Somewhere out there, the NHL Draft Gods are looking out for the Edmonton Oilers. After finishing 28th in the league at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season, Edmonton looked poised to pick up a top defensive prospect such as Noah Hanifin after some lucky franchises claimed generational talents Connor McDavid as the top pick and Jack Eichel as the second. But on April 18th, Bill Daly held aloft an Oilers logo on his placard indicating the team who would select first overall after winning the draft lottery. This is the fourth time in the last six seasons that the Oilers have been awarded the privilege.
While previous first overall selections Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov have proven to be special talents and valuable pieces of the Oilers organization, Connor McDavid is something of a different beast: it has been suggested that the Erie Otters center is the best talent to come around in the last three decades. Of course, it’s still early to make such bold predictions, but safe to say that the Oilers have been dealt a gem of a hand with this selection.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Darnell Nurse, D
2. Leon Draisaitl, C
3. Laurent Brossoit, G
4. Jujhar Khaira, LW
5. Dillon Simpson, D
6. Tyler Pitlick, RW
7. Bogdan Yakimov, C
8. Anton Slepyshev, LW
9. Iiro Pakarinen, RW
10. Kyle Platzer, C
The Oilers have been struggling to build depth at center since the days of Doug Weight and Shawn Horcoff, making the McDavid selection all that much more valuable to the club. Along with McDavid, the team boasts 2014 third-overall selection Leon Draisaitl who has size and potentially elite skill and 37 games of NHL experience. If the Oilers can properly steward their talent and develop the two young prospects effectively, the team’s woes at pivot should be short-lived. The challenge is to be patient as a center depth chart that features a 22-year-old Ryan Nugent-Hopkins going against the best of the western conference gets stronger and more experienced, even as it gets more talented.
The blueline has also been a bit of a revolving door at the NHL level, with a number of players who should be filling a lesser-minutes role having to step up and play increased minutes in a top-pairing. The free agent market has not panned out, either, such as in the case of Nikita Nikitin, who has under-delivered greatly based on his contract and the team’s expectations at the beginning of the 2014-15 season. Thankfully, there is some promising talent in the hopper. Darnell Nurse has made unbelievable progress and improvements from 2013-14 to 2014-15, and Martin Marincin, Oscar Klefbom and Brandon Davidson are also showing the ability to play important roles in the NHL. The Oilers certainly are not going to be able to remedy their need for a top-pairing defenseman with a prospect, but may consider making moves to help secure a potential solution.
While the Oilers suffer from a lack of depth at center, the skill, speed and raw scoring talent on the wings at the NHL level is unquestionable, with the likes of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov. If the Oilers are able to add the correct pieces and improve the team’s depth at center, it may help generate more quality scoring chances for the team’s top lines. As mentioned above, while the Oilers need to find a stop-gap solution or two to improve their depth on the blueline, the prospect pool on defense is chock-full of promising talent.
The goaltending situation in Edmonton has been something of an enigma. After a dismal year from Devan Dubnyk in 2013-14, the Oilers shipped the netminder off to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Matt Hendricks – a trade that looked to be trending in Edmonton’s favor after Predators head coach Barry Trotz publicly criticized Dubnyk’s ‘bad habits’ in net. Fast forward one season and Dubnyk has now made a complete turnaround, leading the Minnesota Wild on a fairytale playoff run, while Edmonton’s tandem of Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth fell short of expectations.
New general manager Peter Chiarelli has made comments leading up to the draft indicating that he would be open to discussions regarding trading a pick (or multiple picks) following the first-overall selection to try to remedy the goaltending situation. Laurent Brossoit is looking to be a promising talent in the pipeline, but his future as a legitimate NHL goaltender is still years away at this point. Aside from Brossoit, none of the other names on the list (Tyler Bunz, Frans Tuohimaa) look to be making any sort of big impact any time soon, although the newest acqusition, Eetu Laurikainen, is a good bet to help at the AHL level.
The Oilers have been without a top centerman for a number of years, with most recently Ryan Nugent-Hopkins playing the role before he is ready on a team with a lack of talent in other key spots. The Oilers are likely hoping that one of Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl will fill that role in the long-term. It may be such that the organization requires a stop-gap solution while both aforementioned prospects get their feet wet at the NHL level, but the talent level in the pipeline is unquestionable.
Under Steve Tambellini’s direction, the Oilers drafted a number of somewhat undersized skill players in the top rounds, including Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov – selections so obvious that they were all but decided before the draft even began. Beyond the early first round, however, Tambellini’s staff sometimes made questionable choices in the search for size. The selection of former Edmonton Oil King Mitchell Moroz at 32nd overall seems like one questionable reach. Looking back further, Cameron Abney, who has become a career ECHLer after being selected 82nd overall in 2009 was a pick of even more dubious merit.
Tambellini was ultimately dismissed and replaced by Craig MacTavish, who publicly noted deficiencies in the team’s previous drafting tendencies. A recent overhaul of the Oilers brass installed former Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli at the helm as of April 24th, 2015. Reports surfaced in June that he had dismissed the majority of the Oilers’ scouting team, including head amateur scout Stu MacGregor and head pro scout Morey Gare, thus making it somewhat less simple to prognosticate what the Oilers may do after the easy pick of Connor McDavid.
Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Results
When it comes to the number one selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, there is not much that needs to be written to argue in favor of the Oilers selecting Connor McDavid. The choice is an obvious one, with McDavid touted as a generational talent, and potentially the best player to come along since Sidney Crosby. Wayne Gretzky himself even dubbed the young center the best talent in 30 years. McDavid boasts speed, an unlimited offensive upside, and unparalleled puck-handling skills. His ability to create and recognize scoring chances is top-notch. Combined with his deft on-ice vision, he racked up not only 44 goals in 47 games in 2014-15, but also a staggering 76 assists for a total of 120 points on the season. McDavid will undoubtedly be a franchise player for Edmonton, a talent to build a club around for years to come.
While the Oilers have a number of defensive prospects in the system, adding another high-caliber talent to join the likes of Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom may be desirable for the Oilers at this point in the draft. Zboril is a talented offensive defenseman, with good size at 6’1 and 184 pounds. The left-shooting rearguard had a strong 2014-15 season, and his combination of skating, passing and physical ability make him an intriguing choice for the Oilers.