It has been another terrible season for the Edmonton Oilers. They will end the regular season in last place in the league for the second year in a row, and are hoping that they will be awarded the first overall pick once again in order to justify their play on the ice.
Injuries were once again a common theme for the Oil, with Hemsky, Hall, Horcoff and Whitney all missing significant time with various ailments. With those four being arguably the most valuable players on the team, it was surely not easy to get any wins this year. With the two-headed monster of Dubnyk and ‘Bulin in net, it was nearly impossible to do anything well.
But as many around the league have been saying, there is at least hope for the Oilers. Despite their play in the past few years, they have a serious wealth of young talent that will hopefully take the next step next year. Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi and Omark all had an impact up from this season, and they should only get better. Petry surprised many on the blueline this year with his consistent play amidst so much on-ice disaster. To add to the future, 2010 2nd round picks Martin Marincin, Curtis Hamilton and Tyler Pitlick all had inmpressive seasons in the WHL, and it is possible that one of them breaks camp with the big squad next year, with the other two possibly making the jump to the AHL.
So where do the Oil go from here? They will likely have first overall pick again this year, depending on how the Draft Lottery goes on April 12th. They have the Kings first round pick form the Dusty trade, and that pick looks like it will end up in the 20′s somewhere. Then they have the 31st overall pick as well to kick off the second round of the draft.
There are two approaches that head scout Stu MacGregor and co. can take come draft day. They can either go defence first overall, and then try to find another solid two-way player late in the first and early in the second. Or they can go for the elusive first-line centre with the first pick, then based on who is available they can do for the blueline with one of the next two picks.
So what do the Oilers need more? They have been missing that franchise d-man ever since Chrissy Prongs left town. We all remember what Prongs brought to the team, and no one is quite saying that Adam Larsson, the highly rated Swedish defenceman, will ever become a Pronger/Lidstrom type, but he is the closest thing available this year.
Larsson has been on the draft radar for several years, but there are questions about how immediate his impact would be upon the league. If he goes on a timeline similar to Hedman down in Tampa, Oil fans will be calling for his head before his rookie season is over. Larsson is not quite the physical specimen that Hedman is, but he is still a sturdy, smooth-skating player. It is tough to really evaluate players coming from the Swedish Elite League, as the argument always goes that they are “playing against men”, so they will surely take the next step in the NHL. Then these guys have a few good games at the World Jr.’s and they are considered top-5 picks.
This is not to say that Larsson will not become a solid player in the league, but just how good? Will be be Lidstrom? No. Will he be Niklas Kronwall? Possibly. Will he be Joni Pitkanen. Very possible. Nothing amazing, but a solid player.
So here is the other option. Take the first-line centre with the top pick, and deal with the blueline later in the draft of through free-agency. The top ranked centres are Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out of the dub, Sean Couturier and John Huberdeau out of the Q and Ryan Strome out of the O. At this point, Nugent-Hopkins is the top ranked one amongst them, drawing comparisons to Sakic and Datsyuk along the way with his somewhat diminutive size and high-end skills. Couturier has drawn the Jordan Staal comparisons due to his size and two-way skills. Strome and Huberdeau are still a little unknown, but both had enormous seasons respectively for their junior teams.
Anyone of these could become the franchise centre that the Oil so badly need. Hall/Eberle/Paajarvi/Hemsky can play on their wing, and with Gagner centering the other two on the second line, the City of Champions could have a solid top two set of lines.
My personal choice at this point is Nugent-Hopkins. He absolutely dominated in the first round of the WHL playoffs against the Edmonton Oil Kings, and simply has too much raw skill to pass up. He is small, at just 6′, 160, but he is so dynamic on the ice that he can make up for it. Many would like to see Couturier as the player selected by the Oilers, as his 6’4 size seems too good to pass up. But it depends if he can play his size, or simply happens to be tall. Much will be determined in the rest of the junior playoffs, but it is sure to be another tough decision for the Oil brass.
So do the Copper and Blue go for the two-way player with size, or the highly skilled offensive dynamo? Or focus on the hole on the blueline and get the best players available later in the draft? Take your pick.
About the Author: Student, aspiring writer/journalist, sport enthusiast, Copper and Blue in my veins. Check some of my sports ramblings at http://twitter.com/LD10.