Truth: The Edmonton Oilers are a hurting unit on defense. Allowing 32.9 shots per game, only four other NHL teams had more porous defenders than the Oilers in 2013-14. Andrew Ference is signed for another three years, but he’s no lead man. Youngsters Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin are the only other two blueliners under contract at the moment, with RFAs Justin Schultz and Jeff Petry likely to sign and stick around.
Myth: The Oilers absolutely need a defenseman at this year’s draft to complement their vast collection of young and talented forwards.
Edmonton, while positively wretched on their NHL blueline at the moment, don’t need to add a defenseman to round out what they’ve already gathered in recent drafts. On the contrary, the Oilers are actually in surprisingly decent shape on the back end for the future, given all the forwards they’ve picked with their first selections recently.
In THN’s Future Watch edition this year, the Oilers prospect pipeline ranked 11th overall with a “B” grade. And three of their top five prospects are defensemen: Darnell Nurse, Klefbom and Martin Gernat (those first two were ranked in the top 50 league-wide). That list doesn’t include the three RFAs currently on the roster, or their longer term projects.
No, it doesn't look like the Oilers have a game-breaking No. 1 blueliner on their hands (though they’re hoping that will be Nurse some day), but it’s far from a guarantee that’s what Aaron Ekblad will become. There is no clear-cut No. 1 guy available in this year’s draft and while the consensus is Ekblad has the tools to have a long NHL career, it may be as a second pair guy. Since he’s no lock to be a leader, why give up an expensive collection of assets to move up two spots to get him?
And on the other side, I’ll disagree with my colleague Matt Larkin, who believes the Oilers should trade down and take Haydn Fleury. To me, this would add another similar talent to the Oilers pipeline – it’s akin to them drafting another winger. The Oilers don’t need another prospect defenseman. If any draft day trade involving the No. 3 pick fits their needs, it’s for a current No. 1 NHL defenseman. And don’t count on that offer coming along.
No, what the Oilers really need is another young center and, lucky for them, the top of this year’s draft is littered with them. And while Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart are two of the three favorites to go No. 1 overall, the Oilers also may have the option of picking another center.
Leon Draisaitl intrigues me most of all.
The German will become the highest drafted player ever from his country this Friday and he has all sorts of tools. He has good size at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds. He has great offensive skills, as his 38 goals and 105 points this season will attest. And he’s got two-way potential. As one scout said in THN’s Draft Preview: “Complete player, playmaking center, makes guys around him so much better. His awareness and ability to anticipate the play is pro-caliber. A Joe Thornton type of player.”
Another scout called him an Anze Kopitar kind of player. Sold.
For all the high-end forwards the Oilers have picked up at the top of the draft only one – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – is a center. Sam Gagner is perpetually caught in the rumor mill and may finally be out this summer and Boyd Gordon fits in perfect on Line 3. What’s missing is a No. 2 center to move forward with and this draft is a great opportunity for the Oilers to add that in.
Look at all the recent Stanley Cup champions and they have one or two high quality centers and one or two high quality defensemen. The Oilers are a long way from both, but can put themselves in a very nice position to develop a deadly 1-2 center punch. You don't pass up those opportunities.
Unless there is some way Edmonton can pick up a proven No. 1 blueliner in a trade involving the No. 3 overall pick, the best thing they can do is sit back and use it on a center Friday night.
And if it’s me, Draisaitl is the guy.