Oilers future rests with MacGregor

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:08 PM ET

Stu MacGregor, if this continues, is going end up being famous.

Like a lot of hockey scouts, he doesn’t look like the kind of guy who ought to be famous. But the 54-year-old Edmonton Oilers head scout has been as hot as Barry Fraser was when he drafted the core of the team that won five Stanley Cups here.

And MacGregor knows for sure now that his hockey team is going to finish 30th and that he’ll have a 48.2% chance in the lottery of picking first in the NHL Entry Draft, June 24-25 in the Xcel Energy Centre in St. Paul, Minn.

The magic — or tragic — number (depending on your point of view) is six. Any combination of Edmonton losses and Minnesota and Colorado wins totaling six, and the Oilers finish last. Anybody see the Oilers winning five of their last nine and the Wild or Avs losing all of theirs?

Now batting, William Stuart MacGregor.

Except this time it’ll be a different trip to the plate for the lead-off hitter. Instead of sitting in a situation where there are two players to pick — either Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin — it’s more involved this time around.

“It’s a little different,” said MacGregor Wednesday from his home in Kamloops.

“Last year two guys separated themselves, although Jeff Skinner is proving he should have been part of the conversation,” he said of the Carolina pick who leads all rookies in point production.

“We’re covering more ground with more viewings of more players,” said the head scout, who just returned from a week of watching Adam Larrson in Sweden. Yesterday GM Steve Tambellini flew to Sweden to take his place.

Larrson missed five weeks with a groin injury after the World Juniors, so the intense Oiler scouting of him is right now, in the Swedish Elite League. But this year it’s not just Larrson and one other player. There are four.

Instead of picking from two forwards with exactly the same stats who play in the same league and even in the same playoff series, these guys are all over the map.

Larrson is in Sweden, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is in the WHL, Gabriel Landeskog is in the OHL and Sean Coutourier is in the QMJHL.

Larrson is a six-foot-three, 201-pound defenceman, Landeskog a six-foot, 196-pound right wing, Coutourier a six-foot-three, 192-pound centre and Nugent-Hopkins a five-foot-11, 164-pound centre.

Also, unlike last year, the Oilers have two first-round picks — they also have the Los Angeles Kings’ first pick (20th going into last night).

“The staff generally focuses on the depth of the draft,” said MacGregor.

“I have to be very sure of the early picks and very sure where we’re going as a group with Steve Tambellini and Kevin Lowe,” he said of the GM and head of hockey operations.

Larrson is getting heavy attention.

“We’ve followed him a lot before. He was in the U-18 tournament as both a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old, and he’s been in the last two World Juniors. We’ve had a lot of viewings of him over a long period of time.

“We have two Swedish scouts. I’ve been over. Steve is on his way over. Kevin may go over. And I’ll probably go back. We also may get an opportunity to watch him at the World Hockey Championships if he gets selected to the Swedish team.”

Nugent-Hopkins is a little easier to follow, being a member of the Red Deer Rebels who just happens to be playing against the Edmonton Oil Kings in a first-round series starting Friday and Saturday in Red Deer.

“I’ll be there this weekend,” said MacGregor.

“I’ll see him in Game 2 and 3 of that series. I’ve seen him play about eight to 10 games already and I’ll see him a lot more. By the end of it we’ll have over 50 viewings of him by our staff. That’s about the same number of viewings we had of Hall and Seguin.

“Kevin, Steve and I saw Coutourier two weekends ago in Quebec. We watched him play two games. We’ll have over 40 viewings on him, plus the World Junior.

“Landeskog was injured in the world junior and missed a couple of weeks. But he’s like Larrson. He’s a late-born ‘92 player and we saw him in the U-18 as a 16-year-old and 17-year-old and we have two scouts in Ontario who have watched him a lot with Kitchener. I’ve seen him six times and I’ll see him again next week and again in the playoffs.”

While it’s generally assumed that the Oilers would take Larrson because their biggest need is a big-minutes, No. 1 defenceman, actually picking one on the day may not be so easy.

Only three defencemen were picked No. 1 in the last 15 years — Bryan Berard in 1995, Chris Phillips in 1996 and Erik Johnson in 2006 — and none turned into franchise-type players.

Meanwhile, only one forward picked first in those years, Patrick Stefan, was a bust.

And what if the consensus of his scouts is that the best player available is Nugent-Hopkins, the guy who has the same size and specs of players the Oilers already have too many of?

“Can’t worry about that,” said MacGregor, who confessed he wasn’t even aware of it.

He also may end up drafting No. 2, if somebody else wins the lottery.

“Our mandate right now is to put ‘em in order of who we will think will become the best NHLers,” he said of the Oilers’ draft list.

“We’ll do that in May, and Steve and Kevin will decide on managing the draft,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean we won’t take the best player available, the guy we think will be the best player. Managing this draft will be interesting. It’s no secret we need a big centre and defenceman.”

As for the Los Angeles Kings first-round pick, at whatever position the Kings end up, MacGregor says you can expect someone who will pay here.

“Last year was a very good draft year. This year is a good year. We’ll get a good player. I’m confident we’ll get an NHL player.”

It’s a good time to be picking if you make the right picks.

MacGregor is not only in position to be authoring an interesting story, he’s become one himself.

From Lesser Slave Lake, he was born in Edmonton because that’s where kids from there had to go be born in the ’50s.

“My mom went to Edmonton and stayed with a family for about six weeks before I was born,” he said.

At the age of six, the family moved to the Malmo area of Edmonton, at the time as far south in the city as you could live. He played minor hockey and eventually coached from bantam through midget AAA programs of the South Side Athletic Club, then scouted for Kamloops, where his buddy from United Cycle Ken Hitchock coached in the WHL, while working for former Mayor Bill Smith at TireTown.

Eventually he became assistant GM and director of player personnel in Kamloops in 1991, and was promoted to GM in 1995 when Tom Renney and Don Hay were coaches. The Blazers won Memorial Cups in 1992, 1994 and 1995.

Les Jackson and Craig Button hired him to scout for Dallas, where he won a Stanley Cup, then Lowe brought him home to Edmonton (although he remained living in Kamloops where he was married) when the Edmonton Investors Group took over.

MacGregor became head scout in 2007 and his record has been excellent, after years of abysmal drafting by the organization.

There’s pressure there. These are good draft years and the Oilers have great draft position because of their lowly finishes.

You can build a Stanley Cup team right now. But you can also screw it up and pick a bunch of Jason Bonsignores and Steve Kellys, and sentence the organization to a lot of years languishing out of the playoffs.

“Sure there’s pressure. There should be pressure,” he said.

But so far, there’s been a sense of satisfaction to go with it.

“I think we’ve done well as a group,” he said of his team of scouts.

“It looks like we’ve picked some good NHLers. It looks like we’ve made some good decisions.

“It’s given us confidence to move forward and make more good decisions.”

Because that’s him standing beside Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and Taylor Hall at the draft, because of the Oil Change documentary series on TSN, and because this is Canada and the Oilers are still the Oilers, despite their spot in the standings, MacGregor is starting to get recognized a lot more, sitting high in the corners of the rinks around the country.

“I’d rather be as low key as possible while I do my job,” he said.

“I prefer to hide in the corner.”

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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