Talking about the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, Phoenix Coyotes general manager Don Maloney has made it very clear that he’s interested in potentially making a deal. Are the Coyotes a good match for the Oilers on the trade front?
Maloney told NHL.com the following about the 27th overall pick that his team currently owns:
“We’re probably more inclined to move the pick one way or the other. A lot of this stuff gets talked about and dealt with on the draft floor. You look at what might be there. What’s the value of dropping some to get an extra pick or two? Does that make sense? Or is there a guy that’s sitting there that you might have in your top 12 sitting there at 19 or 20, you say maybe we throw something together to get up. For me, it’s really exploring where we can go with it.”
That’s an interesting comment for the Edmonton Oilers, the team that possesses the 32nd overall pick. The Oilers have in the past shown a willingness to move up and grab a player late in the first round that they feel strongly about – most recently in 2007, when they dealt the 30th and 36th overall picks to grab Riley Nash 21st overall (coincidentally, that trade was made with the Coyotes, who drafted Nick Ross and Joel Gistedt with the picks they received).
Over the last few days both Steve Tambellini (here) and Stu MacGregor (here) have made interesting comments about the Oilers defense. In the linked interview, Tambellini was careful to differentiate between roster need and organizational need – i.e., the Oilers’ roster needs defensive help but that doesn’t necessarily translate to the rest of the organization. For his part, MacGregor indicated that the Oilers have a number of good prospects on the blue line in the system.
Even so – and particularly if the Oilers end up using their first overall pick on a forward like Nail Yakupov – it likely isn’t a reach to suggest that the Oilers might want to use their high second round pick on a defenseman. With a number of very good defenseman available near the first round, might the Oilers consider using their second round pick to switch places with Phoenix? The Coyotes seem like a strong partner.
Maloney also said this:
“We have a lot of defenseman in our system, young defenseman, that we feel really good with where we’re at. This is a strong [defense] draft. It may be looking at how the forward group is shaping up. If there’s a forward that we felt is sliding to a point where we can give up something to get him, that would be my initial thought on that. We’re looking hard at a couple of those forwards we like.”
This is where things get interesting (with all due respect to moving up into the late first round, that’s not the sort of deal that comes across as really exciting). The Coyotes have a number of young defenseman on their NHL roster and in the system that would be very appealing to the Oilers.
Naturally, the most appealing player is 20-year old Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who played the role of number one defenseman in the playoffs (he was second in regular season ice-time behind 25-year old Keith Yandle). The sixth overall pick in 2009, Ekman-Larsson might be a player a team can count on to anchor the blue line for the next decade.
And that’s the problem. Teams as a rule do not trade 20-year olds that are already excelling in a top-pairing defensive role. The Oilers could dangle the first overall pick… but given that Ekman-Larsson is the Coyotes cornerstone on the blue line, it seems highly improbable that there’s a deal to be made there.
On the other hand, the Coyotes prospect ranks are also brimming with defensemen, while the forwards in the system aren’t nearly as capable. Two prospects in particular – Brandon Gormley (13th overall pick in 2010) and David Rundblad (17th overall pick in 2009, acquired in the Kyle Turris trade) – are exceptional talents, and both are superior prospects to anybody in the Oilers’ blue line pipeline right now.
Brandon Gormley’s a 6’2” defender who has been a point-per-game talent in the QMJHL for two seasons now. Here, in part, is what McKeen’s Hockey had to say about him this past summer:
[T]all, smart and poised .. makes intelligent reads on both sides of the puck .. not flashy – more tidy, efficient and by-the-book .. good, stable stride… steadily gaining confidence in his puckrushing and heavy slapshot .. supports the puck well .. knows how to sustain tight gaps while defending and is a proficient stick-checker .. character player with leadership qualities .. needs to fill in his strength and quickness to complete the package.
The primary question with Gormley is how good he’ll be – his ceiling is somewhat limited because he’s not a high-end offensive prospect; he’s just a very good, stable defenseman who is likely to have a long career as a top-four NHL defenseman.
The guy the Oilers should really be interested in is David Rundblad. Rundblad was traded in his debut North American season after some bumps in the road early with Ottawa, but he’s still an outstanding prospect (Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus ranked him as the 11th-best prospect in the NHL at midseason). He’s also due for some better luck – his possession numbers were actually quite good (in a sheltered role) in 2011-12, but he got killed by goaltending – his on-ice save percentage was a miserable 0.862 at even-strength.
In 2010-11, Rundblad’s last season in the Swedish Elite League, he was named top defenseman after recording 50 points in 55 games played (he finished third overall in the league that year in points and led it in assists). Again, from McKeen’s:
[B]ig, skilled, strong-shooting rearguard .. puck-control type, comfortable in possession and supported by a wide wingspan and good stick-handling skills .. quick to identify offensive openings and is a talented and accurate passer – tailors his speed and delivery… displays good poise and shooting instincts running the power play .. keeps shots low and into areas for easier tips.
The knocks on Rundblad include sub-optimal skating and the tendency to occasionally cheat for offense; not mentioned is the fact that he’s comfortable playing a physical game.
Rundblad represents something the Oilers simply don’t have in their system: an offensive defenseman with the potential of being an impact point-producer in the NHL. The Oilers have a host of good defensive prospects, but all are more pedestrian in terms of their offensive ability.
The Coyotes paid dearly for Rundblad, but their own organizational needs might mean that the Oilers could pry him loose if they made the right offer.
In all likelihood, it won’t happen. The Oilers tend to be a cautious team, and of course there are always risks when making a trade with a manager like Don Maloney. Even so, it only makes sense for the Oilers to talk to Phoenix; in terms of team need, the two clubs are perfectly matched for a trade.
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