BUFFALO, N.Y. — The NHL Draft is all about filling needs and the Edmonton Oilers stuck to that plan on Saturday.
With a glaring need to add organizational blue-line depth, the Oilers selected a trio of towering defencemen in the third round.
“I just think the more defence we can get, the better,” said Oilers’ general manager Peter Chiarelli. “They take longer to develop. We want to continue to stockpile depth.”
Edmonton’s third-round run of defencemen started with Markus Niemelainen at No. 63. The six-foot-six native of Finland played last season with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, collecting 27 points in 65 games with a franchise that experienced a multitude of off-ice issues.
“He’s big, he can skate, he can move the puck, and he likes to play with some offensive flair,” said Bob Green, Edmonton’s director of player personnel. “We don’t think the numbers he put up this year are indicative of his talent level. There’s more there than just a big body.”
Up next at No. 84 was six-foot-two Matthew Cairns, who spent last season with Georgetown of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. Cairns was previously coached by Oilers legend Paul Coffey in Minor Midget AAA with Mississauga, and is expected to play in the USHL with Muskegon next season before heading to Cornell University.
Edmonton closed out the third round with the addition of six-foot-three Filip Berglund from Skelleftea of the Swedish Junior League. The right-handed shooting Berglund scored 41 points in 43 games last season.
The Oilers stayed local for their first pick of the day, selecting Edmonton-native Tyler Benson from the WHL’s Vancouver Giants at No. 32. The left-winger and Giants’ captain scored 28 points in 30 games during an injury-riddled season for Vancouver that dropped the likely first-rounder into Edmonton’s lap in round two.
Benson described the injury as a “groin and hip flexor issue” that was affecting his skating.
“I needed to rest and work with physio and strengthen the area. A lot of my games this year I wasn’t playing to my full potential so it was something I wanted to get fixed.”
Sitting at the podium in his new Oilers’ jersey and cap was a special moment for the kid who grew up cheering for his hometown team.
“I would’ve liked to have been able to play this year to prove myself, to be able to have a chance to go higher. But I’m pretty happy to be putting on this jersey.”
Edmonton went with a goaltender in the fifth round with Dylan Wells from the OHL’s Peterborough Petes. Wells posted an .871 save percentage and 4.59 goals-against-average in 27 games last season.
Gritty forward Graham McPhee, the son of former NHL player and executive George McPhee, was selected by Edmonton in the fifth round. McPhee will be attending Boston College in the fall after spending last season with the U.S National Team Development Program.
The Oilers closed out their busy day with the selection of Finnish forward Aapeli Rasanen in the sixth round (153rd overall), followed by another right-handed defenceman, Vincent Desharnais from Providence College, in the seventh round (183rd overall).