Oilers opt for homegrown goalie

Updated: June 26, 2004, 7:12 PM ET
By Jim Kelley | ESPN.com

Edmonton Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe doesn't know whether he's got the best goaltending prospect in the NHL, but he does have one of the tallest.

Devan Dubnyk, of the Western Hockey League's Kamloops Blazers, is 6-foot-5 ... and he's still growing.

"It could be an advantage for us if they change the size of the nets," joked Lowe.

Increasing the size of the goal cages is one rule change that likely won't come to pass, at least for now. So instead of monitoring Dubnyk's size, Lowe and company will be keeping a close eye on the goaltender's development. The Oilers passed on Marek Schwarz, the consensus No. 2 goalie behind Michigan's Al Montoya, in order to pick Dubnyk, a player with significant upside but not yet at Schwartz's level.

"I guess we won't know for a while, but our scouts had him there [behind Montoya] and we've seen him play a lot," Lowe said of Dubnyk, the 14th player taken overall. "You never know with any player at this stage of his development how he's going to turn out, but we liked what we saw and like I said, we saw him a lot."

Kamloops is in western British Columbia, not all that far from Edmonton, Alberta. The Oilers have always been conscious of the homegrown talent in their system, in part to appeal to their fan base. They've also had issues with European goalies from time to time, the latest being Tommy Salo, whom they finally gave up on and traded to the Colorado Avalanche at the March trade deadline. Salo has since left the NHL and signed with a Swedish club.

Whether the Oilers made the right decision likely won't be determined for another five years or so. But when the time comes, the Oilers should be able to measure the progress of the two head-to-head. The Western Conference rival St. Louis Blues took Schwartz, billed by some of his most enthusiastic supporters as the second coming of the near-legendary Dominik Hasek, with the 17th pick overall. The New York Rangers selected Montoya at No. 6.

The order might have been different if the Buffalo Sabres had not been one spot ahead of the Oilers, and the Minnesota Wild not been one spot ahead of Buffalo in the draft order.

Several sources told ESPN.com that the Sabres had interest in Michigan State defenseman A.J. Thelen, a Minnesota native. However, the Wild took their hometown boy with the 12th pick. The Sabres opted for Drew Stafford, a right winger out of the University of North Dakota.

Stafford is the nephew of Oilers equipment manager Barrie Stafford and the son of Gord Stafford, once an Oilers prospect who spent the bulk of his career with the team's minor-league affiliate. The Oilers were said to have in interest in drafting Gord's son, especially when he rose from a fourth- to first-line player with Team USA in its run to the gold medal during the World Junior Championship. Pretty much everyone in the organization had been following Stafford's career, dating back to the time his father brought him to an Oilers practice when the team was in Chicago and 2-year-old Drew got a picture of himself being led around the ice by a young Mark Messier.

"I skated with them a lot. I have pictures of me with my father and with the Oilers when I was this high," Stafford said, indicating an area around his knees.

"And this high," he said, holding his had at his waist, "and up."

"I thought about it, when it got close" he added, "but this is something you can't predict and Buffalo is my team now."

It might have been different, however, had Buffalo not adjusted its plan after Minnesota picked. At that point, the Oilers would still have had two picks in the first round with Stafford, Dubnyk and Schwarz still on the board.

'Canes a crowd-pleaser
There's always pressure on the home team to give the fans a show -- even at the draft. So it wasn't surprising that Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford felt a certain amount of pressure to make a bit of a splash.

But that wasn't the reason he swapped picks with the Columbus Blue Jackets to move from eighth to fourth in order to draft Calgary Hitmen left winger Andrew Ladd.

"Our fans are the most important part of our operation and we need them, but the fact is we were able to select two of the top North American players as determined by Central Scouting in back-to-back years," Rutherford said. "That was the most important thing."

Ladd was ranked first among North American skaters by Central Scouting. Last year, that honor went to Eric Staal, who cracked Carolina's lineup last year and scored 11 goals and 31 points.

Rutherford wouldn't say he expects Ladd to follow Staal's success, but he did say that Ladd would be given a chance to make the team out of training camp.

The trade was contingent on the first three picks going as expected -- Alexander Ovechkin to the Washington Capitals, Evgeny Malkin to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Cam Barker to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Rutherford said he didn't try to trade up any higher than fourth.

Thanks, but no thanks
Washington Capitals GM George McPhee said he had approximately 15 offers to trade the No. 1 pick, which he used to pick Ovechkin.

"There were probably three that we gave serious consideration to," he said. "For the good of the organization, you have to entertain serious offers, but about three days before we came here we made our decision and we started informing teams that we wouldn't be trading the pick."

McPhee refused to discuss the teams or the offers but noted they were "significant."

Ovechkin is just the second Russian-born player drafted first overall, following in the footsteps of Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk, who was picked No. 1 by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2001.

Just here for the free food
Coaches don't have much to do -- if anything at all -- at the draft. Usually, they sit around the table long enough to congratulate the first two or three picks and then beat a hasty retreat.

Not so Barry Trotz, who identified his role at the Nashville Predators' table.

"I'm here as eye candy," Trotz joked.

Jim Kelley is the NHL writer for ESPN.com. Submit questions or comments to his mail bag.