No Cherepanov, no Esposito

BOB STAUFFER

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

It should have been one of the most exciting draft days in Edmonton Oilers history.

It could have one of the luckiest ever.

Instead the end result reinforced the image of an organization paralyzed by fear.

I believe in Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe, but I hope like heck the Oil swing a couple of big deals today, because what happened yesterday in the opening round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft was stupefying!

The Oilers carried three first-round picks into the draft. Not trading any of the picks might be viewed as disappointing to some . In the end, the Oil had a chance to hit back-to-back-to-back home runs.

Instead the Oilers attempted to draw walks just to get on base ... even though they were served up three juicy fastballs to knock out of the park.

The Oilers selection of Sam Gagner was a safe, intelligent pick. Good pedigree, offensive flair and a guy who made sense at No. 6.

However the next two selections may leave Edmontonians wondering what might have been for the next 15 years.

When the Oilers second pick, the 15th overall pick that Lowe acquired in the Ryan Smyth deal came up, some how both Alexei Cherepanov - the top-ranked European skater by Central Scouting - and Angelo Esposito who was the No. 1 ranked North American skater by CSS at the mid-term were on the board.

Stunningly, the Oilers by-passed both of them. Because, you know you never want to have too many forwards with offensive ability, especially ones who may have been ranked one-two in the World a year ago by many experts.

The Oilers went way off the board and selected defenceman Alex Plante, a hulking defender who dropped to No. 72 in North America by CSS at the end of this season and a guy who needs to work on his foot speed and agility.

You take a guy ranked 72nd amongst North American skaters 15th?

Sure hopes he pans out better then Jim Weimer or Cory Cross!

The New York Rangers gleefully took a chance on Cherepanov and the already offensive-laden Pittsburgh Penguins got a freebie with Esposito.

But, remarkably, the Oilers pulled off an even more bizarre move next, trading the 30th and 36th overall picks to Phoenix for the 21st overall.

Swedish star Mikael Backlund, the No. 2 ranked European skater who led the U-18 world championships in goals was available for an NHL organization that scored the fewest goals in the league during the 2006-07 season.

It had to be a slam-dunk right?

Nope this is the Edmonton Oilers we are talking about here.

They know more when it comes to making picks then anyone else does. Case in point: Alexei Mikhnov in 2000. And don't forget taking the 50th ranked European Jesse Niinimaki in the first round in 2002. Or by-passing on an opportunity to draft offensive force Zach Parise in 2003 and trading down to select Marc Pouliot.

So of course instead of taking Backlund and salvaging the first round, the Oil traded the 30th and 36th pick to move to 21 and draft Riley Nash, who was ranked 64th at the end of the year by CSS.

Brutal!

The Oilers could have had Gagner, Cherapanov or Esposito, and Backlund.

It would have been a triple play easing the pain of the Smyth and Pronger deals and giving the fans three legitimate offensive stars for the future.

But paralyzed by fear and obviously unable to adjust on the fly when things fall on their laps, the Oilers didn't even attempt to go down swinging for the fences.

Meet the Kansas City Royals of NHL - a proud 1980's organization that can't attract marquee free agents, unable to make the draft count and looking to bunt home the winning run game in and game out.


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