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Oilers acquire Colin Fraser from Stanley Cup champs

Colin Fraser is the newest member of the Edmonton Oilers. The "energy" forward was acquired very late Wednesday from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a 6th round pick in the immediately upcoming Entry Draft. It is unclear which of the Oilers three 6th-rounders was the one that changed hands, be it their own #151, the #162 they acquired from Anaheim as a kicker in the Lubomir Visnovsky - Ryan Whitney deal, or the #166 acquired from Ottawa for last year's 7th-rounder. (Add: According to @dantencer, it's the #151 pick)

Whatever, a 6th-round pick is a lowlow price to pay for an Actual NHL Player™, which Colin Fraser clearly is. Moreover, he's one that's ready now, doesn't need two more years of junior and two or three or forty years of minor-league training for a shot that may never come. He's already done all of that: 340 regular season and playoff games over 4 seasons with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, 248 games over three full AHL seasons with the Norfolk Admirals and Rockford Ice Hogs, and finally 162 games over the last two years with the Chicago Blackhawks. Just 25, this is one experienced hockey player.

Much of that experience is of the winning type, as the Hawks have been a mighty successful team during Fraser's two seasons. For the most part he's been cast as a fourth-line centre who can win an own-zone draw, kill a penalty and make things happen for the 10 minutes a night he's out there. In other words, the second coming of Kyle Brodziak, who was traded out in a very similar deal at last year's Entry Draft, but for less apparent reason. The Oilers never adequately filled that 4C spot in my opinion, but may have done so with this latest transaction.

Of mild concern is that Fraser didn't see much actual playoff action, just 5 games over the two years, which is to say 5 more games of playoff experience than a whole lot of Oilers have. This year he got caught behind a quartet of pivots that included Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland, and John Madden, all of whom played all 22 games of the playoffs. Chicago's depth was pretty outstanding; but it's from that depth that they must deal bodies away in order to shed payroll, as we saw twice on Wednesday.

Fraser is currently a restricted free agent, having signed a one-year deal with Chicago which paid him $700,000 for the 2009-10 season. That was a $200K raise from his rookie season, and one might surmise that it'll require a similar boost in pay to get this guy happily under contract with his new club. Something in the Ryan Jones range, just under $1M. Get 'er done, I say, and welcome to the club, son. We could use a good man like you.

A microstatistic look at the newcomer after the jump.

Colin Fraser was the first person drafted in the third round of the famously deep 2003 Entry Draft, 69th overall. He was picked (by Philly) immediately after J-F Jacques, while fellow new teammates Ryan Potulny and Zack Stortini were picked later in that third round. (Incoming President of the Optimist's Club or not, I had to temper people's expectations at some point.) Like them, he is a survivor; like them, he is a bottom-sixer. But, as I am fond of saying, every team needs at least 6 of those. With the Oilers' injury history, 16 of them is probably a better number. I'm convinced Fraser is a starting bottom-sixer who will play when healthy, and who should help the club when he does.

Never a big scorer, Fraser improved from 42 to 52 to 53 to 67 points over his four junior years. In the last of those he was picked to play on one of the great World Junior teams, Team Canada 2005, and was later named the CHL's Humanitarian of the Year (!) At the AHL level he improved from 25 to 36 to 41 points. He looks to be one of those guys who just keep getting better.

Fraser posted decent enough numbers (81 GP, 6-11-17, +3) in his rookie season, and despite missing some game action this past season, improved slightly across the board (70 GP, 7-12-19, +6). Much as Brodziak had done in 2008-09, Fraser had very weird splits, just 2-2-4, -4 in 35 games at home, but a very respectable 5-10-15, +10 in the same number of road fixtures. (In '08-09 his home/road splits were indistinguishable from each other so road dominance is hardly a trend, but at least he's not one of these Patrick O'Sullivan types who get destroyed outside his home rink.)

The addition of John Madden seems to have cost Fraser some ice time in 2009-10, at 4C, on faceoff duty, and on the penalty kill. In his rookie season Fraser led Hawks forwards with 2:57 SH TOI/G, while in his sophomore season that number was halved to a still-respectable 1:26. Still, that sounds like a guy who will help the Oilers' woeful PK unit.

Fraser can take a faceoff (a shade under 50% in both seasons, good for a young player), and was relied on by Quenneville to take a lot of defensive zone draws. In '08-09 he was third on the club (behind Ladd and Bolland) with an OPCT of just 44.3%; in '09-10 that got bumped to second on the club (behind Madden) at 41.1%. Impressively, Fraser's OPCT to finish his shift was over 52%. This was a guy who saw, and presumably helped, the puck go in the right direction.

From a scoring perspective, in 2009-10 Fraser posted a pretty impressive ESP/60 rate of 2.01, which ranked a decent sixth among Blackhawks with 40+ GP. (Among the Oilers, just Dustin Penner and Gilbert Brule outperformed him in this category; Potulny was a distant third at 1.60.) Evidence his offensive improvement was real can be seen in his personal shots rate, which soared from 0.8/GP to 1.3.

Playing with and against fourth-liners for the most part, Chicago outshot their opposition by 29-18 for every 60 minutes Fraser was on the ice at evens, with that shots-against rate being the best of a pretty impressive Hawks forward corps. Despite a middling PDO# of .979, Fraser's group outscored by over half a goal per 60 minutes.

Among his more impressive attributes, Fraser has shown a good ability to draw many more penalties than he takes. A steady 150-PiM-per-season guy throughout his junior/minor league apprenticeship, Fraser has cut that down to around 50 minutes in the bigs. According to Behind the Net (where I've gotten many of these microstats), he drew 1.3 penalties per 60 in 09-10, more than any Hawk not named Kane or Toews, while taking just 0.3 himself, less than any Hawk not named Madden. That's a real nice combination. Even as a rambunctious rookie Fraser posted almost as good numbers of 1.3 drawn to 0.6 taken. A little thing, maybe, but one of those little things that helps his team win. Right, Ethan?

Fraser is a moderately physical player, finishing fifth among Hawks forwards with 62 hits despite being only 12th in total TOI. He's a decent shotblocker, having led the club in this dept his rookie year, and had a real solid takeaway:giveaway ratio of better than 2:1. For what those numbers are worth.

If you haven't guessed by now, I like this trade, and the more I think about it the more I like it. This is exactly the kind of player the Oilers need:

decent size? check
experienced? check
affordable? check
coming INto his prime? check
a competitive so-and-so? check
a centre? check
... who can actually check?? check
... and can take a draw??? check
... in his own end???? check
... when a man down????? check

Man oh man, is that a shopping list or what. This guy - or somebody exactly like him! - is the sort of player the team has sorely missed since Jarret Stoll, Marty Reasoner and Kyle Brodziak left town. Stifled somewhat by a team so outstanding he became the 13th forward, Fraser's good enough to make the top 12 of every other club in the league. Dare I say the top 9 on some clubs? The good thing is, the description above works equally well for a 3C as a 4C. There's room for a bottom sixer to grow (especially on this club). I expect that Fraser will welcome the challenge, which also represents an opportunity, and get his name under contract sometime before the 30th.

Finally, credit where due to Steve Tambellini who has acquired both a known and needed commodity for a song. A minor deal, perhaps, but such deals are absolutely necessary building blocks to reinforce the long climb back to respectability. Teams don't thrive on stars alone.

Only bummer is Colin is going to have to find a new number. Sorry, bud, 46 is taken. By your new RW.