The 2007 NHL Entry Draft came on the heels of one of the most disappointing seasons in the history of the Oilers. A veteran-laden group had come within one game of the Stanley Cup in 2005-06, a wonderful run that represents the high point of cheering for the Oilers over the last decade (or in my case, the entire time I’ve followed them). This was followed by 2006-07, where a middling group sent away Ryan Smyth for futures at the deadline and collapsed completely in the trade’s aftermath.
As a result of the late-season collapse, the Oilers’ draft position was greatly improved, leading some to argue that the Ryan Smyth trade was a success due to receiving a 7th overall pick. While this post is not about the Smyth trade, this seems to me like an asinine argument. There was no way of predicting the streak of awful injuries, or the disappearance of certain veterans down the stretch. If the only difference between that awful run at the end of the year and the mediocrity at the start was Ryan Smyth, he’d be a Hart Trophy candidate every year. But I digress.
Edmonton entered the draft with the 6th, 15th, and 30th picks, and Kevin Lowe was quoted as saying before the draft that he would like to deal at least one of the picks for some immediate help. It was not to be.
Here are the pre-draft rankings of individual players, courtesy TSN.ca and SI.com. The third column in bold is which player was selected in the actual draft. Italicized players are Edmonton's prjected and actual selections.
0. TSN, SI, NHL
1. Turris, Kane, Kane
2. Kane, Van Riemsdyk, Van Riemsdyk
3. Van Riemsdyk, Turris, Turris
4. Cherepanov, Alzner, Hickey
5. Gagner, Gagner, Alzner
6. Voracek, Voracek, Gagner
7. Alzner, Ellerby, Voracek
8. Ellerby, Couture, Hamill
9. Sutter, Cherepanov, Couture
10. Couture, Hamill, Ellerby
11. McDonagh, Shattenkirk, Sutter
12. Esposito, Esposito, McDonagh
13. Backlund, Petrecki, Eller
14. Shattenkirk, Backlund, Shattenkirk
15. Eller, Sutter, Plante
16. Hickey, Plante, Gillies
17. Gillies, Eller, Cherepanov
18. Moller, Pacioretty, Cole
19. Sweatt, McDonagh, MacMillan
20. MacLean, Mayorov, Esposito
21. Petrecki, Perron, Nash
22. Hamill, Moller, Pacioretty
23. Perron, Sweatt, Blum
24. Blum, Gillies, Backlund
25. Mayorov, McLean, White
26. MacMillan, Katic, Perron
27. Cross, Hickey, Smith
28. Pacioretty, Aliu, Petrecki
29. Smith, Repik, O'Brien
30. Plante, Blum
There were some interesting, even prescient quotes from the articles accompanying the above mock drafts about Alex Plante, who I have focused on because he is the most-criticized selection the Oilers made. Keep in mind these comments were made pre-draft.
Chris Cuthbert, TSN: "This pick (Plante) was written in ink before the draft started. In fact, I almost took him for the Oilers at 15. Plante has been groomed to play in the NHL. His Dad, Cam, was a 100-point defenceman for Brandon in the 1980s."
Doug MacLean, TSN: "Great pick. I've talked to a lot of teams that have him as high as 15. Lots of people like this guy. "
Allan Muir, SI: Although he's not as inclined to drop the gloves, he's a hard-hitter who makes life miserable for opposing forwards. The knock on him at this point is that he has no offensive game, but that won't keep him from being a reliable No. 4 blueliner in the Sean O'Donnell mold.
The 2007 draft was unique in that we have perhaps the best look we’ve ever had at the specific players involved and the drafting process from Gare Joyce’s book Future Greats and Heartbreaks, which is an absolute must-read for anyone seriously interested in the amateur procurement process.
Here’s what he had to say on Gagner immediately after his selection:
"I’ve heard a couple of scouts wonder whether Gagner will be anything more than a great junior, whether his professional career will be much closer to his father’s than what you’d expect of a lottery pick. The thinking is that his statistics shine brightly because he and Kane do their best work on the powerplay, and he might find it tougher slogging when he gets to the pros and is playing five-on-five against bigger players."
So far, the reviews of the players selected have been mixed.
Sam Gagner played 79 NHL games this season, posting 49 points and looking for all the world like a future star. Despite questions about his size and defensive play, his creativity and intelligence have allowed him to jump straight from the OHL to the NHL at 18 years of age.
Alex Plante is the kind of guy who was projected as a "safe pick". As the comments and mock drafts above show, he was well-liked by a lot of NHL management types, and wasn’t a "reach" when the Oilers selected him. He’s had a miserable 36-game, 2-point season with the Hitmen, but I found Muir’s comment interesting- he was never projected to have much of an offensive game, despite 38 points in 58 games in his draft year. Perhaps the scouts who saw him viewed him more as a player benefiting from a power-play spot than one who drove the offence.
Riley Nash’s selection was pretty roundly criticized, mostly because the Oilers traded two good picks (30th and 36th) to move up and select him, and none of the mock drafts had him rated so high. His performance has thus far exceeded projections, and, as Lowetide notes
thus far he seems like he could be a special player.