The good news is Leon Draisaitl brings the combination of size and skill the Edmonton Oilers have been lacking down the middle in their mix of top-six forwards for several seasons.
The bad news, unless GM Craig MacTavish gets something done on the free agent or trade front to acquire a pivot with the stature and skill to bring the same dimensions Draisaitl does, is the big German from the Prince Albert Raiders might be pressed into that role when the 2014-15 season begins.
I’m not saying Draisaitl doesn’t have the ability to step into the line-up the season after his draft day, the way Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov have, because we don’t know that yet. But if MacTavish can’t find another centre, the options are limited.
While Draisaitl looks like he’ll complement Nugent-Hopkins as a second-line centre, providing the size and skill Sam Gagner can’t, I’d rather see how that unfolds after another WHL season or, at the very least, with him starting next season here playing more protected minutes as a third-line centre.
WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS?
Preaching patience in the wake of the Entry Draft is a common refrain in every NHL city. Don’t rush the kids. Let them develop. It makes all the sense in the world. Putting it into practice is much more difficult, especially with a forward mix that shapes up the way the Oilers does.
If Gagner is moved to the wing after his epic struggles of last season, and I suspect Jason Gregor is right when he says he expects that to happen, then there’s two open spots behind RNH — assuming Boyd Gordon is bumped down to fourth-line duty with added minutes on special teams.
I thought MacTavish would get something done to fill at least one of those holes leading into the draft or in Philadelphia – wrong again. Unless that changes in coming weeks, and MacTavish has given every indication he will be aggressive trying to make that happen, the likelihood is we’ll see Draisaitl next season, ready or not.
I’m all for Draisaitl being given the chance to compete for a roster spot, and if he earns it on merit, that’s fine by me. If he gets it because there’s no other real options in the middle and he’s force-fed into the No. 2 centre spot, not so much. Draisaitl has looked like a fit to me for several weeks, he was the obvious pick in my books, but now the player development phase kicks in.
That means surrounding yet another blue chip prospect with the right veteran support, and we know the Oilers have been less than stellar in the regard far too often in recent seasons. The results we know. They need to get it right this time.
WHILE I’M AT IT . . .
. . . I thought MacTavish might have a trading partner in Philadelphia, which will be up against the cap even when Chris Pronger comes off the books, because MacT and Paul Holmgren spoke at length last summer, but didn’t see much happening with new GM Ron Hextall. What about now?
. . . MacTavish has plenty of salary cap space even after the $9-million deal he handed Nikita Nikitin, so he’s got the luxury of overpaying in a UFA market that always commands top dollar. I hope MacTavish finds a way to spend some of it on Brian Boyle, who’ll test the UFA waters at the end of a three-year, $5.1 million contact with the New York Rangers. He’s a fit here.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.