You know that funny scenario everyone ran through at the beginning of the season, as if it was some testament to the potential incompetence of the Oilers that they could very well draft first overall again in 2012?
Well, against a hefty mathematical gauntlet thrown down by the Columbus Blue Jackets who truly embodied everything that comes with “Tank Nation” – including the optional bus attachment they threw Rick Nash under after the Trade Deadline – the Oilers will in fact pick first overall for the third time in three years.
Now this obviously throws a big wrench into the “Fail for Nail” concept given that the Oilers have a bevy of young forward talent. This year was a big step forward for Jordan Eberle. Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins showed flashes despite both players spending a quarter of the season on the injured list. Magnus Paajarvi is still seen as a potential top six forward but took a step backward this season. All told, the team could easily fill out their first six forward spots from within the system.
It makes you wonder, where does a Nail Yakupov fit in their future plans? Do you take him because he’s too good to pass up? Do you trade the pick? Or do you simply take somebody else – more on that in a moment – and leave Yakupov and whoever remains on the board for Columbus, Montreal, New York and Toronto to fight out in the top five?
The obvious inclination is to say that they ought to take a defenceman given the team’s clear need. The ability to score is there, the team struggles because they’re so busy getting scored on. However, the next wave for the Oil seems to fill out the back end. For those that have picked up a copy of The Hockey News’ Future Watch – a key guide for prospect watchers – you’ll note that six of the top 10 prospects in Edmonton’s system are defencemen as rated by pro scouts and executives. Granted, Oscar Klefbom is the only true ‘elite’ prospect among them, but the numbers are there.
While they have roughly 21 million in cap space as things stand, the only guaranteed departures are in the forward corps as all the back end free agents are restricted. Sure the Oilers could choose not to tender any offers but who knows if a Klefbom or David Musil is ready to take that next step. Do Ryan Murray or Matt Dumba now become the first overall pick?
As I see things, Yakupov is too much of a “can’t miss” prospect to pass up. Sure things are getting crowded up front, but the arsenal that group of players is a truly scary thought. There’s a serious case to be made that the Oilers saved the best for last with this first overall selection as Yakupov could be among the league’s elite in no time.
I thought last year that the Oilers owed it to themselves to pick up Adam Larsson if they wanted to show that they knew what they were doing. I maintain that they need defensive help but I can’t follow that through this year. If I’m Edmonton, I’m working on the picks that come after that as of right now. The first one is just too good to pass up.
On to those poor Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Jackets, despite their best efforts to finish last and a 48% percent chance of hitting, simply couldn’t pull off their first overall pick and my heart broke a little bit for them. I’ve been joking for a while now that missing the first overall pick would be the most “Ohio” thing they could do given the recent events in sports there. From the LeBron departure to Peyton Hillis having a great start to his Browns career and winning the Madden curse, this may just be the cherry on top of the rough go that has been Ohio pro sports lately (Go Reds?). Luckily for the Blue Jackets though, they may have had a PR nightmare taken out of their laps.
I certainly don’t think that they are bound to the logic that it would be horrifying for them to take a Russian player in this draft, but I understand the problem there. Nikolai Zherdev and Nikita Filatov were busts of colossal proportions, but the projected stratosphere for those guys was nowhere near the ceiling of Yakupov. We’re talking the difference between a good goal scorer and a franchise player – a comparison, if I may: James Neal vs. Evgeni Malkin. This conflict isn’t really all that prevalent though now that they can pick one of the top defencemen available in this draft or simply go with the kid widely believed to be the #2 prospect, Filip Forsberg from Sweden (no relation to Peter). He and Ryan Johansen ought to be the building blocks going forward.
The Montreal Canadiens draft third this year and could really go anywhere with this pick. Outside of goaltender their future is wide open, though who knows how they will approach things after they fill their currently vacant general manager position. If I was a betting man, and I have been known to be just that, my money is on Mikhail Grigorenko who is currently a star for the Quebec Remparts. The Habs will no doubt be looking to add to the crop of players from/trained in La Belle Province to gain favor amongst vocal media members and their fanbase – especially after their whirlwind year – and a stud prospect from the Q may be a good remedy.
The New York Islanders will more than likely looking to go to the defensive side of things in the draft, particularly after taking Ryan Strome last season, and I would fully expect them to take a long hard look at draft Murray or Dumba. That being said, if we want to follow this regional narrative for a moment, Jacob Trouba, a very promising young player with the USA National Development Team and University of Michigan commit, could be an Islander after the fourth pick. They have shown organizational preference to Americans in the past – obviously the likes of Tavares, Strome and Calvin De Haan are Canadian but roll with me here – it would come as no shock to me if they chose to stick with the domestic development team.
The Toronto Maple Leafs need high end talent out of the fifth spot, simple as that. Nazem Kadri and Joe Colborne are currently the high end names in the system but the reality is that neither of them are going to be true superstars. Phil Kessel is their franchise player and will be going forward, make no mistake about it. He nearly put this team into the playoffs by hauling them through on his back before the roster’s deficiencies caught up with them out of the all-star break. Alex Galchenyuk appears to be a fit here and would certainly check off two boxes that make Don Cherry mad – Russian name, American player – so you can bet on that being a thing. In all seriousness though, he is a very skilled player and has that offensive peak the system could really use. His motor is also much higher than that of a Kadri which should fit into the Leafs plans going forward under Randy Carlyle.
How’s that for 1,000 words of draft lottery reaction and speculation?
Obviously I’m only going based on what makes sense to yours truly at the present time. There are still plenty of variables up in the air with junior playoffs, combines, etc., still hashing themselves out.
I leave it to you now #BShelf nation.
What do you think of the Oilers picking first… again? What to do with Yakupov? What of the other top five teams?