Any timeline based on the recent history of third overall picks in the NHL would expect Leon Draisaitl to be ready for a major-league roster spot next season. It is by far the most common outcome.
That doesn’t mean it’s a given. Draisaitl was promoted last year in a “necessity is the mother of invention” move that didn’t work out, and other third overall picks (most recently Kyle Turris) have needed more than two years of development time before they were truly NHL-ready.
There’s always a significant risk inherent in assuming an NHL prospect is ready to make the jump when in point of fact he isn’t. We saw some of that risk in 2014-15, when the Oilers went into training camp with a centre depth chart which gave them little choice except to keep Draisaitl if he looked even marginally competent.
Draisaitl didn’t come into camp needing to win a job away from an established NHL player; he came into camp needing to lose one. Edmonton burned half a season and the first year of his entry-level contract before it finally concluded that he was not in fact ready for prime time.
The risk would be lessened if they took the same approach this year; Draisaitl is a year older after all and has 37 games of major-league experience under his belt, but it would by no means be non-existent. His offensive numbers in junior have not improved year-over-year (he scored 1.64 points per game in his draft year, 1.66 over 32 games this season) and penciling the young forward into the lineup would once again expose the Oilers to unnecessary risk.
There’s really no compelling reason to take the chance. Because Draisaitl has an October birthday, he is eligible to play in the AHL next season, meaning that the Oilers can pencil him in on the Bakersfield roster and plan to recall him if-and-when he blows the doors off.
The answer to the question in the title than is this: It should not be a big deal either way. Peter Chiarelli should prepare for the worst, and if (as is likely) it turns out that Draisaitl is in fact ready for major-league action than Edmonton will have the problem of too many good forwards. It goes without saying that “too many good forwards” is a much nicer problem to have than “not enough good forwards” and if it means that a fringe roster player needs to hit the waiver wire at some point, well that’s an acceptable sacrifice in the name of preparation.
What Does It Mean For Roster Construction?
The Oilers’ forward depth chart, assuming that all restricted free agents (Matt Fraser, Tyler Pitlick) are retained and all unrestricted free agents (Derek Roy) are allowed to walk looks something like this:
The line combinations aren’t important; we’re just looking to get a feel for overall quality and if the reader feels like penciling in Taylor Hall next to Connor McDavid that’s fine by me. As I see it, the compelling issue up front is that the Oilers only have eight top-nine forwards; there’s room for a middle-six guy somewhere in there.
That middle-six guy could be Draisaitl, but as we just considered we probably shouldn’t assume that it will be. This is particularly true since Teddy Purcell and Boyd Gordon are likely subtractions at some point during the season given that they will be on expiring contracts.
To me the strategy seems obvious. Plan for Draisaitl to spend the season in
Oklahoma City the AHL and expect to promote him at some point around the halfway mark in place of a departing forward; if he makes the jump early and Luke Gazdic or Rob Klinkhammer must be waived, well the loss of a No. 13 forward isn’t anything worth crying over.
Additionally, either sign or trade for a middle-six forward (any position, really, though centre experience always has value) to solidify the group.
Pessimistic roster construction is the best kind of roster construction, because that way if the worst happens the team is ready for it and if the worst doesn’t happen the team is better than expected.
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