Edmonton - June 3, 2014 - The Edmonton Oilers are in an interesting spot headed into the NHL Entry draft. Faced with yet another top 3 pick, the Oilers are struggling to make progress year after year while fans and players are losing patience with the process.
Coming into this year’s NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia the Oilers will have options when they step up to the podium to make their selection.
Scenario One: The Oilers Select Leon Draisaitl
In this scenario the first two picks in the draft were Aaron Ekblad and Sam Bennett/Reinhat, leaving the Oilers to decide between Leon Draisaitl and Sam Reinhart/Bennett. In this circumstance, and with scouting reports indicating there is not a lot that separates Reinhart and Draisaitl, the smart choice would be to take the big Draisaitl right? Size should only become a factor when all else is considered equal.
Reinhart is a very good prospect, but with Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent Hopkins on the roster already and a lack of size in the top 6, Reinhart becomes a bit of a redundancy for the Oilers.
Enter Draisaitl, a 6’1 199 lb. centre from Germany who played for Prince Albert in the WHL this past season. In 64 games he scored 105 points, and followed that up with 9 points in 9 games in the WHL Playoffs. He then joined the German National team for the World Hockey Championships where he scored 4 points in 7 games. Draisaitl is praised for his calm demeanour with the puck, his playmaking abilities, and an ability to slow the pace of the game down. Some knocks against Draisaitl include his acceleration as well as a concern that his determination and drive are not up to par with the other top prospects. Big players with the ability to control the flow of the game often receive this criticism. It is less a lack of engagement and more about controlling the tempo.
For Edmonton, bringing Draisaitl into the organization would be a smart move. With a lack of organizational depth at centre, the Oilers need a capable second line centre to play behind Ryan Nugent Hopkins. As it sits right now, having Nuge and Gagner as the top 2 centres is ineffective. Opposing teams can take advantage of the similarities between their games. Both guys rely on playing a cerebral game with a focus on playmaking, they are not overly fast (though Nuge has a sneaky quickness in his game) and they aren't winning puck battles physically. As a result, the game plan for shutting these guys down is quite similar, which is why bringing in a big second line centre is vital for success.
With Nuge anchoring the top line, and Draisaitl on the second, the Oilers will become instantly more difficult for opposing teams. They will need to consider the difference in styles between line one and two, and a focus will shift to playing one way against the Nuge line and another way against the second line. As it is currently, teams can play the same style against both Nuge and Gagner and do so successfully. Variety in size and style of play is one of the biggest deficiencies on this Oilers team.
Scenario Two: The Oilers Select Aaron Ekblad
In this scenario two of Sam Bennett, Leon Draisaitl and Sam Reinhart go in the first two picks, and the Oilers choose Aaron Ekblad over the remaining centre.
Aaron Ekblad is a 6’4 216 lb. defenceman who played in the OHL with the Barrie Colts this past season. In his draft year he scored 53 points in 58 games and 6 points in 9 Playoff games. Ekblad’s strengths are centred on his size, strength, and ability to play in all zones of the ice. He is touted as a total package defenceman, one that can kill penalties, play the power play and anchor the blue line 5 on 5. The knock on Ekblad has to do with his skating ability, and his ceiling as a prospect. There are some concerns with Ekblad that what you see is what you get. In other words he is at or very near the ceiling of where he will be as a NHL player.
His size and ability to play in all zones of the ice make him a very attractive option. He will no doubt be a top 4 defender in the NHL, if not a top 2. As with all defenseman though, the learning curve is steep so projecting his role in the NHL is simply not possible.
The problem with this scenario from an Oiler perspective is the prospect pool which exists in Edmonton. The number of good defensive prospects in the system outnumbers the good forward prospects. With Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, Justin Schultz, Martin Marincin, Dillon Simpson and Martin Gernat all currently working their way through the system, the need for adding another defender to that mix is minimal.
If the Oilers do choose Ekblad, the most likely outcome is that one of Marincin or Klefbom (or Schultz, especially if he makes no headway defensively this season) will have a different address sooner than later. That may be the right move, but if Marincin or Klefbom are used in a package to bring in a 2C, that 2C needs to be someone that solidifies the future of this top 6.
Scenario Three: Oilers trade 3rd Overall for immediate help.
In this scenario the Oilers trade the 3rd overall pick in exchange for some immediate help to the current roster. This makes sense if the Oilers can acquire either a experienced 2C, with a decent contract or a young promising player that has a couple NHL seasons under his belt. If they can find a way to package the pick alongside a current roster player (Gagner for example) in exchange for an immediate upgrade to their 2C spot, then that may be the smartest move.
This idea could involve a blockbuster trade but it could also mean trading down in the first round with hopes of adding not only a roster player, but a decent prospect later in the first round, somewhere in the 10-20 range.
Simply put, Edmonton needs to get better right now. The years of ineptitude are starting to wear on everyone associated with this team. Adding another young high end prospect is great, but if the idea is to finally turn a corner and at the very least challenge for a playoff spot, the smart move might be making a deal to improve the roster today rather than tomorrow.
The third overall pick is a great trading chip, especially when it is included in a package with other assets from the Oilers system. For Mact the question is which scenario makes the team better now, without eviscerating the future?
For me, I like scenario one or scenario three. The organizational need at centre is dire. There is no replacement for Sam Gagner right now in the system, and I don’t believe the Oilers will ever find success with Gagner in that 2C spot. That’s not a shot at Gagner per se, as he would likely be a very capable top 6 winger. The defensive responsibilities that come with being a centreman are simply too much for Gagner to handle.
Selecting Draisaitl does not solve the 2C need for 2014-15, but it does create options and hope for a future top 6 which can compete in the Western Conference.
As always hit me up @maddex19 on twitter and let me know what you think!