The Edmonton Oilers are on the clock, much like they were a year ago.
The decision could be easier this time around, however, since many believe the best available player also plays a position of immense need.
Red Deer Rebels center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has more than hinted at his desire to be an Oiler and it’s likely a mutual feeling amongst the Oilers.
In our mock draft of the first round ahead of Friday’s NHL Entry Draft, we see the marriage between player and team coming together for the Oilers and the prospect nicknamed “The Golden Nugget.”
Here is a breakdown of what the remainder of the first round could look like at Friday’s draft.
The only negative point, which has been referenced so often, is his lack of size. Yes, Nugent-Hopkins is small in stature, but his ability on the ice and to process the game quickly more than makes up for this alleged flaw. Like his future teammate with the Oilers, Jordan Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins uses his intelligence to avoid putting himself in vulnerable positions. His natural playmaking ability makes him the perfect weapon to play between Eberle and last year’s top pick, Taylor Hall, on what could be the best line in hockey in five years.
While some may argue the Oilers are also in desperate need of a defenceman, a gifted, playmaking center is always high on an NHL team’s wish list – particularly Edmonton’s.
The board will get interesting earlier this year than in any other. Colorado could go several different ways, since the team needs to address several areas. One of the chief concerns is the depth on the blue line, particularly among two-way, puck-moving types. Larsson fits both criteria and has a high ceiling — which is another thing the Avalanche do not have outside of Erik Johnson.
Another appealing trait with the Swedish defenceman is his ability to play right away, given that he has played two full seasons in the Swedish Elite League. Larsson makes a lot of sense for Colorado at No. 2 for both next season and beyond.
The Panthers scored the fourth fewest goals in the NHL last season and aren’t expected to fare much better next season. While the Panthers are doing a good job accumulating prospects, none of the prospects in their system are as NHL-ready as the MasterCard Memorial Cup’s Most Valuable Player. Huberdeau will need to bulk up a bit more for the NHL game, but there’s no denying his skill-set. The Sea Dogs forward made a name scoring both highlight reel and clutch goals in the QMJHL.
It may be a lofty comparison, but Huberdeau may have a Jeff Skinner-type rookie season. Huberdeau is not afraid to mix it up and gets better as the going gets tougher. The Panthers could use his offensive imagination and overall enthusiasm.
Landeskog makes sense for the Devils for so many reasons. The Swedish forward plays a physical, two-way style and brings the leadership qualities that could make him a future captain in the NHL. Landeskog doesn’t project as a high-end point producer, but is the type of player every team wants in the playoffs.
He has the ability to take over games and commands respect. New Jersey could also pencil him into their lineup as early as next season.
The hulking defenceman would be a good pick for the Islanders, but general manager Garth Snow is a hard read when it comes to the draft. After picking forwards with their first pick in each of the last three drafts, the Islanders could use a defenceman. Hamilton was named the Canadian Hockey League’s scholastic Player of the Year, his third scholastic award in just two seasons in the OHL.
His intelligence translates onto the ice as Hamilton can read the play well and is sound with his positioning. He will develop into a No. 1 defenceman that can play at both ends of the ice.
Once considered the top prospect for this draft class, the Senators could pick up a potential steal at the six spot. Couturier spent too much time in the spotlight as a three-year junior and as a result, lost some of that hype. But he brings a solid mix of skill, intelligence and size that will make him a solid and dependable pro. He’s strong along the boards and uses his frame effectively to shield the puck, but doesn’t have the high-end scoring ability of some of the other top prospects.
Couturier is a safe pick and should have a long career as a two-way, secondary scorer in Ottawa. He could play as early as next season.
The newest kids on the NHL block are a bit of an unknown in terms of draft preference. While there are many pieces carried over from the Thrashers for the new team in Winnipeg, the team may go looking for a homerun in the Swedish center. No matter how you look at it, a right-shooting center with size and offensive skill is always a highly sought-after talent.
Zibanejad is a good building block for the franchise, but far from a slam dunk at this pick. Another prospect that could garner some interest from Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is another right-shooting center, Niagara sniper Ryan Strome.
(ED note: Pick was traded to Philadelphia Thursday night)
The Blue Jackets are another intriguing team that could go in many different directions. Many people raised their eyebrows when Columbus took Ryan Johansen fourth overall a year ago, but the pick looks good now. The Jackets could be happy to see the sharp-shooting, highlight-reel goalscorer Strome fall to the eighth pick. He doesn’t have as much size as the forwards drafted ahead of him, but is among the purest goalscorers in the draft. Columbus needs some forwards to take the pressure off and spread matchups from Rick Nash’s line, and Strome’s future on the team could create room for Nash in coming years.
Some other prospects the Jackets are likely looking at in this spot are Sven Baertschi, Duncan Siemens and Ryan Murphy.
There may not be a player and team that fit so nicely together than the Stanley Cup champs and the smooth-skating, offensive defenceman from Kitchener. The Bruins didn’t get the puck-moving defenceman they thought they had in Tomas Kaberle, who is a good bet to find a new team when he becomes a free agent.
The Bruins were able to win the Stanley Cup in spite of their power-play, not because of it. Murphy would inject instant offence and would be given ample opportunity to do what he does best on a team as loaded in talent as Boston.
There is no shortage of options for the Wild with the 10th pick. Since the Western Conference is more rugged than the East, the need for big, physical defencemen like Siemens can never be underestimated.
The Wild are a team that traditionally likes to build around size and strength, but that trend could be changing with the turnover of management in recent years. Regardless, Minnesota could use some sandpaper on the back-end and Siemens is as big and mean as they come in this draft class.
This pick will likely depend on which direction the Avalanche take with their first selection at No. 2 overall. Since the Avalanche are set at center, particularly amongst young players, and since they took Larsson with the first pick, a winger like Baertschi would likely be targeted for this selection.
Baertschi has been compared to teammate Nino Niederreiter since both are Swiss and play with a chip on their shoulder. But Baertschi was his team’s best player on many nights during Portland’s playoff run. He’s always a threat in the offensive zone and can play at both ends of the rink. Baertschi would complement Matt Duchene well in the future.
Some may be surprised to see the Memorial Cup champion slide this far, but it’s very unlikely he gets drafted as high as his ranking by Central Scouting.
Beaulieu is an offensive defenceman with very good skating and a decent shot. He is able to lead the rush and create offensively, but will need some work in his own end. Carolina could use a defenceman with his skill-set in their system and he does fit the mould the Hurricanes have built.
With two right-shooting centers already off the board, don’t expect McNeill to last much longer. The two-way forward has offensive potential and plays a robust game.
McNeill stayed hidden below the radar for much of the season, but hidden from NHL teams. If he’s still available at No. 13, he would no doubt be on the Flames’ radar. His style of play is perfectly aligned with the system in Calgary.
The Stars could use another puck-moving defenceman coming up in the system and likely would have drafted Cam Fowler in last year’s first round if not for the fact Jack Campbell was still on the board.
Dallas has never shied away from the Swedes in the draft and had some success with a second-round steal in Loui Eriksson several years ago. Brodin is a highly-skilled, offensive defenceman with a fluid skating stride.
The Rangers have a good core of defencemen coming up in their system and with so many already off the board, a forward would be a good bet in this spot.
Scheifele emerged on a young, rebuilding team in Barrie, but proved his ranking was no fluke with his performance on the Canadian under-18 team in April. Scheifele was one of Canada’s best players and displayed potential once again to carry a team. His potential may be too much to overlook.
While some may feel this is reaching at No. 16, Biggs embodies so much of what the Sabres implement in their game.
He’s a big power forward who will stand up for teammates and possesses leadership qualities. Buffalo is never shy in drafting these types of players and will likely be looking for a forward since the team should be set in goal and is still young on defence.
It’s been obvious for well over a decade the Canadiens need to implement some size into their roster. Montreal is seemingly beginning to phase size into the system by signing Hal Gill and by drafting Jarred Tinordi with their first pick a year ago. The Canadiens could probably use size up front more than on defence, but by the time Oleksiak is ready, their needs may have changed.
Montreal could also be targeting Biggs, JT Miller, Joel Armia or Boone Jenner in this slot.
The Blackhawks’ prospect depth is among the best in the league, so the need to address a position isn’t as important as it may be for other teams. Klefbom is a safe pick with his size and skill as a puck-rusher and leadership intangibles. He’s the type of win-at-all-costs player that should translate into pro success.
While the Blackhawks are solid on defence and have some prospects on the verge of cracking the lineup for good, Klefbom may be deemed by the Blackhawks as the best player available.
The Oilers got a young, defensive prospect by the name of Colten Teubert in the Dustin Penner trade with Los Angeles. This draft pick also came to the Oilers, who will more than likely look to add to the defence after taking Nugent-Hopkins first overall.
Morrow is a feel-good story in that he’s a local player, but he’s also a very gifted, puck-moving defenceman with a high ceiling offensively. Like many prospects, he will need to add size and shore up his defence, but he would be a good prospect for the Oilers.
Miller is one of the most polarizing prospects in this year’s draft class. Some people love his ability and potential while others are scared away by his lack of consistency. Some team will believe in the former, especially after he capped a disappointing season with a huge under-18 performance in April.
The Coyotes are thin at center, both in the NHL and in the system. The Coyotes may be just the team ready to step up to the plate and swing for the fences by taking a chance on Miller.
Ignore the skating flaws and Phillips is another prospect with big-time potential. Phillips scored a ton of big goals for the Sea Dogs in their run to the Memorial Cup and has some of the softest hands in this draft class.
Ottawa could surely use an infusion of offence in their system in the coming years and are relatively set with defensive and goaltending prospects. Phillips is a good value pick and could give the Senators depth down the middle in the future.
The Ducks struck gold at last year’s draft by taking Cam Fowler with their first pick, but aren’t likely looking for a defenceman. The reason Percy makes sense at No. 22 is because he’s a very safe pick and has more potential than he’s been given credit.
Percy is a very intelligent, two-way defender with great anticipation. He wouldn’t need to change his game on a team like the Ducks and could continue to quietly amass a solid body of work.
He may be a surprise to slip down this far on the draft board, but wingers may not be in high demand this year. Rattie is a big-game performer and gained valuable experience on an extended playoff run with the Winterhawks.
The Penguins have a few bluechip forward prospects, but do lack an overall depth in their system. Regardless, Rattie is an enticing prospect at this spot and may be hard to overlook.
The Finnish forward is another intriguing prospect. Many scouts and fans expected to see much more from him at the world juniors in Buffalo and his lack of consistency is a reason for concern.
Whether it’s a lack of commitment or whether he could simply benefit from different coaching, the Red Wings have a track record of getting the most out of their players. Armia could flourish in Detroit and look like a steal down the road.
The Maple Leafs could certainly use an injection of offence into their system. While they have some good prospects coming up, a player with the creativity and offensive imagination of Jurco could be the perfect fit in Toronto.
Jurco dazzled with his stickhandling and finishing abilities on a stacked team, so it remains to be seen what he can do with linemates of lesser skill. With another pick a few spots later, they can afford to bank on potential with Jurco.
Since the mandate in Washington now appears to be for reliable, two-way players, Jensen fits the mould of the current Capitals.
While consistency was a bit of an issue in his first season of major junior, Jensen could benefit from being a role player and not relied on to produce first-line numbers. The Capitals certainly wouldn’t need him to be an offensive catalyst and he could develop his all-around game.
While Danault will never turn into a big-time point producer, he brings many of the intangibles needed to succeed at the next level. He’s a fierce competitor and is already a captain of his junior team in just his second season.
Danault projects as a two-way forward capable of playing on the second or third lines and penalty kill. His drive, dedication and overall enthusiasm for the game is matched by few and he would be a good fit in head coach Guy Boucher’s system before long.
At this point, it’s becoming glaringly obvious the Sharks need players that simply refuse to lose. Jenner is the type of player that hates to lose and can do a little bit of everything.
Since the Sharks are a team with some gifted offensive players, they won’t need Jenner to be an offensive catalyst by the time he gets there. He has solid potential as a third line, two-way center and could evolve into a defensively reliable player in the NHL.
The Canucks’ depth on the blue line was exposed in their long playoff run. While Mayfield won’t likely play in the NHL next season, many believe he’s not far from making the jump. He’s a gritty, defensive defenceman — something the Canucks probably wished they had more of in the playoffs.
Mayfield is not flashy, but can chip in with some offence. On a team like Vancouver, he probably won’t need to worry about being anything but a mean, stay-at-home type.
The Czech defenceman and son of former NHLer Frank Musil is more of a projection pick than some expected this time last year. Musil is a gritty defenceman with some offensive ability, but after an underwhelming second season he’s seen more as a risky pick now than some believed. The reason he could still land in the first round is his potential and bloodlines work heavily in his favour.
At times he appeared ready to live up to the hype. The Maple Leafs could have a gem through proper coaching and development.