The NHL Entry Draft tends to be exciting not just because of the young players available for selection to the league’s 30 member clubs, but also because it’s a sort of unofficial summer trade deadline. There’s a clock on each of those draft picks, and each general manager has to decide whether to spend them on young prospects or trade them for immediate help.
A year ago, Edmonton decided to cash in a lot of its picks for immediate help. It would surprise absolutely nobody if the Oilers did so once again.
The 2015 Draft
Edmonton entered the draft with 10 selections and would end up keeping just four of them, though the Oilers added two more late picks via trade and would make six selections in all. The remainder of the team’s picks were expended in the search for immediate help:
- Drafted centre Connor McDavid with the No. 1 pick.
- Traded the No. 16 and No. 33 picks to the Islanders for defenceman Griffin Reinhart.
- Traded the No. 57, No. 79 and No. 184 picks to the Rangers for goaltender Cam Talbot and No. 209 pick.
- Traded the No. 86 pick to the Sharks as compensation for head coach Todd McLellan.
- Traded Martin Marincin to the Maple Leafs for the No. 107 pick, then traded the No. 107 pick to the Senators for defenceman Eric Gryba.
- Drafted defenceman Caleb Jones with the No. 117 pick.
- Drafted defencemen Ethan Bear with the No. 124 pick.
- Drafted defenceman John Marino with the No. 154 pick.
- Traded a 2016 seventh-round selection to the Lightning for the No. 208 pick, then drafted goaltender Miroslav Svoboda.
- Drafted defenceman Ziyat Paigin with the No. 209 pick.
The club had a number of objectives entering the draft, and accomplished several of them, addressing needs at centre, in net and behind the bench. It also replenished the prospect system on defence, adding a surprisingly good quartet of prospects with late selections.
The quest to immediately improve the blue line, on the other hand, must be regarded as a failure. Reinhart may well prove to be a superior player to Marincin down the line, but in 2015-16 Marincin did more to help his team win hockey games. Gryba added toughness and a right shot to the third pair, but the Oilers were already loaded with third pair defenders. Given the loss of the No. 16 and No. 33 picks to address the position, this was an unacceptably weak return.
2016 Draft Assets
Chiarelli’s shopping list this summer is less extensive than his list a year ago, with the most pressing item the need for one impact defenceman. He may want to add a second right-shooting rearguard, depth pieces up front and a backup goaltender to the mix, but it’s also possible that the team will address many of these needs via free agency.
He has a pretty decent collection of draft picks at his disposal:
- First round. No. 4 overall. It’s not the McDavid selection, but it’s still extremely valuable.
- Second round. No. 32 overall. Edmonton has the option of giving Boston this pick or its second-round selection in 2017 as compensation for the Chiarelli hiring. It’s virtually certain the club will move the 2017 pick, as this is basically a first-rounder.
- Third round. Playoff results and compensatory picks mean we can’t definitively put numbers to these selections, but Edmonton has three choices: Its own pick and selections from Florida and Pittsburgh.
- Later rounds. Edmonton has its own picks in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds, as well as the Blues’ fifth-round choice.
We should also remember that the Oilers have several roster players and prospects who could conceivably be moved either for picks or for immediate help. Players we should probably be talking about here include Nail Yakupov (2012 No. 1 still has some value), Lauri Korpikoski ($1.25 million cap hit if Oilers retain 50 percent), Anton Lander (ala Marincin a year ago), Mark Fayne ($1.813 million cap hit if Oilers retain 50 percent), Griffin Reinhart (2012 No. 4 pick could be flipped, and the Oilers’ bonus situation may make him more valuable to another team than to Edmonton) and David Musil (currently blocked and with his waiver exemption set to expire). These are all pieces that could be seen as expendable.
2016 Draft Plan
What would a successful 2016 Draft for the Oilers look like? Something like this:
A top-pairing defenceman. This is where the No. 4 pick comes in. I don’t know if the answer here is to trade down, go 1-for-1, or build a package, but a trade built around this selection just makes sense to me. I’ve argued recently that it makes more sense for the Oilers to move this selection than it does to trade one of the team’s current NHL players; I still feel that way.
A third-line centre. Edmonton has three good centres, but it’s a decent bet that Leon Draisaitl will spend at least some time on the wing. Ideally, this player would be a right shot capable of moving to right wing; someone like Chicago’s Andrew Shaw would be an obvious fit. For a team in cap trouble, I wonder if Reinhart would work as a centerpiece; he’s a young NHL-ready defenceman with upside who on pretty much any other team is going to be dirt cheap.
Moving Korpikoski’s contract. Nothing fancy here; I envision something along the lines of Edmonton retaining 50 percent and shipping out of one of its fifth-round picks along with Korpikoski and bringing back a fourth-rounder.
Moving Yakupov for a decent return. Yakupov wanting out is old news at this point; the challenge for Edmonton is to get quality back. This might be a young player with warts, or it might be draft picks; one wonders a little if Chiarelli is thinking about the two second-rounders he paid for Brett Connolly while in Boston as a fair price.
A replenished prospect cupboard. Between the No. 32 pick, Edmonton’s three third-rounders and the return on Yakupov the Oilers should be able to significantly bolster the prospect pipeline, even if they ship the fourth overall selection out.
There would still be some slots to fill (third-line right wing, backup goalie in particular stand out, possibly an additional defender) in free agency, but those should be doable. A top defenceman is obviously the biggest need at the draft, and if the Oilers can add that player while also addressing centre, moving out a couple of deals and refilling a bare prospect cupboard it will have been a pretty good weekend for Chiarelli.