After a pair of seasons at the bottom of the standings and the top of the draft, the Edmonton Oilers managed to climb one spot, finishing 29th in the league, however Lady Luck smiled on them when the draft lottery came around and they will be selecting first overall for the third consecutive season this year in Pittsburgh.
Top 10 prospects:
1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C
2. Oscar Klefbom, D
3. Martin Marincin, D
4. Anton Lander, C
5. Teemu Hartikainen, LW
6. David Musil, D
7. Tyler Bunz, G
8. Tyler Pitlick, C
9. Curtis Hamilton, LW
10. Colten Teubert, D
The NHL roster is starting to round into shape a little more with each season, however there are still significant holes as one would expect with a 29th place team. While there are some impressive talents among the forward ranks, the team could stand to add a veteran forward with defensive acumen (or two) to add depth and experience, as well as provide an opportunity for the young stars to face softer opposition. By and large however, the Oilers forwards are the strong suit of the team and above average in NHL terms.
The blue line is another story altogether. The emergence of Ladislav Smid as a quality top four defensive defenseman and Jeff Petry's arrival as a dynamic and reliable talent were highlights of the 2011-12 season. Adding a calm veteran like Nick Schultz, but the price paid (minute eating, every situation rearguard Tom Gilbert) meant they were no further ahead as a result. Ryan Whitney was limited by injuries and is no sure bet to be healthy all year this coming season. The Oilers need to add at least one veteran top four defenseman via trade or free agency this summer, and probably a second if they want to seriously push for the post-season, as the wealth of defensive prospect talent is still at least a year from contributing at the NHL level.
In net, veteran Nikolai Khabibulin delivered incredible results for the first month and a half of the season but his performance then fell off a cliff. On the plus side Devan Dubnyk performed well in the starting role and should be able to handle the primary responsibilities in net without any problems. The club would be wise to add a capable veteran third stringer though, perhaps to start at the AHL level, but one who could step in if (or when) Khabibulin is no longer able to deliver backup caliber results.
Through drafting near the top of the draft and adding multiple picks, the Oilers have dramatically improved their organizational depth over the past few years. Further enhancing that has been the above average work done by Head Scout Stu MacGregor and his staff in both the early and later rounds.
Not surprisingly, there are a number of strengths, beginning with depth and range of skills amongst the blue liners. From early picks like Klefbom, Musil, and Marincin, to later selections like Martin Gernat, Dillon Simpson, and Brandon Davidson there are a lot of young rearguards coming up through the ranks with the ability to be solid contributors in a variety of roles at the NHL level.
More surprisingly is the quality and depth of their prospects between the pipes. The Oilers have been awful historically when it comes to drafting and developing goalies, however both Olivier Roy and Tyler Bunz are coming off excellent seasons in 2011-12 and both have resumes that suggest NHL upside, possibly starting goalie upside, and when combined with current homegrown starter Devan Dubnyk, the trend looks to be changing.
Due to the elite nature of the talent in the organization, there aren't many "prospects" among the forward ranks with top end skill, Nugent-Hopkins being the glaring exception. Players like Anton Lander, Tyler Pitlick, and Teemu Hartikainen have all the tools to be excellent complementary talents, however none of them have the look of game breakers. That said with youngsters like Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle already dominant and on the pro roster, this isn't necessarily an area of significant need in the near term.
On the blue line, despite the diversity and depth of talent, there is still no clear top pairing type player. There are some who might end up that way if all goes perfectly (Klefbom and Marincin among them) but none with the kind of all around high end game that leaves one confident they will be an anchor on the back end.
Odds are the majority of the players drafted by the Oilers will come from the CHL ranks and Scandinavia. The WHL in particular has been a common source of Oilers prospects over the past few years and much of the talk around prospects that have the club's eye this year has been slanted toward talents from the Western league.
In the early rounds of the draft, the Oilers tend not to go too far off the board either, so if they are on the clock in rounds two through four, it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone if they pick a player who is universally regarded.
Later rounds have seen them pluck favorites and goalies, and those selections have worked out quite well in recent years. The club was very high on 2011 fifth round pick Martin Gernat, claiming he was 32nd on their board, and he delivered a spectacular season considering his draft slot. It's a similar story for Tobias Rieder (2011, fourth round) who turned in a tremendous offensive season this past year. Between the pipes, Tyler Bunz (2010) and Olivier Roy (2009) have both shown to be excellent value as fifth round picks.
On a lesser note, the third round hasn't been kind to them in recent years as both Troy Hesketh and Cam Abney (2009, third round) have been disappointing to flat out awful, Ryan Martindale (2010, third round) shone in 2010-11 but regressed significantly last year, while Samu Perhonen and Travis Ewanyk (2011, third round) were outshone by their counterparts taken in the later rounds.
The Oilers have seven choices in the 2012 NHL draft. They own their own picks in every round but the seventh (sent to the Los Angeles Kings in the Ryan Smyth trade) and they also own the Kings third round selection as part of the Dustin Penner trade at the 2011 trade deadline.
No. 1: Nail Yakupov, RW, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
The Oilers have an organizational imbalance and need to add a couple of NHL defensemen, but that won't be addressed with this year's top pick. They are better doing that through trade or free agency. In Yakupov they get an elite talent and top level goal scorer who can step in and contribute immediately. Along with Hall, Eberle, and Nugent-Hopkins he gives them an embarrassment of riches up front.