The x-factor at the top end of the draft this year was, without question, the status of Russian prospect Valeri Nichushkin. Playing in the KHL and under contract for time to come, there were significant red flags for any NHL team interested in picking a guy who most rate with the top four (Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Aleksander Barkov) in terms of talent.
Nichushkin made it easier for everybody today by telling a Russian newspaper he’s leaving the KHL for the NHL next year, and further that his team, Moscow Dynamo, was willing to release him from his contract. In so doing, he also made the draft much more interesting for the Edmonton Oilers.
Via the delightful Google Translate, here are Nichushkin’s comments about leaving:
I had already decided that leave in the NHL – said Nichushkin. – In the" Dynamo "calmly reacted to this: I was told that I could leave if I want. No legal problems there. Contract with" Dinamo "will terminate, and I’m going free agent. was lucky that I went to the club to make concessions. We agreed that they would let me go, but if the ocean something goes wrong, I’m right back to them.
It’s always a little dicey using Google Translate to find out what Europeans are saying in the European press, but the message here seems clear enough: Nichushkin wants to play in the NHL next year, Dynamo is okay with that, and he’ll only be back in the KHL next year if he doesn’t make a major league roster.
Later in the piece, Nichushkin specifically mentions Tampa Bay and Carolina as teams with possible interest in him. Tampa Bay isn’t a big surprise – Al Murray, their director of scouting, raves about Nichushkin – but Carolina hasn’t drafted a Russian in ages, and certainly not so early. Talent-wise, it’s understandable why the Hurricanes would be interested, though.
The top tier of the draft at this point is basically the five names above, but Nichushkin had major slide potential given his contract status in the KHL. After those five, Elias Lindholm is generally seen as the consensus number six, Sean Monahan the number seven, and then a group of defencemen (Darnell Nurse, Nikita Zadorov, Rasmus Ristolainen) and winger Hunter Shinkaruk.
The Oilers are rumoured to be after centre Sean Monahan, but prior to today perhaps the most likely scenario was the top four being drafted in order, followed by Lindholm, followed by Monahan, leaving the Oilers with a choice between Nichushkin and a bunch of blueliners.
Now, not only is it more likely that the Oilers still have the option of picking Monahan when pick number seven rolls around, but if Nichushkin somehow does slide he should be more attractive both to them (long-term, a 6’4” winger with high-end talent certainly could be a fit on the Oilers’ depth chart) and to other teams if they decide to trade the pick down as general manager Craig MacTavish has suggested.
All in all, this is a very good day for Edmonton.
Don’t forget that it’s never too late to play StreakCred – the new playoff pool game from the Nation Network. You can win a trip for 2 to Oktoberfest in Germany among the awesome prizes up for grabs. Now only $10 and a portion of the proceeds go to Edmonton Charities. Sign up here.
Recently around the Nation Network
One of the things that’s always fun to watch for is good young players falling out of favour in other NHL cities. That’s exactly what Thomas Drance is doing and in Three Young Forwards the Canucks Should Target he identifies a trio of talented young players that might be ripe for trade:
Trading for former first round picks is demonstrably a risky game, but it’s a risky game the Canucks should be willing to try their hand at this summer. Here’s a list of three young forwards, with top-ten pick pedigree who, for whatever reason, appear to have fallen out of favour within their organizations. These players won’t come free, or even cheap, but could help the Canucks jump-start a youth movement going forward.
Click the link above to read the whole piece, or feel free check out some recent pieces here at Oilers Nation: