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The State of the Oil

Unless you live in an underground cave, you have probably heard that the Edmonton Oilers won the lottery, ensuring them the right to pick first overall in the 2015 NHL entry draft where they will select someone whom, unless you live in an underground cave, you have probably heard of in Connor McDavid.

How good will McDavid be? Some say his upside is even higher than that of Sidney Crosby, currently considered the best hockey player in the world. The Oilers could feature the most talented top-six forward unit in the league for the ensuing decade, but they still have a great deal of work to do in order to seriously be considered contenders in the near future.

The previous Edmonton management team of Kevin Lowe and Craig McTavish seemed to think it was more important to hire their old NHL teammates to the front office than to build a winner — leading to a decade-long rebuild, a dizzying head-coaching carousel, and a baffling stultification of their young players, especially those of European decent.

After winning the lottery, the Oilers took the next step in ending their seemingly endless rebuild by hiring a new general manager in Peter Chiarelli, who lead the Boston Bruins to a 2011 Stanley Cup victory. Chiarelli’s job is clear: you are inheriting a team with six star-potential forwards, one of whom is generational-talent McDavid, now solidify the situations in goal and on defense and do it fast.

 

Oilers Top Prospects (Scale to 10)

  1. C Leon Draisaitl (8.5) — picture Anze Kopitar with a little less speed but a lot more snarl. This kid has superstar upside, potentially giving the Oilers a devastating trio at center with McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
  2. LD Darnell Nurse (8.0) — this 6’5″ beast likes to play physical and has the potential to be a first-pairing, shut-down defenseman.
  3. LW Anton Slepyshev (7.0) — a highly-skilled and blazingly fast winger who needs work on his defensive game and propensity for eschewing the physical game. Jury still out — could be a productive second-liner or a bust.
  4. C Boris Yakimov (6.5) — this big, tough pivot has a solid, two-way, north-south game and could be an effective checking-line center at the NHL level.
  5. LD David Musil (6.5) a tough gamer with NHL bloodlines, can he improve his foot-speed enough to contribute as a third-pairing, defensive defenseman?

 

Organizational Strengths

Quite simply, Edmonton’s biggest strength is that next year they could put together a top line of McDavid centering Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov and a second line of Nugent-Hopkins centering Draisaitl (who has played left wing in the WHL) and Jordan Eberle and terrify every goaltender in the NHL.

That’s five forwards with All-Star upside surrounding McDavid, who has the talent to be one of the all-time greats of the game.

 

Organizational Weaknesses

Following the trade of impending UFA Jeff Petry at the deadline in March, the Oilers’ blue line featured six defensemen who would struggle to crack the top-four on a good NHL team.

Justin Schultz can quarterback the power play, but is often dominated in his own zone. Oscar Klefbom has the potential to be a second-pairing defenseman, but Mark Fayne, Nikita Nikitin, Andrew Ference and Keith Aulie would all struggle to see more than third-pairing ice time  on a contending team.

The only defenseman in the entire organization with the potential to effectively play a top-pairing role is Darnell Nurse, who is just 20 years old. All in all, the Oilers have the makings of a fault-line more than they do a blue line. They need to address this in the draft, and perhaps in a trade.

Darnell Nurse is the future of Edmonton's blue line.

Darnell Nurse is the future of Edmonton’s blue line.

In addition, the Oilers lack any quality goaltending options both at the pro level and in the prospect pipeline. They need to draft a netminder with upside in June, and they may need to address this organizational black hole on the trade market.

It will be up to Chiarelli to improve the Oilers’ lack of success at the draft table. Four Edmonton first-overall picks in seven years will result in a remarkable talent base of McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins, Hall and Yakupov. Eberle was also a first-rounder, while top-ten picks Draisaitl and Nurse represent their only future prospects who are surefire future NHLers.

What have all the Oilers’ early second-rounders and later-round picks resulted in? Something in between diddly and squat. As a (disturbing) matter of fact, aside from Eberle (22nd overall, 2008), the last Oilers’ pick outside the top ten to make any discernible NHL impact whatsoever was Jeff Petry, taken 46th overall almost a decade ago in 2006.

That’s not just pathetic, it makes us want to invent the word subpathetic and then stick it on Urban Dictionary beside a little picture of Kevin Lowe’s face.

 

Trade Winds

Chiarelli’s hiring forces us to believe that the tire-kicking will begin on the possibility of acquiring Bruins’ top goaltending prospect Malcolm Subban, whom he drafted in the first round in 2012 while GM of Boston.

Subban has some holes in his game but is tremendously athletic and competitive and would immediately jump to the top of Edmonton’s goaltending depth chart. This is not the case in Beantown, where Subban is blocked long-term by the B’s resident all-star puck-stopper, Tuukka Rask. This tire-kicking might merely result in bruised toes, as the Bruins could likely want Edmonton’s second first-round pick (16th overall) in return.

The Edmonton Oilers might be interested in Bruins goalie prospect Malcolm Subban.

The Edmonton Oilers might be interested in Bruins goalie prospect Malcolm Subban.

 

This is way too high of a price for Subban, who is not even one of our top three goaltending prospects (that would be, in order, Vasilevski, Gibson and Demko). If Chiarelli could talk the Bruins down to his pair of second-rounders (33rd overall and 57th overall), it would be a fairer deal.

As soon as the Oilers won the lottery, the trade rumors of Nail Yakupov for a young stud defenseman began almost immediately. We would like to use our platform to say this is a bad idea. We have stated before (at length) that Yakupov, with his unending passion and lethal shot, could score 35-40 goals in the right situation. Playing on a line with Connor McDavid should be precisely that situation. As an alternative, we would like to suggest an entirely different platform: with McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins setting the team up for success up the middle for the foreseeable future, why not dangle Draisaitl?

A perfect trade partner would be the New Jersey Devils, who have three blue-chip young blueline talents on the right side, an area where the Oilers are particularly barren, in Adam Larsson, Damon Severson and Steven Santini. A former fourth overall pick, Larsson really picked up his game last season after the firing of head coach/team albatross Peter DeBoer, playing like a future all-star finally reaching his immense potential. Conveniently enough, the Devils number one need is for a future number one center. Draisaitl straight up for Larsson? It would be an even deal which made perfect sense for both teams.

 

GM Peter Chiarelli Draft Dossier

The good news is, while heading the Bruins drafts from 2007-2014, Peter Chiarelli was far superior at finding talent outside of the top 10 overall picks than the Edmonton Oilers. The bad news is, he still was not very good at finding talent outside the top 10.

Chiarelli’s best picks were both taken with very early selections acquired from Toronto in the infamous Phil Kessel trade: Tyler Sequin (2nd overall, 2010) and Dougie Hamilton (9th overall, 2011). Another shrewd pick with star potential was his final first-rounder for the Bruins, David Pastrnak (25th overall, 2014).

Peter Chiarelli need to find some NHL-caliber players outside of the first round.

Peter Chiarelli need to find some NHL-caliber players outside of the first round.

Chiarelli’s first rounders were not without pratfalls. Zach Hamill (2007) may be the definition of pratfall. Chiarelli took Hamill 8th overall. San Jose took Logan Couture 9th overall. We’re pretty certain Chiarelli would like to have that pick back. More disturbing is that Chiarelli did not have a single pick taken after the first round make a legitimate NHL impact.

His best second-rounder was Ryan Spooner (45th overall, 2010), though we are high on the potential of Ryan Donato, taken 56th overall last June. The only picks from the third round or later taken by Chiarelli which could be considered good picks were a pair of goalies in Michael Hutchinson (77th overall, 2008) and Zane McIntyre (165th overall, 2010) and a pair of checking-line type forwards in Craig Cunningham (97th overall, 2010) and Seth Griffith (131st overall, 2012).

Not exactly Ken Holland/Steve Yzerman propensities for late-round gems going on when inspecting Chiarelli’s draft record.

To Chiarelli’s credit, he shows very little prejudice in his draft proclivities. While 22 of his 48 picks in Boston were Canadian (46%) and 38 were North American (79%), he also drafted four Swedes, a pair of Czechs and Russians, a German and a Norwegian. While 42% of his picks were from the CHL and another 23% were from the USA high school circuit, Chiarelli drafted out of over a dozen different leagues and was the only GM of the 2000’s to risk a first rounder on a player from the seldom-scouted AJHL (Joe Colborne, 2008).

Quite simply, Chiarelli relies on the tried and true “best available player” philosophy when it comes to drafting.

 

Edmonton Oilers Draft Preview

The Oilers, as every hockey fan on the planet knows, have the first overall pick. They also own the 16th pick in the first round, acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the David Perron trade. Their own second round pick is 33rd overall, and they have Montreal’s second-rounder, 57th overall, as a result of the Jeff Petry trade. In a deep and talented draft pool with Chiarelli running the show, Edmonton fans could have a quartet of future Oilers’ contributors to cheer for.

The Oilers, as every hockey fan on the planet knows, are drafting McDavid first overall. With their second pick in the first round, it is almost certain they will draft a defenseman. After the first round, it is likely that the Oilers, loaded with top-line talent up front, concentrate on defensemen and also pick one of the top-rated goaltenders. If they grab any forwards whatsoever, it would be likely that they would go after tough forwards late who could fill future checking-line roles.

 

1st Round (1st overall)

Um, we think the Oilers should go with Connor McDavid. There is really no point in typing an explanation. It would not surprise us if he topped 80 points next year. When saying how awesome this kid is, one kind of just runs out of superlatives and wants to rely on expletives, but this is a family-friendly web site.

 

1st Round (16th overall)

There is no doubt in our minds that the Oilers will draft the best available defenseman here. While they would prefer a right-shooting rearguard (top defense prospect Nurse shoots left), they need a ton of blue line help in the prospect pipeline and will certainly go for D right here. In the Today’s Slapshot two-round mock draft  we had Edmonton taking slick-skating Saint John defenseman Thomas Chabot here.

Recently, we have begun to believe that Chabot’s recent draft helium could have him being taken as early as 12th overall by Dallas or 14th overall by Boston. Were that the case, we feel Edmonton would be equally thrilled to land Jeremy Roy, who does not have the speed of Chabot but is grittier and has excellent offensive instincts and a right-handed shot. Another consideration would be Tri-City’s hulking Brandon Carlo — a physical, shut-down player who could be a right-handed version of Darnell Nurse. We at TSS are big fans of Carlo — and the combination of him and Nurse could create a bruising back end to compliment the ridiculous offensive potential of Edmonton’s young cache of forwards.

 

2nd Round (33rd overall)

In our two-round mock, we have Edmonton going for a goaltender here, and we are sticking with that theory. Drafting goalies in the first round is becoming an increasingly rare event in today’s NHL, and the early second round is when many of the top net minding prospects are scooped up. Our top goaltending prospect is Russian Ilya Samsonov, who we believe the Buffalo Sabres will be taking two picks prior. We believe the Oilers will be taking MacKenzie Blackwood, an athletic 6’4″ specimen who showed outstanding potential stopping pucks for the OHL’s Barrie Colts.

 

2nd Round (57th overall)

It would not shock us if, after drafting McDavid to put pucks in opposing nets, the Oilers used their ensuing three picks trying to prevent pucks from winding up in their own. We see them taking another defenseman here, and there should still be several quality options available to them in a deep 2015 draft class. If they are extremely lucky, a high-upside option like Rasmus Andersson, Vince Dunn or Mitchell Vande Sompel will fall to them. If not, there will be several reliable stay-at-home options likely still around. Two of our favorites include Matthew Spencer and Ethan Bear.

 

Later Rounds

Though Chiarelli will likely concentrate on drafting defensemen and goalies with his picks following the historic McDavid selection, it would also not surprise us if he took a pugilistic forward for his checking lines to give the team a bit more grit up front. Charley built a tough and physical team in Boston, and we do not expect him to abandon that blueprint in Edmonton. We have word that, prior to Chiarelli’s dismissal, the Bruins had several scouts in Seattle eying uber-tough RW Keegan Kolesar, an absolute bruiser who has some decent offensive upside.

 

In Conclusion

A new age is dawning in Edmonton, a hockey-mad city which has suffered greatly since the glory days of Gretzky and Kurri and Messier and Coffey. McDavid is a rare talent. On our scouting scale of 1-10 in which we listed Draisaitl as a future star at 8.5, McDavid would be about a 10.0, the first 10.0 since Sidney Crosby was drafted in 2005.

In addition, Chiarelli looks to change to Oilers’ toxic culture of nepotism and losing. Bringing in a man with a Stanley Cup ring from outside of the organization could be just what the franchise needs to change its fortunes. Chiarelli’s job is clear, but it is not easy — can he surround his stunningly talented group of young forwards with enough on defense and in goal first achieve and then go the distance in the NHL playoffs? His legacy, and the future of the Edmonton Oilers are riding on the answer to this very question.

 

Agree? Disagree? Think we need to spend time in rehab? Feel free to use the comments section provided below or hit me up on Twitter: @StIves72.

Steven Ives is an extremely unsuccessful cryptozoologist who, when finding himself unable to find Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, considers himself a writer. He was born in the Bronx, New York and grew up in New Jersey and somehow survived both of these things. He now lives in an area of Brooklyn where people used to shoot each other and now just shoot independent movies. He has immense experience in sports journalism, having contributed over a billion words of content to mlb.com and several hockey writing websites. He has also written for DC Comics, but that had more to do with Wonder Woman than with Pavel Datsyuk though, if you ask Steven, they both have super powers. Unlike certain former Vice Presidents of the United States, Steven admits he has made many mistakes in his life. He often finds himself in the throes of unspeakable angst due to the fact that People Magazine has never once included him in its "50 Most Beautiful People" edition. He now writes about hockey stuff for todaysslapshot.com and is hard at work on a novel which he hopes will vault him into a rarified air of artistic obscurity.

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