It’s no secret that the Oilers need to improve their defensive core.
Trading Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson was a step in the right direction, but it’s not going to improve the team’s back end over night. Acquiring someone like Adam Larsson shouldn’t be the only step the Oilers take to improving their biggest weakness.
The Oilers have a handful of very prominent forwards surrounding Connor McDavid. What about flipping one of those forwards in exchange for another top-four defender?
Adding another top-four defender to the group of Darnell Nurse (once he returns to full health), Adam Larsson, and Oscar Klefbom could be the move that helps the Oilers reach their potential. Now, how do the Oilers accomplish that? There are a handful of scenarios, but two prime assets that could be expandable are Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Eberle’s struggles to start out the year have been well documented and he’s emerging into somewhat of a scapegoat for Oilers fans. As frustrated as Oilers fans may be with Eberle, let’s not forget that Eberle still has significant use as a top-six winger and, more importantly, has value on the trade market.
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) December 1, 2016
Trading Eberle could garner a valuable defenseman in return, and with his struggles in Edmonton under a microscope, a change of scenery may be what’s best for him. Acquiring a top-four defenseman is no easy task and a player of Eberle’s calibre would have to be in the mix for any chance of getting a high-end defenseman.
What about trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? This narrative hasn’t been entertained thoroughly, but there’s a case to be made for trading Nugent-Hopkins. As it stands now, the Burnaby native is penciled in as Edmonton’s second line centre. For a good portion of the last two years, Nugent-Hopkins has found himself as the team’s third-line centre as Leon Draisaitl has leapfrogged him and become the team’s second-line centre. For the time being, Draisaitl is on McDavid’s wing, but I think the Oilers still see Draisaitl as the team’s second-line centre.
Having Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as your third-line centre is quite the treat, but it’s underutilization of a prime asset. The young centre has been riddled with injuries and now he’s behind McDavid and Draisaitl on the depth chart. He could certainly use a change of scenery. League personnel around the NHL know that and teams would give up a hefty sum for him because of his potential to evolve into a quality number-two centre.
Trading either Nugent-Hopkins or Jordan Eberle for a top-four defenseman is something that wouldn’t hurt the Oilers up front, it would help them greatly. Trading someone like Benoit Pouliot could likely garner a bottom-pair defenseman, but the Oilers have their fair share of those in their system. They need an undisputed top-four defender that can help round out Edmonton’s back end.
Let’s not forget, if the Oilers were to trade Nugent-Hopkins or Eberle, they would still have Draisaitl, Lucic, and a potentially dangerous forward in Jesse Puljujarvi once he further ripens. The matter of the fact is, it’s easier to acquire a 20-30 goal scorer than it is to acquire a top-four defender. The Oilers have the assets and picks to pull off a deal to acquire a top-four defender and they have a phenom in McDavid, which will be able to attract forwards to the Oil for years to come.
The Oilers will have no problem finding 20-30 goal scorers to play with McDavid as the years go on and because of that, they should pull off any deal they can to acquire a top-four defenseman right now. It may seem far-fetched to consider moving another “core piece” after shipping off Taylor Hall not long ago, but it’s a new era in Edmonton: it’s McDavid’s team.
It’s time for the Oilers to tailor their craft to build an all-around team, not just high-flying offense.