The Edmonton Oilers don’t really need defensive prospects – the organizational cupboard is loaded there. But if Aaron Ekblad, a potential franchise defenceman, falls to the team in the No. 3 slot at this summer’s draft, it’s going to be awfully hard for the club to pick somebody else.
How would the addition of Ekblad impact the rest of Edmonton’s summer planning?
Ekblad + the Current NHL Depth Chart
The Oilers have five defencemen we can be reasonably confident will return for next season. Justin Schultz and Jeff Petry are the only locks on the right side, while on the left side Andrew Ference, Martin Marincin and probably Oscar Klefbom (over Darnell Nurse) are tagged for NHL jobs.
Ekblad, variably listed at 6’3” or 6’4” and over 210 pounds, is a do-everything defenceman with a right-handed shot who plays on the right side, so there probably isn’t a lot of concern about him being physically ready for NHL duty and there’s a natural home for him on the starboard half of the third pairing if he makes the jump immediately.
There’s an awful lot of green in that mix, though: three guys with less than a full season of experience, plus Schultz, plus Petry. Presumably Petry and Marincin would be reunited, after which the Oilers would have the option of going with a veteran (Ference/Schultz) and a rookie (Klefbom/Ekblad) pairing or splitting the two (Ference with Ekblad, Schultz with Klefbom).
None of that says ‘playoff calibre defence,’ which is why the GM might look at another option.
If the Oilers draft Ekblad, they’re looking at adding a minimum of four rookie defencemen in a span of two-to-three seasons: Ekblad, Nurse, Klefbom, Marincin and whoever sneaks through from a pretty good group of second-tier prospects (Dillon Simpson, Martin Gernat, David Musil, Brandon Davidson).
Delaying Ekblad for a season is a possibility that doesn’t help much in that regard; it would just mean the Oilers breaking in Nurse and Ekblad together in 2015-16.
When Craig MacTavish said “if we have to go young, we go young” with respect to the defence corps he was being pressured by two realities – the first (widely acknowledged) that it’s difficult to add impact defencemen and the second (less so) that at some point the Oilers are going to absorb the NHL learning curve of a lot of young defenders.
The longer those players get to develop outside the NHL, the less stressful that learning curve is going to be, but it’s difficult to imagine a scenario (other than collapse on the part of the players) where Ekblad/Nurse are held outside the NHL longer than 2015-16.
It already seems entirely plausible that at some point in the not too distant future, one of the Oilers’ young up-and-coming defencemen will be cashed in for immediate help. The addition of Ekblad would make that even more likely (as would a trade of the No. 3 pick for someone like Griffin Reinhart).
Who would go? Probably the low man on the draft pedigree totem pole. Marincin consistently lags behind Klefbom in the public comments made by the general manager, and presumably he falls well below not only the Swedish rookie but also back of Nurse and Ekblad, our hypothetical addition.
Marincin’s already presumably in significant danger, as he’s competing with Nurse and Klefbom for a job on the left side of the defence. The addition of another young defenceman would probably seal his fate, as it would exacerbate Edmonton’s need to simultaneously acquire and clear a spot for a veteran, two moves that a Marincin trade could bring about in one transaction.