There is no secret about who the first and second overall picks of the 2015 Draft will be. Connor McDavid, a true franchise talent, will go first overall. Jack Eichel, a legitimate first overall selection in most years, will go second.
If the Oilers end up with the third overall pick – a distinct possibility – what could the team do?
Take the Pick
If we look at Bob McKenzie’s midseason list, which is the gold standard for this sort of thing, we can circle four names as legitimate candidates to go third overall. In alphabetical order they are:
- Lawson Crouse. McKenzie: “[H]e moves extremely well for a big man, protects the puck like a seasoned professional, is a first-rate penalty killer and offers a physical dimension that every NHL team wants and needs.” Crouse has 27 goals and 45 points in 51 OHL games this season, and has recorded 15 goals and 29 points in 27 games since January 1. Listed at 6’3”, 212 pounds.
- Noah Hanifin. McKenzie: “Only one of 10 scouts surveyed didn’t have the mobile, puck-moving defenceman at No. 3, dropping him to No. 4. The consensus, though, is quite clear that next to McDavid and Eichel, he’s the premier prospect available.” Hanifin has four goals and 21 points in 33 games at Boston College this season and has recorded two goals and 14 points in 16 games since January 1. Listed at 6’3”, 205 pounds.
- Mitch Marner. McKenzie: “Marner has plenty of “wow factor” – a dynamic and creative offensive wizard who makes everyone on the ice better and has the ability to finish plays himself. But at 160 pounds and still under 6 feet, some wonder how well those skills will translate to the pro game.”Marner has 44 goals 123 points in 59 OHL games this season, and has recorded 14 goals and 50 points in 23 games since January 1. Listed at 5’11”, 164 pounds.
- Dylan Strome. McKenzie: “Strome is the big centre every NHL team looks for. His vision, playmaking ability and productivity (30 goals and 85 points in 45 games) are elite. But some scouts caution there’s no dynamic quality to his game (no “wow factor,” as one scout put it) and that he doesn’t possess the extra gear or pace that separates McDavid and Eichel from the rest of the field.” Strome has 39 goals and 116 points in 62 OHL games this season, and has recorded 15 goals and 49 points in 26 games since January 1. Listed at 6’3”, 187 pounds.
Each of those candidates is a pretty special player. Two stand out as probable Oilers – the consensus defenceman and the big centre with solid point totals and NHL bloodlines – but the big power forward who is a little shy offensively and the tiny dynamo with the ridiculous offence are intriguing, too.
Trade the Pick
Alternatively, the Oilers could move the pick.
Teams don’t intentionally trade top-three picks as a rule. The Panthers moved from first overall to third overall in both 2002 and 2003 but in those years the gap between first and third was a lot smaller. It’s a cinch that the Oilers aren’t going to be able to move the third overall pick+ for Connor McDavid.
Prior to that, the New York Islanders moved a second overall selection in 2001 (Jason Spezza), forward Bill Muckalt and defenceman Zdeno Chara to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for pivot Alexei Yashin, who had finished 11th in NHL scoring the previous season. This was a signature Mike Milbury move, and we all know how it turned out.
If we expand our list by one selection, the 1999 fourth overall pick (Pavel Brendl) moved three times. One of them was in a deal for the first overall pick (which we will ignore) but the other two trades were pretty interesting:
- Vancouver traded defenceman Bryan McCabe (24 years old, averaged 24:13 per night the year before) and a first round pick in 2000 to Chicago for the fourth overall selection in 1999. Putting that deal in today’s terms, it might be something like moving the third overall pick to Winnipeg in exchange for Tyler Myers and the Jets’ 2016 first-round selection.
- The New York Rangers traded Dan Cloutier (23 years old, 0.914 save percentage over 22 games the year before), Niklas Sundstrom (24 years old, 43 points in 81 games the year before), and first- and third-round picks in 2000 to Tampa Bay for the fourth overall selection in 1999. Putting that deal in today’s terms, it’s a little like trading the third overall choice to Detroit for Petr Mrazek, Riley Sheahan and the Red Wings’ first- and third-round choices in 2016.
Now, there’s no guarantee that a modern team would be willing to pay the prices that Chicago and New York did 16 years ago. We haven’t seen that kind of trade very often in recent years. However, it is a good bet that the Oilers could cash the pick in for a useful young player or even two at the draft, upgrading the roster immediately but sacrificing the upside that comes with their choice of the quartet above.
General manager Craig MacTavish made it clear that the Oilers were almost certainly going to keep the pick rather than make a trade for established NHL players. In his March 2 availability he told reporters that he didn’t see any other option for the team other than a gradual rebuild built on players like Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl. Despite this, he also said that “everything is in play” to improve the team before adding “not the lottery pick, obviously.”
If the Oilers end up with the third overall pick and get an offer that really impresses them, maybe that changes. But it seems clear that the likeliest outcome here if the Oilers finish with the third overall pick is that either Hanifin or Strome joins the organization.
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