How an unpopular hockey man helped build this strong Edmonton Oilers team

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Skinner, McLeod latest reminders of excellence of Chiarelli’s draft record

You won’t find many defenders of the overall record of ex-Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli, at least not in Edmonton.

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But there’s no denying that the backbone of the current 2021-22 Oilers was in significant fashion put together by Chiarelli.

The heart of any hockey team is its Core 12, its top goalie, Top 4 d-men, and Top 6 forwards plus third-line centre.

Of those 12 key players on the 13-4 Oilers, the top winning percentage in the NHL’s Western Conference, Chiarelli drafted five of them: Connor McDavid, Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Evan Bouchard and Ryan McLeod. Chiarelli also signed McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to long-term deals, and he drafted the players, Caleb Jones and Ethan B ear, who later became key trading chips in acquiring Duncan Keith and Warren Foegele. Chiarelli also drafted Stuart Skinner.

As for the rest of Edmonton’s Core-12, Steve Tambellini drafted and signed long-term Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, while Craig MacTavish drafted Darnell Nurse and Draisaitl, two huge pieces to his credit.

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Ken Holland signed up and extended Mike Smith, rejected trading away and persuaded to return Jesse Puljujarvi, signed Zach Hyman and Cody Ceci ,and traded for Keith.

Of course, anyone would have drafted McDavid, so that’s not to Chiarelli’s credit. And a number of moves will forever haunt his time here, namely the trade for Griffin Reinhart, the signing of Milan Lucic and the trading down from Jordan Eberle to Ryan Strome to Ryan Spooner.

My point? With 20/20 hindsight we can see clearly that Chiarelli was weak in the trading game and had iffy results when it came to bringing in free agents, but his draft team led by Bob Green and Keith Gretzky did outstanding work. Their work continues to pay dividends for the Oilers, with Skinner and McLeod making bids just now to grab hold of Core-12 jobs on the Oilers.

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Not only that, but a number of players from Chiarelli’s four drafts 2015-18 may still help Edmonton, including Tyler Benson, Filip Berglund, Markus Niemelainen, Phil Kemp, Dmitri Samorukov, Michael Kesselring and Olivier Rodrigue.

Edmonton suffered serious setbacks under Chiarelli, as he made moves that arguably set the team years behind in its overall development, but his draft work helped set the table for Edmonton’s current success and should continue to pay dividends with useful replacement players for the next few seasons.

Edmonton is going to need a steady flow of cheaper players who can fill in around the major players on long-term deals, McDavid, Draisaitl, Nurse, Nugent-Hopkins and Hyman.

Chiarelli, Green and Gretzky’s work has made that a possibility, and it seems Holland may well continue this tradition with first round picks like Philip Broberg, Dylan Holloway and Xavier Bourgault and promising later round picks such as Carter Savoie, Tyler Tullio and Matvey Petrov, but that story is yet to be fully told of course.

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Chiarelli is now vice-present of Hockey Operations for the St. Louis Blues, so he bounced back from his firing in Edmonton. If these Oilers win the Cup and some of his draft picks play a key role, perhaps his reputation will improve in Edmonton as well.

The best hockey analytics: studying Grade A shots

P.S. Interesting article at NHL.com on how the Detroit Red Wings coaching staff uses scoring chances to evaluate their players and their team. Dave Tippett and his staff do similar work on the Oilers.

Of course, the Cult of Hockey has been doing video review and studying scoring chance shots since the 2010-11 season, picking up on a tradition started by Roger “Captain Video” Neilson in the 1970s.

Here’s what Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill had to say about studying Grade A shots:  “It is the No. 1 thing I go back and look at. Did we out-chance them, or did they out-chance us? Did a certain player create chances or give up chances, and to what degree? Ultimately, that’s really what the game is about.”

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If you’re interested in the history the advanced analytics in the NHL, a few years ago I interviewed Neilson’s right-hand man Ron Smith about their pioneering work on studying scoring chance shots.

Said Smith: “The key one that we found — and I still believe to this day — is tallying a good scoring chance, what it involves, who was involved, why it happened.”

Here is the article, “Roger Neilson and his asst. Ron Smith led the way in rating the two-way play of NHL players.”

At the Cult

LEAVINS: The one stat helps you assess Darnell Nurse

McCURDY: Penalty killers shine as Oilers handle the Hawks 5-2: Player Grades

STAPLES: Darnell Nurse out a few weeks

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