Drafting for Need at No. 16

Alex Plante

At this point we still don’t know whether the Edmonton Oilers will be drafting at No. 16 or whether they will deal the pick to another NHL team for immediate help, with the most likely target in such a deal being a defenceman.

What they absolutely shouldn’t do is draft for need.

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People like me tend to sound like a broken record at this time of year when we repeat over and over the clichéd advice to take the best player available. There’s a reason for that: It’s because other people say over and over that Team X “really needs a defenceman” or “must land some size up front”.

This continues to happen in Edmonton, despite a rich recent history of the team doing this and it not working out.


If we look at the Oilers’ successful first-round picks (outside the top-10, since we’re talking about the No. 16 selection) since 2000 the list looks something like this:

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  • 2001: No. 13 Ales Hemsky (748 games, 526 points)
  • 2004: No. 14 Devan Dubnyk (231 games, 0.914 save percentage)
  • 2005: No. 25 Andrew Cogliano (622 games, 266 points)
  • 2008: No. 22 Jordan Eberle (356 games, 284 points)

Hmm. Three small forwards. The only draft-for-need I see on this list is goaltender Devan Dubnyk (we might also count Oscar Klefbom, though it’s still a little early at this point). 

But what if we look at the worst Oilers selections over this same span?

  • 2000: No. 17 Alexei Mikhnov (big power forward, two NHL games)
  • 2002: No. 15 Jesse Niinimaki (big centre, reach pick, zero NHL games)
  • 2003: No. 22 Marc Pouliot (traded down from small Zach Parise to get bigger centre, 192 NHL games)
  • 2004: No. 25 Rob Schremp (small, skilled centre, 114 NHL games)
  • 2007: No. 15 Alex Plante (big defenceman, 10 NHL games)

Notice anything peculiar about this second list? I count three big forwards, all taken during a time when the Oilers were looking to add size with skill to the lineup, as well as a massive defenceman who followed the “draft a forward, then a defencemen” approach the team often employs. The only non-need guy on the list is Rob Schremp.

For most of the last 15 years, the Oilers have done really well when they’ve bit the bullet and taken the best guy on their list without worrying too hard about team need. Also for most of the last 15 years, the Oilers have done really badly when they’ve gone to the draft with a specific type of player in mind and grabbed that guy whether he was at the top of the list or not (Jesse Niinimaki remains the most stunning reach pick on this list; the Mitch Moroz second-round selection in 2012 isn’t even in the ballpark, really).

The shorthand for all this is pretty straight-forward. The draft is the time to maximize NHL talent acquired. It’s then up to the general manager to take that talent and trade pieces of it away to form the best possible team. A ruthless G.M. – and the best ones have the ability to ignore sentiment and make the hard calls – can trade Jordan Eberle for a 50-point 6’3” winger any time he likes. It’s especially true if his scouting department has given him two or three Eberles and a few less Plantes and Pouliots.

The lesson here is: At No. 16, draft the guy who is going to play. If Nick Merkley sits above Paul Bittner on the draft list and both guys are there, don’t get blinded by 6’4” and make a rash decision. Team need is for down the road; the draft is about acquiring the most possible talent.

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  • Hindsight is 20/20….All the #1 picks were the BPA strictly per Bob Mc’s rankings….here are some of the others

    Paajarvi >> Kulikov was BPA

    Nurse >> Nichushkin was BPA (Ristolainen was available too)

    and Eberle >> all these guys were ranked higher: Tyler Cuma, John Carlson, Jakob Markstrom, Thomas McCollum, Nicolas Deschamps, Mattias Tedenby, Greg Nemisz

    • Bob McKenzie’s list is the best publicly available resource for the draft consensus.

      It’s not the same as the list scouts compile internally, and if it were more trusted than the internal list there wouldn’t be any point in having scouts. Can them all, just draft off McKenzie’s list.

      “Best player available” is the guy the scouts identify internally as being the best player on the board. If their choice is way out of whack with the consensus, they’d better be awfully sure about it, but nobody’s saying the draft should be outsourced to TSN.

  • Ever the Optimist

    I do like the idea of drafting BPA but that is a very relative concept.

    The biggest things they need to watch for in drafting is scoring and skating. If you look at your short list of failures you can see a trend quickly.
    Mikhinov scoring at .87 p/g in 3rd tier russia and scouting that stated his speed was good for his size. 2 down arrows to me.

    Niinimaki scoring was shy and scouts noted he needed to work on his physical game after his injury

    Pouliot average skating and scored at 1.12 p/g so just the one flag here

    Plante scored at .65 p/g in draft year but needed to work on his skating

    You will never play in the NHL if you can’t keep up and if you don’t score in junior it isn’t going to magically come in the big leagues.

  • Joy S. Lee

    Who cares about past drafts. If any of those picks were any different for the Oilers we wouldn’t be getting looser pissed tomorrow in celebration. Embrace the suck of the past for it has paved the way for brightness of the future.

  • Ever the Optimist

    Drafting for need has been the Oiler m. o. for years. It hasn’t worked all that well. Excluding first overalls they have drafted/traded for size and passed on more talented players. I sincerely hope Chiarelli has more sense than that. Drafting for need and swimming against the tide has got a whole numch of people fired.

  • Ever the Optimist

    The first 3 rounds have some gems that I believe are worth keeping our picks for ones such as them , rather than trading for immediate non star players . Hamilton or Seabrook perhaps , but not a goalie or most others .

    Here is my list that we might get in first 3 rounds . Guryanov (Gurianov ) maybe will be available 2-3rd round depending on which rankings you look at . B.Carlo we might get with #33rd pick . Here is my order originally : #1-McDavid 6ft.1in. , #16- B.Carlo (RD)6ft.5in , #33 – M.Blackwood 6ft.4in.( G), #57- Filip Ahl 6ft.3in. (LW) , 77. D.Guryanov 6ft.3in. RW) #86- Eric Cernak 6ft.4in. (RD) . Those help balance our right side deficit with plenty of skill and size . I like Ahl at LW @ 57th as he to has skill, grit and size . McDavid smallest at 6ft.1in.of that bunch .

  • Kevwan

    “If Nick Merkley sits above Paul Bittner on the draft list and both guys are there, don’t get blinded by 6’4” and make a rash decision”

    If they draft Bittner over Merkley my remote is going to get thrown. My best fastball -right at the TV.

  • paulvechkin

    The problem with those thinking about organisational need is players take time to develop if Moroz for instance becomes NHL ready at age 24; the oilers may not have a need for that type of player anymore.

    Where if you drafted Ville Pokka you could have done what islanders did and packaged him up to get Nick Leddy.

    Or if your man really is Moroz and you know that he is going late round 2. You pick up the BPA and approach the team that picks him up at 58 and say I’ll trade you Pokka who is higher on your list for Moroz and your 3rd rounder. Thus better asset management.

    Finally on the topic of trading Eberle and even though lots of advanced stats people love the idea of trading him. I find myself on the advanced stats side and I think the best move is to keep him based on my interpretation of the stats. Unless of course you can get a great return, but I don’t think that return exists outside of PlayStation.

  • paulvechkin

    If the Oil keep the pick and don’t trade it for a top 4 D-man then I would take what I feel the Oil need and that’s size and skill both up front and on defence. I don’t waste that pick on a goalie. I would pick a big forward so Meier, Svechnikov, Eriksson Ek , one of those guys should be there and if we have one 2nd round pick left then I would look at a D-man or goalie but most likely a D-man like Carlo, Pilon, Maloche, Dermott…especially Carlo or Maloche coz they shoot right. Of course it depends what 2nd rounder we have left if any

  • freelancer

    I think you should draft for best player and trade or sign free agents for need. The Oilers have had tunnel vision IMO for years now. The results speak for themselves. Hard to argue against that.

  • Zarny

    The majority of NHL players are 1st or 2nd round picks including 25 of the top 30 scorers this year. The worst outcome is to miss completely when 80% of the elite players are being selected.

    Reducing risk to avoid that worst outcome should be paramount in the first two rounds. That favors the Oilers selecting a F at 16 over a D.

    In 2003, only 2 D were selected 15-30th and both were duds. Everyone remembers Shea Weber because 8 of the 11 D drafted in the 2nd round were also duds. And the other two were Matt Carle and Kevin Klein. Not exactly Shea Weber.

  • Joy S. Lee

    100% agree. BPA, every time, with the leeway to follow a hunch or two along the way, but BPA should be standard practice for almost every pick a team makes IMO.

  • O.C.

    I remember in I think 04 or 05 Kevin Lowe stepping up, we expecting to hear “Rob Schremp”, and all of us swearing when he said “Devan Dubnyk!”

    A few picks later Schremp was picked. Many if not most of us said that was at best, backward.

    In a twist of irony, we didn’t make the two picks that I and many others wanted. Those were BPA Schremp and Cherpanov, the last who tragically died on the ice a few months later.

    That draft was one of two times that old 6 rings was right. Lucky, but right. The other time was Pronger and Peca. Damn that was a good move.

    Point being, we are all experts at the goods on paper. Thing is, no matter how good they appear on paper, you might get Cam Neely or Lindros (great, short careers), or worse Alex Daigle or Jason Bonsignore.

    Or worse, Len Bias. (Google it)

    Keep the picks unless someone drops a stupid deal on your lap. (Is Burke going to be there?)

  • Joy S. Lee

    Drafting BPA ultimately means drafting the player who you think is the best one of all the remaining players in the draft – or could be the best of all of them. In your opinion. No matter what position they play.

    To me, the likelihood of getting a good player goes up when you’re choosing according to who you think is the best, rather than who you think is the best at a specific position which you happen to need help at. Theory being, that narrows your odds of success, because you left the guy you thought was better, on the board. You narrowed the field on yourself. It’s a difficult enough thing to do with complete accuracy as it is, let alone crippling your odds every time you step up to the podium. Best player available, and then let the manager, manage. Yes, you have to trade players, that’s part of the business. How attached were people – management included – to that guy they traded almost 30 years ago? Draft the best players, develop the best players, attract the best players, keep the best players, trade the best players for the best return, and build the best team. It’s really reasonable, actually, to draft the best player available, every time, and let the chips fall where they may. That weighs the odds in ones’ favor over the long haul, and a good GM will manoeuver riches into greater riches elsewhere on the team. At least that’s what I think, though that’s a simplistic way of looking at a complex endeavor.