The other day Steve “Dangle” Glynn of Sportsnet (and Nation
contributor) asked a very fair, open question about whether or not the Oilers
would be better off drafting in the four or five spot so they could rightly draft
a defender. I think that’s a natural question to ask of a team with a draft
record like the Oilers, but I believe the answer is “no”. Edmonton isn’t in a
position to pin their hopes on an 18 year old defenseman. Edmonton is past the
point of no return.
Should Oilers fans want Edmonton to pick fourth or fifth so the Oilers can save themselves from themselves and draft a defender?
— Steve Dangle Glynn (@Steve_Dangle) March 22, 2016
It’s absolutely true that as a result of being poorly run,
poorly coached, and generally terrible for almost a full decade (there were
pockets of light), the Edmonton Oilers have drafted high for many years. As a
result of that, the Oilers have taken a lot of forwards, as is the bias of the
draft. The Oilers have drafted first overall in four of the last six
years and over that entire time there has been only one defender taken at the
top of the draft. Every other year, they’ve taken a forward. Since the 2010 draft there
have only been three defensemen taken out of all the 18 players who made up the
top three picks in each of those years. That’s just 17% of top three picks.
Edmonton, by virtue of selecting the Best Player Available, took
forwards each time they were drafting in the top three. The end result of those
selections are Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Leon Draisaitl,
and Connor McDavid. At this time only Nail Yakupov is struggling to live up to
When they weren’t picking in the top three of the first
three picks, the Oilers opted for defense. They took Klefbom 19th in
2011 and Nurse seventh in 2013. At present, those two players have the
hopes and dreams of the franchise resting on their shoulders. The team goes as
they go until Chiarelli plays Jedi mind tricks to fix his blueline. Klefbom
looks fantastic when healthy. Nurse looks like an NHL rookie with a ton of raw
talent. Add to that Andrej Sekera doing the dirty work, mix in a Brandon
Davidson, Griffin Reinhart, and a Jordan Oesterle and what you get is a team
with a lot of unproven defensemen in the ranks.
Is the fix to this situation going to be another defenseman
taken fourth or fifth in the 2016 draft? Is the answer to our prayers an 18
year old defenseman?
No. I hardly think so.
The problem with another 18 year old defenseman is that the
kid is still at least two years away from being an impact player. There is no way
the Oilers are going into next season with any defender they pick. Zero chance.
That kid, if they do actually select him, is going back to junior.
Of course that also doesn’t address the fact that the two
defenders commonly listed at the top of scouting lists (Chychrun and Juolevi)
are both left handed and Edmonton needs righties. There is no secret at all to
the Oilers depth chart on D. Here are the lefties vs righties.
We could keep going with this depth chart but the point is
made. The Oilers don’t need more left handed defenders. They already have four
they are committed to long term. What this team needs more than anything
else is no less than two right handed defensemen. One has to be able to play in
the top pairing. The other at least must tread water on the second.
They need those players right now because the clock is
ticking. Edmonton has already wasted Connor McDavid’s rookie season. The next
two years will be the cheapest he is ever going to cost the Oilers against the
cap. After next season he can essentially name his price and the Oilers will
have to pay it. By the time his ELC is complete there’s a very real possibility
that 10M per season will represent a discount. When that happens this team will
very likely have to start making cost decisions on quality players.
The Oilers can’t afford to pin their hopes on an 18 year old
defenseman because they can’t wait around for him to get good. The window to
aggressively attempt to improve is now.
If Edmonton wins the draft lottery or picks somewhere in the
top three then, from my perspective, it gives them the most options. They can
trade that pick for the defender they need. Whether that’s the dream trade of
Matthews for OEL or a less exciting Puljujarvi for Shattenkirk, only time can
tell us. If they keep the pick it enables the Oilers to much more comfortably
trade Eberle for Hamonic or perhaps RNH (don’t do it) for Barrie.
Picking in a place where the high end forwards are going to
go opens a lot more possibilities for the team that will enable them to get the
prime-of-career rearguard they need. They’ve crossed the Rubicon. There’s no
turning back now.
Dropping down in the draft to a place where the BPA is a
defender is not just something undesirable, it may be the worst scenario for
the Oilers if the goal is to find a player who can help them compete today.