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Edmonton Oilers 1st Round Pick, 2001

Ales Hemsky, 13th Overall

The 2001 NHL Entry Draft was Kevin Lowe’s first as general manager, and Kevin Prendergast’s first as the go-to guy in the scouting department. Entering the draft, Kevin Lowe had the option to switch first round picks with the Boston Bruins, thanks to the Bill Guerin-Anson Carter trade. Lowe elected to do this, moving from 19th overall up to 13th in a draft that was certainly the deepest since 1998.

On May 14, 2001 John Christie of Hockey’s Future listed the following players as possibilities for the Oilers:
It will be difficult to say whom the Oilers will draft and what will be available at position 13. Some players who may / should be available at 13 include Duncan Milroy (winger) and Colby Armstrong (winger) of the WHL, Mike Komiserek (defense) and Umberger (power forward) who play hockey in the NCAA, Frederik Sjostrom (winger) of Sweden, Jiri Novotny (centre) of the Czech Republic, Alexander Polushin (winger) and Kiril Kolstov (defense) of Russia and Tim Gleason and Jay Harrison of the OHL.

On June 10, 2001, Christie and Shane Malloy wrote a draft preview for the Oilers, with the following players listed as the likely choices (italics indicate quotation):
Colby Armstrong - This is a player everyone seems to think the Oilers draft… he is projected to anywhere from 12-20 in the Entry Draft... with Kevin Lowe emphasis on more grit a Western Canadians for the Oilers, this could be the pick that starts the draft for the Oilers.
Duncan Milroy - Another that might be considered at the 13th spot. However picking him at 13 might be too early since the consensus is that he is projected to go from 15-25 in the first round…Edmonton born and raised player includes great character on and off the ice, good speed and plays a gritty passionate game.
Tim Gleason - He is predicted to go anywhere from 8-15 in the first round... with Gleason patrolling the blue line, there future on defense could be set for the next decade…he will still be a top 15 pick in this year's draft.
Pascal Leclaire - Pascal Leclaire's stock is also dropping and there is more than a 75% chance that he will be available when the Oilers pick at 13. Do the Oilers take a chance with him at 13 or go for the best player available. Do they pick Leclair as their goalie of the future? There will be quite a discussion at the table.
Jiri Novotny - possibly the first Czech player chosen in this year's entry draft. Should be taken from 10-20 in the first round… the Oilers could use more offensive centers in the system and the best player from the Czech republic could be wearing an Oilers jersey on June 23.
They also had a short list of defensemen and forwards who might be of interest as well:
Defence: Carlo Coliacovo, Igor Knyazev, Lukas Krajicek
Forwards: R.J. Umberger, Chuck Kobasew, Ales Hemsky, Marcel Goc

When the Oilers finally made their selection at 13th overall, Pascal Leclaire was the only player on the above list who had been selected. Kobasew, Knyazev, Umberger, and Coliacovo would go in successive picks, while Milroy was the only player not taken in the first round. The Oilers, however, selected Ales Hemsky.

On June 23, Hockey’s Future wrote the following about the selection:
Not all the scouts agree with each other on the assessment of this Czech winger who played in the offensive minded QMJHL but no one denies his skills. At this pick it is exactly one the main needs the Oilers were trying to address, a scoring winger in the Miro Satan mold who can break open games on occasion.

He arguably one of this draft’s most electrifying players with the puck and one of the only reasons he was not taken higher is his unwillingness to play in traffic so to speak. Not particularly muscular by any means but that seemed to be of little concern to the Oilers brass since they were looking for pure skill over brawn. Because of the teams current depth of young gritty forwards in the system it was apparently felt that this selection was necessary.

For the most part Ales will provide that elusive swift skating goal scorer whom can make opposing defenseman look foolish. Also noting are his amazing puck skills in the handling and passing department and his eye hand coordination is beyond belief. As always the Oilers must pick someone with excellent skating ability regardless of the situation. He may find that playing for the Oilers will be different from any thing he has experienced before; they will push him to be responsible in all three zones and do the little things consistently right.

The picture that I get from that assessment is of a relatively "soft" goal-scoring forward with excellent puck, skating and goal-scoring skills, but someone who might settle into being a perimeter player. Over time, we’ve seen that he really isn’t that player.

Hemsky’s skill and speed came as advertised; his excellent shot has always been under-used, but the biggest difference between his draft day reviews and his actual career has been his play in traffic. Hemsky has played with tremendous courage, driving into high-traffic areas, and has stood up to a tremendous pounding at the NHL level.

Career-wise, the only players ahead of Hemsky in points from the 2001 Draft are Jason Spezza and Ilya Kovalchuk, who went 1-2, and only Kovalchuk leads in games played. Although Sam Gagner may turn into a better player, the best pick to date of the Kevin Lowe era is its first: Ales Hemsky.