Will the Edmonton Oilers select dynamic Sarnia Sting forward Nail Yakupov with the first pick in at the NHL Entry Draft in June or will they lean toward addressing organizational need by opting for Everett Silvertips defenseman Ryan Murray, ranked No. 2 by Central Scouting?
If Edmonton’s chief scout Stu MacGregor has an answer to that question, he declined to pass it on to me today – I’ve been asking for a peek at the player ranking list he and his staff of amateur scouts compile annually for about a decade now without any success – as he prepares to attend the NHL combine, which starts in Toronto May 28.
A lot of fans and hockey people think taking Yakupov, the consensus No. 1 pick, with the Oilers third consecutive first overall pick is a no-brainer because he’s considered the best player available. Ken Campbell of the Globe and Mail makes that case here.
With the Oilers already stocked at forward with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, others are singing the praises of Murray, seen by many as a sure bet for the next 15 years as a top-pairing NHL blueliner. Mike Morreale of NHL.com writes about Murray here.
So, BPA or organizational need? While MacGregor wouldn’t reveal which way he and his staff are leaning as they prepare to interview Yakupov, Murray and 81 other prospects in Hogtown, he did offer his evaluation of both when I caught up with him today.
“We’re still working through that process,” MacGregor said when I asked him if there’s a clear-cut No. 1 on Edmonton’s draft list. “We haven’t really got to that point yet. I’m going to say it’s between a group of guys.”
Really? A group of guys? Yakupov, Murray and . . . Alex Galchenyuk . . . Morgan Rielly . . . Griffin Reinhart? Or is it just that you won’t tell me?
“That’s right,” MacGregor said. “But I think (GM) Steve Tambellini was pretty clear that, you know, maybe we do have to make an organizational decision . . .”
So, with ambiguity duly delivered, I’m not going to put words in MacGregor’s mouth. Instead, here’s what he said about Yakupov and Murray:
“He’s one of those electrifying offensive players,” MacGregor said. “He’s got skill. He’s got the intensity to try to be an offensive factor each shift. I think he needs to get stronger and fill out physically to be able to do that at the NHL level, but he’s got the potential to be a high-end offensive player.”
I asked MacGregor if comparisons to former Soviet star Valeri Kharlamov – an old-school parallel that’s repeatedly been drawn by Bob Stauffer of 630 CHED – are warranted. Kharlamov was killed in a car accident in 1981 at age 33. Kharlamov is nothing more than a YouTube clip for fans under 40, but he was special.
“It’s big thing to put on a kid, but he’s like Kharlamov in lots of ways,” said MacGregor. “That’s going way, way back and I don’t know if people even remember him . . . how fast he was, how darting he was, how he always seemed to get the puck in the key areas. That probably is a very good comparison.”
“Ryan Murray is a very good young player and a good person,” MacGregor said. “He’s a great skater. He’s mobile, quick, fast and positionally, he’s very sound. He’s a solid defender and a very good transitional puck-mover.
“He’s smart off the offensive blue line. He’s a solid package as a player. What he’s showing with the men (at the World Championships) is he can think with them and play with them. I’m sure he’s a first-pairing guy, yes.
“I think he has enough offense. He missed three months with his injury and he played one game before the World Junior camp. I think he’ll be a player who can play a lot of minutes, play in key situations offensively and defensively and play a long time.”
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.