For many Edmonton Oilers fans, the thought of trading a top-10 pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft might seem crazy, but hear me out.
Since 2006, the Oilers have had 93 draft picks. Out of those 93 players chosen, only 37 played at least one game in the NHL. Of those 37 players to lace up their skates at the NHL level, only 20 have played more than 150 games. Only nine of those players were drafted after the first round. It’s clear that Edmonton has struggled heavily with developing prospects in the salary cap era. Despite years of struggling with drafting and developing prospects, there now seems to be signs of light coming through the cracks within the organization.
Taking a look at Edmonton’s top prospects currently in junior and with the Bakersfield Condors, it’s clear that development of young talent is taking shape for the first time in years within the organization.
The Future of the Blue Line is Taking Shape
On the back end, the Oilers have potential future NHLers in Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear, Dmitri Samurokov, William Lagesson, and Evan Bouchard all close to making a leap to full-time NHL duty. Bouchard was recently named the OHL’s most outstanding defenceman after putting up 53 points in 45 regular-season games, and adding another 21 points in 11 playoff games for the London Knights. Samurokov put up 28 points in 24 OHL playoff games, helping the Guelph Storm capture the OHL Championship and book their ticket to the 2019 Memorial Cup.
At the NHL level, the Oilers have young developing stars in Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom leading the way. There are some concerns over Klefbom’s ability to stay healthy, but when he’s on his game, he’s as good as Edmonton has had in a long time.
Nurse is coming off a career season in which he became the first Oilers defenceman to post 40-plus points in a season since Sheldon Souray and Tom Gilbert in 2008-09. Nurse is a rare breed of size, speed, and grit their blue line hasn’t seen since Chris Pronger. I’m not saying Nurse is in the same conversation as Pronger, but the more I watch him, the more he reminds me of Prongs. The Oilers also have Matt Benning, who can hold his own on the power play and embrace his role as a 6/7 d-man.
Let’s also not forget rising Swedish star Joel Persson, who could have an impact right away in training camp in September. Persson has played the last two seasons in the Swedish Elite League, posting 65 points in 101 games with Vaxjo HC. In all of my years watching the Oilers, I have never seen their defense pool so deep and talented. The future of the Oilers’ blue line looks to be the most promising it has been in my entire life.
Developing Forwards Showing Signs of NHL Potential
Up front there are guys like Tyler Benson, Kailer Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Cooper Marody all close to NHL-ready. The Condors, coached by former Oilers assistant Jay Woodcroft, recently made it to Game 6 of their second-round matchup against the Dallas Eakins-coached San Diego Gulls in the Calder Cup Playoffs. The regular season also saw the team go on an impressive 17-game win streak. Most of the players listed above had a huge impact on the success of the Condors this season.
The Condors are also showing signs that they are developing some late-bloomers for the Oilers. Forwards such as 24 year-old Joseph Gambardella and 25 year-old Josh Currie both had call-ups to the NHL throughout the season. Other notable forwards who could play for Edmonton in the future include Evan Polei, Cameron Hebig, and recently-signed Ryan McLeod.
Speaking of the Condors, Benson led the roster in rookie scoring in the regular season and finished second in the AHL in rookie scoring with 66 points in 68 games. Marody, his teammate, finished third in AHL rookie scoring with 64 points.
With all of these promising young prospects on the cusp of graduating to the NHL full-time, the Oilers need to start shifting their attention on building the NHL squad. The future is bright, but the present needs some of that light.
Oilers’ Roster Needs
With how poor the Oilers have drafted since 2006, why would they trade a top-10 pick when they could use it to add to an already-promising young group of prospects? Well, for starters, the Oilers need help in the NHL right now. Although many of the players listed above are close to NHL-ready, there is the chance that once training camp opens, these young kids will still need to fine-tune their game in the AHL, or be sent back to junior. If Edmonton wants to win while Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are hot off the press, they can’t afford to wait for young, inexperienced players to get the team into the playoffs. Putting that kind of pressure on young talent is a key reason why Edmonton has missed the playoffs in 12 of the last 13 years.
Another reason why Edmonton should trade the eighth-overall pick is that the draft becomes kind of a crap shoot after the first five or so picks. The Oilers have an opportunity to package the eighth-overall pick with a combination of roster players to clear up some much-needed cap space and give themselves a better opportunity to sign or trade for pieces they need to round out the roster.
A team I look at that might be interested in taking on some contracts to obtain a top-10 pick would be the Ottawa Senators. The Sens traded away this year’s first-round draft pick in the Matt Duchene deal. Heading into the 2019-20 season, the Sens are also projected to be below the cap floor and will need to find a way to add some salary to their roster before the season begins.
For most Oilers fans, it’s clear the current roster needs help right away. The Oilers’ biggest needs going into the 2019-20 season are finding at least two top-six wingers for McDavid and Draisaitl. They should also be looking at finding a right shooting top-four defenceman who can play on the power play. This need isn’t as high on the priority list should Bouchard take a step forward in his development heading into the season.
I would also hope the Oilers find a capable goaltender to push Miko Koskinen throughout the season. We’ve recently seen some NHL teams deploy even minutes between their two goaltenders throughout the season (New York Islanders and Boston Bruins this season), and if Edmonton can find someone to share the crease with Koskinen, they should be in decent shape heading into the season.
Oilers Are Win Now
The final reason Edmonton should trade the eighth=overall pick at this year’s NHL Entry Draft is that they need to show the fans and current players on the team that they are in “win-now” mode. They have McDavid and Draisaitl just entering their prime years in the NHL. Previous management may have blown a couple years off their window of opportunity, but general manager Ken Holland is a smart man and needs to show his two best players that he’s willing to invest in the present and future of the team without hindering their ability to compete for a chance at a Stanley Cup.
Three years ago I would have never considered a team struggling like the Oilers trading a top-10 pick. Now, with promising young stars developing within the organization for the first time since the salary cap was introduced, and a forward core that already includes a three-headed beast in McDavid, Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins down the middle, the Oilers need to take advantage of a situation where they can afford to sell a top draft pick and be a true contender for the first time in a generation.
I am a 25 year-old hockey super fan who has been watching and following the Edmonton Oilers for over 20 years.