The Edmonton Oilers have been about the 18-year-old for… How long now? It must seem like forever, for Oilers fans.
How long has it been about tomorrow in the Alberta capital? And when does it become about today?
I’ll tell you when. Today, that’s when.
New general manager Peter Chiarelli sat by as Calgary and Vancouver made deals with his old team, the Boston Bruins, on Friday, a sign that sometimes familiarity can work against you when it comes down to dealing with your former organization. But you’ll recall he has a working relationship with New York Islanders GM Garth Snow, making Snow the lucky recipient of defenceman Johnny Boychuk last summer, when the Bruins were in a salary pinch.
So, on a day when everyone was wondering which goaltender Chiarelli would secure from among a fluid group that will no doubt get sorted out on Day 2 of the draft, Chiarelli went back to a former business relationship to grab a rugged, skilled defenceman who is all about right now for the Edmonton Oilers.
Griffin Reinhart, who played his junior hockey for the Edmonton Oil Kings, becomes an Oiler for the 16th and 33rd picks — a first and a second — as Edmonton grabs a stud who was picked fourth overall just three years ago.
Sometimes a high draft pick plays a while for an organization and it becomes clear the pick was a mistake. In this case, it’s hard to see Reinhart as anything but ready to join the Oilers’ NHL blueline after playing 59 AHL games, and another eight games on Long Island thus far in his young career.
The debate in Edmonton is what they need the most: defencemen or a goalie. It’s a chicken-or-egg debate, because if the defence gets better, the goalie’s job will become easier. And even Carey Price wouldn’t look any good behind the defensive game the Oilers have rolled out over the past few seasons. It has been atrocious, and is certain to improve under new head coach Todd McLellan.
Asked about his pursuit of a goalie over the past week, Chiarelli has been careful to say that his biggest focus is on icing a team that plays better defensive hockey next season and beyond. McLellan will have much to say about that, but the theme is that the Oilers will tighten up their game, and whomever is standing in the crease, the chances against will be that much less stellar.
That’s a reasonable take, from our viewpoint.
Enter a 6-foot-4, 217-pound puck-moving defenceman like Reinhart, who will jump into a group of blueliners that includes Oscar Klefbom (21 years old), Darnell Nurse (20), Mark Fayne (28), and Justin Schultz (24). It’s not the best D-corps we’ve ever seen, but add two more legit NHL defencemen and you’ve got to admit it — Edmonton has something here.
And it has the makings of a Top 5 that is young, to be sure, but has legitimate promise and size.
At centre, Edmonton sports Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Connor McDavid, Anton Lander and Boyd Gordon, with 6-foot-2 Leon Draisaitl looking at a move to the wing. Finally, they are legitimate up the middle.
Now the defence corps is shaping up as a group that has a chance, something we haven’t been able to say about Edmonton for years. They’ll clean up their defensive play and find a goaltender — through trade or as a UFA — who will give Edmonton a chance every night.
Slowly, this team is becoming a team. A team that could do something.
Reinhart is a nice piece to the puzzle. A very nice piece along the way, we’d say. Much nicer than a couple more 18-year-olds who won’t be ready for four or five seasons.