Worst Case Scenario: The Oilers somehow gain enough points
to overtake the Leafs for 27th place in the NHL over the final weeks
of the season. The team is stuck in the 4th spot in the draft and,
depending on how the lottery balls sort out, they might end up picking 5th.
Even staying in 28th there’s a very good chance
that the Oilers will end up picking 4th. Just as a reminder,
finishing 3rd last means there’s a 55% chance that a team higher in
the standings than the Oilers wins that lottery. It’s as close to a coin flip
as you’re going to get to being forced down one last spot.
If Edmonton does finish exactly where they are now and
indeed are stuck picking 4th overall then they will very likely be
missing out on the two franchise centers Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel as well
as the highest rated defenseman Noah Hanifin. That leaves the Oilers with a
significantly less obvious decision to make at the draft table.
The two front runners to round out the top five are Dylan
Strome and Mitch Marner. There might be an outsider on the frays but those two
finished the season 1 + 2 in OHL scoring as 17 year olds and should be
considered as elite prospects. Passing on either should not be done lightly (I’m looking at you, Crouse).
Younger brother of Ryan Strome, who is the Islanders’ third
leading scorer, Dylan Strome might have well been considered a top two pick in
any other draft year. He’s a 6’3” 187lb center who has 45 Goals, 84 Assists, and
129 Points in the OHL in 68 Games. The biggest knock against him isn’t really
anything he’s done but who else he plays with on his team.
He’s the second best Otter in Erie behind the dynamo
that is Connor McDavid. They often played on separate lines and only together
on the power play, but that’s still going to provide him a pretty big bump. He’d
invariably face weaker matchups than McDavid and even a little time on the PP
goes a long way with someone as offensively proficient as McSaviour.
Strome finished the year with 1.9 Points per Game, but how
much of that is the McDavid Bump? Well, luckily (?) for teams who are drafting
in that range, McDavid broke his hand, went to the World Juniors, and was sat
out at least one game to rest. In total, Strome played 21 games without McDavid
and he still produced 35 points in those games.
That puts Strome at a 1.67 points per game pace with the
most difficult matchups and without a freak outlying talent there to boost his
production. That number is still the third highest in the OHL for
draft eligible kids. In other words, it isn’t all McDavid. Dylan Strome is a
fantastic prospect in his own right. The fact that he’s also centerman goes a
long way too.
Mitch Marner suffers from an acute case of “Not Being Tall”,
which has hurt his placement in the rankings all year. At 5’10” and 164lbs he
is very undersized compared to the other top five hopefuls. He is only now getting
some respect for the season he had after finishing second in OHL
scoring. He could have been first, but Strome exploded for six points on the
final game of the season to overtake him.
Marner has been scoring in the Ontario Hockey League since
he was 16 years old. In his first ever season with the Knights, barely
old enough to drive, he scored 59 points in 64 games. He was almost a point per game last year. As
an aside, Dylan Strome only had 39 points in 60 games last year. Now this
season he lead the charge for the Knights to the tune of 44 Goals, 82 Assists,
and 126 Points in just 63 games.
Marner finished the year with two points per game on the nose.
In terms of where he’ll land on draft day, his biggest problems are those
sweaters in size small and the fact that he’s a winger. There has been some
talk of him playing center occasionally, but the Knights list him as a RW and I
think that’s where he’ll find himself in the NHL.
His playing style has been likened to that of Patrick Kane,
a small but creative and speedy winger who will produce points at the NHL
SIT BACK AND ENJOY THE RIDE
The Oilers’ fate is not yet sealed. The Sabres and the
Coyotes will play each other twice in relatively short order and barring both
teams forfeiting, somebody has to win those games. Arizona might well leap frog
Edmonton and the Oil would then have at least third secured. If the
Oilers stay in the same spot, however, they might be looking at taking one of
these two kids with that pick.
If all things are considered equal, I say go with the
center. The Oilers have proven that you can never have enough of them or at
very least what happens when you really don’t have enough of them. The problem
is that Mitch Marner might really project to be the better player.
Edmonton is deep enough on the wing that they really don’t “need”
Mitch Marner in the fold, but should they add him then I won’t cry about it. He has a strong history of offensive production in one of the top junior leagues in the world. The
Oilers as they are built today are in a position where they will likely have to
make tough decisions on good players just to fix the balance. Marner might make some of those decisions more palatable.
I’m just going to sit back and try to enjoy the ride because
either of these players should make the teams that draft them very happy.