NHL NEWS: Edmonton & Phoenix make trade. Edmonton loses trade.
The Edmonton Oilers have traded forward prospect Tobias Rieder to the Phoenix Coyotes for forward prospect Kale Kessy. As an NHL observer, this is essentially an extremely minor trade, with little-to-no immediate impact on either organisation involved. As an Edmonton fan however, this trade is unbearable.
Look, I completely understand the sentiment that many have about size in athletes. Everything else being equal – skating ability, shot, puck skills, defensive awareness, offensive ability – of course you would take the 6’5″ guy ahead of the 5’10” guy. But these two players aren’t equal. In my mind, from what I have seen and read, it isn’t even close.
Tobias Rieder, drafted in the 4th round in 2011 by Edmonton, is a 5’11”, 190lb forward, renowned for his versatility. He’s a good skater, has good skills, is a talented passer and shooter, and has earned a reputation as one of the top defensive forwards in the OHL along with putting up impressive offensive numbers. He’s also regarded as one of the best prospects to ever come out of Germany. His offensive totals were down a little this year, after an astounding year in 2011/12 – particularly in the playoffs – but his entire team was scoring less and he was still putting up points. Corey Pronman projects him as a defensive forward in the NHL, if he makes it, with some offensive upside.
Kale Kessy, drafted 3 spots ahead of Rieder in the 2011 draft by Phoenix, is a 6’3″ 202lb forward, renowned for… well for being big. And physical. And a bit of a nutjob. Kessy received a fair amount of interest prior to being drafted, as he was viewed as being a potential (mythical?) Milan Lucic type player – big, fearless, and a good hockey player. Well, 2 years later and it looks like Kessy has the first two covered pretty well. He’s obviously big – we covered that – and his multiple suspensions in junior attest to his “fearlessness”; the one remaining thing he needs to figure out to become Lucic 2.0 is, you know, the thing you need to be a good NHL player. What’s the word… talent? That would be a bit harsh, obviously Kessy is a talented hockey player, anyone playing and scoring 20 goals in the top junior league in the world is a good hockey player. But is he good enough to be an NHL player? I’m guessing, not. Just breaking the 40 point barrier in your 20 year old season in the WHL is pretty bad; 20 year olds are expected to dominate – Lucic in his post-draft season in the WHL had 30 goals and 68 points in 70 games, and even then no-one really expected him to have quite the impact he’s had in the best league on the planet.
Rieder himself has a pretty low chance of making the NHL – although the Phoenix system was pretty devoid of decent forward prospects beyond (genuine Lucic-type player) Henrik Samuelsson, and I’d say Rieder will slot in right behind him on the prospect chart, giving him a big opportunity – but he is a better actual hockey player right now than Kessy is. There is no debating that. Being able to fight and being mean has no bearing on one’s actual hockey playing ability, particularly at the highest level, and having guys who can actually play hockey is – wait for it – more important in winning hockey games. I will actually say I expect Kessy to get more NHL games than Rieder ever will, purely because of the fascination NHL teams (particularly the Oilers) have with size and the desire to find the next Lucic. That doesn’t make him a better player. Well played Phoenix, well played.