Call them the draft lottery kings. After earning the first overall selection in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 NHL Drafts, the Edmonton Oilers secured the highly-coveted 2015 top pick, despite finishing third from last at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season.
New general manager Peter Chiarelli cleaned house shortly after being appointed, making moves from the prospect level all the way up to the management team. Notable changes in the pipeline included trades that sent Travis Ewanyk to the Ottawa Senators, Liam Coughlin to the Chicago Blackhawks and Martin Marincin to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Also of note was the acquisition of Griffin Reinhart, former Edmonton Oil King, from the New York Islanders in exchange for a first and second round selection at the 2015 NHL Draft.
Chiarelli mentioned in speaking with Hockey’s Future at the draft that the work done by Craig MacTavish and his predecessors helped shape some of the trades and selections that were made on or around Draft Day. “The way I look at it…the [previous management] helped gather some of these assets,” said Chiarelli. “We make decisions as a group.”
The top selection was all but made by the masses before Chiarelli took to the podium on draft day, but in his short tenure in Edmonton thus far, Chiarelli seems to have reignited a sense of hope among a fanbase that was struggling to find ways to support a team that was failing year after year. Now, talks are swirling again about the Oilers’ playoff chances, with CBC sportscaster Ron MacLean making a bold prediction that the team will win a Stanley Cup within two to four years. That will remain to be seen, but it’s safe to say that the dark clouds are clearing in Edmonton, beginning with the generational talent they acquired at number one.
Much has already been written about Connor McDavid at this point, but it’s worth noting that this is the first 10 rating that has been awarded by Hockey’s Future since Sidney Crosby entered the league. It’s safe to declare McDavid the best player available in the draft since Crosby, far and away. His footspeed and puck-handling skills are unmatched – true elite-level talent. Finishing third in OHL scoring despite missing almost 20 games, his skill level was most evident during his time at the Oilers’ development camp in July. Most of the time, he looked like a man among boys (which also happened to be his peers) and scoring five goals in the annual intrasquad scrimmage at Rexall Place.
His unbelievable hockey sense is evident every time he steps on the ice – he is always exactly where he needs to be and seems to find his opening before his opponent even realizes it’s there.
Despite all the fanfare that has surrounded McDavid leading up to the draft, he was still every bit the excited teenager when his name was called on draft day.
“I think it was even better than I was expecting. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to feel. I wasn’t too nervous, I was just anxious. It was just so exciting to hear your name called and go through all that. It was unbelievable.”
McDavid plays a sound two-way game, is solid on the dot, and more often than not comes out on top of one-on-one battles. The 18-year-old has a life of superstardom ahead of him in Edmonton and, by the looks of it, a long and successful hockey career.
Despite his success thus far, McDavid still knows that he needs to work hard to realize his potential, especially at the NHL level: “you’ve got to get a lot bigger and stronger and faster and all that,” he said. “You’re playing against men now, and it’s a big challenge. Big summer ahead of me for sure.”
With the majority of the Oilers’ middle-round selections dealt away in trades, the next selection after McDavid was not until 117, where Edmonton picked up Caleb Jones, a defensive prospect and product of the US National Team Development Program. Also of note, Caleb Jones is the younger brother of Nashville Predators rearguard Seth Jones.
The younger Jones is a strong skater, good puck mover, with great fundamental skills and a solid work ethic. At 6’0 and 194 pounds, he’s slightly undersized for a defenseman, but Jones will certainly benefit from some time spent at the major junior level – he’s signed with the Portland Winterhawks for the 2015-16 season.
Continuing with the theme, the Oilers drafted another defenseman at 124, selecting Ethan Bear of the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds. In the 2014-15 season, Bear earned 13 goals and 15 assists in 69 games – solid numbers for a rearguard in his sophomore effort. Bear’s size is not substantial at 5’11 and 200 pounds, but he uses his body well, playing a tough, physical game that earned him a reputation as difficult to play against, particularly in his own zone. Bear will no doubt continue to progress through the major junior and minor pro ranks, but seems to be a valuable find in the fifth round, being ranked 78th overall by International Scouting Services.
John Marino, D, South Shore Kings (US Prep)
6th round, 154th overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 171 lbs
Sticking to the blueliners, the Edmonton Oilers selected defenseman John Marino in the sixth round at 154th overall. The Harvard-bound, 6’2 rearguard is – like any sixth rounder – a case of draft-and-follow with a long development curve ahead of him. But as with Bear, Marino was highly-ranked by ISS at 95th overall. Before joining the NCAA ranks, Marino will play one season for the USHL’s Chicago Steel. He has some promising skills in his toolbox at this point – he’s got good hockey sense and skates well. He could likely afford to fill out his 6’2 frame a bit more, but he already plays with a natural edge and isn’t afraid to go to work in the tough areas of the ice.
Marino has a lot working in his favor to carve out a successful development path. At this point, his main focus will be getting more ice time and experience under his belt as he likely has several years of NCAA hockey ahead of him before the Oilers make any major moves with this prospect.
With the third from final selection of the draft, the Oilers chose 20-year-old Czech goaltender Miroslav Svoboda. At 6’3 and 176 pounds, Svoboda is a solid presence in net. He maintained solid numbers in net for his Czech under-20 team, appearing in 33 games in 2014-15 with a 2.72 goals against average and .917 save percentage.
Svoboda has been loaned to the AZ Havirov for 2015-16, a team in the Czech Extraliga, which is the country’s top-caliber hockey league. At this point, the young netminder is a longshot at best, but it will be interesting to see how he progresses as his competition quality drastically increases this upcoming season.
Ziyat Paygin, D, Ak Bars Kazan (KHL)
7th round, 209th overall
Height: 6-6 Weight: 209 lbs
One spot later at 209, the Oilers selected overage Russian prospect Ziyat Paygin (also billed as Paigin), a rearguard who towers over, well, everyone at 6’6 and 209 pounds. The blueliner spent 2014-15 with Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL, but received limited ice time (under ten minutes a game) and was largely a non-factor on the team with one goal and one assist in 33 games.
Paygin plays with an active stick and uses his size and wingspan to his advantage in his own zone. A decent skater for his size, Paygin shows flashes of offensive brilliance, but has yet to translate that to consistent point production. Paygin appeared for Russia at the U20 World Hockey Championships, where he recorded three points in seven games for his nation. Another case of draft-and-follow, Paygin looks to be, at the very least, an intriguing talent to keep an eye on across the pond.
At the conclusion of the Oilers’ draft, President and General Manager Peter Chiarelli met with the media, with some of his comments being captured in this HF video.