The Problem with the Pick

Draft Lottery

Once again, the Edmonton Oilers are slated to enjoy a high selection at the NHL’s annual Entry Draft. The exact position of that pick is yet to be determined; it’s possible that Edmonton will have the chance to select future first-line centre Auston Matthews with the first overall pick but more likely that the team will instead get a shot at one of two extremely talented right-shooting Finnish right wings.

The idea of adding a Patrick Laine or Jesse Puljujarvi should be extremely appealing for the Oilers. On the other hand, there’s also a very strong case to trade that pick for immediate help, just as there was for the picks in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The Joys of Projection

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Let me paint you a mental picture.

A 23-year-old Connor McDavid streaks through centre ice, gaining the opposition blue line and challenging the defence just the way he did so many times in his rookie season. He pulls to the left, drawing both defencemen with him and then passes to his right, where a big, bullish Finn is charging. The pass is perfect and the puck is on the recipient’s stick for just a moment before it’s whipped on net, beating the opposition goaltender.

It’s an attractive picture for Oilers fans. The chance to complement McDavid with a big, fast, strong and skilled right wing of about the same age, to build a first-line duo that could last for a decade or more is one that most teams would jump at.

This is the appeal of building through the draft. Finding that perfect player with a high pick, a player who is under team control for ages, a player with a salary suppressed first by entry-level limits and then by his status as a restricted free agent is incredibly compelling.

There are two problems with that mental image. The first problem is the time factor; the second is the fantasy element.

Nail Yakupov is a good illustration of both problems.

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Red Line Report, like virtually every other draft publication out there, had Yakupov as the best player in the draft, projecting him as a “dynamic first line sniper” who compared stylistically to Pavel Bure. Here’s a partial quote from their description of the player:

Dynamically skilled player is a threat every time he steps on the ice. Explosive speed and quickness with excellent lateral agility and the ability to make space for himself when it appears nothing is there. Exceptional hockey sense. Extremely imaginative playmaker sees the ice beautifully and can thread the needle through traffic with delicate touch passes. Dangles the puck on a string, making all his moves at top end speed. Powerfully built in his core and lower body, with al ow centre of gravity that helps in high traffic areas – makes him hard to move off the puck despite average size. Has tremendous release on a heavy shot that goalies have trouble getting set for, and can fit it through a keyhole.

I’ve used Red Line’s quote here because of all the draft guides I read, none tend to be more critical of players. This view of Yakupov was widespread, and why not? This was, after all, a player who outscored Steven Stamkos as an OHL rookie with Sarnia.

Yakupov is perhaps an extreme example, but he’s not the only one.

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Darnell Nurse was drafted seventh overall three years ago and projected to be a top-flight shutdown defenceman; the Oilers were patient with him and allowed him to develop in junior. As a rookie defenceman he was lit up badly, with the opposition averaging nearly one more goal per hour than the Oilers when he was on the ice—outside of Griffin Reinhart, himself an example of this trend, that was the worst number of any regular—and critically he was also out-shot by more than any other defenceman on the team.

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Leon Draisaitl was picked two years ago and installed immediately as Edmonton’s second line centre; he fell flat on his face and was sent to junior at midseason. He returned this year and was glorious for two months, putting up 31 points in 27 games over that span. Despite being welded at the hip to the team’s best left wing the rest of the way he’s post just 20 points over the year’s final 45 contests.

I really like all three players, but all reinforce the points worth keeping in mind with this year’s pick. Four years in, Yakupov isn’t the player he was projected to be and probably won’t ever get there. Three years in, Nurse isn’t there yet either and while he may well be an exception history has not been kind to rookies with shot metrics as bad as the ones he posted. Two years in, Draisaitl has had two months in his career in which he has inarguably played like a true top-six NHL forward; I’m very confident he’ll get there but I’m not sure it’ll be next year.

This matters and it matters a lot.

Here’s how I see it: After the worst decade in franchise history, Edmonton needs to change course and it needs to do it immediately. There are two years left in McDavid’s entry-level deal and if the Oilers aren’t competitive by the end of that pact it will represent a colossal failure on the parts of those building the franchise.

Edmonton improved from minus-85 in 2014-15 to minus-42 in 2015-16. Were I in charge of the franchise, they would need to make basically the same leap again, either making the playoffs or coming oh-so-close for me to be satisfied with their progress. That needs to be followed by more progress the year after; we’re talking at least a playoff series win. It’s going to be tough to win a Cup in McDavid’s entry level deal the way Chicago did with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but the Oilers need to at least be well on their way if they hope to be a power during McDavid’s second contract.

To make those jumps, the Oilers absolutely must improve in numerous ways, and some of those improvements are going to involve shipping out talent. The names of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are tossed around because the shine has worn off them, with the same being true of Yakupov. Mention Nurse or Draisaitl though and the reaction is often quite a bit different.

But it’s time for the Oilers to win now, and that means being willing to part with futures.

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I can all but guarantee that Eberle will do more to help Edmonton win hockey games in 2016-17 than Laine/Puljujarvi. I’d be very surprised if the same is not true of 2017-18, and if Eberle’s still a better player in 2018-19 that would hardly be a shock, either. I’d also be very surprised if Eberle’s trade value was significantly better than that of the Oilers’ 2016 first-round pick.

That’s the problem with the pick. There’s virtually no chance that the player picked with Edmonton’s 2016 first-round selection will do more to help the Oilers win immediately than the return on trading that pick would. And as much as general manager Peter Chiarelli would undoubtedly love to add a possible long-term complement for McDavid, I’d think the idea of making the playoffs next season would be even more appealing.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Darth Oiler

    Technically willis is right but are the Oilers losing just because of technical reasons or is it partially cultural. It’s obviously both and PC needs to fix both problems.

  • madjam

    You build thru the draft until your competitive again , then you can think of trading away your first pick after your already a contender . It will not be long before we no longer draft so low in future , take advantage of it now !

  • madjam

    Anyone think Chia is going to trade away our first pick for immediate help is disillusioned . Did we trade away Hopkins, Yakupov , Draisaitl, Nurse or McDavid for immediate help ? Why would he trade a top 5 pick for just a good player , but not an allstar one which , Shattenkirk , Hamonic and Vertanen are not ! It will not happen .

    • DannyGallivan

      I think trading a draft pick (including #1) should be on the table PROVIDING YOU GET VALUE in return. If you don’t then I would not make any trade so goes without saying.

      There are a number of reasons:
      1) While the player may be NHL ready if it is the #1 pick, they won’t hit their peak for 5 or 6 seasons. We need to be more competitive now so we need a seasoned player – we are already too you and inexperienced.
      2) The player we need may not be available i.e. Right D may not be the “best player” we can get.
      3) We have a lot of youngish players under contract and we need to spread some of the contracts so we don’t get a big bump in cost over 3 or 4 seasons. e.g. you get a 25 year old Right D and in 4 years his contract is declining.

  • Pumpkinjerk

    Keep the pick. Heres the bad news. This rebuild is in its infancy. Now I’m not saying the oilers shouldnt be trying to make the playoffs, im saying that even if they get close or make it, its just the first step. Because this organization was so depleted of prospects there was (is)no possible way of trading to fill holes. Some of these players picked from 2010 till now will be traded once their replacements, that are drafted from now on, are ready. Don’t trade Eberle and Nuge and Hall now, do it after the team starts making the playoffs.Those players will bring the players we need to win the cup. Don’t waste those guys just to make the playoffs. The goal is much higher. So, patience and management. Until then load up.Managed well this team should make the playoffs soon while saving those core players for those needed trades to win the cup. Painful to think about, yes.

    • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

      Wait! Again ! No they have the pieces and can make the additions to make the playoffs next season.
      Trade for immediate help and shore up the Blueline. The guy you draft can slide in on wing with McDavid and Maroon.
      Sign Milan Lucic to a 4 year deal.
      This team will be tough to play against and the D will be solidified to go along with Talbot in net we will be in good shape.

      Maroon McDavid Laine

      Hall Drai Lucic

      Pouliot NUGE pakarinen

      Kassian Hendricks/ Lander Khaira

  • Randaman

    Open minds people. Don’t react to speculation with your hearts. Use your heads and think about the team goals.

    I’m sure PC will improve the team using whatever assets he has to within reason of course.

    Lots of factors will play into this. Does L.A. losing in the first round keep them from resigning Lucic? If NYI have a long run, do they still think about trading Hamonic? What if St Louis loses to the Hawks? Do other options open up there? Lots to be decided yet!

  • OnlyOil

    Jon, I agree. This team needs to move forward now. The pick for one of the fins is very appealing, but I agree with you can they actually help right away, and I doubt it also.

    This team needs proven top 4dmen, not guys over the hill, but guys that can come in and make a difference. I would like to see Tyson Barrie and Hamonic would be my first realistic choice. Then vatenen, Demers.

  • OilClog

    Crapping on Nurses stats in the situation he’s been placed in is lazy.

    He performed admirably well for a 20yr defender in the NHL on possibly the worst defence in the league.

    It’s not his fault he was over played and worn the F out.

    Lazy journalism

  • Gadgets

    The entire premise that Eberle does more for your team next year than a rookie Finn is pretty much a straw man argument. No one is arguing that. But moving Eberle for Hamonic and inserting the Finn in his spot? That gets you a hell of a lot farther ahead, in on ice performance, cap space and expansion draft protection, and is much more likely than trading the pick for Hamonic directly.

  • RJ

    I have to respectfully disagree JW.

    Especially as it relates to drafting and developing defencemen, the story every year is they can’t wait to draft and develop defencemen so they need to sign or trade for an established defenceman. If you look at the defencemen they’ve signed or traded for, the only one who has arguably lived up to his billing was Sekera. On the flip side, the best Oiler defender this year would be Klefbom or Davidson, both guys they drafted and developed in the AHL.

    This draft is not about next season’s team. It’s realistically about players that can play with McDavid when he’s an RFA.

    Worrying about next season’s team led to the mistake of trading for Reinhart. They gave up future potential players and didn’t even get a proven NHL defender to replace those prospects in the system.

    If they’re worried about next season’s team, then UFAs and trades that don’t involve draft picks is what I’d prefer to see (though my opinion doesn’t mean anything).

  • Little Buttcheeks

    Bottom line depends on what is coming back. Anything not named Connor McDavid is available to land at least two impact Dmen. No more settling for second pairing guys playing higher in the lineup. The madness has gone on too long. You simply can’t win in this league without puck moving Dmen.

  • This.Is.NHL

    High draft picks are useless without proper veteran leadership trade until that is possible, if a team like Detroit can find/make good players without high draft picks so can we, Stop the madness.

  • Hamm34

    In my opinion we should trade The first overall pick if we win the lottery. I know many think we cant pass on Matthews but imagine the player you could get with that pick. Ideally I’d love to have Ekblad on my team but i doubt thats happening anytime soon but imagine having Pietrangelo on the oilers. A large #1 defensemen playing in every situation on the ice who can make passes out of the zone. Unfortunately he isn’t overly physical but he edges out players because of his size,

  • Ed in Edmonton 1

    I think PC pretty much stated that any asset other than McDavid is on the table as far as improving the team is concerned. Whether a player or a pick get moved will be determined as much by what can be obtained as anything else. Some tough decisions will need to be made.

  • Wintoon

    It is absolutely amazing to me how almost everyone is assuming the Oilers will get one of the top 3 picks in the 2016 draft.

    I am not a mathematician but I believe the odds are that we will draft either in the 4 slot or the 5 slot. As these are the more realistic options for the Oilers, it is these prospects that the Oilers should really be investigating and ranking.

    As we have learned in prior years absolutely nothing is for sure. Maybe if Oilers management focus on the greater likelihood we will have a better chance of something good happening. Believe me, this is something we need.

  • madjam

    It should be reasonable to fill a top 4 spot on blueline thru a UFA or even a RFA if we have cap space to do so . I believe we will , and someone like Demurs should come reasonably priced for starters without having to trade anyone or use a draft pick . Would be nice to add one other same way , or as last option , a trade . We also require another top six Rwinger along with Eberle should we let Yakupov go . Once again the UFA list has some tantalizing players to look at . I do not believe we have to use our first pick , or top young players , to trade away at this time in order to get much better . Example : If we added Demurs , maybe Backes , Laine or Puljujarvi , and a depth bottom six veteran would we not be much better to start next season ? Of course we would . Hamonic would also be a nice addition , but not at the expense of our young core being traded away as yet . If any trade might be made I would think it might involve Pouliot and Yakupov , as felt a deal was pending on those two already .

  • madjam

    DRAFTSITE – has Oilers choosing 16th in 2017 hockey draft . In other words , they are taking the advances people like Draisaitl, McDavid , Nurse and this years draft choice (they have us 2nd taking Laine )into consideration with our present young core . The next year (2017) would be the time to contemplate trading up or down with our first pick , seeing as it might be 16th .

  • DannyGallivan

    If you look at our finishing position each year it is the worst in the league. I don’t understand why our “Core” seems to be untouchable. Nibbling around the bottom six is not going to get this team into contention. McDavid is the “Core”. The rest are supporting cast.