The Edmonton Oilers have always been a team to watch when it comes to Europe. From being one of the first to cash in on under-scouted gems to pioneering the tactic of stashing players in overseas leagues to cut costs, players like Jari Kurri, Esa Tikkanen, Martin Rucinsky, Miroslav Satan and David Vyborny gave the team a strong reputation throughout the 90s. While European scouting under the Lowe era started off on the wrong foot, the last two draft classes have yielded some of the most intriguing prospects overseas.
If there's one way to kill a team, it's by missing on draft picks. When Kevin Lowe took over as General Manager on June 9th, 2000, the Oilers couldn't have been more destitute on the farm. While Finnish phenom Jani Rita, hulking Russian blueliner Alexei Semenov and speedy Tony Salmelainen still had the sheen of new prospects, Edmonton had not selected an NHL-calibre player with their first pick since 1993.
With virtually no preparation time, Lowe was forced to use ex-GM Glen Sather's scouting list for the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. At the top of his list was another Euro, 6'5 center Alexei Mikhnov. Hyped as a potentially devestating goal-scorer thanks to his size and skill, Mikhnov was considered a hot property at the '00 draft table. While Lowe would make his mark the next year by taking QMJHL star Ales Hemsky in his very first 'own' draft- not a bad pick- he's return again to Europe for a potential home-run shot in Finnish center Jesse Niinimaki. Isles GM Mike Milbury was said to react in anger when the 6'1 center with 'Forsberg-esque' skill went 15th overall.
History now tells us that neither Mikhnov nor Niinimaki were very good picks. In fact, of the seventeen European-trained players select by Lowe and his staff from 2000 to 2005, only one of them broke 100 games in the NHL- backup goaltender and 2005 Finals hero Jussi Markkanen.
At the 2006 Draft, the Oilers selected just one European, sixth round pick Alexander Bumagin. However, since 2007, Edmonton has once again had Europe high on their scouting list. In the past two drafts, the team has selected no fewer than five Euros.
Linus Omark, LW
Ht/Wt: 5'9, 168 lbs
Born: 2/5/1987 (22)
2008-09 Team: Lulea (Elitserien)
2008-09 Stats: 49 GP, 20-30-50, 58 PIM
Summary: The star of last year's Elitserien season was a young man named Fabian Brunnstrom. Coveted by half of the NHL, the-then 22 year-old netted 37 points in 54 games with Farjestad. The bidding- and the hype- was simply through the roof. It's probably a lucky thing, then, that 5'9 Linus Omark is already drafted. If Brunnstrom's numbers were cause for fans to ferverently compare him to Daniel Alfredsson, Omark's statline is... well, I don't even know. One of only eight players in league history to score 20 goals and 30 assists, if Omark can hold off Per-Age Skroder for the league scoring title, he will be the youngest player ever to win it.
Future: An above-average skater with elite balance, hockey sense and hands, the high-scoring winger recently starred at the LG Hockey Games as an injury replacement for Tre Kronor. Look for Omark to tear up the World Championships in the spring. While he has recently been reported as saying he has no interest in the AHL, Omark may not even need to go there. Look for him to score 30-40 points in the NHL next year if he makes the team. Long-term, this poor man's Zetterberg- albeit without the defensive ability- could produce upwards of 70 points in the NHL.
Teemu Hartikainen, LW
Ht/Wt: 6'1, 198 lbs
Born: 5/3/1990 (18)
2008-09 Team: KalPa (Fin)
2008-09 Stats: 44 GP, 16-5-21, 12 PIM
Summary: Suffice to say, I was not all that excited about this pick. While my limited pre-Draft viewings pegged him as an unusually skilled scorer for his size and reputation, I felt the Oilers made a mistake in passing up both forwards and goalies with better upside. In the time since being drafted, Hartikainen has fleshed out what was a pretty thin resume. A top player for Finland at the WJC, his 16th goal of the season today in Finnish men's league action is a record-maker for KalPa. While he's nothing like the player that held that record- tiny Sami Kapanen- that he bested an NHL player in some category is cause for celebration. A horse along the wall and in front of the net, the 6'2 forward has more goals than Tomas Holmstrom in a better league at the same age.
Future: Hartikainen is getting the kind of experience only a men's league can provide. Under contract with KalPa until the end of 2010-11, he should be NHL-ready by then.
Milan Kytnar, C
Ht/Wt: 6'1, 180 lbs
Born: 5/19/1989 (19)
2008-09 Team: Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
2008-09 Stats: 52 GP, 18-29-47, +7, 81 PIM
Summary: Boy, what a turnaround. While Slovak import Milan Kytnar was praised for his defensive contributions to last year's Saskatoon Blades, it was his complete lack of offense that turned heads. While no one expected his Slovak junior numbers to translate point-for-point into the Dub, more than 22 points was expected out of a player who tallied 91 in 54 games the year prior. 2008-09 has seen Kytnar find some offensive consistency. The team's first or second-line center most nights, Kytnar's defensive acumen has been well-utilized playing against the other team's best offensive players. However, increased time on the powerplay and greater confidence has boosted the natural playmaker's numbers. In ten less games than last year, Kytnar has almost as many goals (18) as he had points in 2007-08.
Future: While Kytnar has the type of game that translates well to the pros, he won't be a prolific offensive contributor at the NHL level. His role will probably be a 3rd line center capable of 30 to 40 points.
William Quist, W
Ht/Wt: 6'5, 203 lbs
Born: 7/31/1990 (19)
2008-09 Team: Nybro Vikings (HockeyAllsvenskan)
2008-09 Stats: 39 GP, 2-1-3, 33 PIM
Summary: A big man with tremendous skating ability and physicality, William Quist was hailed in this column for an eye-opening performance at the 2007 Oilers rookie camp. Since being drafted, the power winger has added two inches and almost twenty pounds. So what's the problem? Everything else. Unwilling to leave Sweden and rumored to have a piss-poor attitude, Quist was loaned to Division 1 team Olofstrom in November to get ice-time, and upon returning, was given top-rate oppportunities with Nybro leading scorers Robert Kimby and Johhny Agren. The hulking winger was still unable to score, and has spent the last month back on the bottom line.
Future: It was hoped Quist would come over to play WHL hockey, and he still has a year left to do that. However, few teams would be interested in such an unproven import at 20 years of age. The next-best thing might be the East Coast Hockey League, where the Oilers can have some greater degree of control over his development. However, Quist is essentially a write-off at this point.
Johan Motin, D
Ht/Wt: 6'1, 202 lbs
Born: 10/10/1989 (19)
2008-09 Team: Farjestad (Elitserien)
2008-09 Stats: 45 GP, 0-1-1, 26 PIM
Summary: Motin shouldn't high on anyone's pool lists, and not only because of his lone assist over a full season of play. Devoid of much offensive ability, the gritty stay-at-home defenseman also lacks NHL-calibre footspeed. While one should be encouraged by Motin's 18+ minutes of TOI/G in one of the best men's leagues in the world, he is not likely to be more than a sixth or fifth defenseman at the NHL level.
Future: Motin has a year left on his deal with Farjestad, after which the Oilers will bring him over to play in the AHL. His will be a long and perhaps painful development, the fruits of which won't be much for fantasy hockey GMs.