:

With less than capacity average attendance of 14,500 fans per game and with tickets costing an average of $75, the team stands to make almost $45 million at the gate after 41 homes games. This is not including any concert revenue or potential home playoff dates, which are possible given that the Coyotes are finally a competitive team.

$45 million from the gate, plus
$19 million in broadcast revenue,
$15 million from in-arena sales,
$13 in potential revenue sharing, and
$10 million from luxury suites,
_________________________
$102 million dollars in revenue

Taking into consideration that Winnipeg fans routinely go in their thousands to Manitoba Moose games, and how much that city is starving for an NHL team, it seems likely that at least 14,500 fans could be found each night. The numbers listed above are possible, which makes it a reasonable proposition financially, even if the team spent close to the cap.

As for the Moose, there is speculation that that team could move to Thunder Bay if an NHL team returned to Winnipeg. The scheduling just wouldn't work to keep both teams in town.

And, on the NHL side, the divisions would have to be changed. The Pacific Division can't lose a team and the Northwest can't have an extra one. The obvious choice would be that Colorado would leave the Northwest Division and join the Pacific, as they are the nearest team geographically to the rest of the Pacific Division. The new divisions would be:

Northwest: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Minnesota
Pacific: San Jose, Anaheim, LA, Dallas, Colorado

There's still a chance that Matthew Hulsizer could buy the team and keep them in Arizona, but that chance is getting smaller all the time. The NHL is going to have to start thinking about the schedule for next year soon, and therefore this matter must be resolved one way or another in a timely fashion.

There! If you weren't in the know, consider yourself informed.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

04/19/11 15.0 Comparing Brayden Schenn to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

The hockey world seems to be uniting under the banner of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. For Nugent-Hopkins to unseat both Adam Larsson and Sean Couturier in the minds of hockey analysts means that he must really bring a lot to the table. It's well known by now that some nameless person high up in Oilers management thinks that Nugent-Hopkins has the best on-ice vision since Wayne Gretzky. It really doesn't matter if that person is Kevin Lowe or Steve Tambellini or Stu McGregor. What it essentially means is that barring some totally unforseen event, Nugent-Hopkins will be drafted first overall by Edmonton. If, for the sake of argument, we accept that as a foregone conclusion, then the time has come to start putting RNH under the microscope.

According to The Hockey News, Brayden Schenn is the number one prospect outside of the NHL. There was plenty of talk swirling that the Oilers might acquire Schenn from Los Angeles at the trade deadline in a blockbuster deal that never came to fruition. For their part, Oiler fans were extremely excited about the idea of obtaining Schenn. He was seen as the player that could solidify the Oilers at center. Now that we know that Schenn isn't being traded, here is a comparison of how Schenn and Nugent-Hopkins stack up:

WHL Rookie Year

Schenn: 66 gms 28-43-71 plus-22, 1.08 ppg
RNH: 67 gms 24-41-65 minus-4, 0.97 ppg

This comparison is actually a lot closer than one might expect. The plus/minus is a concern with Nugent-Hopkins, but his offensive totals are very close to Schenn's. Schenn led his team in scoring that year, and he was second-best on the team in plus/minus. As such, his numbers are likely not inflated by quality team mates, though this was a plus team, which could help explain Schenn's plus/minus. Schenn contributed on 28% of his team's goals.

Nugent-Hopkins contributed on 32% of his team's goals in his rookie year and he was second in Rebels' scoring. The best plus rating on the 2009-10 Rebels belonged to Willie Coetzee with plus-10, while the rest of the team consisted of mostly minus players. In fact, of Rebels players who appeared in at least ten games, only four finished with a plus rating. Therefore, perhaps one shouldn't be shocked to see that RNH finished as a minus-4.

Both teams finished 6th in the WHL's Eastern Conference in these players' rookie years. Brandon had 42 wins and 90 points in 2007-08 and Red Deer had 39 wins and 83 points in 2009-10. The quality of team is very similar for both players.

WHL Second Year:

Schenn: 70 gms 32-56-88 plus-20, 1.26 ppg
RNH: 69 gms 31-75-106 plus-30, 1.54 ppg

This is where it starts to get interesting. Clearly Nugent-Hopkins is tracking better than Brayden Schenn at the same point in their careers. The goalscoring is a wash between the two, but RNH contributed 19 more assists in one fewer game. His plus/minus is also better than what Schenn put up as a sophomore.

Once again Schenn led his team in scoring, which finished third in the Eastern Conference with 48 wins and 101 points. He was involved in 30% of his team's goals. His plus rating is still good, but it slipped to 5th-best on the Wheat Kings.

Nugent-Hopkins also led the Rebels in scoring as a sophomore. The team had 48 wins and 104 points, good for second in the Conference. RNH was involved in 40% of his team's goals and his plus-30 was third-best on the team, which was vastly improved in that area from the previous year.

The difference in the quality of the teams that these two players were on in their rookie and sophomore seasons is small, so we can virtually discount that consideration when reviewing the seasons they had.

What these numbers suggest is that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a better point-producer in his draft year than Brayden Schenn was at the same age, and as such he could project to be a better prospect. Their ability to score goals is similar, but Nugent-Hopkins' set-up skills are clearly superior. For a team with two natural goal scorers in Eberle and Hall, this playmaking skill could be invaluable.

No one can predict how good these players will be in the NHL, as neither one has yet played even one season in the league. However, if the numbers Brayden Schenn put up at 17 and 18 are indicative of an eventual #1 prospect, Nugent-Hopkins is on a path to even greater glory. That alone counts for something, because if Oilers fans can get excited and feel confident in Schenn, they should be doing backflips for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

04/17/11 12.1 Playoffs, playoffs, playoffs

Here is the latest when it comes to the various playoff races of interest to Oiler fans:

CHL:

The unthinkable has happened in Red Deer, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' Rebels being eliminated in five games by the Medicine Hat Tigers. Darcy Kuemper, who was stellar in goal for Red Deer against the Oil Kings, did not play up to snuff in the first three games of the series. In the last two he was injured and replaced by Dawson Guhle, who played admirably well under the circumstances; shutting out Medicine Hat in game four. In game five Guhle was average at best, allowing 5 goals on 33 shots, including 3 goals on 8 shots in the third period with his team up 4-1. Goaltending was the story in this series, with Oiler prospect Tyler Bunz all but totally shutting the door before allowing 4 goals on 45 shots in game 5. All told, Bunz allowed just 7 goals in the five games on 166 shots. Nugent-Hopkins was held off the scoresheet in the first four games of the series before netting 2 assists in game 5, but it was not enough. He finished the series as a minus-5 with 2 points in five games. He ends the 2011 playoffs with 4 goals, 7 assists, 11 points and a minus-3 rating in Red Deer's 9 games played. The numbers are not exactly awe-inspiring, but they don't necessarily reflect his overall ability.

Sean Couturier's Drummondville Voltiguers were also eliminated from the playoffs today in six games by Gatineau. They faced similar problems to Red Deer in that their goaltending was well below average and the oppositon's was solid. Guillaume Nadeau started well in net for Drummondville, but couldn't keep it up. A switch in game six to rookie Domenic Graham did not help, as he allowed 4 goals on 18 shots. Couturier had 3 goals, 0 assists in the 6 games in the series, along with a minus-6 rating. He completed the playoffs with 6 goals, 5 assists, 11 points and a plus-3 rating in 10 games. Once again, not exactly awe-inspiring.

It is now left to Huberdeau's St. John Seadogs and Ryan Strome's Niagra IceDogs to wow scouts during their playoff runs. Both teams are in the Conference Finals of the QMJHL and OHL.

AHL:

The Oklahoma City Barons are down 2-0 in their series against Hamilton. The Barons outshot the Bulldogs 39-23 in game two, but lost 2-1. Other than goaltending, the powerplay has been a major story, with the Bulldogs going 4/12 in the series and the Barons 0/6. Game 3 goes Tuesday in OKC. The AHL uses a 2-3-2 style of playoff, which means that after 2 games in Hamilton, the teams will play the next 3 in Oklahoma City before going back to Hamilton for games 6 and 7 (if necessary).

NHL:

The San Jose Sharks aren't doing Oiler fans many favors. Once again, this team is proving to be extremely mentally fragile. After dominating the Kings in the first period of game one, LA has come back to control much of the play since then. The Sharks barely escaped game one with a win and got shut out in game two, surrendering home ice advantage to the Kings. Oiler fans will be hoping for a San Jose win in game three on Tuesday, because the Oilers' pick from Los Angeles will be better the sooner the Kings get eliminated from the post season.

Happy playoff watching! More later...

Saturday, 16 April 2011

04/16/11 14.0 Paajarvi's Solid Season

Oilers fans have been a bit spoiled this year when it comes to the rookie crop. With the likes of Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, each of whom had stellar years, it's easy to believe that Magnus Paajarvi's rookie season was below average. This is due in part to the perception by some that he could be the most NHL ready of the Big 3 because of his having played with men in the Swedish Elite League. That has not turned out to be the case. On the whole no one seems to be suggesting that Paajarvi's season was a failure, but he's starting to be seen as a player who will be lauded for his strong two-way play and not his offensive output. To be sure, Paajarvi is a solid player at both ends of the ice, despite his mediocre minus-13 rating. But does that mean that the offense isn't there for him?

On a team that lacks players like Hall and Eberle, Paajarvi would be the star rookie. As such, he would certainly be relied upon more for offense and his ice time would have been increased. On average, Paajarvi played 3 minutes per game less than Taylor Hall and 2 minutes less than Eberle.

Paajarvi fired 180 shots on goal, which was the third-highest total on the team. Granted, Hall and Eberle would have had 229 and 209 shots in the same number of games played as Paajarvi, but Paajarvi was also playing fewer minutes per game, and sometimes with linemates that were not as skilled.

15 goals is not a bad total for a rookie season, especially when one considers that his shooting percentage was just 8.3%. If he works on his shot, gets better linemates, more ice time and a little puck luck, he shouldn't have much problem getting his percentage into Hall and Eberle's 11% range. That would easily make him a 20 goal scorer in the future. In fact, there's a chance that he could surpass that number.

Here is a list of nine years of rookie point totals close to Paajarvi's, starting in 2009-10:

2009-10:
 James van Riemsdyk  PHI  L  78  15  20  35  -1
Peter Regin  OTT  C  75  13  16  29  10
Artem Anisimov  NYR  C  82  12  16  28  -2
Tyler Bozak  TOR  C  37  8  19  27  -5
 Evander Kane  ATL  L  66  14  12  26  2 

2008-09:
 Andrew Ebbett  ANA  C  48  8  24  32  8
 Nikolai Kulemin  TOR  L  73  15  16  31  -8
Fabian Brunnstrom  DAL  L  55  17  12  29  -8
 John Mitchell  TOR  C  76  12  17  29  -16 
 Mikkel Boedker  PHX  L  78  11  17  28  -6
 Claude Giroux  PHI  R  42  9  18  27 

2007-08:
 Martin Hanzal  PHX  C  72  8  27  35  -7
 Nigel Dawes  NYR  L  61  14  15  29  11 
 David Perron  STL  L  62  13  14  27  16
 Sergei Kostitsyn  MTL  L  52  9  18  27  9 
Milan Lucic  BOS  L  77  8  19  27  -2 

2006-07:
 Alexander Radulov  NSH  R  64  18  19  37  19 
Ryane Clowe  SJS  L  58  16  18  34 
Guillaume Latendresse  MTL  L  80  16  13  29  -20 
 Phil Kessel  BOS  R  70  11  18  29  -12
Joe Pavelski  SJS  C  46  14  14  28  4 
 Drew Stafford  BUF  R  41  13  14  27  5 
 Jiri Hudler  DET  C  76  15  10  25  16 
 David Backes  STL  R  49  10  13  23  6

2005-06:
Ryan Getzlaf  ANA  C  57  14  25  39  6 
 Milan Michalek  SJS  L  81  17  18  35  1
Rene Bourque  CHI  L  77  16  18  34  3
Mike Richards  PHI  C  79  11  23  34  6 
 Michel Ouellet  PIT  R  50  16  16  32  -13 
Zach Parise  NJD  L  81  14  18  32  -1

2003-04:
 Patrice Bergeron  BOS  C  71  16  23  39  5
Joffrey Lupul  ANA  R  75  13  21  34  -6
Nikolay Zherdev  CBJ  R  57  13  21  34  -11 
 Eric Staal  CAR  C  81  11  20  31  -6
Matthew Lombardi  CGY  C  79  16  13  29  4 

2002-03:
Rick Nash  CBJ  R  74  17  22  39  -27
Ales Kotalik  BUF  R  68  21  14  35  -2 
 Niko Kapanen  DAL  C  82  5  29  34  25 
 Alex Frolov  LAK  L  79  14  17  31  12
Stanislav Chistov  ANA  L  79  12  18  30  4
 Ales Hemsky  EDM  R  59  6  24  30  5 

2001-02:
 Pavel Datsyuk  DET  C  70  11  24  35  4 
Martin Erat  NSH  R  80  9  24  33  -11

Radim Vrbata  COL  R  52  18  12  30  7

2000-01:
Marian Gaborik  MIN  R  71  18  18  36  -6
Ruslan Fedotenko  PHI  L  74  16  20  36  8 
 Steve Reinprecht  LAK, COL  C  80  15  21  36  10 
Daniel Sedin  VAN  L  75  20  14  34  -3
Karel Rachunek  OTT  D  71  3  30  33  17 
 David Vyborny  CBJ  R  79  13  19  32  -9 

The bolded players played a similar number of games to Paajarvi as rookies and also ended with similar point totals before becoming very good NHLers. Some of these players are now elite offensive talents, and yet they had rookie seasons close to that of Magnus Paajarvi. No one is suggesting that Paajarvi is going to turn into Eric Staal or Zach Parise, but the point of these numbers is to show that seasons like Paajarvi's do not mean that that player will not end up being an offensive threat. On the other hand, there are just as many, if not more players who aren't bolded, meaning that these players either ended up being only decent or not playing in the NHL at all, or that they weren't close to Paajarvi's totals.

Magnus Paajarvi clearly has the tools to be effective in the NHL. The fact that he understands a two-way game is a major point of strength for him and will help to keep him in the league for a long time. However, making the transition from Europe is not as easy as some may think, especially for a young man who is only 19 years old. The fact that his offensive output is not what some expected can be at least partially chalked up to the fact that he is making a major jump. Not only do Hall and Eberle have the advantage when it comes to knowing the North American style of play and ice surface size, but they also have a leg up in regards to the culture, language, and proximity to their friends and families. It's certainly no cooincidence that Paajarvi's play began to improve with the addition of fellow Swede Linus Omark, and the effect that the mind can have on an athlete is well known. As he gets accustomed to North America, he should be more able to focus on hockey.

Paajarvi has shown a remarkable level of maturity in being able to come to Canada on his own, and considering all the things working against him, his rookie season should be celebrated for its quality. If he can continue to work hard and improve his game, there's no reason that he cannot be a dangerous offensive threat as well as a complete player.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

04-14-11 13.0 The Dilemma

There has been a new wrinkle in the drama that is the NHL draft, and a slight dilemma has presented itself for the Edmonton Oilers. On tuesday the New Jersey Devils won the draft lottery, which means the Oilers will pick first overall for the second straight year. The problem is who to take. There is no clear Taylor vs. Tyler or Tavares vs. Hedman debate. There has been a relatively equal split between a large number of players that could conceivably go number one. Right now it has been between Nugent-Hopkins vs. Adam Larsson, but the real number one prospect may be emerging in the Quebec League for the St. John Seadogs.

That player is Jonathan Huberdeau. As of right now, Huberdeau has amassed 10-9-19 in just 8 playoff games, along with a plus-9 rating. He's been far and away the best draft-eligible player in the QMJHL playoffs. In fact, Huberdeau has been the most prolific draft-eligible scorer in the playoffs of the entire CHL. He has almost twice as many points as Sean Couturier, and he does have more than twice as many as Nugent-Hopkins. He is playing on a very good St. John team that is loaded with talent, but Couturier's Volitgeurs and Nugent-Hopkins' Rebels are no slouches either.

However, Huberdeau presents a problem for the Oilers. He is listed as a center, but he isn't one. He plays left wing as well, and when he makes the NHL it will almost certainly be in that position. Huberdeau has taken a total of 18 faceoffs in the entire playoffs, winning just 7 of them. When it comes to doing the hard legwork that is required of a center, it seems to fall to Zack Phillips, Michael Kirkpatrick and Steven MacAulay; who have taken 152, 73 and 70 draws respectively. Steven Anthony is listed as a left winger, but he has taken 84 draws in the playoffs so far.

The Oilers desperately need a number one center who can win a draw, and it seems that Huberdeau isn't it. The fact that he doesn't take draws speaks to his ability in the discipline even more than his 39% efficiency. He only took 280 draws all season and won a mediocre 114 for around 41%.

At 6'1" and 171 pounds, Huberdeau isn't much bigger than Nugent-Hopkins. If size is a knock on RNH, it's got to be one for Huberdeau too. He's probably slippery enough for it not to be that big of a problem, but he may need some time to bulk up. Some question his quickness as well. His first few steps are not an area of strength, but he has overcome these minor deficiencies to be third in regular season QMJHL scoring and first in plus/minus.

Interestingly, Sean Couturier's points per game number in the Q this season was actually better than that of Huberdeau. Couturier had 1.66 ppg, and Huberdeau 1.57. In the same number of games played, Couturier was on pace to outscore him 111 to 105. Furthermore, Couturier took 1430 draws this season, and won 778 of them for 54% effectiveness.

Still, Huberdeau appears to be separating himself from the pack in these playoffs. In a year when there is no clear-cut number one, playoff performance could be enough to tip the scales. Last year when Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin were neck and neck going toward the draft and Seguin was ranked #1 by Central Scouting, it was Hall's fantastic playoff performance that made him the first overall pick. The playoffs are when players must really shine if they can, and Hall did it, just like Huberdeau appears to be doing now. If all of the top four players in this year's draft class are as close as Hall and Seguin, the playoffs could truly be the difference.

But can the Oilers take Huberdeau? What the Oilers don't really need is another undersized, skilled winger, and that's exactly what Huberdeau projects to be. It's possible that this could be the best offensive player in the draft and the Oilers will have to pass on him. Of course, there's always the possibilty of trading down and trying to get value for the fact that they have to pass on Huberdeau, but it seems doubtful that the Oilers will trade the first overall pick.

Couturier is still the best fit for the Oilers in this draft. He has size, scoring, playmaking and he can win faceoffs. However, more will be known about who is the true number one as the quest for the Memorial Cup continues.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

04/13/11 12.0 CHL, AHL, NHL Playoffs, World Championships

The glorious season has begun.

It's playoff time for the Canadian Hockey League, American Hockey League and the NHL as well. Here I will give some updates, interesting facts and data about the series' of note. Any time an Oiler prospect or potential prospect is playing, the news will be listed here. So too will be the latest info on OKC's playoff drive. If anything interesting happens in the NHL playoffs, this is the place to read about it as well. Several Oilers will be participating in the World Hockey Championship in Slovakia, and I will also be updating the latest on them too. I love this time of year.

CHL:

Ryan Martindale's (61st overall in 2010) Ottawa 67's finished second in the OHL's Eastern Conference this year, earning home ice advantage in the playoffs. They drew the Sudbury Wolves in round one. Ottawa beat Sudbury 7-3 in the last game of the season, but amazingly Sudbury swept the 67's in round one of the playoffs. Martindale had 3 goals and 2 assists in those four games, and was rated minus-3.

The Prince George Cougars improved by 48 points this year after accumulating just 28 last year. After selecting Oiler's prospect Martin Marincin (46th in 2010) first overall in the CHL import draft, they saw immediate dividends. They finished 7th in the West and made the playoffs after finishing last the year before. They too were swept in round one by the Kelowna Rockets, but Marincin had 1 goal and 4 assists in the series.

Tyler Pitlick (31st in 2010; signed to an entry level contract today) is hurt, but his team mate Tyler Bunz (121st in 2010) on the Medicine Hat Tigers is playing extremely well. He's shut the door on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' powerful Red Deer Rebels, helping the Tigers to a 3-1 series lead that Medicine Hat led 3-0 before tonight. Before tonight, Bunz had a 1.66 GAA and a .944 SV% in the playoffs, and he only allowed one goal tonight in the loss.

As for Nugent-Hopkins, in the four games since sweeping the Oil Kings he's got no points and a minus-4 rating. The CHL playoffs can still sway the final rankings of these players for NHL teams, no matter how good their regular season was. Overall, RNH has 9 points in 8 playoff games and is a minus-2.

Sean Couturier was a minus-4 tonight alone in a 6-1 loss to Gatineau, going 6 for 19 in the faceoff circle; a miserable 32%. He's still got 10 points in 8 playoff games and a plus-6 rating, and he's also won 94 of 194 faceoffs. That's still only 48%, and some of those were against a much weaker Chicoutimi team. Couturier has won 342 of 662 draws taken since coming back from the World Juniors, which is around 52%, but like Nugent-Hopkins, the playoffs seem to be catching up to Couturier a little bit.

Curtis Hamilton (48th in 2010) and his Saskatoon Blades have been upset by the Kootenay Ice. The 8th place Prince Alberta Raiders took the WHL's #1 seeded Blades to six games and now the Blades have been swept by #4 seeded Kootenay. In the ten playoff games, Hamilton had 4-7-11 and a minus-3 rating.

In 15 playoff games Adam Larsson has 5 assists and a minus-4 rating.

AHL:

Barons' playoff series begins tomorrow.

NHL:

Begin tonight.

World Championships:

Jordan Eberle and Devan Dubnyk were named to team Canada and will have a real shot at making an impact for that team. Expect Paajarvi to go for Sweden too. Omark would have gone but he's playing for OKC in the AHL playoffs. The 2011 World Hockey Championships begin April 29th and will run thru May 15th.

Watching all the playoff series closely and updates will be forthcoming as things progress. More soon..!

Monday, 11 April 2011

04/10/11 11.0 More Odds & Ends

Season over. Close the curtain. Turn off the light. Exit to your left.

Here we are at the end of another season of Oilers hockey. To tell you the truth, I started looking forward to the end when the Oilers still had around ten games left, but the way that they played over the last few games has made me stop that madness. Now that it's over, I'm missing the Oilers already. Here are a few notes:

- Jordan Eberle broke the Curse of 42 by leading the team with 43 points. Now that someone has pierced that ominous plateau, I feel comfortable saying that the curse is over. It's not much of a statement though. With Taylor Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi, Omark and a glut of others, scoring 42 measly points should be child's play next year.

- OKC made the playoffs in its first year out of the gate, which is something to behold. The attention paid by management to building a competitive farm team is impressive, and something that cannot be overstated. For years the media, Oiler fans, and indeed the team's own management have been talking about a culture change. That culture change starts at the bottom. If the kids in the feeder system are winning, it's all they'll know how to do.

Montreal's farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs, is OKC's first round opponent. Their leading scorer is Nigel Dawes, who came over from the Chicago Wolves mid-season. He's got 41 goals and 72 points in 66 games. Should be an interesting matchup, since the Barons have Colin McDonald, the leading goal-scorer in the entire AHL with 42. If we call McDonald and Dawes a wash, the Barons then boast Alex Giroux, who was second in AHL scoring this season with 78 points in 70 games. Hamilton's second highest scorer is Aaron Palushaj with 57 points in 68 games. David Desharnais is their third highest scorer and he's in Montreal.

Giroux has been all the way before, winning the Calder Cup last year with Hershey. With O'Marra, Omark, Vande Velde, Petry and Hartikainen all going back to Oklahoma for the playoffs, there's a chance that this could be the first series win for the Barons. I don't want to say too much about their potential, but this team has a chance to make some noise.

- Former Oilers draft pick Marc-Antoine Pouliot is the 6th highest-scorer in the AHL this year with 25-47-72 in 69 games with Tampa's affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals. To the casual observer, it may appear that Pouliot is finally finding his offensive groove. However, Pouliot has always been a better performer in the AHL. In 2007-08, he went 21-26-47 in 55 games with Springfield. He started the next season with the Oilers and went 8-12-20 in 63 games. In 3 games with the Lightning this year, Pouliot managed no points, a minus-3 and a quick demotion back to Norfolk. It just turns out that he's not an NHL player. Boy is Zach Parise ever looking good about now...

- Speaking of the draft, as nice as it would be to see the Oilers trade up into the top ten with that LA pick, don't expect it to happen. The trouble with trading up is what the Oilers would have to give up to get there. Obviously, later round picks won't be enough, and there's no one on the roster that the Oilers will be thrilled to move right now. The one piece that could get a deal done in Ales Hemsky, but he's not enough to get into the top ten anymore. Even if he wasn't as prone to injury as he's proven to be, he's only got one more year left on his contract. There's no way that any team in the top ten at the draft would give up a quality pick for what essentially amounts to a rental player. There's no guarantee that Hemsky would re-sign with that team, and given the amount of losing he's done in his career, he'd almost certainly sign in greener pastures.

If the Oilers decide that they don't want to extend Hemsky, they might use him to trade into the top 15. At last year's draft Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley - who could each have gone fourth overall - slipped to 12th and 13th overall respectively. If we see a situation similar to that this year, the Oilers might consider moving up. For instance, if offensive defenseman Ryan Murphy somehow falls to the 12th spot and Carolina would prefer Hemsky, it could happen that the Oilers trade Hemsky and LA's pick for the 12th pick. I'm not saying that would happen, but unless a player falls within striking distance for the Oilers, I see them standing pat.

Murphy has 79 points in 63 games with Kitchener this year, and he's somewhat in the Ryan Ellis mould - small, but extremely offensively gifted. Chances are that he won't slip past number ten, but we can dream.

- Meet the top prospect for the 2012 draft: Nail Yakupov. He's a Russian who will turn 18 in October, and he scored 49-52-101 in 65 games as an OHL rookie this year with Sarnia. Yeah. NAIL. Let the hyperbolic nicknames begin.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZaXm7WTTaY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3q2xLF3dwE

This kid could be the next Ovechkin. I just hope the Oilers don't have the chance to draft him...

Until next time!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

04/06/11 10.0 Oilers Clinch 30th

Oh well.

What many hoped would be the biggest Oiler win of the year ended up being a rout for the Calgary Flames.

Happily for Oiler fans everywhere, the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks also won, which means that the Flames are eliminated from playoff contention anyway. Even if the two teams I mentioned before both lost their final two games of the season, which is unlikely, they would both end up with 95 points. Calgary can get a maximum of 95, but Chicago will have a minimum of 43 wins and Anaheim a minimum of 45. Calgary can only get a maximum of 42 wins, meaning that they can't overtake either team.

Meanwhile, the Oilers' loss means that they can now only end the year with a maximum of 65 points, and they will therefore be unable to catch the 29th-place Colorado Avalanche, who have 66. What we already knew intellectually is now mathematically confirmed: the Oilers will finish 30th and have a 48.2% chance of picking first overall in June. The lottery will go April 12th at 6 pm Mountain Time on TSN, less than a week from today. Oiler fans will be glued to their TVs on that evening, to be sure.

Would you rather be a fan of Edmonton or Calgary right now?

Calgary's pick will be in the 13-14 overall range, in all likelihood netting them a middling prospect. Already in Calgary's system, Tim Erixon is a legitimate defensive prospect, but he's also probably a number of years away from being able to be at his best in the NHL. Even then, his top end seems to be as a second-pairing defenseman. The Hockey News Future Watch ranked Calgary's prospect group as 27th of the 30 NHL teams. There are no bonafide impact players coming up through their system.

Calgary is a cap team right now. Of the 11 highest-spending teams, only Calgary and New Jersey are out of the playoffs, and Calgary has one of the highest payrolls in the league. If the cap doesn't go up, the Flames will have around $4 million in cap space next year if they let all their UFAs walk, but they aren't going to want to do that considering the stellar play of UFAs Alex Tanguay and Curtis Glencross. It's highly unlikely that they will be able to squeeze both players under the cap, since they each already make $1.7 and $1.2 million respectively and will need substantial raises. It will also be difficult to fit Anton Babchuk under the cap, who is already making $1.4 million. Will they want to re-sign Brendan Morrison, who made just $725k this year? If so, he will need a raise.

They can save money by letting Steve Staois walk away, and the same goes for Freddy Modin, but there isn't a lot of wiggle-room otherwise. Unfortunately, the Flames also own nine No-Trade or No-Move Clauses, making the job of trading contracts out of town extremely difficult. $41 million dollars in cap space is protected by such clauses.

What this essentially means is that it's highly probable that next year the Flames will look a lot like the team did this year. This team isn't currently good enough to be a playoff team, and they may lose some of their better players to free agency in Glencross and Tanguay. The team accomplished nothing this year except to get another year older, and time is not on Calgary's side.

***

Up highway 2, the Oilers have around $20 million in cap space for next year. Their prospects were ranked #1 by The Hockey News Future Watch, and they will be adding another elite prospect this summer. The Oilers are guaranteed to have the first pick in each subsequent round of the draft this year, and just like last year they will have the opportunity to add some quality secondary prospects that way. After this draft the pipeline will be overflowing with quality youth.

The 2011-2012 Oilers will have a number of high quality players on the roster. Each of them are young, at the beginning of their careers, and relatively inexpensive. In terms of overall flexibility, the Oilers have just 2 No Move/No Trade Clauses. One belongs to Horcoff, who isn't getting traded anyway, and the other belongs to Ryan Whitney, who also will not move.

A rebuild in Calgary is coming, so now would have been the time to start. Instead, the rebuild is set back by a full year and the pain is going to last that much longer. It's a pain that Oiler fans are very familiar with, but one that will soon be coming to an end - for the Copper & Blue at least

Saturday, 2 April 2011

04/02/11 5.4 Draft Primer Part Five: The Decision

I've put up a fair amount of data and case samples here to try to show that drafting a center would be best for the Oilers' future. If you're with me on that, you know that the one thing left to decide on is what center to take. Over the last month or so I've flip-flopped back and forth from Couturier to Nugent-Hopkins, and I've even seriously considered Strome and Huberdeau, though I think Huberbeau will end up as a left winger in the NHL. What I think won’t matter on draft day, but here is the breakdown of my final decision:

The winner is...

Sean Couturier!

This decision is based on who I think will be the best pick for the Oilers; not necessarily who I think that they will select, and not necessarily who I think will be the best player taken. Gabriel Landeskog may end up as the best player of the bunch, but I didn’t seriously consider him because he doesn’t really address a team need for the Oilers. Then again, a player taken in the fourth round may end up as the best of the whole draft class, and there is no clear #1, which is why I’m picking based on need.

I grant you that the CHL playoffs are far from over and both Couturier's Voltigeurs and Nugent-Hopkins’ Rebels swept their first round series', but I still think I've got enough now to make my final decision. Why, in my mind, does Couturier beat out Nugent-Hopkins? There are several reasons:

Faceoffs: I've heard nothing but solid figures when it comes to Couturier's faceoff numbers, with him sometimes winning as much as 60% of his draws. It's likely that he won't immediately be as effective in the NHL in that regard because the quality of competition will be much higher, but he certainly has the pedigree to be a good player in the dot. If I'm the Oilers, I acknowledge the fact that my number one center has got to be extremely proficient on draws, especially because of the relative weakness of the team in that area. If this draft pick is going to be used to upgrade the team, Couturier can help the dismal performance on faceoffs.

Conversely, while I can't say that Nugent-Hopkins is obviously inferior in the dot, I think that implication is there, if only because Couturier is so good. More importantly, though, is this: Nugent-Hopkins gets the majority of his points on the powerplay, and that’s when he is most dangerous. He plays the point for Red Deer on the powerplay, which means that he doesn't take a lot of the offensive zone draws to start the powerplay. Put another way, if he didn't have someone to win a draw on the powerplay and get him the puck so he can work his magic, he probably wouldn't be quite as effective of a player. It’s not that a person can’t learn to win draws – just look at Sidney Crosby – but now is the time to really hone that skill.

Points: On the surface of it Nugent-Hopkins looks like a more dangerous offensive threat than Couturier, going 31-75-106 this year while Couturier went 36-60-96. However, Couturier played 11 fewer games than Nugent-Hopkins did. In terms of points per game, Couturier's number is better at 1.66 ppg, while Nugent-Hopkins scored at 1.54 ppg. Had Couturier played the same 69 games that Nugent-Hopkins did, he would have been on pace for 114 points. Therefore, Couturier is just as, if not more dangerous offensively than the highly touted RNH. Allowances must be made for Nugent-Hopkins though, because the WHL is a better league than the QMJHL, but there has apparently been improvement in the latter league in recent years. In addition, last season Couturier was the first 17 year old to lead the QMJHL in scoring since Sidney Crosby. He’s not Crosby, but that’s still quite impressive.

Jonathan Willis wrote an interesting piece back in February warning against Nugent-Hopkins, which can be found here:

http://flamesnation.ca/2011/2/5/the-first-overall-pick-avoid-nugent-hopkins

It's interesting to see just how much of Nugent-Hopkins' offense comes on the powerplay, and how much less he scores at even strength. As I said before, if Nugent-Hopkins isn't taking (and winning) the majority of the powerplay draws, he won't be able to help the Oilers' powerplay as much as someone who can.

Edit: Nugent-Hopkins scored 54% of his total offence on the powerplay this year, at 10-48-58 with the man advantage. 34% of Couturier's offence came on the powerplay, at 9-24-33, and yet Couturier still scored more points per game than RNH.

World Juniors: Sean Couturier was the only undrafted player who suited up for Canada at the World Junior Championships this year. Many, including myself, were not overwhelmed by his play. He was certainly no Taylor Hall, who had 12 points in his 6 WJC games. However, he had somewhat limited ice time, playing on the third line. With Brayden Schenn and Ryan Johansen ahead of him on Canada's depth chart at center, Couturier was never going to play a fantastically prominent role on the team. This does not mean that Couturier projects to be a third line center. You simply can't argue with the ability and experience of Schenn and Johansen, and to play Couturier ahead of them would not make sense. However, for Couturier to even make the team was an impressive nod of confidence in his skill.

Nugent-Hopkins did not make the team, which doesn't mean that he won't be a good player, but it speaks to his readiness and it also gives an indication of which center team Canada would rather have. If Schenn had not returned for another WJC, it's possible that Nugent-Hopkins would have made the team, but if he did I believe that he would have played behind Couturier.

Size: I've said before in a previous post that I think Nugent-Hopkins could play in the NHL next year. I watched most of the Edmonton-Red Deer playoff series, and I went to the final game on Thursday, and I didn't see much evidence that RNH was being physically dominated by larger players. Granted, the NHL is a whole other animal, but if another year of Junior is intended to teach him how not to get punished physically, I think it would be largely needless. Having said that, many people - including Ray Ferarro, who has known RNH since he was very young - believe that he needs another year of seasoning in the WHL to get fully prepared for the big show.

I don't think there's much debate that Sean Couturier is ready to play in the NHL now. At 6'4", 191 lbs, he's built like a man at 18, and his skills are probably ready to be refined in the best league in the world. At the end of the day, Couturier is always going to be physically larger than Nugent-Hopkins. If the Oilers want the player they draft to make some immediate impact, Couturier might be it, though as I said I think that in a pinch RNH could play in 2011-12.

Speed: The last time I saw Sean Couturier play was back at the World Juniors in Buffalo, so my memory on his skating is a little weak. If scouts are questioning his skating, they must see something. However, I’ve also heard good things about his skating and acceleration, which leads me to believe that his skating is at least good enough to allow him to play in the NHL. (Probably no Alexandre Giroux Syndrome.)

I watched Red Deer's opening round series closely, and to be honest I wasn't blown away by Nugent-Hopkins' skating. Then again, I wasn't especially blown away by his play most of the time, and yet he still controlled the game and put up big points. In terms of skating, Nugent-Hopkins probably has the edge over his Quebec League counterpart.

Having said that, skating is one thing that can be improved with proper coaching and practice if a player is committed enough. Jarret Stoll is a fine example of that.

Plus/Minus: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins finished the season as a +30. Sean Couturier finished as a +55. Many people say that the plus/minus stat is overblown in terms of importance, but that's a fairly significant differential at almost double by Couturier. +55 was the best total on the Voltigeurs, while RNH's +30 was third best on his team. Only Jonathan Huberdeau had a better plus/minus in the entire Quebec League than Couturier at +59, though given the same amount of games played, Couturier would have been on pace to outscore him. Moreover, for what it’s worth, Huberdeau was playing on the best overall team in the league, while the Voltigeurs were fourth-best. Nugent-Hopkins’ Red Deer Rebels were second-best in the WHL. In four playoff games each so far, Nugent-Hopkins is a +2, while Couturier is a +9.

I have to believe that these numbers indicate a stronger all-around game from Couturier over Nugent-Hopkins, at least for the time being. As I have said previously, Nugent-Hopkins' two-way play didn't astound me from what little I've seen. He's an offensive dynamo, especially on the powerplay, but he's less useful at even strength. Not that he isn't a threat 5x5, because he is, but Couturier seems to be more so.

This stat in particular helps me to quantify which player is more of the total package, and a #1 center must be committed and effective at both ends of the ice. At the very least, the plus/minus illustrates how much of the two players’ offense is generated at even strength, since powerplay goals do not count in plus/minus. If Nugent-Hopkins scored more points at even strength his plus would be higher.

Overall impression: Naturally, the trick to scouting is to project which player is going to be the best five-to-ten years from now, not necessarily which one is the best today. My goal in this draft primer is not to suggest that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Adam Larsson are going to be bad players, because I believe that both will likely be good. In fact, five-to-ten years from now, Larsson may prove to be the best player taken from this group, but I’ve already explained why I don’t favor him as a pick by the Oilers. I also think that Nugent-Hopkins will be a quality NHL player, though when he makes the big time I'm not 100% convinced that it will be as a center. I'm not a scout, and I've only seen him play a handful of times, but I think there's a chance that he may be moved to the wing at some point. I may end up being totally off on that, but even if he does move to the wing, there's nothing wrong with that. He'll still be a good player, just not the player that the Oilers need.

Even if Nugent-Hopkins does remain a center throughout his career, I think Sean Couturier could be a better one overall. He's solid on draws, his plus/minus suggests that he understands the two-way play required to be successful as a centerman, and right now he is still the most dangerous offensive threat in the draft when it comes to points per game. That includes Huberdeau and Strome. If I'm building a team, I want my number one center to be proficient in all areas, and I believe that Couturier is. Questions about his foot speed remain, but throughout his hockey career he's shown a willingness to refine his skills, and skating will be no different if he wants to make an impact at the next level. The question marks about Couturier involve his skating, but when it comes to Nugent-Hopkins the most glaring questions are about how he scores his points, and just how that will translate to the NHL. This is a fundamental that cannot be ignored, regardless of the obvious skill of the player.

It should be noted that Couturier battled mononucleosis this year, and still managed to perform at a very high level. It's possible that some of the knocks that have come against him down the stretch could be attributed to that. He possesses a rare mix of size and skill, and for me his faceoff ability makes him especially attractive. He’s the total package, and I think he’s the best fit for Edmonton.
None of these top players have the kind of game-breaking, jaw-dropping star power of a Taylor Hall or Steven Stamkos. Watching Nugent-Hopkins play is interesting because he’s methodical, he doesn’t seem to showboat all that much, and you don’t notice him until he’s done something impressive. Just like everyone else, I’ve seen Couturier and Larsson play, but living in Western Canada I haven’t seen either one as much as RNH. For me, none of them has wowed me with sheer talent enough to warrant a first overall ranking, and that seems to be true for scouts too. Hence the debate. But when I really broke it down, I decided that if I had to make a decision for the Oilers my pick would be Sean Couturier of the Drummondville Voltigeurs.

I hope the Oilers don’t let his slipping draft status deter them from taking him. Then again, men whose livelihoods depend on guessing right are going to be making this decision. Stu McGregor has given Oiler fans a lot of faith over the past three drafts, so if the Oilers pick a different player I will assume that that was the right pick until proven otherwise. For now, for me, Couturier is it.

Friday, 1 April 2011

04/01/11 9.0 Tremblay

I really hope this isn't an April Fool's gag.

http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/2011/03/31/oilers_tremblay/

Unless I'm mistaken, that one year deal would be for the current year. He'll have the biggest tryout of his life in OKC. He's not huge size-wise, but he's not a smurf either at 5'11", 200lbs. And man, those numbers.

In 27 games last year he went 25-32-57, which is enormous for a college player. 22-22-44 in 27 games this year is still extremely solid.

He's yet to play an NHL game and he wasn't drafted. Do those big numbers of his translate at the NHL or AHL level? We'll see.

What I really love about this signing, along with the signings of Tanner House and Taylor Fedun, is that the Oilers are adding relatively high-end players from college without having to expend draft picks. All really good NHL teams do this, and those that are the best at finding hidden gems tend to be more successful. All of the last four Stanley Cup Champions had at least one undrafted player on them, many of whom were signed out of college. Also, New Jersey was particularly good in this regard, plucking John Madden and Brian Rafalski from obscurity.

If just one of these guys pans out for the Oilers it will be a great gamble, since the risk is low and the reward is potentially so high. Even if these guys only end up as AHLers, it's a big boost for the Barons, who are in a bit of a transitional period right now. Some of the best players of OKC are largely ready for the NHL and many have made the jump, but in a lot of cases the quality players the Oilers have drafted aren't ready for the AHL just yet. These college signings will, at the very least, shore up the holes that might exist down on the farm and also give management some potential options for the parent club.