The Edmonton Oilers enter the 2011 National Hockey League Entry Draft the same way they entered the 2010 version: having hockey’s worst record, and thus earning the #1 selection. Having gone with wingers with their past three first round selections (Jordan Eberle in 2008, Magnus Paajarvi in 2009 & Taylor Hall in 2010), it’s fair to say that those players, along with the emergence of mid-round steal Linus Omark, have put the organization in a strong position when it comes to their wingers. However there are still plenty of holes to fill.
The two biggest needs for the Oilers, and any team looking to contend for the Stanley Cup, are a number one center, and a number one defenceman. Here is where the debate begins. With Red Deeer Rebel Ryan Nugent-Hopkins seemingly topping every scouting list (Central Scouting Service, Central Scouting Service, International Scouting Service), it’s fair to say that he is the best player available. However, his size issues are what have many people around hockey doubting whether he’ll survive a league that boasts the likes of Dion Phaneuf and Chris Pronger. One thing that is agreed upon by most is that he will need more time in the WHL before he attempts the NHL.
Another center to keep an eye on is Jonathen Huberdeau of the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs. Huberdeau posted 105 points for the team this season, along with an outstanding +59 rating. Huberdeau’s chances of going first overall are slim, however he is a prospect whose stock has gone up considerably in the past three months, and will likely get drafted much higher than initially thought.
The #1 defenceman is something the Oilers lacked this season without Ryan Whitney, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury early on. Adam Larsson is the highest rated defenceman, and at 18 years old he has already played professionally in the Swedish Elite League. He brings size, toughness and experience to a team that desperately needs all three of those attributes.
Although much of the debate in Oil Country has focused on Larsson/Hopkins, the team is also without a legitimate number one goaltender. Devan Dubnyk has filled in admirably this season, however there are few in the hockey world who feel that he will be anything more than a 1B goaltender at best. Dubnyk represents the last time the Oilers selected a goalie higher than the fifth round, and since then the only goalies drafted by the organization were Bryan Pitton and Olivier Roy. Regardless of whether or not Dubnyk is capable of being a number one netminder, unless your organization has Roberto Luongo or Martin Brodeur, you need to draft a capable goaltender, which the Oilers have not. This must be a priority in the first two round for Steve Tambellini and the Oilers staff.
With the first overall selection there comes the idea that your franchise needs to improve in more than one aspect. Lacking a franchise center, top-pairing defenceman or number one goalie within the organization, the Oilers management team will have their hands full in Minnesota.