By Mackenzie Liddell, Sportsnet Staff
The Edmonton Oilers have some tough decisions to make ahead of the 2012 NHL Draft, which begins June 22 in Pittsburgh.
With dynamic Sarnia Sting sniper Nail Yakupov the consensus No. 1 pick and a roster flush with skilled, young forwards, there’s been a lot of discussion whether the Oilers should trade down from the top spot in order to fill an immediate need by selecting one of the top-tier defencemen up for grabs.
A number of players could fill that void for the Oilers if they opted to trade down, with Ryan Murray, Matthew Dumba, Griffin Reinhart, Morgan Rielly, Jacob Trouba, Derrick Pouliot, Cody Ceci, Matt Finn and Olli Maatta headlining a ridiculously deep draft class of defencemen.
So if the Oilers decide to trade down, what should they expect in return?
Based on historical precedence, not much.
A team has traded the No. 1 pick only four times in NHL history. Two of those times were in the same draft year, and recently hired Montreal Canadiens executive Rick Dudley was behind each one.
Here’s a look at trades involving the No. 1 selection:
1999: Dudley made a big splash in his first year as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, shipping the first-overall pick to the Vancouver Canucks for the fourth-overall pick and two third-round picks. (Vancouver had previously acquired the No. 4 pick from the Chicago Blackhawks for defenceman Bryan McCabe and their first-round pick in either 2000 or 2001 – they selected Pavel Vorobiev 11th overall in 2000.)
Dudley then quickly moved the No. 4 pick to the New York Rangers for Dan Cloutier, Niklas Sundstrom and the Rangers’ first- and third-round picks in 2000. The Lightning used the first-rounder to select Nikita Alexeev eighth overall the following year.
Then-Canucks GM Brian Burke ended up trading the No. 1 pick to the Atlanta Thrashers for the No. 2 pick and a conditional third-rounder in 2000.
The rest is history, as the Thrashers wound up picking Patrik Stefan, one of the biggest busts in draft history, while Burke used the No. 2 and 3 picks to select Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
Dudley, who started with the top pick, didn’t get on the board until the 47th pick of the draft, where he selected Barrie Colts forward Sheldon Keefe.
2002: Dudley once again held the top pick heading into the 2002 draft as GM of the Florida Panthers, and once again he opted to pass on picking first. The first-year GM traded the first-overall pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for the third-overall pick and the option to swap draft positions the following year, which was never exercised.
Columbus wound up choosing London Knights power forward Rick Nash, while Dudley happily — at the time — settled for smooth-skating blueliner Jay Bouwmeester.
2003: Dudley repeated his draft strategy from 2002 the following year.
He dealt the first-overall pick (Marc-Andre Fleury) and a third-round pick (Daniel Carcillo) to the Penguins for the third-overall pick (Nathan Horton), a second-rounder (Stefan Meyer) and forward Mikael Samuelsson.
Despite having the chance to pick first overall in back-to-back years, Dudley didn’t regret his decision to trade down.
“We know we’ll get the player we want at (No. 3),” Dudley said at the time. “And if we move any further than that, we don’t think we will get the player we want. I don’t care if we pick 1 or 30 if we get the player we want.”
Although each draft class is unique and the needs of teams and the league’s economic climate changes from year to year, the cost to move up to the top spot hasn’t been too steep. But it’s a small sample size and the biggest jump was from fourth to first, so who knows what teams will be willing to pay come draft day.
The Oilers could also end up taking a defenceman first overall, or simply pick Yakupov and move forward with the most dangerous offensive core of young players in the league.
That strategy could be fruitful, although trying to fit a multitude of high-end, presumably point-producing forwards under the salary cap once their entry-level deals expire will be challenging.
Whatever they do, the Oilers are set to cash in — whether by drafting the top prospect, filling an organizational need, or moving down and bringing in additional assets.
What should the Oilers do with the No. 1 pick?