Monday, September 22, 2014

Another Bump In The Road For Edmonton Oilers Prospect / “reach pick” Liam Coughlin:

This was in the Edmonton Journal Newspaper:

Another bump in the road for Edmonton Oilers prospect / “reach pick” Liam Coughlin

September 4, 2014

Posted by:
Bruce McCurdy

Way back at the other end of Cult of Hockey’s summer series about Edmonton Oilers prospects, colleague Jonathan Willis wrote a post about longshot prospects Aidan Muir, Evan Campbell, and Liam Coughlin titled “Why do the Edmonton Oilers keep spending picks on mediocre prospects in second-tier leagues?“

A good question touching on the Oilers’ puzzling propensity to pick older players from the BCHL, a Junior A (formerly known as Tier Two) league a cut below Major Junior.

Such leagues have the advantage of enabling would-be student-athletes to accept scholarships from American universities and play NCAA hockey, whereas Major Junior players are considered “professional” and therefore ineligible to play in the oh-so-amateur NCAA. (Taken to its logical extreme, this silly rule cost Shannon Szabados an opportunity to pursue an American scholarship and play NCAA hockey because she played one minute with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans in 2002-03.)

Be that as it may, it’s not uncommon to see top-level prospects playing at the Junior A level at age 17 or even 18. It is, however, somewhat peculiar to see over-age players at this level, at least ones with serious professional aspirations.  Since 2009, though, the Oilers have chosen no fewer than five players from the BCHL, including two of the guys identified by Willis in Campbell and Coughlin plus Kyle Bigos, Kellen Jones, and Jujhar Khaira. Only Khaira, by far the youngest of the group and barely eligible for the 2012 draft, appears to have been more than a “mediocre prospect” at the time of selection. The rest were effectively 20 years old and in their final year of eligibility when drafted, although Coughlin with his Sept 19 (1994) birthday is technically a 19-year-old draft. He’ll be 20 by the time the season gets underway.

Moreover, that season will be in Vernon, where Coughlin returns as an over-age player. This has been out there in the Twittersphere for a while, but was confirmed this week by the Vernon Morning Star.

"Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Liam Coughlin, returns to Vipers’ camp this week. Coughlin sniped 18 goals and 45 points last season and originally committed to Boston University Terriers for the 2014-15 [season], but will upgrade his schooling in Vernon.

Coughlin, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound centre, was selected 130th overall by the Edmonton Oilers in the summer entry draft.

Coughlin may be in the process of redefining the term “late bloomer”, given he was a rookie at 19 in Junior A, after playing his 18-year-old season in high school in Boston. The fact that he needs to upgrade his schooling before being able to join Boston University is not a promising sign, nor is the fact that if he follows through on that career path he’ll have already turned 21 before he ever plays a game for the Terriers.

Consider that by the time Dillon Simpson — a fourth round pick of the Oilers in 2011 — turned 21, he was in the home stretch of his senior year at the University of North Dakota and it gives an idea just how far behind the curve is Coughlin. Or consider that Khaira has already played two years of BCHL, one of NCAA, one of major junior, and is about to embark on his professional career at the same time that Coughlin returns for a second year at Vernon. Those two prospects are separated in age by barely a month!

I get that the Oilers scouting system has strong roots in BC. Chief scout Stu MacGregor is from those parts, as is the influential Bob Brown whose name often seems to be dropped in conjunction with these late-round fliers from the left coast. What I don’t get is the attraction of a 19- or 20-year-old kid at such a level, no matter how good he might look against younger, lesser competition. Or as Willis put it:

"One would assume that an overlooked overager good enough to be drafted would be dominating a league like the BCHL, but one would be wrong. Coughlin was shy of the point-per-game mark in a mediocre league at a ripe old age, and while it would be unduly presumptuous to say this is a blown pick by the Oilers it sure looks and quacks like a duck.

Coughlin was a distant third in Vipers scoring during the regular season with 45 points in 53 games, slipping to sixth in the postseason with 13 points in 19 games. Rookie or no, those aren’t overwhelming numbers for a 19-year-old in that league. He’ll need much better in his 20-year-old season to establish his credentials.

Liam Coughlin career stats

At this point, Coughlin’s options remains open, though the fact he returned to Vernon and not, say, Kamloops or Kelowna (of the WHL), suggests that Plan A remains the college route. Should those plans change his Oilers future would have to be resolved within two years; otherwise, he’s five years away from the scenario where he graduates from university, then turns pro. Either way, don’t expect to see him at rookie camp next week, as rubbing shoulders with professionals even in that limited context is a no-no with the NCAA and its antediluvian views on amateurs. For undisclosed reasons Coughlin already missed the summer development camp, the one time each year where players with college affiliation/aspirations can mix with juniors, ECHLers and the like.

Looking to the larger point of blown draft choices, from this distance every one of Bigos, Jones, Campbell, and Coughlin were extreme “reach picks”, and none of them has shown to be much more than that in their subsequent development. Bigos wasn’t signed by the organization, Jones was inked at age 24 to a minor league deal, and Campbell (a 2013 draft) had an underwhelming freshman season at UMass Lowell age 20.

In Liam Coughlin’s case, of course, as a freshly-minted draft pick we have seen zero of that post-draft development on the ice yet, just this rather unwelcome development off of it. Let’s just say there’s nothing in his track record to suggest he’s the next Jujhar Khaira, let alone the next Shawn Horcoff or Mike Comrie, mid-round draft picks all.

I wish the kid well in his future endeavours, but the NHL dream seems a distant bell at this point.

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