Oiler draft looks positive on paper

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 2:03 PM ET

RALEIGH-DURHAM, N.C. -- Who knows, maybe Devan Dubnyk, Robbie Schremp and the other youngsters the Edmonton Oilers took a gamble on this weekend will be ready to play by the time the next puck drops in the NHL.

While that remains to be seen, pending the length of the work stoppage that's bound to accompany the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement with the NHLPA on Sept. 15, the Oilers and GM Kevin Lowe have to feel good about what they accomplished at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

The Oilers arrived on Tobacco Road for the annual guessing game that is the draft wanting to add skill at forward. They did so. They wanted goaltending depth. Ditto.

How the 10 prospects they picked will pan out will come out in the wash as it always does, but they got what they came for and that's not often the case.

What they actually got, time will tell.

"I don't think you can draft for immediate needs now. But, down the road, it looks like we've looked after our goaltending," assistant GM Scott Howson said. "I think we've certainly improved our depth in the quality of prospects we have."

In Dubnyk, the towering Calgarian who tends the twine for the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL, the Oilers got the goaltender they had rated as the best in the draft with the 14th pick.

"Our scouts were extremely high on Dubnyk as the best goalie in the draft," Howson said. "Dubnyk's a great prospect, and, really, that's what you're trying to do in this thing.

"You're trying to gather as many high-level prospects as you can and he fits that bill."

By getting Schremp, the, ahem, confident kid from the London Knights of the OHL, with the 25th pick, they landed perhaps the most skilled player available outside Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

Big gamble. Big upside.

"He's a top 10 pick, we felt, and he's sitting there at 25th," said Howson of Schremp. "With the skill that he has, he was just too good to pass up."

In taking Liam Reddox with the 112th pick in the fourth round yesterday, the Oilers added another highly skilled forward who could be a real sleeper. They capped proceedings by taking 22-year-old Swedish stopper Bjorn Burling 274th.

"I think we've addressed everything," said chief scout Kevin Prendergast. "We've added depth at every position.

"We've added two goaltenders to the system, both of them quality guys. With Schremp and Reddox, we've added goal-scoring."

While none of these kids are in the plans for next season, assuming there actually is one, Dubnyk and Jeff Deslauriers give the Oilers two blue-chip prospects in goal behind Ty Conklin and Jussi Markkanen.

Schremp and Reddox add polish up front and enter the system behind Finnish centre Jesse Niinimaki (15th in 2002) and Marc-Antoine Pouliot (22nd in 2003).

"It looks like we got some pretty good skill with Reddox and Schremp," Howson said. "It's a wild card, but the draft is a wild card anyway."

The next order of housekeeping for Lowe and Howson is to prepare for next season, again, assuming there is one. It'll be business as usual until all hell breaks loose on the labour front.

That means getting qualifying offers out to restricted free agents like Conklin, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Eric Brewer, Radek Dvorak, Jason Smith, Jani Rita, Scott Ferguson, Alexei Semenov and Brad Isbister - the Oilers have decided to qualify Isbister on last season's salary of $1.925 million rather than let him walk as an unrestricted free agent - by July 1.

Isbister, hobbled by injuries last season, could be trade bait, but Lowe made some room for him on the left side by trading Jason Chimera Saturday, so he could get one more chance.

Then, there's the matter of striking a new deal with Petr Nedved - whose option for $5 million won't be picked up - and getting ready for arbitration hearings.

All of it will unfold in due time. Yesterday, with the last selection complete and the talent picked over, it was time to glance past the immediate matters and cast a hopeful look down the road.

"We're happy," Prendergast said. "In three years, I'll tell you how happy we are."

That would be the start of next season, then?


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