How should the Edmonton Oilers approach the 2020 NHL Entry Draft? While Oct. 6 is fast approaching, there is time for general manager Ken Holland to add some selections to his team’s limited supply between now and then. The Oilers were seemingly in an ideal spot for a playoff run which meant that picks were traded away at the deadline for roster players. The NHL’s ruling on the Milan Lucic for James Neal trade means that the Oilers have the option of surrendering a third-round pick in 2020 or 2021. We will assume that Calgary receives this year’s selection.
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The team still has their first-round pick, No. 14 overall, and should be able to find a usable player at that spot. The dilemma of addressing a need or taking the best player available will apply to a degree, but Holland also has the option of trading away that pick either for low-round selections or as a significant piece in a trade for a roster player. Would the franchise regret such a move? The problem with trading draft picks is that sometimes they turn into Zack Parise, and other times they’re Zack Stortini.
Oilers Have Fewer Picks Than Most
These are the Oiler’s picks as of this writing:
- First round – 14 overall
- Third round – 76 overall (Likely sent to the Calgary Flames)
- Fifth round – 138 overall
- Sixth round – 169 overall
- Seventh round – 200 overall
That’s a hefty gap between selections if pick No. 76 is sent to the Flames. While the 14th-overall pick has a relatively high chance of becoming an NHL regular, picks in Rounds 5 through 7 are basically a shot in the dark. For every first-round player that finds success, only one in seven later-round picks will make it to the show. More concerning for this year’s Draft, the missing picks in Rounds 2, 3, and 4 have significantly better odds of success. The moves Holland made this season for roster players had a cost, and how steep the cost will become apparent in future years.
Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide – Updated
The truth is that Holland had the right idea at last season’s trade deadline. Any player drafted in 2020 will likely only have an impact in two years minimum and the Oilers need to be better now. Looking at the team’s last four first-round picks, only Kailer Yamamoto was on the roster in 2019-20. Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg are still developing, though both of their arcs look promising, and the team’s rocky relationship with Jesse Puljujärvi, while recently showing signs of improvement, meant he played across the ocean last season.
The Most Important Decision is in Round 1
Holland should feel out potential trading partners for all the team’s available picks but assuming he goes ahead with their selection at 14, he has some interesting options. The Oilers have a logjam on defence, and should look at getting a player who can either put the puck in the net, or prevent pucks from reaching their net. There is one goaltending prospect ranked near where the Oilers are slotted, Yaroslav Askarov of SKA-Neva St. Petersburg, and although the team took a goalie last year, it might make sense to double up.
In a recent mock draft, the Carolina Hurricanes scooped up Askarov just one spot before the Oilers picked. The team that spoiled Edmonton’s 2006 Cup run has Peter Mrazek in net with a year left on his deal; they are a reasonable threat to take the promising goaltender. Holland may have to move up if he has his heart set on this player, but does he have the assets to convince another team to move backward? A team like the Ottawa Senators, with picks 3, 5, 28, 33, 52, 59, 61 or 62, 64, and 71 might be interested in a three-way deal that moves the Oilers forward.
The Senators are unlikely to part with their top two selections, given that those will turn into blue-chip prospects, but their plethora of mid-to-late round picks could be available. There’s a risk to selecting that many players in the same draft year, since they will all be in one another’s way during development. If Holland can swap his own picks from a future draft, or a middling prospect, in return for a second or third, or some combination of picks, those could then be offered to a team slightly ahead of Carolina, should Askarov be available when that team is on the clock.
The Oilers Still Need Secondary Scoring
If Holland decides he wants to select an offensive player, there are plenty that may still be on the board at No. 14. Rodion Amirov, a standout from the Russian team at the 2019 U18 World Junior Championships, is a finisher; his six goals and nine points in seven games helped propel the Russian Team to a silver medal. Though many in the city are gun shy when it comes to Russian draft picks, given their history of choosing the wrong ones, the law of averages suggests that can’t always be the case, and Amirov is an offensive talent with decent size and speed.
It is also good to remember that players slide down the rankings at the draft. If Peter Chiarelli’s itchy trigger finger had not moved No. 16 overall (along with No. 33) in 2015 for Reinhart, the Oilers could today have Mathew Barzal on their top line. It’s worth noting, the team that selected him made it to the Eastern Conference Final this season. Barzal was ranked somewhere between ninth and 11th in his draft year and slid to 16. Maybe Cole Perfetti will be the one to slide this year. If so, Holland should sprint up to the microphone and select him.
Perfetti scored 37 goals in 61 games for the Saginaw Spirit and added an impressive 74 assists which matched his goal total from the previous season. Doubling his assist totals, from 37 to 74 suggests he’s also improved other aspects of his game, and there is a chance, should he fall to 14, that he could make the NHL roster faster than other potential picks.
Sometimes Opportunity Knocks
At what point does Holland select the best player available, abandoning positional need because the prospect he has the opportunity to select is unexpectedly on the board? This year, that player would be a defenceman. They often slide on draft day because of their longer development arcs and teams who aren’t 100% sure of their fit will pass. If Jamie Drysdale of the Erie Otters falls past his expected slot, he would make a great Oiler.
Drysdale was a force at the 2019 World Juniors, helping Canada capture the gold medal. Cale Makar (Colorado Avalanche) and Miro Heiskanen’s (Dallas Stars) play in this year’s playoffs shows that a great young defenceman can seriously improve a team. Drysdale put up 40 points (7 goals, 33 assists) in 63 games in the Ontario Hockey League this season. He’s unlikely to be available when the Oilers head to the podium, though another North American defenceman, Jake Sanderson, who has an Oiler connection, might be had.
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Jake’s father, Geoff Sanderson played 41 games for the Oilers at the end of his 1104-game and 700 points. Although they never played together, Geoff and coach Dave Tippett played multiple seasons for the Hartford Whalers before Tippett left to join the Washington Capitals in – before or during Sanderson’s rookie year. The younger Sanderson does not have Drysdale’s offensive chops but he is the fifth-ranked North American player according to NHL Central Scouting. The Oilers’ defensive prospect cupboard is far from empty, but Sanderson might be a good addition.
After a Long Break, Oilers Draft in the Fifth Round
After the first-round the Oilers’ table has a long wait. When the fifth-round comes along, they will be rolling the dice along with every other NHL team. The best strategy is to accept that they are not the smartest ones in the room and look to expert opinions, taking the highest ranked remaining player using an amalgamation of scouting reports.
At spot 138, in Round 5, The Hockey Writer’s own Josh Bell has Lukas Svejkovsky (C/RW) of the Western Hockey League’s Medicine Hat Tigers. He has scored consistently at that level, though not at an elite pace, and would have a longer development curve. Other sources have a player like Winter Wallace ranked in the vicinity. A 6-foot-3 centre, Wallace was above a point-per-game pace in his last two seasons at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, and though that’s not a strong predictor of NHL success, it’s the sort of gamble you need to take in the later rounds.
Late Round Picks Are a Lottery
Rounds 6 and 7 will be more guesswork, and the Oilers are unlikely to find the next Pavel Datsyuk this late in the day. Players taken here are projects and will likely never play in the NHL. Bakersfield Condors head coach Jay Woodcroft will probably weigh in on every pick, but these later ones are likely to be his for the foreseeable future so he may have the final word.
Some names brought up for the sixth-round by respectable sources are Ryan Kirwan, a left-winger out of the USHL’s Madison Capitols or Flint Firebirds’ forward Eric Uba out of the OHL. In the seventh round, 6-foot-3 defenceman Jérémie Biakabutuka of the Val D’or Foreurs may be on the board. Drafting for size, which cannot be learned, and then developing a player’s other skills in the minors is a good strategy this late in the draft.
Every year, draft picks are most valued in the moments before they are used. The Oilers are in a different position from many of their rivals; Connor McDavid and company only need a couple of the right additions to turn them from a middling team with offensive stars into a well-rounded one that can dominate for years to come. Management and the coaches can be forgiven for struggling initially post-Chiarelli but now they must make their mark and finally move the team past the days of darkness.