The Edmonton Oilers have another top-10 draft pick and with that comes another chance to build around its young core.
The Oilers have the third selection in Friday night’s first round, a year after taking Darnell Nurse seventh and two years removed from a streak of three consecutive No. 1 picks. But even with forwards Nail Yakupov (2012), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011), Taylor Hall (2010) and Jordan Eberle (23rd in 2008) in the fold, Edmonton isn’t in a position to be position specific.
“You’re just trying to get the best available player you can,” head amateur scout Stu MacGregor said. “And if you end up with too many of one kind of player, it would then be up to management to trade whichever asset you have to attain something else at a different position.”
General manager Craig MacTavish has made no secret of his desire to acquire a puck-moving defenceman this off-season, which isn’t exactly a unique need in today’s NHL. The No. 3 pick isn’t likely the place do that, unless it becomes a trade chip.
The Oilers hosted defenceman Aaron Ekblad, centres Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart and multi-purpose forward Leon Draisaitl recently, MacTavish said in a radio appearance on AM-630 in Edmonton. Two of those players are sure to be available third overall, though Ekblad — a pro-ready two-way defenceman — is considered the likely No. 1 pick to Florida or whichever team trades for it.
With Hall and Eberle taking up top-six wing spots, there could be room for Bennett or Reinhart, perhaps even right away, behind Nugent-Hopkins. MacTavish wants to fill in his top three lines so that grinders like Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon can slide down the lineup.
NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr said during the scouting combine that he sees this draft as being full of players to stock the bottom half of teams’ rosters. The top-end talent is limited, but Marr thinks there are plenty of prospects with long-term staying power as role players.
At No. 3, or if they move down slightly, the Oilers should be able to get a difference-maker. While not as good as the “incredible” 2013 crop, MacGregor thinks the top 10 players available are strong.
After the first round, things get murky for the Oilers. They don’t have a second-round pick — sent to the St. Louis Blues last year for winger David Perron — or a third-round pick — sent to the Los Angeles Kings in January for goaltender Ben Scrivens.
MacTavish said on AM-630 that he’s not in a position to trade assets to get draft picks, certainly not after dealing some away for more immediate help. With two fourth- and two fifth-rounders, Edmonton can continue to stock the cupboard, although the team hasn’t unearthed a full-time NHL player beyond the third round in a decade.
Unrestricted free agency will likely go a longer way toward determining the Oilers’ 2014-15 roster than this draft, and the chances the team has of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2006 when it went to the Stanley Cup final. MacTavish said the Oilers will chase some of the bigger names available but are more specifically looking for secondary help behind the primary pieces already in place.
As trade talk heats up — MacTavish said he’d had “some fairly intriguing conversations” about moving up and down from the third pick — the Oilers are in position to add salary. MacTavish hopes they can give up less by doing that and improve in the immediate future.