When TSN’s Bob McKenzie releases his annual top-75 final draft ranking list, hockey nerds tend to jump around like Steve Martin in The Jerk when the new phone books arrived. With good reason. I’m no different.

Year in and year out, I’m not sure anybody has had a better handle on how each graduating class for the NHL Entry Draft stacks up than McKenzie has, even with all the competing lists out there from various scouting agencies.

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There’s no doubt or drama about the Edmonton Oilers taking Connor McDavid, who topped McKenzie’s pre-season, mid-season and final rankings released today, first overall, but there’s plenty of question who the Oilers might take with the 16th and 33rd picks, should GM Pete Chiarelli keep them. I think Chiarelli will try to move both – more on that later.

All told, the Oilers going into proceedings in Sunrise, Florida with seven picks in the first four rounds and 10 picks overall, so Chiarelli has lots of options. I’d like to focus on the 16th and 33rd picks.



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Here’s three candidates that make sense for the Oilers with the 16th pick and where they rate on McKenzie’s list. McKenzie’s top-75 can be found in its entirety here.

  • 17: Nick Merkley, C/RW Kelowna Rockets. More on him here.

  • 19: Ilya Samsonov, G, Magnitogorsk. More on Samsonov here.
  • 20: Paul Bittner, LW, Portland Winterhawks. His page is here.

MY PICK: At six-foot-four and 195 pounds or so, Bittner has size and nice numbers for a “power forward,” but what really puts him right in Chiarelli’s wheelhouse is he plays with plenty of edge. Bittner possesses the size, grit and skill Chiarelli has talked about as traits he values.



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  • 30. Jansen Harkins, C, Prince George Cougars. More here.
  • 31. Jacob Larsson, D, Frolunda SWE. His page is here
  • 35. Mackenzie Blackwood, G, Barrie Colts. His page is here

MY PICK: Harkins is ranked 15th by NHL Central Scouting, 25th by ISS and 30th by McKenzie. Simply put, the six-foot-one, 180-pound pivot would be a great get at 33. Projected as a “two-way” centre, Harkins scored 20-59-79 with the Cougars this season. TSN’s Craig Button calls him “tenacious,” which, again, will have Chiarelli asking his scouts about him.



Chiarelli has said he’d be willing to move some of his draft picks if he can get back a young player who can help him now. With the Oilers needing help in goal and on the blue line, that tells me the 16th and 33rd picks will be in play because they, likely as part of a package, will bring the most.

Bob Stauffer of Oilers Now suggested today the 16th pick and a secondary prospect might land a defenseman. He also speculated Chiarelli might shop for a goaltender with the 33rd pick and a later-round pick, saying he could see two of the seven picks the Oilers have in the first four rounds in play.

That’s been discussed and written about here and discussed at length by Jason Gregor at TSN 1260, so it’s not new, but it is worth keeping in mind because Chiarelli has made it clear he’s willing to listen to offers.



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No surprise to see Craig Ramsay and Keith Acton shown the door because they were hires of the Craig MacTavish-Dallas Eakins regime and that’s a sorry span of time best moved on from.

That aside, it’s a welcome return to convention that the new head coach, Todd McLellan, gets to pick his own coaching staff. That’s how it should be. Jonathan Willis touched on this earlier today, so I won’t go on too much about it, but with McLellan and Todd Nelson talking, my gut says we’ll see Nelson back in the fold beside McLellan and Jay Woodcroft.


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Time flies and a lot of younger Oiler fans likely don’t remember him, but I want to say a few words about former Oiler fitness consultant and strength and conditioning coach Daryl Duke, who passed away Wednesday after a long and courageous bout with cancer. That’s Daryl, on the left, in a photo with Gary Goulet taken at the Ballpark at Arlington in Texas.

Daryl is one of the first people I met when I arrived in Edmonton in 1989 and I got to know him well as I was handed the boxing beat upon starting at The Journal and Duke owned the Panther Gym, the epi-centre for the fight game in this town. Spent a lot of time in that joint with him.

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Daryl, a former champion kickboxer, was always the toughest guy in the room, even though he only weighed about a buck-sixty, but proving who he could whip – everybody– wasn’t his thing. He was also the nicest guy in the room in a sport where posing and bravado is more common.

He never once changed in all the years I knew him, including after he got his gig with the Oilers. Daryl never got a big head, never thought he was a big deal – even after he KO’d Georges Laraque, who outweighed him by about 100 pounds, in a dressing room sparring session.  

When my brother-in-law Arman got cancer four years ago, Daryl helped me contact Dr. Tony Fields, an expert in the field at the Cross Cancer Institute. Daryl, fighting his own battle with cancer for years on end at that point, told me, “Don’t give up hope. Never give up hope.” I’ll never forget how he comforted me.

Daryl Duke was a kind, wonderful man who made a positive impact on everybody he met, including the countless young players who worked with him during his time with the team. He was loved. He is missed.

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Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.