In recent years, the Oilers have a pattern of addressing defense relatively early in the draft. With Nail Yakupov far-and-away the consensus choice for first overall, is that something they should look at doing again, perhaps with their second round pick?
While there have been some critical words about the 2012 Draft, one thing it isn’t short of is defensemen. Red Line Report, for instance, lists eight of the14 best prospects as defensemen in its latest bulletin. Over at NHLNumbers, Derek Zona has a consensus draft list updated for May, and finds six of the top 11 prospects on the blue line.
An interesting thing happens on Derek’s list around 30th overall, though. Of the five players ranked between 28th and 32nd, four of them are defensemen. Assuming that the Oilers a) take Yakupov first overall and b) want to address the blue line early in the draft, who might they be interested in? Here are some possibilities:
Damon Severson, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
- Stats: 56GP – 7G – 30A – 37PTS, +6, 80 PIM
- Vitals: Born August 7, 1994; 6’2”, 198lbs.
- Consensus rank: 28th overall.
Over at Copper & Blue, Derek Zona has already profiled Severson, interviewing Dan Lizee of The Scouting Report. It’s an interesting interview, and Severson comes across as a good prospect, but with a skillset similar to Oscar Klefbom or David Musil. Lizee compares him to Eric Brewer with a chance at more offense; he’s a horse at the WHL level, playing in all situations, but it’s fair to ask how much he’ll add to the attack at the NHL level. Red Line Report has him ranked at 27th overall, and in October described him as making “quick, intelligent decisions” and playing with “flawless positioning.”
Michael Matheson, Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)
- Stats: 53GP – 11G – 16A – 27PTS, 84 PIM
- Vitals: Born February 27, 1994; 6’0”, 170lbs.
- Consensus rank: 29th overall.
Matheson, a Quebec native, would be playing in the QMJHL except that he has opted to go the college route. The Pipeline Show has had him as a guest blogger at times this year, and describes him as “a solid skater with strong passing skills and a calm, mature demeanor on the ice.” Size is a question mark, and I mean that literally – he’s variously listed between 6’ and 6’2”, and between 165lbs and 180lbs.
Ludvig Bystrom, Modo (SEL)
- Stats: 20GP – 0G – 1A – 1PTS, 8 PIM
- Vitals: Born July 20, 1994; 6’0”, 187lbs.
- Consensus rank: 30th overall.
Bystrom’s puck skills, skating and hockey sense are what raise him on this list. His physical play is what knocks him down. Draft expert Corey Pronman profiled Bystrom for Hockey Prospectus and noted that the physical questions aren’t so much due to a lack of effort as they are to size – Bystrom just doesn’t have the frame and the strength needed to be above average in those areas. My favourite line of Pronman’s review was this one: “He has a very low panic threshold and really knows how to evade checkers, find his outlets through tight steams, and if he has a short window to make a play, he normally is able to execute.” Of note: Bystrom ran up flashy totals in Swedish junior hockey, where he got more minutes – he was a hair under the point-per-game mark, and had over 100 PIM.
Jordan Schmaltz, Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
- Stats: 54GP – 10G – 31A – 41PTS, +19, 29 PIM
- Vitals: Born October 8, 1993; 6’2”, 190lbs.
- Consensus rank: 32nd overall.
Schmaltz has dropped a bit on most lists since the start of the year, and has been tagged as something of a project. That’s not a crippling label – Schmaltz has his heart set on college hockey, so he has a few years to round out his game. The Scouting Report gives him credit for improving defensively, but questions whether he’ll be able to combine a reliable defensive game with offensive production. Meanwhile, Corey Pronman writes that he’s a “high-end puck mover, averagish at best everywhere else.”
Dalton Thrower, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
- Stats: 68GP – 18G – 36A – 54PTS, -4, 103 PIM
- Vitals: Born December 20, 1993; 6’0”, 195lbs.
- Consensus rank: 35th overall.
Despite Thrower’s very respectable offensive totals and small frame, there’s no question about what makes him really attractive as a prospect. Red Line’s capsule on him back in October used the phrases “hard-nosed,” “prototypical WHL blue-liner,” “plays with an edge,” “physical,” and “in-your-face” before concluding “Really strong on his skates and makes the big open ice hit. Also a willing combatant who will drop the mitts and can throw ‘em pretty well.” The questions on Thrower generally relate to hockey sense and vision – Red Line describes the latter as “good enough” and The Scouting Report says that he “needs to continue to show that he can make quick decisions and show improved decision making.”
Any of these players could be Oilers on draft day, and the odds that one of them gets picked improve if Edmonton does the expected thing and chooses Yakupov with the first overall selection. There’s something to like or dislike about all of them, but in each case these are picks made for the long-term – Bystrom needs time, the college players need time, and Severson and Thrower are both primarily defensive players who likely need time too. If the Oilers go this route, these are players that aren’t going to solve defensive problems immediately.