After making it all the way to the Western Conference Final, the Edmonton Oilers are set to draft 29th overall with their only first-round selection of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. General manager Ken Holland doesn’t have a ton of experience drafting late in the first round, as even though he managed a very successful Detroit Red Wings team for many years, they almost always used that first-round pick to bolster their team.
The notable late first-round picks around the spot the Oilers are set to pick in this year’s draft that Holland has drafted are Nicklas Kronwall (29th), Brendan Smith (27th), and Joe Veleno (30th). The Oilers made one 29th overall selection in their history back in 1981, and the only two recent picks that have come close to this late in the first round were in 2004 and 2005, when they drafted Rob Schremp (25th) and Andrew Cogliano (25th).
The NHL Draft has become very deep, and there is tons of excellent talent to choose from. Here are four great choices that should go late in the first round that the Oilers should target.
Lian Bichsel (Left Defense)
The Oilers appear to be set in their top-four left-side defense with Darnell Nurse and Philip Broberg, but you can never have enough as someone can always be used as trade bait down the line. Ranked the highest on Bob McKenzie’s final draft rankings, Lian Bichsel (26th) is one of the best defensive options available in this year’s draft, and if available, the Oilers should target him; choosing the best option available is a safe way to go here, especially when there are no glaring needs to fill in their system and no goaltenders should be taken until the second or third round.
He has great size at 6-foot-5 and has similar qualities to another Oilers prospect, Markus Niemelainen, except the upside is a lot higher for Bichsel. He spent time in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and there appears to be little doubt he will find himself in the NHL in a few year’s time after he spends another season in the SHL and likely a few in the American Hockey League (AHL), similar to Broberg.
He is said to be incredibly difficult to get off the puck and is great at controlled breakouts and even leading the rush. He is capable of playing on both the power play and the penalty kill, and with his size and reach, is very effective shorthanded. As a defensive defenceman with offensive ability, the Oilers shouldn’t hesitate if he falls, and he might, considering his late-season injury.
Nathan Gaucher (Center)
You can never have too many centremen, as many start out on the wing and stay there once they reach professional hockey. Nathan Gaucher, from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), has consistently been ranked later in the first round in this year’s draft.
He may be lacking elite top-end offensive talent that many others around him have at this point, but he’s much more reliable, and he’s a big, two-way player who could easily fit into the Oilers’ middle-six down the line, being used in all situations; sometimes a player who starts off with a well-rounded game develops better than a player solely based around offensive talent.
Gaucher already has an elite ability to create space and dominate in front of the net while using his body effectively all over the ice. Austin Stanovich of THW drew comparisons to Chris Kreider with Gaucher’s net-front ability. Seeing what Kreider did around the net this past season really elevated his scoring ability. With similar ability, Gaucher could lock down that position on the Oilers’ power play for years to come. Though he doesn’t possess the greatest stickhandling and speed, he likely won’t need it with the talented Oilers around him if he just sticks to his strengths. Shaun Richardson of FCHockey likes him better as a winger, so he could even draw similarities to Mark Stone down the line as an elite two-way winger.
Luca Del Bel Belluz (Center)
Luca Del Bel Belluz is ranked by Bob McKenzie right where the Oilers will be selecting. This of course, doesn’t mean he will be available or Edmonton will draft him, but he has all the tools that should entice management. He may not have the size of the other three players listed here, but he has a ton to admire about his game, including his offensive production, hands, defensive game, edgework, and faceoffs, while his development has been very impressive.
His stride is one to marvel at as he scored one goal and six points in 58 games in his Ontario Hockey League (OHL) rookie year. Then after a year off, due to the pandemic, he went out and scored 30 goals and 76 points in 68 games this past season. With the development he’s shown, he has the potential to be a middle-six centre with comparisons drawn to Sean Couturier, a Selke Trophy winner.
A team can never have enough skilled players with great defensive abilities. Add a great offensive skill-set to the mix, and Del Bel Belluz is a solid option for the Oilers and should be available when they select.
Sam Rinzel (Right Defense)
For some, Sam Rinzel may be an off-the-board pick in the first round, but he has many upsides to his game as a big two-way defender. He may be criticized for the lack of talent he’s had to play against, but take Cale Makar as a recent example of dominating a lower league and being able to transfer his ability to a higher level.
He is a strong skater at 6-foot-4, so when he fills out, he will be a force. He is one of the youngest players in the draft, just turning 18 a few days ago, and while he likely won’t make an impact in the NHL for a number of years as he is committed to University of Minnesota for 2023-24. But after 21 games in the United States Hockey League (USHL) and once he spends time in University against better talent, we will see just how good he pans out to be. Rinzel is a high-risk, high-reward pick, and the Oilers should be looking for their next young top defensive prospect as Evan Bouchard and Broberg have now graduated to the NHL.
Rinzel’s upside is that of a top-four defenceman, and his puck-moving ability/patience makes for perfect and clean breakouts. He is a right-shot defender, a position the Oilers will need to fill through the draft for the somewhat near future. But as he has a long reach, scouts are split about his ability to defend and have marked him as inconsistent as of now. He has time to develop, but that would be a spot he needs to improve, as his offensive game is already there.
The Oilers should have their choice of talent at 29th overall and draft a player who will be effective in the lineup in a few years. Who do you think is the best option of the four for the Oilers, or is there another player you’re high on? Let me know in the comments.
Prospect analysis courtesy of THW’s Draft Team.
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Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News and trade talks.
You can find more of his work here.