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The Oilers and Development

Be warned, this is a rant

NHL: Calgary Flames at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a while since I’ve written any original content. I’m not sure what’s stopped me from doing it more lately, it could be the weather, it could be the season that was, or maybe, it’s just that I needed a break from hockey after watching it for nine months.

Regardless of the reason, last week the gears were turning pretty hard. As we all know, the Oilers drafted Evan Bouchard 10th overall in the most recent NHL Entry Draft. It was quite a steal, actually. He was expected to be gone by this point, and the Oilers allegedly considered trading up to get him. That trade — like most other Oilers trades — likely would have been a disaster given recent history. Luckily, it wasn’t necessary, and the Oilers hope to have the top pairing, right-handed defencemen they’ve been craving since some time before electricity.

Everything has been pretty smooth so far. Sure, Darnell Nurse doesn’t yet have a deal, but it’s pretty easy to assume what he’ll get if you bother doing research on comparables instead of just randomly throwing out large numbers. The team picked up Tobias Rieder and Kyle Brodziak to nice little deals, and they cleaned up the Ryan Strome issue.

With the offseason going so smoothly around here, fans were chomping at the bit to get mad about something. Maybe a bad trade, a crippling signing, the hiring of another ex-player, no one really cares what, but something needed to happen. Don’t worry guys. Matty has you covered.

This tweet sent off a fire storm. People were yelling about sending him back to junior, yapping about not rushing players, and generally just dog-piling on what we’ve accepted as fact around here: That the Oilers have a history of rushing players into the NHL.

Here’s the thing though: I actually agree with Matty. It’s not often I get to say that, but I’m going to run with it when it’s available.

He qualified keeping him around with “If he can defend”, and to me, that’s quite an important issue. If he comes into camp, beats out a few guys, he should be in the league. Now personally, I don’t think Bouchard is going to do that, but if he does, why hold him back?

The great Rushing Players narrative is why. There is nothing accepted as a universal truth despite lack of evidence that the Oilers rush players into the NHL. It doesn’t matter that you have to go back to 1993 to find a player taken outside the top 6 to crack the NHL lineup the year he was drafted, it’s just a known fact that the Oilers rush players into the NHL. That player was Jason Arnott, by the way. Not exactly a bust.

Don’t get me wrong, the Oilers have had serious drafting and development issues for years. Everything Steve Tambellini on the prospect side of things was largely a total disaster. That being said it doesn’t appear that “Rushing Players” has been an issue. When you’re picking in the top-5 so often, it’s expected that a lot of your first rounders are going to the big league right away.

I don’t want to be misinterpreted here either, I don’t want people thinking that I’m questioning the idea that the Oilers have rushed players into the league, impeding their development recently, because I’m not. I’m actually outright denying it entirely. What the Oilers have done in their terrible development of players doesn’t have much to do with getting them into the league too early, it’s mostly the way they’ve treated their AHL team as a dumpster for unwanted Mark Fayne type players.

I’ve heard a few times this year already, that it’s a foregone conclusion that Kailer Yamamoto would be best served spending the year in the AHL, and should make the Oilers in 2019-2020. I have no idea how that would serve him — or the team — well if he makes the team in camp, as I expect he will. It just seems like some arbitrary amount of time spent somewhere without purpose base out of fear of rushing.

Having unnecessary time quotas regardless of player need, is what the only team that comes close to our level of crappy development does. The Colorado Avalanche. They’ve outright made statements that a player should spend 100 games in the AHL prior to the NHL for proper development. That strategy has yielded them one Tyson Barrie, and absolutely nothing else in the later rounds over the past ten years. Sure, the got Ryan O’Reilly in the second round, and he turned out pretty good... But he was rushed straight into the NHL as an 18-year old. He’s the only Non-First round pick outside of Patrice Bergeron to make an NHL team out of camp in 15 years. It turns out this is actually a league-wide inefficiency.

Now that we’ve established that lack of development is the problem, and not a lazy narrative like “Players are being Rushed”, the real question becomes, what do good teams do to develop players? The answer is actually fairly simple at first. Teams like the Bruins, Blackhawks, and Rangers (some of the better teams at this), just put the players in the NHL if they make it, and send them down if they’re not good enough.

That’s the easy part, even Tambellini would probably have been able to that. The next step is what to do with them when they’re cut from the team. David Pastrnak is an excellent example. The Bruins actually burnt the first year of his ELC as well as passed the 41 game mark meaning he could have made it to UFA by age 25. He was repeatedly sent down to the minors with a skill assigning, called back up for evaluation, told what he was doing well and what he needed to work on, sent back down, and repeat. There was a clip on the Road to the WInter Classic of Chicago doing the exact same thing to one of their players. It’s extremely effective. There’s no doubt in my mind that this would have helped Jesse Puljujarvi over burning his first ELC year for no reason, and then sending him to the AHL to rot away the rest of the year. Let them know when they’re called up that it’s like just temporary, but if you forget a player in the minors, they get worse. The AHL has diminishing returns.

Believe it or not, the NHL actually IS a development league. At least partially. If you disagree, ask yourself if a player is as good as they are going to get in their first NHL game. If it’s not, you’ve already conceited that development in the NHL happens. It’s part of the plan.

I have no problem sending players to the AHL if they need to be there. Also no problem with 18 year olds making the team — as long as they earned it. But what I have no time for, is misplaced fear of rushing, and lazy, arbitrary time frames of where players should play, and for how long, based on nothing but age and draft position. It’s closed-minded and very old school thinking if you already know where Evan Bouchard and Kailer Yamamoto should be playing next year. Let’s take a look at ow camp goes, first.

If you’ve seen a player play, I would love to hear a scouting report, and what needs to be done. I expect a professional sports organization to monitor and test how it’s working in various ways, including a recall. I’m sorry for the rant, but I really needed to get that off my chest.

Me saying what I think is best most certainly isn’t a confirmed theory or anything like that, there’s plenty of different ways things can be done, and players take all sorts of different development paths to the NHL and great careers. All I ask, is that if you want a certain player to be sent to X for Y amount of time, that there’s nothing that can change your mind, and it’s just ‘because’, please bring more to the table.

Also, don’t be the guy on twitter who told me Leon Draisaitl was rushed. That’s not going to gain you any traction.