This is the first installment of our Draft Decisions series, which takes an in-depth look at some of the biggest decisions facing each of the seven Canadian NHL franchises as we approach the NHL Draft on June 24.
The top of the National Hockey League’s Draft is the most compelling part of the whole weekend. And when there’s one team shopping a pick, it brings every team’s fan base into the fray.
That makes the Edmonton Oilers one of the most interesting teams in Buffalo this year.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will get their guy (Auston Matthews) at No. 1. The Winnipeg Jets will get theirs (Patrik Laine) and the Columbus Blue Jackets look like a lock for Jesse Puljujarvi. Then comes Edmonton at No. 4, and you can’t predict with surety which player they’ll select, whether they’ll trade the pick outright, deal down in the draft, or which of their (former) core players will be heading out the door.
So, what happens on Friday night? Let’s look at the options:
1. The Oilers draft at No. 4.
If that happens, it comes down to two players: Matthew Tkachuk (LW) or Pierre-Luc Dubois (C). The two have become the consensus No. 4 and 5 picks in this draft, and each means something different to Edmonton, a team that really needs defencemen more than forwards.
If Edmonton were to pick Tkachuk, he would set up as that power forward, net-front presence on Connor McDavid’s left side down the road — and also open the door for dealing Hall in exchange for help on the blue line.
If the Oilers pick Dubois — adding to a roster that already includes sub-24-year-old centres McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl — the move portents a Nugent-Hopkins trade. Both Tkachuk and Dubois figure to be a big piece of Edmonton’s future, and both would provide some salary relief with McDavid’s next contract promising to be a monster.
Our take: The thought of the Oilers solving their problems by drafting another winger just doesn’t sit right. There has to be more to the puzzle than simply adding another high-end 18-year-old winger.
2. The Oilers trade the No. 4 pick.
First off, Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli can’t just trade the fourth overall pick for a $5-million (or more), mid-20s defenceman. There would have to be some salary going back the other way – especially with a flat salary cap expected this year.
So any package that saw the Oilers deal away the No. 4 pick would be a bigger deal than simply the pick for, say, Sami Vatanen or Justin Faulk. Edmonton will surely be trying to include Nail Yakupov and his $2.5-million salary into any such deal, but that may be considered more of a sweetener for the Oilers than the team receiving Yakupov.
Also, we’ve said this before, but the Oilers have acted as if this is the last high draft pick they’ll be getting for a long while. So simply dealing away a No. 4 and getting an older player in return is hard to stomach organizationally, even if that may be exactly what Edmonton needs to do in the short term.
Our take: This is one scenario we don’t see happening. There has to be more to the deal than just a draft pick out and a player in.
3. Oilers trade down to get a veteran defenceman and draft another.
There is no question that Edmonton needs major help on its blue line today and in the future. Today’s team does not have a legit No. 1 or No. 2 defenceman on its roster, nor does it have one coming who projects as such.
So this scenario is perhaps the most likely: Edmonton makes a deal with the Arizona Coyotes, who own the seventh overall pick, Buffalo Sabres (8th) or Montreal Canadiens (9th), swapping first-round picks and sending a solid NHL defenceman to Edmonton. (Of course, there may be other moving parts to the deal, depending on the player in question).
Then the Oilers draft from the pool that includes Mikhail Sergachev, Olli Juolevi, Jakob Chychrun and a few others, in that No. 7-9 range. This is how the Oilers get their “right now” defenceman, and one who projects as a top-pairing defenceman. It also leaves Chiarelli’s pool of roster players virtually untouched, so he can still trade one of his former core players for the other defenceman his team requires.
Our take: This scenario works only if Chiarelli is confident he’ll get the defenceman he wants once he trades down. That can be very risky, but the best trades always encompass an element of risk. Perhaps this becomes a conditional deal that shares the risk, where the trading partner gets a lesser draft pick if Edmonton’s preferred player isn’t available, or coughs up an extra pick.
It’s complicated, but in my opinion, some version of the “trade down” is the most likely scenario.