SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers full of optimism

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:51 AM ET

The Edmonton Oilers shelves have been getting a little bare lately, so Kevin Prendergast can't wait to run a shopping cart through the aisles of this weekend's NHL draft.

Because of the Dustin Penner signing and a few other transactions, Edmonton hasn't left a draft with a full complement of players (seven kids in seven rounds) in four years. They had just five picks in 2005, six in 2006 and five again last year.

They have seven this year, including four in the first three rounds.

"Not having a second or a third last year sets us back a little bit, so hopefully we can replenish the stock a bit and come out of it with some good players," said the assistant general manager, well aware that the fewer picks a team has, the less chance there is of landing a keeper, or hitting the lottery with an afterthought in the later rounds, a la Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg.

"All the way through to 50 or 60 we think there are good players. Not high-end quality, but good players we think are good prospects. Hopefully with two third-round picks we'll be able to get four quality players to start with."

Their first pick, currently 10th overall unless they can swing a deal to move up a few spots, is huge. They've only picked this high once -- Sam Gagner sixth overall in 2007 -- in the last 13 years.

"Ten is a good spot to be in," said Prendergast. "We think there's going to be two to three players that we like who are still left there. Outside of the top three there's a mix after that, so we'll see how it goes from there. I think it'll come down to those two or three players."

He won't say who they are, but odds are they won't take a defenceman. In the first six years of their NHL existence, Edmonton spent five of their first picks on blue-liners, hitting the jackpot with Kevin Lowe, Paul Coffey and Jeff Beukeboom, and not so much with Jim Playfair and Selmar Odelein.

They've cooled to the idea since. Only three times in the last 24 years have they picked a D-man in the first round (Francois Leroux in 1988, Jason Soules in 1989 and Alex Plante in 2007).

Given that they're pretty flush with NHL defencemen right now, with a few more prospects -- Jeff Petry, Taylor Chorney, Theo Peckham and Plante -- in the development system, there doesn't seem a need, now or in the near future.

They'd love a finisher like Scott Glennie or Nazem Kadri, or a physical forward with skill like Evander Kane, who'll go somewhere in the top five.

Of course, if they can't move up and all the forwards go first, Edmonton might not have a choice.

Besides, said Prendergast, you can't look at today's situation when drafting the players of tomorrow.

"We're not going to get any help from this draft next year or probably the following year. We're looking at three to four years down the road.

"We want to get a little bit bigger, we want a little bit of grit, but the first pick has to be the best player available to us."

They've been very public about their desire to move up, but deals aren't easy to swing anymore. Edmonton had three picks in the first round two years ago (6, 15 and 21) and never expected to keep all of them, but did.

"It's never easy to move up in the draft," said Prendergast, adding they're only willing to give up so much to move up two or three spots. "Depends on what it is. If it's one of your top young players, no. We're going to get a good player at 10, somebody who should be on our hockey team in three to four years."


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