Coming into the 2011 NHL Draft with nine picks, the Edmonton Oilers were already the beneficiaries of a string of strong drafts, boasting one of the better groups of prospects and young NHLers in the league. Among their nine picks were two in the first round, including the top pick overall for the second year in a row.
The major needs in the Oilers' system were an elite level center and a defenseman or two with top pairing upside. Beyond that, their existing organizational depth allowed Head Scout Stu MacGregor and his team with the luxury of selecting the player they believed to be the best available at each spot and further stock the system with talent.
In the end, the draft was heavily focused on the blue line and between the pipes, with the players selected coming from familiar places. They took four CHL players (three from the WHL and one from the OHL), two from Finland, one from Sweden, one from Slovakia (who will be playing in the WHL next season), and one from the NCAA. The stylistic tendencies of MacGregor's three previous drafts shone through as well, with skating, size, character, and leadership being the order of the day. With seven picks in the first four rounds, the Oilers certainly added a number of quality young talents to their already impressive pool of prospects.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
1st round, 1st overall
Height: 6'1 Weight: 175 lbs
To the surprise of no one, the Oilers kicked off the draft by selecting the Rebels dynamo with the top pick. There was some discussion that perhaps they would look to Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson, but in the end it was the scouting community's consensus top pick pulling an Oilers jersey over his head.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins boasts high-end offensive ability, including elite level vision, but perhaps more important in tipping the scales in his favor was the high level of energy and effort game in and game out, as well as the focus on his defensive responsibilities and taking pride in his back checking. As a player who emulates (and is often compared to) Pavel Datsyuk, Nugent-Hopkins was seen as the player most likely to emerge as a legitimate top line, franchise type center.
The major criticism or concern around him has always been whether he has the size to ascend to that level and be a truly dominant player. He doesn't lack NHL height, coming in at 6'1, but it is his slight build that leaves some worried he won't hold up well to the rigours of a long NHL season and the physical attention top players receive night in and night out. His supporters point to examples like Datsyuk and Joe Sakic as players who excel despite lacking ideal size, while detractors use the example of a player like Tim Connolly, a wonderful talent whose career has been marred by injuries. In the end, it will fall to Nugent-Hopkins himself to prove whether he has what it takes or not.
While there is no doubt he will be given every opportunity to do just that in Edmonton, there is no guarantee it will start in the 2011-12 season. Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini has been consistent in saying the organization doesn't feel the need to rush their top pick into the NHL if he's not ready to contribute, but says Nugent-Hopkins will be given the chance to stick with the club in training camp. Failing that, the 18-year-old will head back to the team he captains in Red Deer to further develop his game.
Oscar Klefbom, D – Farjestad (SEL)
1st round, 19th overall
Height: 6'4 Weight: 200 lbs
The Oilers second first round pick bears all the hallmarks of a Stu MacGregor selection. Oscar Klefbom is an excellent skater, has NHL size, and is widely referred to as a complete defenseman. He has the kind of top pairing upside the Oilers were looking to add early in the draft, the kind of multi-tool blueliner they opted to forgo when they passed on Adam Larsson with their first pick.
There is no doubt Klefbom has high end ability and upside. At the peak of his potential he is the kind of player who can play big minutes in all situations and anchor the defensive for the next decade. He also brings the leadership element the Oilers desire so much, as he was Sweden's captain at the Under 18 World Championships last season.
There are some question marks however, chief among them is how much offense he will bring with him to the NHL. His SEL numbers this season are unremarkable, though playing in a limited role that's not entirely surprising. In a limited showing at the U18s he put up four points in six games for Sweden, which indicates there is definitely an offensive ability there.
Stylistically, he's drawn comparisons to a handful of NHLers, from current Oiler Ryan Whitney, to new San Jose Shark Brent Burns. If he emerges as player of that ability, the Oilers brass will be more than happy. Don't expect to find out how he translates to the NHL anytime soon however, as Klefbom has two years left on his current deal with Farjestad and the expectation is he will play those out before crossing the pond.
David Musil, D – Vancouver Giants (WHL)
2nd round, 31st overall
Height: 6'3 Weight: 198 lbs
After starting the year as a top ten prospect, David Musil saw his stock drop over the course of the season, ultimately becoming the opening pick of the second round kicking off day two of the draft. He's a player that is more than familiar with the Oilers organization, his father Frank Musil is a former Oilers player and a current Oilers scout.
While he may have fallen down the rankings, he is still a top quality prospect. After a stellar 17-year-old season in which he posted 32 points in 71 games for the WHL's Vancouver Giants, the team used Musil in a shutdown role and he saw his scoring numbers decline, posting just 25 points in 62 games in his draft year, something that contributed significantly to his fall.
Musil is a no nonsense, tough as nails, steady, defensive defenseman. It is unlikely based on his numbers this season that he will be a significant contributor at the offensive end, but he has all the tools to be a top flight shutdown player. In many respects that makes him a safe pick for the Oilers, as he should be able to contribute in the bottom four on the low end with a ceiling that projects as a top pairing player and top flight penalty killer.
A quality skater, and phenomenal junior defender, it will be interesting to see if his role with the Giants changes or evolves this year. If there is more offense there than his draft year would indicate, which the Oilers think there is, he could be a well rounded top pairing rear guard when all is said and done.
A quintessential boom or bust pick, Samu Perhonen has all the physical tools and abilities but he hasn't put it all together from a mental and technique standpoint yet. That combination makes him a remarkably intriguing prospect, as he could be a star, a dud, or anything in between. He will be interesting to watch in the years to come.
On the plus side, Perhonen is tall, quick, incredibly agile, and has excellent reflexes. He was able to post impressive numbers for his U20 team in Finland with a .922 save percentage. He was Central Scouting's top rated European goalie this year, and while it is widely seen as a weaker year for goalies that's still a big positive.
There are several red flags however. His grasp of the mental and technical elements leaves a lot to be desired, two elements of goaltending often pointed to as being the most important. His inconsistency can be seen in his underwhelming Under 18 World Championship numbers: a 3.72 goals against average and .875 save percentage in four games. He needs to work hard to refine his technical game-working on his angles, his positioning, and his puck-handling, as well as to toughen up his mental focus.
Travis Ewanyk, C – Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
3rd round, 74th overall
Height: 6'1 Weight: 184 lbs
Homegrown is the word to describe Travis Ewanyk. The Alberta native plays his junior hockey in Edmonton for the WHL's Oil Kings and will now been working his way up to play for the big club in his hometown as well. Like many Oiler picks in the past few years, he boasts good size, a high compete level, and is a leader on and off the ice. He was an assistant captain this past season for the Oil Kings and despite his somewhat underwhelming scoring numbers, his high energy and physical style earned him a spot on Canada's Under 18 World Championship club.
He has size that he uses well, he's physical, afraid to drop the mitts, and a quality faceoff man. Ewanyk has used those skills to be an effecting shutdown player, earning praise for his play at even strength against Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the first round of the WHL playoffs this season. Expect him to slot into a similar role as he continues to develop.
Dillon Simpson, D – North Dakota Fighting Sioux (WCHA)
4th round, 92nd overall
Height: 6'0 Weight: 192 lbs
Another 2011 Oilers draftee with strong organization ties, Dillon Simpson is the son of former Oilers player and coach turned CBC broadcaster Craig Simpson. A rare case in that he played his draft year as a college freshman, Simpson showed quite well at the collegiate level for a player his age and there is real reason to be intrigued and excited by what his future holds.
He's somewhat undersized for a defenseman, and isn't a world beater when it comes to skating or foot speed, but he has a great head for the game and looked capable competing against older, bigger men. As his responsibility and ice-time increase at North Dakota, his style of play will become clearer, however at this point he has the look of a safe, stay at home type who relies more on positioning and hockey sense than size and physicality.
Sitting back and watching Tobias Rieder play the game, many Oiler fans may be quick to see a lot of similarities to current Oiler Linus Omark. Rieder is on the small side, but doesn't shy away from the rough areas of the ice or sticking his nose into things. He does however need to improve his strength and endurance because it was clear he was running out of gas in his OHL rookie season.
The German winger is more agile than fast, and has an incredible touch with the puck. He also shows a great mind for the game and remarkable anticipation when it comes to reading developing plays. He has more of a boom or bust profile than some other Oiler draftees (such as Ewanyk) because his skill set has a top six offensive upside, but he will need to be able to handle the physical rigors of the league as a smaller player if he hopes to realize that potential.
Martin Gernat, D – Kosice (Slovakia Jr.)
5th round, 122nd overall
Height: 6'5 Weight: 187 lbs
A year after selecting Martin Marincin in the 2nd round, the Oilers went back to Slovakia to take Martin Gernat in 2011. Their scouting reports look incredibly similar: smooth skating, make good use of their reach, good offensive instincts, but need to add bulk and work on refining their defensive game. The major difference is that Gernat is seen as much more of a project and more of a raw talent than Marincin, which is why he went three rounds later.
It's a positive development that Gernat, like Marincin, is making the jump to the WHL next season where he will be suiting up with the Edmonton Oil Kings. This will help him get used to the physical challenges and the travel of a longer North American hockey season and will give the Oilers a front row seat to his development as a player. He's still a long way from the NHL, but he has the right physical foundation upon which to build, from here on out it's about his commitment to improving and the Oilers ability to help him refine his game.
Frans Tuohimaa, G – Jokerit (Finland Jr.)
7th round, 192nd overall
Height: 6'2 Weight: 178 lbs
After decades of ineptitude when it came to drafting and developing goalies, the Stu MacGregor era Oilers have made a point of devoting picks and contracts to young netminders. The second goalie taken by the club in 2011, Frans Tuohimaa, is a Finnish overager (he was draft eligible in 2010, but was not selected) whose numbers look to suggest there is some quality there.
He's another big butterfly goalie, like earlier pick Perhonen, and he boasted a .931 save percentage for the Jokerit juniors, good for tops in the league. He definitely falls into the "draft and follow" school of prospect procurement, but if he's able to translate his junior success to the SM-liiga in the next couple of seasons, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him make the jump to North America at that time.