Oil Kings GM Green reaps rewards of patience
Fifty-win season earns GM nomination as executive of year
By Chris O'Leary, Edmonton Journal
March 22, 2012
The Edmonton Oil Kings take a break in their preparation for the start of the Western Hockey League playoffs on Friday.
Photograph by: Candace Elliott, Edmonton Journal , Edmonton Journal
ICE at OIL KINGS 7 p.m., Friday
Hockey is a physical game as much as it is mental, but it's patience that has led to the Edmonton Oil Kings' wildly successful 2011-12 season.
On Wednesday, Edmonton defenceman Mark Pysyk and centre Michael St. Croix were named to the Western Hockey League's Eastern Conference second all-star team.
It's only fitting that the man who drafted those players and helped build this year's 50-win team got some recognition as well. Oil Kings general manager Bob Green is the Eastern Conference nominee for the Lloyd Saunders Memorial Trophy, given to the executive of the year.
The Oil Kings enjoyed the finest season of their five-year history in the WHL, posting a league-best 50-15-3-4 record. St. Croix led the team in scoring with 105 points (45 goals, 60 assists), while Pysyk, a stay at home defender who had the eyes of the nation on him during the world junior championship in December and January, quietly captained the team to new heights.
Green made Pysyk the Oil Kings' first bantam draft pick (third overall in 2007) and St. Croix went fourth overall a year later. A shrewd draft day trade with the Chilliwack Bruins in 2009 vaulted Green from the ninth overall slot to third, allowing him to nab big defenceman Griffin Reinhart. In 2010, Green used the second overall pick on centre Curtis Lazar. All four have been pillars on this team.
Green brushes credit for those picks aside, though.
"Those guys are easy," he said on Wednesday afternoon, as the Oil Kings stepped onto the ice for practice at Clareview Arena.
"We've got Randy Hansch, he's the director of player personnel and the assistant GM and he and his scouts do a great job of identifying these kids.
"The Reinhart deal was a big trade for us and we've picked high - picking high doesn't guarantee anything, but those guys have done a great job with the draft and those picks and they've made the most out of them."
While the players go through a system designed to funnel them into the pros, Green said it's crucial to remember that they are dealing with teenagers. That's where patience comes in.
"It's easy with young hockey players - to pick their games apart a little bit and young players, you've got to remain positive with them and you've got to be patient with kids, because they're 16 and 17 and they're learning," Green said.
"They're going to make mistakes and it's easy to pick apart their games, but I think we've really been patient with kids and we haven't made any rash decisions when they've had a tough weekend or anything like that."
That patience has allowed a lot of the pieces to fall around those four highly skilled players and has gone a long way toward creating the depth that has helped the Oil Kings throughout this season. Green again praised his scouts - Barry Skrudland, Craig Anderson, Shawn Stieb, Jamie Novakoski, Nels Eckland, Bob McGill, Bruce Taylor, Mike Grant and George Mussel white - for their skills.
"They made the best out of their late picks," Green said. "Seventh-, eighth-, ninthround picks; look at a kid like Stephane Legault. He was drafted in the seventh round (136th overall, 2008) and he's a big part of this team. Henrik Samuelsson, he went through the draft for a lot of different reasons, but our scouts have done a great job of finding talent."
When the team sputtered in 2009-10, winning just 16 games, Green fired then-head coach Steve Pleau.
The organization stood pat on Green, who hired head coach Derek Laxdal. Two markedly improved seasons later, the team is a Memorial Cup contender, standing fourth on Wednesday in the BMO MasterCard top-10 - their highest showing in the last 14 weeks they've been ranked.
"You look at the five years, they had a couple of rough years the first couple, and last year was a building block for us - and this year was obviously outstanding," Laxdal said.
"(Green, Hansch and the scouts) have done a great job of drafting players and bringing players into our organization and it's part of our culture, the players we want. We want character players and players who are going to play hard every night.
"You look at this group of kids we have right now and we could have a lot of these kids back next year, so I know (Green) is excited about it. He's passionate about winning, he's passionate about the organization and junior hockey in Edmonton. He's a great fit for the hockey club."
The Oil Kings open the playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday at Rexall Place against the Kootenay Ice.
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