The Best Player Available

The Edmonton Oilers didn’t have the first overall pick. In fact, they lost the lottery by slipping to the number four spot. But thanks to a curious decision by the Columbus Blue Jackets, the consensus third-best player in the draft fell into the Oilers lap. Peter Chiarelli wanted to be in the that number three slot. He wanted Jesse Puljujarvi all along, but knew it would be unlikely barring a trade. In the days leading up to the draft, it seemed as though Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalianen wasn’t sold on his Finnish countryman. It was somewhat surprising, considering Jesse’s high skill level. But obviously, there was something that Jarmo didn’t like about him.

Kekalianen asserted that he wanted a centerman rather than a winger, and Pierre-Luc Dubois was the third best player on his list, regardless of position. Dubois had always been a winger, until a mid-season switch to center ice. With him not even being a pure centerman, it makes the pick (and the reasoning) all the more curious. But, the selection is done, the Jackets tried to trade down and couldn’t get it done, and they have their guy. The Oilers have their guy as well, though not the one everyone thought they’d be going home with.

It was no secret that the Oilers needed defencemen. If Columbus had taken Puljujarvi as planned, the Oilers would have had to make a decision between Matthew Tkachuk, a winger they really liked, or one of the blueliners available. But it never sounded like Chiarelli was sold on any them, even going so far as to say that there weren’t any number one defencemen in this draft. The decision was essentially made for him when the Jackets called out Dubois’ name, and they likely did the Oilers a big favor in more ways than one.

If Edmonton went with Tkachuk, a left winger, it would have left much to be desired in terms of getting a defenceman. If they picked one of Mikhail Sergachev or Olli Juolevi, there would be questions as to which player was superior, and did they make the right choice. Then there were guys like Jacob Chychrun, Charles McAvoy and Jake Bean, all of whom could have been selected lower down if the Oilers were able to trade the pick. Chiarelli probably would have chosen a d-man, but not even he was 100% certain. But now, how can you blame Chiarelli for the pick of Jesse Puljujarvi. He was the best player available. You can’t leave a talent like that on the board.

But despite the good fortune, the Oilers are essentially in the same place they were before the draft started. They need good defencemen. They chose another winger with their second round pick in Tyler Benson. But now they have some options up front. Puljujarvi is projected to be an elite talent, making some of the other guys they have expendable. In terms of the depth chart, as it currently stands, the Oilers have Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Zack Kassian, Iiro Pakarinen and Tyler Pitlick on right wing. Not everyone can play, which means there’s a good chance one of those players gets moved.

Before the draft started, there was a lot of discussion that Yakupov was on his way out. The presence of Puljujarvi may expedite that even more. Unfortunately, the trade value for Yak is a second or third round pick, and for a former first overall, that hardly feels like a good return. But the Oilers have a lot of forwards. Something’s gotta give, especially when their newest acquisition appears to be NHL ready. Of course no one wants to just give Yakupov away, but it’s no secret that his stock is down.

The Oilers didn’t select based on need, because let’s face it, they simply couldn’t. Getting a top defencemen is extremely difficult, nearly impossible via trade, and Chiarelli didn’t seem convinced about the available prospects. Where does this leave them in terms of getting better defencemen? The GM said that he didn’t like the price tags for acquiring big-time d-men. He also said that the free agent market is another way to go.

Obviously, there is a concern about that Edmonton blueline. P.K Subban isn’t walking through the door. The cost of a trade is high, but will the cost of standing pat be just as high? An upgrade has to come from somewhere. It didn’t come in the first round, because the Oilers had no choice. They had to go with the best player available. Maybe Columbus didn’t do them a favor after all?