EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers are picking from the back row this draft. It is a rare, but good thing.
It’s been a long time since the Oilers had to sit through 28 picks before stepping up to the microphone at the NHL Draft, but success in the playoffs will do that to you. And the fact the Oilers will be sitting on their hands after choosing at No. 29, all the way to their next pick at 158th, makes a trade-down scenario much more likely — perhaps a swap of Edmonton’s first for a higher second- and a third-round pick.
Now, include into the conversation the fact that this is the most uncertain draft in recent memory. It’s a draft where one team’s 10th-ranked player could be another team’s 25th choice.
That means, in their eyes, the Oilers might find an available player at 29th who they never dreamed would still be there. You know, the ol’, “We couldn’t believe he was still available!”
“Going back to 29 — is that a good thing? I don't know,…” said Edmonton’s Director of Amateur Scouting, Tyler Wright. “At the end of the day, 28 guys are going to pick before us on Thursday. You're living at the mercy of the 28 names that get called, so you cross your fingers that somebody that we've identified that could fit the bill of what we're trying to do and be another piece of that puzzle going forward, is going to be there.”
One piece of good news for Edmonton?
“We're the only team out of the four that made the Conference Finals that are actually going to be making their pick,:” points out Wright. So there’s that.
Let’s have a look at the Oilers draft situation:
1 (29th), 5 (158th), 6 (190th), 7 (222nd)
Potential Round 1 targets
Trying to list two or three names that might be there at 29 — especially in the 2022 draft — is nigh impossible. There is a huge group of players being forecast between 25th and 30th that vary widely from mock draft to mock draft, and of all the years to keep his picks to himself, this is one draft where Wright won’t be throwing out random names of guys he likes more than others.
Here is the pool of names from which Edmonton will likely pick:
RW Jagger Firkus (Moose Jaw, WHL). RD Ryan Chesley (US Development Program). LD Owen Pickering, (Swift Current, WHL). D Tristan Luneau (Gatineau, QMJHL). C Owen Beck (Mississauga, OHL). D Ty Nelson (North Bay, OHL). C Luca Del Bel Belluz (Mississauga, OHL). C David Goyette (Sudbury, OHL). LW Rieger Lorenz (Okotoks, AJHL). LD Calle Odelius (Djurgardens).
Our Sam Cosentino has Alexander Perevalov at No. 29, a skilled Russian who had 25-25-50 in 42 games with Yaroslavl’s junior team this past season. Given the reports surrounding fellow Russian Ivan Fedotov, one of the first interview questions for Perevalov would have to be, “Have you served your military service yet?”
Firkus comes in at 28. He’s got the great handle — and he IS from Irma, Alberta, the town that gave hockey defenceman Gordie Mark — but at five-foot-10, 154 pounds, Firkus is likely too small to add to a forward crop that already has Kailer Yamamoto entrenched on right wing.
Or how about Czech centre Jiri Kulich? He had nine goals at the recent U-18s, either a sign of what’s to come or a lucky 10 days for the six-foot, 172-pounder.
Last year's first round pick: Xavier Bourgault
So far, so good on the six-foot, 180-pound right-winger whose greatest asset is that he knows how to find the back of the net.
In his final season of junior with the Shawinigan Cataractes, Bourgault scored 36 regular season goals (75 points) in 43 games, and delivered another 12 goals (22 points) in 16 post-season games. He left the Memorial Cup tied for the tournament lead with seven points (two goals), as his Cataractes lost in the semi-final.
All in all, Bourgault turns pro next season coming off 48 goals in 59 games — all you can ask for on an Oilers team that is always seeking finishers for the best one-two punch up the middle in the National Hockey League.
Can Bourgault play in the NHL next season? That’s unlikely.
Will he play? So far, it looks very much like Xavier Bourgault will be an NHL player, all you can ask from a 22nd pick overall.
The Oilers clear and present need is to replace or re-sign Evander Kane, and to get better on the right side in their Top 9.
Jesse Puljujarvi is ready to move on, and the feelings are mutual. Yamamoto is a quasi-second line right winger. Zack Kassian is a fourth-line winger — no more. Edmonton can always find a Top 6 left winger and move Zach Hyman to the right side, but with Kane’s status up in the air, GM Ken Holland needs to get some work done on that side as well.
Riding atop all of that, of course, is the need for a No. 1 goalie to play ahead of backup Stuart Skinner.
None of these things will be addressed through the draft. Not when you pick 29th. Holland needs to clear some cap space and is actively shopping Tyson Barrie and Warren Foegele. He may buy out or move Kassian’s contract. He’ll move Puljujarvi.
And then the Oilers will jump into the free agent market seeking a Ville Husso or Jack Campbell in net, they’ll pitch Kane to remain an Oiler, and they’ll look for short term, Top 6 wingers using the Kane model — and centres Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — as bait.