Top 10 prospects:
The Oilers are coming off a second consecutive last place finish, so the argument could be made they need a lot of everything. That said there are definitely some specific areas where the big club is particularly lacking.
The first is in the middle. The Oilers have long been in need of a bona fide top line center, and with the recent influx of dynamic young talent on the wings, that need has just become more glaring. Slotting someone atop the depth chart makes having Sam Gagner, Shawn Horcoff, and Andrew Cogliano as your 2nd through 4th line centers a situation any club would be happy about.
The second is veteran two way players up front. These could be in the middle or on the wings, but adding two or three players who can calm the kids down, kill penalties, and eat up hard minutes against tough matchups has been a requirement for years now and for years it's been left unmet.
Third is on the blue line, where there is a lack of established top four defensemen. Both Ryan Whitney and Tom Gilbert are quality top four talents, and players like Theo Peckham, Jeff Petry, and Ladislav Smid are still growing and improving. There is still a real need for at least one or two top four defensemen however, both cut from the rugged, shut down, stay-at-home cloth.
Finally, between the pipes there is reason for optimism when it comes to Devan Dubnyk who turned in a quality 2010-11 season and has steadily improved every year since turning pro. On the flip side of that coin, Nikolai Khabibulin has lost more than just one step and bringing in a younger veteran with some upside to step in when the Bulin Wall falters is a near must.
Bolstered in large part by a stretch of abysmal seasons, Edmonton has stockpiled some excellent young talent both on its NHL roster and among the prospect ranks. The biggest strength by far is on the wings. With Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Paajarvi all graduated and the likes of Curtis Hamilton, Linus Omark and Teemu Hartikainen knocking on the door, quality wingers with a wide range of skills are something the Oilers will boast for quite some time.
They are also blessed with a fine stable of mean, young, tough as nails rearguards-a stark contrast to the reality of their pro roster. With Theo Peckham now a regular on the big club and Alex Plante and Colten Teubert on the farm, the rugged, stay at home type should be able to be grown from within in the next few years.
Depth and a variety of skill sets is another real strength, which wasn't the case for much of the past decade. Up front there are a number of skill forwards as well as quality role player types, on the back end the stay-at-home types are complemented by well rounded players like Martin Marincin and Jeff Petry. The goaltending duo of Olivier Roy and Tyler Bunz in net show some genuine promise and upside.
With a lot of positives littering the prospect pool, the weaknesses aren't a lengthy list, but the two big ones are incredibly important: an elite, top line center and a defenseman with good offensive ability and top pairing upside.
For years the ever elusive "franchise" center has been the Oilers white whale. Last year it was a reality that played a big part in the Taylor vs. Tyler debates and this year its front and center yet again with a number of top flight pivots expected to go at or near the top of the draft. The reality is that cornerstone centers are almost never traded for or acquired in free agency, so your best chance at getting one is to draft and develop.
The blue line need is perhaps not as pressing. The Oilers boast a quality stable of good prospects on the back end, though none of them have a real "franchise" feel, nor do any of them project as being top end offensive contributors from the back end. If they are able to add a player who projects as a top pairing power play ace with one of their three picks in the top 31, it would really round out their rearguard prospects nicely.
Since taking over as Head Scout in 2008, Stu MacGregor has been roundly praised for his early successes at the draft table. Not only has he done well with his top picks (Eberle, Paajarvi, and Hall) but he has also unearthed some gems in the middle and later rounds as well. The Oilers can be counted among those excited about his work, as MacGregor recently signed a three-year extension to stay with the club.
Over those three years, the team has selected 23 players and there are some definite preferences in where MacGregor and his scouts like to look. Just over half of the picks (12 of 23) played their draft year in the CHL, with seven of those 12 being WHL players.
Of the remaining 11 selections, five are from Scandinavia (three Swedes and two Finns), two from the BCHL, two from elsewhere in Europe (Slovakia and Belarus), one from US High School and one from the NCAA. Interesting to note that both European players (Marincin and Pelss) as well as the NCAA pick (Pitlick) were known to be joining the CHL for their post-draft year, and all three ended up playing in the WHL.
In short, the Oilers look to the CHL (or CHL destined players) for almost two thirds of their picks with the vast majority of those being WHL players. When they opt to stray from the CHL, they draft from either Finland or Sweden more often than not.
Stylistically they have their leanings as well. Up front their forwards are generally players touted for their intelligence, wide range of skills, and strong passion for the game. On the back end, size is a constant as well as strong character. In all cases, the Oilers under MacGregor have placed a premium on leadership.
Hockey's Future staff mock draft result:
1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C
The Oilers are looking for elite skill, and there is no one at the top of the draft who possesses the same kind of upside as Nugent-Hopkins. The center should also make a nice linemate for the Oilers many talented wingers.
19. Duncan Siemens, D
A defenseman for the Saskatoon Blades, Siemens brings a combination of size, toughness, and puck-moving ability to the Oilers organization.