Peter Chiarelli did it last year, but can he do it again? Faced with a small return on the 2014 draft, Edmonton’s general manager chose to boldly go into the college free-agent market. The result was a handsome upgrade and a sharp turn from a negative to a positive.
THE 2014 DRAFT
I look forward to every draft, and the 2014 edition turned out to be a memorable one. After grabbing Leon Draisaitl at No. 3 overall, the club had to wait until the fourth round to select again due to trades for David Perron and Ben Scrivens. By the time the draft was two years gone (a time where teams typically sign their CHL picks), the Oilers already had Draisaitl in the NHL, and the depth picks were either unready or no longer worthy of signing. William Lagesson, Zach Nagelvoort and Tyler Vesel remain in college, Liam Coughlin’s rights were traded and Keven Bouchard was not signed after he turned 20.
In the spring of 2016, Peter Chiarelli was presented with a unique problem, which he turned into an opportunity. With only Leon Draisaitl already at the NHL level, the club had a natural need for more youngsters and no one from the draft to sign. In quick order, Chiarelli signed college men Matt Benning, Drake Caggiula, Nick Ellis and Patrick Russell, thereby giving the Oilers four pro-ready players not previously in the pipeline.
A downside? Hard to find one, but Caggiula’s remaining in the NHL all season, despite some struggles, indicates there may have been a promise (real or implied) of NHL duty in his first year pro. All three of the others spent at least a little time in the AHL.
THE 2015 DRAFT
We knew the Oilers would draft Connor McDavid by draft weekend, and in doing so change team history. Peter Chiarelli was the new general manager at this time, and once again the second and third-round (along with a first) selections were dealt for Griffin Reinhart, Cam Talbot and Eric Gryba. Edmonton also gave up a selection in return for signing coach Todd McLellan.
That means that this summer, the Oilers will be faced by a problem similar to the 2016 challenge. McDavid is the NHL’s best player (or close enough) and the team has signed Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear. We may see John Marino, Ziyat Paigin and Miroslav Svoboda signed this summer or in the future, but there is a clear need for some forwards to be added over the next few months.
Peter Chiarelli is no doubt involved in attempting to procure talent as we speak. College players Mike Vecchione and Spencer Foo, both forwards, could sign with an NHL team in the coming days. Edmonton may be in on any or all, and have some attractive items to offer a graduating college man. The club was apparently in on Zack Aston-Reese of Northeastern, but he decided to sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Edmonton could also draft older players who remain eligible (Ziyat Paigin was 20 in 2015, as an example) for the draft in an effort to fast track the process. Finally, we could see the club draft from an area of strength (LHD) to address weakness at forward.
Edmonton has signed one free agent signed already (RHD Ryan Mantha) and I doubt we will see many more defenders added. Forwards? You bet. I think it is reasonable to assume the Oilers will sign a college forward or two, or possibly a graduating junior forward. We may see them draft a 20-year old from the CHL or Europe as well.
Peter Chiarelli did a helluva job last season in this area, can he do it again? And should he guarantee NHL time, as appears to be the case with Drake Cagguila?