With the Edmonton Oilers failing to secure a playoff berth for the eighth year in a row and once again finding themselves in a top-three draft position, many eyes are on the Oilers and General Manager Craig MacTavish as the tough decision of how best to utilize this asset looms.
Fans in Edmonton are growing ever impatient, looking for results and progress from a team that has squandered and fallen short of expectations for years. Despite a number of high draft selections in recent seasons, the team still has a number of holes to fill, particularly on defense and at center.
Although it is clear that the Oilers need much assistance beyond a top draft pick to propel the squad to a position of contention for the 2014-15 season, the much anticipated selection will be crucial, as there are a number of young players in the top five predicted positions that could well complement the Oilers’ system for years to come. The Oilers desperately need to add some size and strength up the middle, and the 2014 NHL Draft boasts a good crop of talented young centermen.
Top 10 Prospects:
With the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Edmonton Oilers are most severely lacking within their defensive corps at the NHL level. Thankfully, a promising crop of blue-line talent is developing through the system, with Martin Marincin and Oscar Klefbom enjoying some NHL success during the 2013-14 season and Darnell Nurse close behind after a successful first post-draft year.
As a result of the lack of depth at the top level, many defensemen have been forced to play up a pairing, or fill special teams roles not particularly suited to their skill level and caliber of play. The easiest example to call upon is Jeff Petry, who, while possessing great skill and hockey sense, is constantly required to fill a top-pairing role, when, on nearly any other NHL team, he would likely be playing in a second or third-pairing role – a position and amount of ice time much more suited to his style of play. Aside from the 2014 draft selections, the Oilers desperately require a veteran defenseman to bring some depth and consistency to the blue line.
The Oilers are also relatively weak at the center position, both at the NHL level and to an extent, within the prospect pool. While Marco Roy, Greg Chase, and Andrew Miller all show promise and are undoubtedly talented on the dot, neither is ready to make the jump to the NHL level. Injury trouble seems to perennially plague the Edmonton Oilers down the middle, resulting in a lot of roster movements and call-ups, none of which are particularly helpful in fostering any consistency within a team that so desperately needs it.
With Craig MacTavish’s additions of both Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth during the 2013-14 season, the goaltending situation in Edmonton appears to be under control, allowing the organization the opportunity to focus on developing the above-mentioned areas.
As mentioned above, while the Oilers are currently hunting for some critical pieces to bolster their blue line in a stopgap effort, the logjam of elite talent coming down the pipe is promising for the squad in years to come. The Oilers also have an intriguing group of talent on both wings, with the likes of recent Memorial Cup Champion Mitch Moroz, new Finnish acquisition Iiro Pakarinen, highly regarded NCAA prospect Kellen Jones, and Tyler Pitlick, who has been on the verge of breaking into an NHL role, held back only by untimely injuries.
The previously average goaltending pool was improved this season with the addition of former Edmonton Oil Kings goaltender, Laurent Brossoit, who played lights-out for the better part of the season for the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL.
As previously noted, the Edmonton Oilers’ least populated talent pool lies at the center position, making highly-touted 2014 draft prospects like Leon Draisaitl and Sam Bennett look extremely appealing. Aside from aforementioned Brossoit, the Oilers are a bit light in the numbers when it comes to true blue chip goaltending prospects. Though Frans Tuohimaa, Niko Hovinen, and Tyler Bunz have made measurable progress over the past season, Brossoit is the clear front-runner for future success within the organization while the rest remain as unknowns in terms of probability for NHL success.
While rumors have swirled that the Oilers may be interested in dealing their third-overall selection in exchange for a more immediately quantifiable asset that can fill one of the gaps before the 2014-15 season, the club has tended to take advantage of the luxury of so many high draft picks and hold on to their top selections.
Over the past four years, the Oilers have selected Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and Darnell Nurse, trading none of their highly coveted spots. The last four selections also indicate a tendency to draft within the Canadian talent pool, although the Oilers have been open to drafting and signing more European-based prospects, with the likes of Yakupov, Bogdan Yakimov, Anton Slepyshev, and most recently, Iiro Pakarinen. Stu MacGregor continues to lead the charge for the Oilers’ scouting staff heading into the 2014 NHL Draft. MacGregor has held the position as Director of Amateur Scouting for the Oilers since 2007.
The Oilers own seven draft picks in 2014. They will select at 3, 91, 111, 130, 153 and 183.
The Oilers lost their second round, 33rd overall selection to St. Louis as part of the trade for David Perron that sent Magnus Paajarvi to St. Louis. The Oilers’ third round, 63rd overall selection was dealt to LA in the trade for Ben Scrivens, and was subsequently dealt by LA to Columbus. Edmonton lost their fourth round, 93rd overall selection in a trade with Toronto for Mike Brown. The Oilers’ fifth round, 123rd overall selection was dealt to Anaheim as part of a deal that brought Viktor Fasth to Edmonton. The Oilers owned Columbus’ fifth-round pick at 137th overall but traded the pick back to the Jackets in exchange for defenseman Nikita Nikitin.
The Oilers acquired the fourth round, 91st overall selection from Minnesota in exchange for goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov as well as the fourth round, 111th overall selection from San Jose in exchange for Mike Brown. The Oilers acquired the fifth round, 130th overall selection from Ottawa as part of the Ales Hemsky trade.
Buffalo’s sixth round, 151st overall selection was conditional to Edmonton, as part of the deal that sent Linus Omark to the Sabres. Unfortunately, the condition was that Omark must have played a minimum number of NHL games for the Sabres, which never came to fruition as he cleared waivers on February 18.
Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Results:
3. Sam Bennett, C, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
With the third overall selection the Oilers stood to make a tough decision between the big, powerful but yet unproven Leon Draisaitl and the (somewhat) smaller, more complete player in Sam Bennett. Either one would bring a different but valuable skillset to a team that has been perennially weak up the middle. Neither seems ready at this point to make the jump straight into the NHL, but it is likely that Bennett will finish out as a more valuable asset over time, considering the needs of the Oilers organization. His puck movement, sharp on-ice vision and willingness to play a tough brand of hockey will work in his favor.