With the Oilers picking in the eighth slot at the upcoming NHL Draft, I figured that I may as well look at what type of player they might be getting by going back to check out the 8th overall picks from the last five drafts. Can history tell us a story? Let’s find out together.
Now, before we get started, I want to preface this article by saying that I do know that looking back at draft history won’t tell us exactly what kind of prospect the Oilers could grab, but I do think it shows what type of player that could be sitting there waiting for them. I do think that going back five years will, at the very least, give us an idea of what kind of skillset could be coming our way. Looking at the rankings for the upcoming draft, there are plenty of forwards slotted in and around the eighth spot, which tells me that the Oilers have an opportunity to help fill a need even if they have to wait a season or two down the line.
2014 – William Nylander – RW – Toronto Maple Leafs
Rookie Season (2015-16) – 22GP: 6G, 7A = 13 points
2018-19 Season w/ Toronto: 54GP – 7G, 20A = 27 points
A highly skilled player offensively. Nylander skates very well, has impressive hands and is excellent at handling the puck at high speeds. Hockey sense is very impressive and he likes to shoot the puck a lot, but is also capable of delivering perfect passes. A very agile player that protects the puck well and skates hard in the offensive zone. Has improved his defensive game a lot. Has the tools and skills to lead his team in all offensive aspects.
Ignoring the holdout and resulting gong show that was Nylander’s 2018-19 season, the kid has some major skill that would be a welcomed addition to the Oilers’ top six. At 22 years old, Nylander already has a pair of 20-goal seasons under his belt and I would expect him to get back to that pace next year when he actually shows up to training camp and the pre-season.
2015 – Zach Werenski – D – Columbus Blue Jackets
Rookie Season (2016-17) – 78GP: 11G, 36A = 47 points
2018-19 Season w/ Columbus: 82GP: 11G, 33A = 44 points
A smooth-skating, puck-moving defenceman that has a strong understanding of the game. Excels in key situations and is able to execute under pressure. Possesses good vision and awareness on the ice; uses his abilities to put offensive and defensive pressure on the opposition. All-in-all, a very strong all-around defenceman that consistently brings his game every night.
In three years with Columbus, Werenski has averaged 42 points from the blue line which would rank him right at the top of the Oilers’ offensive output from a defenceman. Only Darnell Nurse was able to crack the 40-point plateau this year with no one else really coming close (Klefbom could have if he was healthy). Say by chance that Bowen Byram slides to #8, I would think the Oilers would have interest in adding another defenceman with the ability to put up points, wouldn’t you?
2016 – Alexander Nylander – R – Buffalo Sabres
Rookie Season (N/A)
2018-19 Season w/ Buffalo: 12GP – 2G, 2A = 4 points >>>> w/ Rochester (AHL) 49GP: 12G, 19A = 31 points
Nylander’s game is all about skill. Blessed with exceptional hockey sense, technical skills and overall offensive awareness. Very creative and shifty player with speed and soft hands. Furthermore, he has a great release, a good scoring touch and the ability to do the unexpected with the puck. On the downside, there are some consistency issues and intensity could be better. Some room for improvement when it comes to his defensive game as well.
Like his brother, the book on Alex Nylander is that he has plenty of skill but still needs to work on consistency, which is not uncommon for a young player trying to make his way. Over the past three seasons, Nylander has had a cup of coffee with the Sabres before being returned to the AHL where he has yet to be a point-per-game player. The jury is still out on the younger Nylander.
2017 – Casey Mittelstadt – C – Buffalo Sabres
Rookie Season (2018-19) – 77GP: 12G, 13A = 25 points
An electric offensive presence on the ice, Casey Mittelstadt brings the complete package of speed, skill, and hockey sense. He competes hard with every shift, and has the dynamic puck skills to keep up with his creativity, which is a hallmark of his game. His awareness is all-encompassing, and he never puts his teammates in positions where their time and space will be bottlenecked. Bigger players don’t phase him, as he thinks the game analytically and will find chinks in the opposition’s armor on the fly. As a result, Mittelstadt is often seen forcing more complicated plays that the opposition won’t be able to read in time. On top of all this, he can play a north-south game, and his transition game is already at an elite level. He’s a complete player with the predatory instincts necessary to succeed as a consistent and, perhaps, dominant point producer at the next level.
After averaging just under a point-per-game with the University of Minnesota in 2017-18, Casey Mittelstadt made the full-time jump to the NHL this year with Buffalo. While his stats from this past season aren’t anything to write home about, a quick look through his highlights shows that he has the skills to get the job done, but the key will be doing it on a nightly basis. Would the Sabres be better served to keep Mittelstadt in the AHL while he tries to learn the pro game? We’ve seen that move before.
2018 – Adam Boqvist – (D) – Chicago Blackhawks
Rookie Season (N/A)
2018-19 Season w/ London Knights: 54GP – 20G, 40A = 60 points
A dynamic offensive defenceman that can carry plays with the puck on his stick. A highly mobile and nimble skater that moves with fluidity, balance, and confidence. Utilizes an active stick and creates turnovers frequently. Could be more proactive in his own end, but has shown progression in understanding lanes and reading unfolding plays; most of his best defensive work comes through the neutral zone, as there is a lot less time and space to work with, and it is in those moments that Boqvist shines.
Offensively, Boqvist is electric; he has the toolbox of a top line forward. Slick puckhandling ability paired with excellent vision and positional awareness makes him a dangerous threat every time he is on the ice. He also takes advantage of the attention and bodies he draws towards himself in creating space for teammates. All-in-all, Adam Boqvist is a complete offensive defenseman who knows how to get the puck from point A to the back of the net, and can make it happen all by himself.
After speaking to Uffe Bodin from Elite Prospects late last year, I was convinced that Boqvist was the guy that the Oilers should target with their 10th overall pick. As we all know, that wasn’t an option as Chicago picked him up at number eight, while the Oilers lucked out and grabbed Evan Bouchard at #10. In his first year in North America, Boqvist led the London Knights in scoring from their blue line (Bouchard played nine fewer games) and showed flashes of the offensive prowess described in the scouting report above.
If the Oilers do decide to use this pick, they’re going to get a quality prospect at number eight that will likely help the team for years to come. The problem, at least as I see it, is that the Oilers need help right now and whoever ends up being chosen with this pick probably won’t help for a couple of years or more. Looking back at the last five drafts, there’s a reasonable chance that the Oilers will snag a quality prospect, but you have to wonder if they’re willing to be patient at this stage. I don’t think I’m talking out of school when I say that this team needs to find a way to win right now and perhaps dangling the eighth overall pick would be enough to address a need that can help them in the 2019-20 season.
Personally, I would prefer that the Oilers use the pick and add another asset to a depth chart that’s still too light on skill. While the overall quality of the prospect pool has improved in recent years, the Oilers don’t have enough high end prospects that are either knocking on the NHL door or bubbling under and ready to turn pro. You’d think for a team with as many high draft picks as they’ve had over the last decade that they’d have more than a handful of legitimate prospects on the farm or in junior, but that’s simply not the case. And don’t get me wrong, I know that the NHL Draft can be a crapshoot in terms of who actually pans out and who doesn’t, but at number eight, I personally think that it’s a worthy gamble to take. If I’m the Oilers, I walk up to the podium, select the best player available, and add another asset to the organization that will help down the road and that you don’t have to worry about at expansion time.