Another year, another high draft pick for lowly Edmonton. Before Craig MacTavish and company race to the podium, some benevolent GM around the league, I beg you, save this poor team from itself. Trade up and take the Oilers’ No. 3 overall selection. Assuming Aaron Ekblad goes to the Florida Panthers, the best path to improvement for Edmonton is to acquire an established asset for its first pick, move down several slots and use a lower-first round pick on defenseman Haydn Fleury.
I’m a broken record talking about the law of diminishing returns with Edmonton and skilled forwards at the draft. The Oilers’ first selections each year since 2007:
2007 (6): Sam Gagner
2008 (22): Jordan Eberle
2009 (10): Magnus Paajarvi
2010 (1): Taylor Hall
2011 (1): Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
2012 (1): Nail Yakupov
2013 (7): Darnell Nurse
Last’s year’s selection of Nurse – which I loved – ended Edmonton’s six-year run of applying a “best available” approach and taking a slick forward. Unless you count Taylor Hall as the exception of that group, it’s six consecutive selections of a smallish, defensively deficient, offensively gifted forward. The more clones you have of one player type, the less impactful each one becomes.
Is it any surprise, then, we’ve seen Edmonton morph into the perennially promising team that never delivers? It’s the same song and dance. Sexy video game team, tantalizing offense, no physicality, porous defense, suspect goaltending, nowhere close to the playoffs.
“Best available” is good logic at the top of most drafts. I get that you can’t pass up a generational talent. I wanted Colorado to draft Seth Jones in 2013, as it needed defense, but I’m coming around in a big way on Nathan MacKinnon, as he’s just that good.
The 2014 draft, while solid and deep in round 1, reminds me a lot more of 2012, when the Oilers should’ve taken Ryan Murray over Yakupov. It boasts a plethora of bona fide NHLers, but not “The Guy.” Check various mock drafts and it looks like someone put Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, Michael Dal Colle and Leon Draisaitl in a blender and chose their names randomly. This is not the draft for Edmonton to use the No. 3 overall pick on another forward, as the elite group lacks the must-have status of a MacKinnon. This is the perfect time for Edmonton to address its team needs. And since there’s a consensus drop-off between Ekblad (THN’s No. 2 prospect in Draft Preview) and Fleury (No. 8), perhaps the Oilers can trade down, acquire additional help and still land Fleury.
I’ll use the Leafs in a hypothetical scenario because everyone seems to love linking the Oilers and Leafs in trade rumors these days. Edmonton sends Toronto the No. 3 pick, which the Leafs covet, for the No. 8 pick and Jake Gardiner. The Oilers pick Fleury. Suddenly, a horrible defensive team can build around Nurse, Fleury, Justin Schultz (reunited with best buddy Gardiner), Oscar Klefbom, and Martin Marincin, with veteran support from Andrew Ference, Jeff Petry and maybe Nikita Nikitin. Tell me that isn’t a drastically better blueline depth chart. Or if you’d rather see the Oilers get Fleury plus a big, two-way center for the No. 3 pick, sure. Still a good scenario.
All it takes is for MacTavish to find a team picking near the bottom of the top 10 that feels strongly about one of the top three prospects on its list, as I don’t believe there’s a major threat to grab Fleury until Carolina at No. 7. It’s all moot if Florida and Buffalo pass on Ekblad, of course, which is why the Oilers shouldn’t move the pick until the 11th hour. If and when they reach that juncture, however, they should throw best-available out the window and trade down to draft Fleury. Make a move to improve your area of weakness for a change. What you’re doing ain’t working, Edmonton.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin