The 2016 NHL Entry Draft is around the corner and one of the biggest stories heading into the draft is what the Edmonton Oilers are going to do with the 4th overall selection. It’s been widely speculated that general manager Peter Chiarelli has been aggressively shopping the pick in hopes of landing a top pairing defenseman. This is something that Chiarelli stated himself as well in an attempt to strengthen the organization’s greatest weakness.
Thus, Edmonton is being linked to the likes of unrealistic aspirations like PK Subban and everyone in between. The hottest names in the rumour mill attached to the Oilers are Tyson Barrie (Colorado), Jason Demers (Dallas Stars) and Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis). We can also add Sami Vatanen (Anaheim) and Justin Faulk (Carolina) but everyone has been covering the latter two in every rumour out there. Summary: small market team, small internal budget and said team lacking offensive depth. Let’s look at three other options including a similar situation with Barrie in Colorado.
Trade & Free Agent Options For Oilers
Barrie, 24, is a restricted free agent this summer and the Avalanche are a budget team that may not be able to afford him, especially with all the heavy contracts up front. Coming off a two-year, $5.2M deal and rising up the Avalanche depth chart, Barrie is the team’s best defenseman with the highest offensive upside. He still hasn’t hit his peak yet and it’s expected he gets a substantial raise over the $3.2M he made this year. If the NHL salary cap next season ends up around $74M Colorado will have $10M to divide between the likes of key free agents like Barrie, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikkel Boedker. Not to mention that with Barrie included the Avalanche have nine NHL defensemen heading into next season if they re-sign UFA’s Zach Redmond and Andrew Bodnarchuk.
Can the Avalanche really give up on a 24-year-old defenseman who hasn’t hit his prime? Tough call.
Related: Realistic Oilers Defense Options
Demers, 27, is unrestricted this summer on a relatively deep Dallas defense and he rounds out their top four quite nicely. However, he’s one of four free agents the Stars will have to re-sign or let walk this summer along with Alex Goligoski, Kris Russell and Jordie Benn. Demers had a good season but he’s only hit the 30-point mark once in his career and the Oilers need a defenseman they can throw on the powerplay and produce as well as he defends.
Shattenkirk, 27, might be the Oilers’ best bet here. He’s a top-pairing defender playing behind two Olympians in Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester. The emergence of Colton Parayko, Joel Edmundson and Nick Schmaltz coming into the scene make him expendable. He’s also got one year remaining with a friendly $4.25M cap hit. The hard part is convincing Shattenkirk to sign long-term and play the remaining prime years with Connor McDavid and company. For what it’s worth, heading into the Western Conference Final he has 6 points in his last 7 games.
Everyone knows the Oilers will build a package with the 4th overall pick being the key selling point. Getting an NHL-ready defenseman is a huge component to correcting the back-end. Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera are the long-term building blocks. Brandon Davidson has emerged as well, but the Oilers are desperately needing that No. 1.
So what if the Oilers lose out on the likes of Barrie and Shattenkirk, an RFA and a player a year away from UFA status? Demers is a UFA so if he ends up on the market the Oilers can throw out a bid regardless.
Is It Best To Draft A Defenseman With 4th Overall Pick?
What if the Oilers end up in a situation where they walk onto the draft podium holding the 4th overall pick? There are two solid offensive guns in wingers Matthew Tkachuk and Pierre-Luc Dubois. Tkachuk, 6’1 and 194lbs, projects to be a solid LW who is more of a playmaker than his goal-scoring father Keith. The knock on Tkachuk is his skating. Dubois, 6’3 and 201lbs, looks like a future perennial 30-goal scorer. He uses his body and plays a responsible 200-foot game. Dubois might be the best forward outside of the Top 3 in Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi.
Should Edmonton leapfrog the likes of Tkachuk and Dubois and go after a defender there are three names that stick out but everyone knows them already: Olli Juolevi, Mikhail Sergachev and Jakub Chychrun.
Related: Chychrun Essential To Oilers Rebuild
Chychrun started the year as the highest-rated defenseman in the 2016 NHL draft but Juolevi and Sergachev have had stronger finishes and it’ll be interesting how the three will shake out once the dominoes fall at the draft table. All three have NHL-ready frames and could jump into an opening night roster spot. Juoveli, a solid two-way defender from Finland playing a starring role with the OHL champion London Knights, is a star in the making. He’s transitioned well to North America and is a solid offensive contributor with 42 points in 57 games. He also scored nine points in seven games at the World Junior Championships where he was named a first team all-star and won a gold medal playing as a No.1 defender.
Sergachev is the one with the highest offensive upside and, like Juolevi, is a great skater. He was the No.1 for Russia at the IIHF U18s. He could be the best defenseman in his class and scored 17 goals and 57 points for the OHL Windsor Spitfires. Chychrun might have the highest overall upside. He’s got a sturdy frame and a lot of scouts believe he’s still got a lot more to show following a slightly disappointing year.
Defense Conundrum Is Never-Ending Conversation
Regardless, the Oilers defense conundrum is the never-ending conversation of need, it seems. Shattenkirk is by far the best player available this summer when the Blues will most likely be shopping him but Juolevi might just be the defense prospect the team has been missing. If you really look at the Oilers draft history, aside from taking Darnell Nurse 7th overall in 2013 they haven’t used their highest 1st round pick on a defenseman since Michael Henrich 13th overall in 1998. Klefbom, remember, was used with the Oilers’ second 1st round pick in 2011, the same year they drafted Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 1st overall.
Related: ISS Top 30 (May 2016)
Even more so they’ve only draft three (add Alex Plante 15th – 2007) 1st round defensemen since 1998, which is inexcusable. Look around the league and the franchises on top have homegrown talent leading the way on the backend. St. Louis has Pietrangelo (4th – 2008), Tampa Bay has Victor Hedman (2nd – 2009), Florida has Aaron Ekblad (1st – 2014) and the other contenders, like Los Angeles for example, had Drew Doughty (2nd – 2008).
The point is, every team needs a stud No.1 defenseman, and it’s easier to grow one yourself than trade for one. If the Oilers can land a Shattenkirk or Barrie, kudos. If they can’t they’d be better off building off a stud NHL-ready prospect like Juolevi.