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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Oilers afford to trade a prospect?

The Oilers are at a bit of a crossroads right now. Despite their recent losing streak, they’re in a fight for a playoff spot. Over the past few weeks, many members of the Edmonton media have been throwing out names that the team could look at acquiring in a trade. What doesn’t get talked about as much, is what the Oilers can afford to give up from their collection of future assets for the immediate help they need.

Some will say that the Oilers can’t afford to give up anything. Developing young talent has been a problem for over a decade and the team can’t go trading away the few pieces they have for a quick fix on the NHL team. I don’t agree with that line of thinking.

For the first time in what seems like forever, I actually think they have a decent crop of future NHLers in the AHL and junior and some, not all of them, could be sacrificed. Let me explain.

THE UNTOUCHABLE

Sep 17, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Evan Bouchard (75) skates against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Edmonton Oilers won 7-4. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t throw around the term “untouchable” very often because apart from Connor McDavid, everyone has a price and anyone can be moved for the right return. That being said, I don’t see a realistic scenario where the Oilers should even consider moving Evan Bouchard.

He came into camp and won an NHL job as an 18-year-old. He’s a talented puck mover, who can quarterback a power play and hold his own at even strength. He was their 5th best defenseman when he was in the lineup this season.

I have no doubt that he will be a full-time NHLer at this time next season. It’s incredibly hard to find top four, right shot, puck-moving defenseman and it looks like the Oilers have one. They cannot afford to move him.

IT WOULD TAKE A LOT

I’m not advocating for a trade of any of these players because I believe there’s a really good chance they will all have solid NHL careers but I don’t have them on the same level as Evan Bouchard, so I wanted to put them in their own category.

Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Ethan Bear, and Tyler Benson are all fantastic prospects with bright futures, even if the organization is a little down on one of those names at the moment. These aren’t guys that I would include in a deal for Matz Zuccarello or any another rental player.

I would advise against moving any of these names because if the Oilers want to become sustainable winners, they need to have a steady flow of young talent coming to the NHL, but if there is a perfect fit out there, I would think long and hard about moving one of the above.

To consider moving one of these, the return would have to involve a young (under 25), cost-controlled asset who is already a proven NHLer. I don’t think that asset realistically available right now but if the Oilers could get a young scoring winger who is on a decent deal and the cost is Jesse Puljujarvi and a draft pick, they need to really think about doing that deal. It would benefit them now and potentially in the future.

FROM AN AREA OF STRENGTH

The Oilers left-side appears pretty set at the NHL level with Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse. Those guys aren’t going anywhere and they’ve proven that they’re already competent NHL players.

In the AHL, they currently have Caleb Jones (4th round, 2015) and William Lagesson (4th round, 2014). There’s also Dmitri Samorukov (3rd round, 2017) who’s currently within the OHL with Guelph. All of these guys play the left side. That’s an area of strength for the organization.

The Oilers currently have a plethora of young, bottom-six talent at the NHL level with the likes of Drake Caggiula, Jujhar Khaira, Ty Rattie, and Cooper Marody (I know three of those names don’t really qualify as prospects, but they’re young NHLers). In the AHL they have Cameron Hebig, who’s producing at over a point-per-game to start his pro career. In junior, they have Ostap Safin, who’s over a point-per-game thus far in his 19-year-old season with Halifax (QMJHL). That’s a lot of names, most of which likely only have bottom-six potential.

Six names who I believe all have similar (not identical) upsides. They won’t bring back a lot, but there might be an organization out there who is high on one of those names and would see more value in them than I do.

Those are two areas of organizational strength that I’ve identified. I’m not saying the Oilers should get rid of all of those names, but if they dealt off one from each list, they could survive.

I’m also fully aware that most of those names don’t have a lot of value, but they could be the piece of a package that gets a deal done.

WHAT’S THE SMART PLAY

I don’t think the Oilers are at a point where they need to pull the trigger on a ‘panic move’ that involves Yamamoto, Puljujarvi, Bear, or Benson. But they need to be in ‘win now mode and I believe they should be going after a top-six winger, even if it’s a rental.

They don’t need a world beater, just someone who can contribute in their top-six and score goals. If the cost of acquisition is a second or third round pick and a prospect from an area of strength, then they should absolutely pull the trigger

I know there will be those thinking that no team in the NHL is going to trade a quality NHL forward for “scraps”. To that, I would argue that a prospect like Caleb Jones would have value to a rebuilding NHL team. As would a second or third round draft pick.

Last year, Thomas Vanek was acquired for Jussi Jokinen and Tyler Motte. Patrick Maroon was acquired for a 3rd round pick and a college prospect (J.D. Dudek). The New Jersey Devils got Michael Grabner for a 2nd rounder and a low-level prospect.

Now that the first trade of the season has been completed (Pearson for Hagelin), we might see more to follow. I think it would be wise for Peter Chiarelli to get aggressive and try to find a reliable scoring winger sooner rather than later.

If the right deal is there, the Oilers should not hesitate to move a piece from their future to give this years squad a better chance of making it to the postseason.