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Oilers' drafting paying dividends

Edmonton Oilers rookies Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and Magnus Paajarvi get their jersey numbers....

Edmonton Oilers rookies Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and Magnus Paajarvi get their jersey numbers. (Perry Mah/QMI AGENCY)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:31 AM ET

PENTICTON, B.C. -- The hockey world is littered with Can't Miss Kids who missed.

For reasons nobody noticed when they were starring in junior or Europe, the Where Are They Now file is overflowing with draft picks whose only impact in the NHL was a face plant.

The Oilers know this as well as anyone, having pretty much cornered the market on bad choices for a while there.

They were so synonymous with draft day mistakes that whenever somebody else in the league had a busted pick they had to pay Edmonton a royalty fee.

Nine straight first rounders who never made it, followed by seven of nine first-round picks who flopped. An entire draft's worth of picks who never played one NHL game (0-for-11 in 1990). And first-round investments like Alexei Mikhnov and Jesse Niinimaki, who never even really bothered trying to make it to the NHL.

Poor drafting can sink a franchise and the Oilers paid dearly for it over the last 20 years.

But shrewd drafting can change the course of history and as the first three offerings of head scout Stu MacGregor's era prepare for main camp, a franchise and its fans are holding their breath in anticipation.

"To be honest it's an exciting time," said MacGregor, who took over the scouting department in 2007 and served up Jordan Eberle 22nd overall in 2008, Magnus Paajarvi 10th in 2009 and Taylor Hall first overall this summer.

"It's been a good experience here, just to see them compete in this environment, it's a step forward from where they were playing in the past."

With a solid Prospects Tournament in the books, the next stop is Edmonton. Against men. Pros. Exhibition games against NHLers. This is where they start showing they're for real.

Or not.

"I just think they have to keep their eyes open, work hard and just be prepared that the pace will rise up," said MacGregor, who'll be as nervous as they are. "Give everything you've got, It's an opportunity."

Not an automatic. People expecting Hall to stroll in and be a productive, elite-level first-line forward right out of the box are kidding themselves. Same goes for Eberle and Paajarvi. Virtually every rookie who ever came into the league struggled at some point in the first year or two.

As desperate as Edmonton is for success and stars and a winner, MacGregor cautions that this is a long process the Oilers are beginning here.

"I think that's a difficult situation," he said of the high expectations. "We know that at some point they're going to hit the wall. It's going to be difficult, but that's the process you have to go through as they attempt to make the team. You have to be able to compete at the next level."

Most everybody thinks they will, including MacGregor, whe believes in them more now than when he picked them. Choosing Hall was easy, but getting Eberle at 22 and Paajarvi at 10, keeping in mind they haven't played an NHL game yet, is looking like theft.

"I think we were very fortunate," said MacGregor. "(former scout) Lorne Davis watched (Eberle) as a young 16-year-old and many nights he'd say to us, 'I don't know if they have any other players, but he's a good one.' That was the year before his draft. We're extremely pleased with where he's at in his game.

"And Magnus, we had him higher on our list then we got him. We really never thought he'd be there. We thought he'd go in the top five or top seven, but it ended up that some defencemen started to go and he slid back."


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