With so much firepower already in the fold, do the Oilers really need the offense Nail Yakupov provides? (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)
People often ask hockey writers who they cheer for. Most will say they cheer for players they like; some will simply strut around in a golf shirt with the home team’s crest on it. Personally, I cheer for chaos, anarchy. Anything unpredictable is fun - and that can mean underdogs or it can mean favorites that nobody wants to beat the underdog.
But my passion for disorder ends at the draft. Matching up elite prospects and the teams they could help in the near future all seems so easy before the lottery takes place, then it’s all thrown into disarray because of the old axiom “take the best player available.”
That adage has led to the Edmonton Oilers taking two high-scoring forwards in a row with the No. 1 selection and has them lined up for a third, even though the only thing the Copper and Blue can boast is a solid cast of elite scorers. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and fellow first-rounder Jordan Eberle (22nd overall in 2008) can handle the offense just fine, but this team is awful on defense and has serious problems in net.
Columbus, on the other hand, needs help everywhere. Taking high-scoring left winger Nail Yakupov with the first overall pick would have been great for the Blue Jackets, a team that will almost certainly lose franchise face Rick Nash over the summer. Yakupov cannot only bring similar offensive pop, but has an ebullient personality that will charm any fan base. But that’s not how the lottery balls bounced.
Logically, the Oilers should either trade down from the No. 1 spot or simply bite the bullet and draft for need. Defenseman Ryan Murray would be able to step into the lineup right away and at least stanch the bleeding. The Everett Silvertips captain brings skating, poise with the puck and, as a bonus, is a late birthday, so he’ll be 19 by the time the season begins.
Murray is part of an excellent cohort of blueliners from the Western League that also includes Matt Dumba, Morgan Rielly, Derrick Pouliot and Griffin Reinhart. Each bring different skills to the table and, therefore, aren’t so much competition to each other as they are intriguing pieces that will fit certain organizational needs. Jacob Trouba from the U.S. national team development program is another blueliner to keep in mind, too.
So long story short, the Oilers could trade down and still get a blue-chip defenseman. The most interesting trade partner is Toronto. Holding the fifth pick, the Maple Leafs might get the center they need at that spot (Alex Galchenyuk, Radek Faksa and Brendan Gaunce will all likely still be on the board), but if they want the game-breaking ability of Yakupov or an even more NHL-ready big center in Mikhail Grigorenko, they’ll need to move up.
If Oilers GM Steve Tambellini is really savvy, he’ll ask Toronto for at least defenseman Carl Gunnarsson in exchange for the flopping of the first and fifth picks. That gives the Oilers a capable and underrated defenseman right away and maybe even a second through the draft.
All of a sudden the Oilers come into the 2012-13 campaign with a top-six defense corps of Ladislav Smid, Ryan Whitney, Jeff Schultz, Carl Gunnarsson, Jeff Petry and Ryan Murray/Andy Sutton. That looks like at least a competent blueline that could survive an injury or two.
Through the early feedback I’ve gotten from fans, it won’t be political death for the Oilers to deal this pick. The luster of owning the No. 1 selection is starting to wear off in the City of Champions, as it is now a painful reminder of how stuck in the mud the tires are right now.
For the first time in years, there may be some drama at the top. And if teams rearrange themselves to draft by need and not vanity, I can get behind that kind of chaos.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.