Edmonton - April 4, 2014 - On the last weekend in June Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish is going to have to make a critical decision. It could be the biggest decision of his career as general manager of the Oilers. Who will he select first in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft? Will it be the hulking defenceman out of Barrie, Aaron Ekblad. Could it be the cerebral center playing for the Ice in Kootenay, Sam Reinhart? Might it Kingston Frontenac superstar, Sam Bennett? Or does MacTavish have his eyes set on German Joe Thornton, Leon Draisaitl?
All of them would be welcome additions to the Edmonton Oilers and if it were up to the fans, they'd select Aaron Ekblad. Anybody can understand why that would be the general consensus. The Oilers defence is horrendous. If you think about it though, the defence hasn't been good for quite a while because former GM Steve Tambellini built it. Enter Craig MacTavish. He tried to gamble on a couple of older players at the beginning of the season and lost but we are starting to see some of the seeds of drafts past coming to fruition in Martin Marincin and Oscar Klefbom and there's no reason to believe that the Oilers will pass on an elite number two center for yet another defenceman.
Take a look at the blue liners who the Oilers have in their system and on their current roster.
Jeff Petry (NHL) - 6'3" 195lbs
Justin Schultz (NHL) - 6'2" 188lbs
Martin Marincin (NHL) - 6'4" 188lbs
Oscar Klefbom (NHL) - 6'3" 213lbs
Martin Gernat (AHL) - 6'5" 187lbs
David Musil (AHL) - 6'3" 196lbs
Brandon Davidson (AHL) - 6'1" 202lbs
Dillon Simpson (NCAA) - 6'2" 200lbs
Darnell Nurse (OHL) - 6'4" 195lbs
All of these players are slated to peak out over 200 pounds apart from Justin Schultz. There's no need to worry if the Oilers' defence is going to be big enough or if they're skating or puck movement is going to be adequate for the NHL. The Oilers have made it a point to draft defencemen with exceptional skating, puck movement and hockey IQ.
Now, up to this point we've been eluding to the Oilers passing on the exceptional Aaron Ekblad but there's something that should be brought up and that is the 2015 super draft in Florida. The 2015 draft class is being compared to that of the 2003 class. Connor McDavid(C), Jack Eichel(C), Noah Hanifin(D), Mathew Barzal(C), Dylan Strome(C), and OHL rookie of the year Travis Konecny(C) are all slated to go high in that draft. It is a forward heavy draft more specifically a center heavy draft.
Now we've come to a fork in the road. Given the Oilers' two biggest weaknesses (Defence and no.2 center), do the Oilers take a dman in 2014 and a center in 2015? Or do they take a center in 2014 and a dman in 2015. Recently, Red Line Report's Kyle Woodlief was on Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer and he was asked about the 2015 prospects.
Woodlief had this to say about Noah Hanifin:
"He's (Noah Hanifin 6'3" 195lbs) a once in a generation type defenceman. At 17 years old, he's more advanced in his game than Seth Jones was at the age of 17."
That is quite the report from one of the best in the business at evaluating NHL prospects. Boy did the Oilers pick the wrong year to tank. But on the other hand, the 2015 draft is supposed to be 2 rounds deep of elite hockey players whereas the 2014 draft might only be the first half of the first round deep with high end prospects.
One thing I know and what a lot of fans would hate to hear is, the Edmonton Oilers would be remiss to trade their first round pick this year and their first round pick next year. These are very valuable draft picks. If Mac-T is going to let go of one or both, there would need to be a gigantic return as they would likely miss out on a very special hockey player. Said return might include a top 6 forward and/or a top 4 veteran dman.
A scenario that has been discussed by Bob Stauffer has been that the New York Islanders keep their first round pick this year (instead of giving it to the Buffalo Sabres as part of the Moulson/Vanek deal) and deal it to the Oilers for the Oilers' first round pick next year (2015).... Thus Edmonton could have at least one of Ekblad and Draisaitl or if they were lucky, both.
It truly is quite the conundrum. If it were up to me, I might select Ekblad and take my chances on a center at next year's draft whilst signing or trading for a stop gap center for the 2014-15 season. If you had to make the selections, what would you do?