It's not obvious why Tyler Wright should take over amateur scouting in Edmonton

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I’m far from convinced that Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland made the right decision in bringing in Tyler Wright to become the director of amateur scouting for the Oilers.

Wright’s record in the past eight drafts — two heading up amateur scouting for the Columbus Blue Jackets and six in the same job with the Red Wings — isn’t obviously good work. That assessment may well change as time passes and some of Wright’s picks turn into better players than they’re trending to be right now, but the obviously successful picks from those eight drafts are few and far between while the question marks are plentiful.

Let’s look at how Wright did in acquiring Big 12 players, the spine of any team, the critical players essential to any squad’s success, the No. 1 goalie, Top 4 d-men and Top 7 forwards, all the first and second line forwards and one excellent checker/two-way player leading the third line.

NHL head scouts who succeed will identify at least one Big 12 player every draft year on average, they will make the most of their Top 10 overall picks, they’ll find at least one Big 12 players outside the first round every second year, and they’ll identify at least one Team Canada-quality player every four drafts.

  • Did Wright and his scouts make best use of all their Top 10 overall picks? In these eight years, Wright and his scouts had three Top 10 picks to work with, selecting Michael Rasmussen ninth overall in 2017, Filip Zadina sixth overall in 2018 and Moritz Seider sixth overall this year. It’s too early to assess if any of these players will make it as Big 12 NHLers, let alone Team Canada-quality players. It’s not too early to say, though, that neither Zadina nor Rasmussen have trended up sharply since they were drafted. Indeed, both either went sideways or trended down, with Zadina struggling to up points in the NHL or AHL in his rookie season. But Zadina was banged up a bit and may still turn out to be a top-line scorer.

    Czech Republic forward Filip Zadina Jeffrey T. Barnes / AP

  • Did the scouts find at least one Big 12 player on average each year of the draft? This isn’t trending well either. In two drafts in Columbus, the only player who is looking like a Big 12 player is winger Oliver Bjorkstrand. Alexander Wennberg, taken in that same 2013 draft, had a strong sophomore NHL season, which earned him a big money, long-term deal, but in the last two seasons he’s scored just 35 and 25 points. Ouch! As for the Detroit drafts, Wright found one great player in Dylan Larkin and three promising ones in Filip Hronek, Dennis Cholowski and goalie Filip Larsson in his first three drafts, so that’s not bad at all. It’s too early to tell from the 2017, 2018 and 2019 drafts. Holland certainly accumulated a ton of first, second and third round draft picks those years, and a few of them are trending well, namely Gustav Lindstrom, Joe Veleno and Jared McIsaac. Will Detroit get five or six or seven Big 12 players out of these five drafts in the end. Five  seems like a safe bet but given the number of picks, that’s not necessarily stellar performance.
  • Did the scouts identify at least one Team Canada-quality player every four years in the draft? The only player in this category, or even trending strongly in this direction, is Larkin, so Wright is one player shy of meeting this goal. Of course, one of his more recent picks could become this kind of star. It’s too early to tell.
  • Did the scouts draft a Big 12 player outside of the first round every second year? The best low round picks are Bjorkstand, goalie Larsson, Hronek and McIsaac, who is trending well. It’s possible, if not likely that Wright will meet this standard. 

In January this year, TSN’s Craig Button had Zadina as the 17th top prospect NHL-affiliated prospect in the world. In 2018, Button had Michael Rasmussen ranked 49th overall. In 2017 and 2016, Button had Vili Saarijarvi, a Finnish d-man drafted by Detroit, as the 35th and 33rd rated prospect, but the d-man has yet to step up big time in the AHL. Another pick, Evgeny Svechnikov, 19th overall in 2015, had a strong 2016-17 season in the AHL, but then had a down year in 2017-18, before missing last season with a knee injury.

Last summer, after the Zadina pick, Corey Pronman of The Athletic ranked the Detroit system 7th overall, up from 24th the year before. At that same time, Pronman had the Oilers farm system ranked 23rd.  “The Wings have begun a rebuild after a long period of contention,” Pronman said. “After a bit of a limbo period, they have added some legitimate top talent to their pipeline. A massive 2018 draft haul added some significant pieces including top prospect Filip Zadina. The system’s depth is about average, but the top is very good and big seasons from Michael Rasmussen and Filip Hronek on top of the recent draft gives reason for optimism.”

I wonder if Pronman would still rate the Detroit system so highly, with Zadina not lighting it up in the AHL and other prospects moving sideways. That said, Veleno had a strong year in major junior.

Overall, I can’t see how any kind of strong argument can be made that Wright did better with his picks than Bob Green and Keith Gretzky did in Edmonton in the last five drafts.

Of course, while Wright is taking over, Gretzky is staying on and will do some amateur scouting, while Green may also stay on. So perhaps the combined efforts of this group will get it right.

Of course, Wright will have seven or eight scouts working under him. The Oilers scouting staff has had a lot of turnover in recent years, but that trend needs to continue. Wright should bring in one or two new scouts per year in each of the next few seasons, then continue with that kind of churn. A handful of Oilers amateur scouts have been around too long already with decidedly mixed or poor results.

It’s evident that there’s no harm in constant turnover in scouting ranks, and that some of the best scouting teams fell off, both in Edmonton in the 1980s and Detroit in the early 2000s, when formerly successful scouts were kept on well past their “best before” dates. Holland’s biggest mistake in Detroit may well have been not turning over his scouting department quickly enough after 2004.

In the end, I can’t say I’m thrilled with Wright coming in. He’s not obviously excelled as a scout in Columbus or Detroit. He’s got plenty to prove. Of course, I wish him well, as will all Oilers fans.

Good luck, Tyler Wright. The future of the Oilers franchise is now bound to your work ethic and acumen.

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