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Draft Day trade triggers

Riley Nash has been in the news these days in a "no news" sort of way. As the college hockey season winds down and the Oilers organization signs players left and right - Jeff Petry, Matt Beca, Eddie DelGrosso, Jesse Gimblett, and Jeff "Wrong Riley" Riley - Riley Nash continues to play coy with his intentions. 

(Not often one gets to write a sentence that uses the same word three consecutive times in continuous context!) 

Yet in 2007, Kevin Lowe, Kevin Prendergast and their crack staff were such believers in that very future over which Riley Nash still mulls today, that they traded two very good draft picks for the one that got him. When Phoenix was set to pick at #21, Nash was still available. The Oilers were apparently convinced of two things: 1) that Nash wouldn't still be available when it came their own turn at #30; and 2) that Nash by himself was a better gamble by the organization than the two very good players that would fall to them just a little later. The Oil pulled the trigger, trading that #30 pick (originally Anaheim's, one of the "assets" of the CFP trade), along with their own second rounder not far behind it at #36.

The trade was of the type that makes the Entry Draft particularly fascinating. When a team makes a trade right on the floor to get the immediately forthcoming pick, to me that pick is a particular "tell" on that organization, including its management and coaching staff. I like to watch those players in particular, to see if they develop into whatever it was that was so special that they forced the squad into extraordinary measures to getting them. In a sense the org. has redoubled the bet on such players as compared to normal "it's our turn" draft picks (including those acquired by trade before the draft).

By my count the Oilers have been involved in four significant such trades over the past decade, trading "up" once, "down" once, and "across" twice (trades involving real players, not just other draft picks). In those 4 transactions, 4 first rounders and 5 second rounders changed hands.  Let's have a look at all four deals after the jump.

2000 June 24: The Kevin Lowe Era begins with a thud, when the Oilers draft Alexei Mikhnov with their first pick. Early in the second round, Lowe makes his first major trade, sending Roman Hamrlik to the Islanders for Eric Brewer, Josh Green, and the immediately upcoming pick, 35th overall. Oilers use it to pick Brad Winchester. While one might think the second-rounder is almost an afterthought in such a swap, much was made at the time that Winchester's availability was the trigger to the deal.

Ten years and three organizations later, the jury remains out on Winchester. I think it's fair to say that he has established himself as an NHL player, but not as an impact player. At 28 he has played 243 NHL games, scoring 20 goals, 21 assists, and -20. He seems to have found a role as a fourth line "energy player" with St. Louis Blues, where judging from his stats he is something of a Zack Stortini Lite, if you can imagine:

GP TOI/G G A P +/- PiM Hits
Winchester 60 9:04 2 5 7 +2 101 139
Stortini 71 9:07 4 8 12 +3 153 134

Of course Winchester was taken 59 numbers higher than Stortini, not to mention 3 years earlier. Dubiously, he has covered his draft number with >200 GP, but he's certainly nothing special. In the big picture he is a bit player in the deal just like Green, with the major players remaining Hamrlik and Brewer. It's still an interesting call - I arch an eyebrow at Hamrlik's 7 consecutive plus seasons 2001-09 and Brewer's 8 straight minus seasons 2001-10 - but the point is that Winchester turned out to be a pretty minor piece of this puzzle.

2002 June 22: After another first round dud in Jesse Niinimäki, Oilers trade Jochen Hecht to Buffalo for two early second-rounders. Draft-o-philes can perhaps fill in a blank for me on this one, which is when was the trade actually consummated? I wasn't able to watch the draft in 2002, and don't recall if the deal was made right at the time of that #31 pick, which has implications of the Oilers specifically targeting Jeff Deslauriers as a trigger to the deal. Certainly that is who they acquired with the first of those picks at #31, and five picks later followed up with Jarret Stoll at #36. For sure they may have made the trade with the hope that Stoll would still be available, but not with the knowledge that he would be, so Stoll per se wasn't the trigger, whereas JDD might have been.

Oilers then finished what was a very productive second round by selecting Matt Greene with their own pick, #44 overall. All three of those second-round picks are NHL regulars today. Deslauriers remains a Long Term Project with the Oilers, while Stoll and Greene helped the Oilers get to the SCF, then together fetched Lubomir Visnovsky in trade, who later was exchanged for Ryan Whitney. Hecht meanwhile, has gone on to be a very fine player for the Sabres for lo these eight years, a 20-20 man with a solid plus year after year, so it was value for value.

For those like me who like to follow long-term trade threads, Hecht was acquired by the Oilers for Doug Weight, who in turn was obtained for Esa Tikkanen. Thus a (tenuous) connection can be forged all the way from Tikkanen to Whitney, six degrees of separation. The 4th rounder from 1983 is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving.

2003 June 21
: Oilers make the ultimate Deal with the Devil, sending their #17 pick to Lou Lamoriello in exchange for #22 and #68. It was the Oilers turn to pick when the deal was completed. Instead Loophole Lou stepped to the mic to select one Zach Parise. Five picks later, the Oilers chose Marc Pouliot 22nd overall, then used their bonus pick at the end of the second round to take Jean-Francois Jacques.

It can't be stressed enough in draft pick deals is that there is an important distinction between the draft picks that are traded and the players they become. The organization should only be judged on the player they picked, not the one the other guys picked, since there is no guarantee that they would have picked the same player with that pick. Thus it's unfair to suggest that MAP + JFJ = Parise. ("No duh" I can imagine the reader echoing). It may well be that without the trade, Oilers would have picked Pouliot anyway, and by completing the deal they got Jacques as a bonus. In that narrow context, the trade in and of itself can be defended.

Unfortunately, the draft pick does not look good. While the Oilers sweated out those 5 picks, Parise, Eric Fehr, Ryan Getzlaf, Brent Burns, and Mark Stuart all went off the board. Even after the Oilers took Pouliot at #22, Ryan Kesler and Mike Richards went immediately thereafter. Arguably 5 of the 8 chosen between #17 and #24 have become impact NHLers, and quickly, while Pouliot is in the conversation with Fehr and Stuart as guys who are still emerging. I still like the player and am glad the organization has been patient with him, but I can't say as I like the draft pick, or the decision to trade down.

JFJ, a "coke machine" in the manner of Green and Winchester, was an intriguing prospect who appeared to be breaking through into the NHL as recently as this season, but injuries have derailed his career.

This was the one trade of these four where the pick in play that triggered the deal wound up with the other organization. Parise was the focal point, Lamoriello made the deal and the pick, and he looks pretty smart today. Ask a Jersey fan about that trade and they'll likely respond: "Second rounder? What second rounder?"

2007 June 22
: Burned by trading down, Lowe and company decide to trade up to #21 to nab the afore-mentioned Riley Nash. The Oilers have an embarrassment of draft riches that spring, with Islanders' #15 pick from the Smyth trade and Anaheim's #30 as one of the Pronger assets, sandwiched by their own #6 and #36 picks. Ever looking to make a splash, Lowe packaged the last two of these to move up in the first round pecking order.

One possible outcome of this is that Riley Nash never signs in Edmonton, re-enters the draft, and we wind up with a second round selection, specifically #51, as compensation. #30 and #36 in exchange for #51 (5 years later!) is poor math in anybody's books, so one would hope and expect that the Oilers would make it a priority to sign Nash. One is puzzled by how they are going about that.

Phoenix by the way went on to select defenceman Nick Ross and goaltender Joel Gistedt with those two selections. Like Nash, it's way too early to judge their merits, and again I point out that just because Phoenix picked those particular players doesn't mean the Oilers would have. That part's a complete guessing game, including the question of whether Riley Nash might have fallen all the way to #30 and into the Oilers hands in any event.

Conclusions: Please draw your own in the comments section. One of mine is that these deals are a lot more easy to track than they are to call. On the bright side, every player the Oilers picked as a result of these trades - Winchester, Deslauriers, Stoll, Pouliot, Jacques, arguably Nash - was a decent prospect, with all but the youngest of those an NHLer today. That's a decent batting average when you consider not one was a top 20 pick. The down side is that the organization has yet to roll the dice and come up with a difference-maker in the manner of a Zach Parise. Then again, I don't suppose anyone will ever confuse Kevin Lowe with Lou Lamoriello.