I just spent a couple of weeks in Edmonton, and the topic of conversation anytime that the Oilers came up was the upcoming draft. Debated raged on for hours about whether they should draft Nugent-Hopkins or Larsson first overall. Everyone has their own opinion on how you should build a franchise, and all are valid. So lets take a look at whether the Oil should build from the back with the Swedish sensation Adam Larsson, or get the elite man in the middle with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
But before we do that, it must first be considered if there are any other options with the first overall pick. Earlier in the season, Sean Couturier was considered the top overall pick. The 6’4 centre, who has drawn comparisons to Jordan Staal due to his size and ability in the circle, has seemingly fallen out of favour with scouts. It could also be a matter of the other players stepping their game up, but Couturier is now being projected to possibly fall out of the top five.
Then there is the man climbing the boards. Jonathan Huberdeau has worked his way into the conversation as a top three player in the draft, similar to Ryan Johansson last year. Huberdeau has benefitted from his St. John’s Sea Dogs drive to the the Memorial Cup, and his chance to gain additional exposure on the national stage has done wonders for him. He has also started to earn the “clutch” tag after scoring several huge goals down the stretch for his club from the Q. While this tag is largely intangible, players like Jordan Eberle and Jonathan Toews will tell you how much it can benefit your reputation to earn such a label. Damien Cox recently penned an article an article outlining how the Oilers brass may be under pressure to take a long look at Huberdeau with the first overall pick.
Then there are the boys from Niagara. Ryan Strome, the centre, and Dougie Hamilton, the man on the blue line, are both in the discussion in the top five. They both had huge seasons for a great offensive team with the Ice Dogs in the OHL. They both have a chance to jump Couturier depending on how the combine and interview process goes for the prospects as the draft nears. It is almost impossible that either will go first overall, but with the possibility of Oil trading up into the top five, one of these players could be on their radar.
On that note, what about the possibility of Edmonton trading up to get another high pick? Rumours last year were rampant that they were trying to trade some combination of Ales Hemsky and/or Jordan Eberle on draft day for Tyler Seguin. So the possibility exists that Tambo and co. could try to make a similar move this year. But the draft this year is significantly different, as I have already outlined. It is not a Taylor vs. Tyler debate this year, but rather four or five names that could have an argument for the top spot. Hemsky is a UFA after the 2011-2012 season, and after Penner was traded at the deadline, it seems very possible that the Oil try to get something in return for Hemsky while they still can. But what would it take to move up? Hemsky and the 19th overall pick (from the Kings in the Penner trade) for third overall?
But without further ado, lets examine the argument of this article. Nuge or Larsson. Build from the back, or stack up the team up front.
Nugent-Hopkins has drawn comparisons to Joe Sakic and Pavel Datsyuk this season, and his skills and size seem to be putting him on the right track. There have been questions abound about his lack of girth, as he stands at 6’1 and weighs in somewhere around 160/170. Some skeptics have said he will not be able to bang in the corners and grind out the battles at the next level, but his level of talent is so high that it will likely not be an issue. It must also be taken into consideration that he is just 18-years old, and he has plenty of time to put on weight once he gets in the gym with professional trainers and gets set up with a real nutritionist.
After spending most of the season in the top five of prospect rankings, he caught many scouts attention at the All-Prospects Game where he had a couple of beautiful breaks and saucers. This is exactly what will make him a successful player at the next level. His vision. While many may call it sacrilege, there have been whispers about him having the ability to see the ice similar to The Great One. No one is allowed to make such comparisons, but even just imagining someone with such vision is almost enough for Oilers fans to renew their season tickets for the next generation. The possibility of a Hall-Nuge-Eberle line has copper and blue faithful salivating, and it just might happen.
But before we get ahead of ourselves and plan the parade from Whyte Ave., we must remember that there is also a defensive side of the this game called hockey. It would be great if the Oilers went out there and scored seven goals a night, but if they allow eight, then it is all for not. So lets think about taking Mr. Adam Larsson.
The 6’3 smooth-skating Swedish blue liner has been considered one of the top two picks in this years draft for over a year now. It is much more difficult for a player with such a high stock who it seen so rarely to fluctuate significantly in his projected value, and that is the case with Larsson. The argument that he has played amongst grown men in the Swedish Elite League has been played out, but it still holds value. Rather than playing against kids between the age of 16 and 20 in major junior, or 18 and 22 in college, Larsson has been playing with guys who have been playing professional hockey for ten plus years. So he is surely playing against more mature athletes, but how much better does that make him?
Lets think about some of the other elite players that have made the jump from the SEL in the past few years. Victor Hedman was taken second overall two years back by the Lightning, and he has been slow to adapt to the North American game. While he was seen to be somewhat of a project, standing 6’6 and thrown into the fire as an 18-year old in the NHL, he still has not taken the strides that he was hoped to. Especially considering Matt Duchene was taken one pick after him, and is on the brink of becoming a star in this league, one must wonder whether the Lightning would like a do over.
Then there is Magnus Paajarvi. He was drafted in the same class as Hedman, Duchene and Tavares, and managed to fall to the Oilers at the ten pick despite being ranked as a top five player. He did not make the jump as an 18-year old, but rather stayed to play another season with Timra of the SEL, where he had decent success. He made his way to the big show this years to suit up beside Eberle and Hall as the rookies in the Oilers lineup this season. He was touted as a top-six winger coming in, and he had ups and downs during the season to say the least. Paajarvi will surely improve with a season of NHL play under his belt, but is he a decent second-line winger? Or a top line elite winger?
One thing that must be taken into account with Swedish players, or Russian, Czech, Slovakian players, is the language and cultural barrier that they must break down once they make the jump across the pond. You can only imagine what it would be like to move halfway across the world, to a country where you don’t speak the language, and be thrown into the fire as a professional athlete.
It is without a doubt easier to become comfortable, both on and off the ice, for a player from a foreign country to be successful if there are other players that you can relate to. The play of Paajarvi took a significant step up once Linus Omark got the call from the farm, and one can point to the language and cultural comfort that the two Swedish players had once they were together in Edmonton. So it is possible that Larsson could step into the Oilers lineup and be a high end player from day one if he is comfortable. Omark and Paajrvi bunked together in Edmonton and Eberle and Hall live together as well. Maybe Larsson can move in and join the family.
One last thing to consider when thinking about who to take first overall. Do they play next year? Most think that Larsson would have no trouble making the jump, but it is widely believed that RNH needs another year of junior under his belt. The argument for Nuge to go back to Red Deer for another season is that he needs to bulk up and possibly lead Team Canada to a gold medal at the World Juniors, which are being held in Alberta this year. But what left is there for him to prove in junior? He will surely score fifty goals, pile up the assists, and generally dominate against inferior competition. But to what end? He has a better chance of learning how to be a pro both on and off the ice, if he is playing with the pros. This seems obvious, but people continually point to his wiry frame as a reason for another year with the Red Deer Rebels. But there is really no use in anyone who is taken first overall of going back to junior, and it has not happened in years, so lets forget about that. If the Oilers take Larsson, or Nuge, or even Huberdeau or Couturier, he will play on the big team next year, whether he is completely ready or not.
So after reading this essay. What say you? Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? Adam Larsson? Build from the back or stack up the firepower up front?
Filed Under: NHL
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.