Unless Edmonton Oilers’ GM Peter Chiarelli and his scouting staff have assessed his team’s needs differently than pundits and media types on the outside looking in – that’s entirely possible – my best guess is he’ll be doing everything he can to gather as much skill as possible, with an emphasis on forwards, at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft in Chicago this coming weekend.
Finding skill that eventually translates to success at the NHL level is difficult enough at the best of times — even when picking in the Top 10, as the Oilers have seen in recent years with Nail Yakupov, first overall in 2012, and Magnus Paajarvi, 10th in 2009. It’ll be even more difficult in Chicago as the Oilers hold the 22nd pick going in – they’re selecting outside the Top 10 for the first time since 2008 when they took Jordan Eberle 22nd.
While’s there’s no way the Oilers will get a crack at top-ranked guys like Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier or Owen Tippett without moving up in selection order by way of a trade in what’s generally seen as a relatively thin draft, there are a number of prospects at forward whose calling card is skill. Now, whether they’ll still be available when the Oilers step to the podium with the 22nd pick is another question, but I’ve got five players who’d fit the bill.
KRISTIAN VESALAINEN – FROLUNDA, SWEDEN
|FINAL RANK||7||MIDTERM RANK||4|
|POSITION||Left or Right Wing||SHOOTS||Left|
|BORN||June 1st, 1999|
|BORN IN||Helsinki, Finland|
Central Scouting: “HE’S A BIG, PHYSICAL POWER FORWARD WHO LIKES TO GO STRAIGHT FOR THE NET.”
ISS: 19th CS: 7th European skaters Complete bio here.
Considering TSN’s Bob McKenzie has Vesalainen ranked 15th and Sportsnet has the big winger even higher, slotting him in as going 10th to Florida in their mock draft, it seems a longshot at best that he’ll be available when the Oilers pick. Odds are they’ll have to move up to get him. Do the Oilers think enough of him to consider it? I think they might. Take a look at Vesalainen here.
LIAS ANDERSSON – HV 71, SWEDEN
|FINAL RANK||3||MIDTERM RANK||3|
|BORN||October 13, 1998|
|BORN IN||Smogen, Sweden|
Central Scouting: HE IS A REALLY SKILLED, TWO-WAY FORWARD WITH GREAT MOVES WITH THE PUCK. HE SHOWS VERY GOOD ATTITUDE, WORKS HARD BOTH WAYS, HAS SMOOTH HANDS AND IS VERY EFFECTIVE IN THE OFFENSIVE ZONE AS HE CAN BOTH SHOOT AND CREATE SCORING CHANCES FOR LINEMATES.
ISS: 25th CS: 3rd European skaters. Complete bio here.
He’s not very big, but everything I’ve seen of Andersson on highlight reels suggests he’s got terrific hands and he’s most definitely not shy about getting close to the net to use them. When I look at his ISS ranking, though, I wonder if Andersson is seen as lacking the elite top-end skill that will make him a top-six forward candidate in the NHL.
MICHAEL RASMUSSEN – TRI-CITY, WHL
|FINAL RANK||5||MIDTERM RANK||6|
|BORN||April 17, 1998|
|BORN IN||Vancouver, BC, Canada|
Central Scouting: EXCELLENT COMBINATION OF SIZE AND SKILL – CAN PLAY A POWER FORWARD TYPE OF GAME USING SIZE AND STRENGTH TO HIS ADVANTAGE – MOVES WELL FOR A BIG MAN AND IS ALWAYS ON TOP OF THE PLAY – EXCELLENT PLAY-MAKING ABILITY RECOGNIZING OPPORTUNITY AND SETTING UP IN THE OFFENSIVE ZONE – POSSESSES A NATURAL GOAL SCORER’S TOUCH AND CAN SCORE IN A VARIETY OF WAYS – SMART GAME WITH AND WITHOUT THE PUCK.
ISS: 10th CS: 5th NA skaters Complete bio here.
Rasmussen appears to be the total package – he’s a combination of size and soft-handed skill who moved up one notch in Central Scouting’s final rankings after tallying 55 points in just 50 games with the Tri-City Americans of the WHL. McKenzie has Rasmussen ranked 9th, while Sportsnet has him going 10 spots later. Big swing there. Watch Rasmussen clips here.
KAILER YAMAMOTO – SPOKANE, WHL
|FINAL RANK||17||MIDTERM RANK||17|
|BORN||September 29, 1998|
|BORN IN||Spokane, WA, USA|
Central Scouting: DYNAMIC, UNDERSIZED OFFENSIVE PLAYER WITH EXCEPTIONAL SPEED AND QUICKNESS – LED HIS TEAM IN GOALS, ASSISTS AND GAME-WINNING GOALS – EXCELLENT VISION AND PLAY-MAKING ABILITY – ABLE TO MAKE PLAYS AT TOP SPEED.
ISS: 26th CS: 17th NA skaters. Complete bio here.
Almost everybody – scouting agencies and media outlets – has the speedy and Yamamoto going right in the range of where the Oilers will be picking after his 99-point season with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL. Chiarelli has plenty of size in his line-up already, so this would be a pure skill pick and a gutsy one when you consider Yamamoto is listed as weighing just 146 pounds. Check out Yamamoto highlights here.
ROBERT THOMAS – LONDON, OHL
|FINAL RANK||22||MIDTERM RANK||28|
|BORN||July 2, 1998|
|BORN IN||Aurora, ON, Canada|
Central Scouting: EXCELLENT HOCKEY IQ – VERY SMART AND POISED PLAYMAKER; THE TYPE THAT MAKES PLAYERS AROUND HIM BETTER – STRONG OFFENSIVE HOCKEY SENSE; VERY CREATIVE HANDLING AND MOVING THE PUCK – DECEPTIVE; CAN SURPRISE YOU WITH A PLAY THAT KEEPS HIS TEAM’S PUCK POSSESSION ALIVE OR GENERATES A SCORING CHANCE – HARD WORKING AND COMPETITIVE – CAPABLE OF MAKING A DIFFERENCE EVERY TIME HE’S ON THE ICE.
ISS: 21st CS: 22nd NA skaters. Complete bio here.
Thomas moved up six spots from mid-term in Central Scouting’s final rankings after his 66-point season (in 66 games) with the London Knights of the OHL. While the consensus is Thomas isn’t as dynamic an offensive player as Yamamoto, he won’t have to go on a growth spurt to avoid being the smallest player in the NHL, either. Thomas is skilled, smart and, as noted by CS, he competes. Some Thomas clips here.
If any of these five players are still up for grabs when Chiarelli takes the podium with the 22nd pick, my best guess is one of them will leave the stage wearing an Oilers jersey.