The first week of October is usually always exciting for hockey fans, but the first week of THIS October is exciting for different reasons. Instead of gearing up for opening night, hockey fans are gearing up for the draft which goes Tuesday.
The Oilers currently hold the 14th spot. Nobody would’ve predicted the Oilers picking this high in the first round back in March, but here we are. That is the one silver lining that came from losing in the play-in round in August. The Oilers will get a good prospect at 14, but this is a deep draft. There has been talk of the Oilers potentially trading down to acquire another pick. They would likely still get a decent prospect in that scenario too.
There are SEVERAL draft experts that are far more informed than I am, but I feel my Off-Season Game Plan Series would be incomplete without a draft primer. I’m not going to go through EVERY prospect, but I will take a look at some of the guys that could and should be on the Oilers’ radar with the 14th pick. Some of these players will be off of the board by the time the Oilers pick, but there is a very real chance that any of these players could be options for the Oilers at 14.
The Oilers have a need for scoring wingers and a 3rd line centre. The Oilers had Kailer Yamamoto graduate to the big club last year, and the little guy made a big impact. Edmonton desperately needs more of that, and quick. They took right winger Jesse Puljujarvi 4th overall in 2016, who could return this coming season after a tumultuous first stint with the club. They also took local star Tyler Benson in the 2nd round that year. He is on the cusp of a graduation, but he might need a bit more seasoning. The Oilers also have Kirill Maksimov, the 5th round pick in 2017, who could still emerge as a player for the Oilers. He’s got a wicked shot and a physical edge, which is a nice mix for the NHL. Raphael Lavoie fell to the Oilers in the 2nd round last year. He’s exciting because of his size and his exceptional shot. There’s also Ryan McLeod, the speedy centre that the Oilers took in the 2nd round in 2017.
The cupboard is starting to get pretty bare, and while there are a few exciting pieces, there are no sure-fire blue-chip prospects brewing among the forward ranks. That could change on Tuesday if Holland drafts one of these kids:
Anton Lundell, C, HIFK (Finland)
Lundell could be the first player in this group to make it to the NHL. His strength is his defensive prowess. He wouldn’t be rated as highly as he is if he couldn’t put up points though. He could become a high-end two-way centre in the mould of Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, or Sean Couturier. Lundell could anchor a 3rd line in Edmonton for many years to come. It could be like when the Penguins had Crosby, Malkin, and a young Jordan Staal as their top 3 centres. Lundell is likely to be gone by the time the Oilers pick, but you never know.
Seth Jarvis, C, Portland (WHL)
5’10”, 175 lbs
There’s a lot to like with Jarvis. He’s an explosive skater, which is huge in today’s NHL. He’s a sniper that can score any way that you want him to. He’s also got some sandpaper to his game. He’s not a big guy, but it’s about the size of the fight in the dog, right? He’s listed as a centre, but he is being discussed as a winger, which is exactly where Edmonton would use him. He’s reminiscent of Brendan Gallagher and current Oilers winger Kailer Yamamoto. Do the Oilers want another guy like Yamamoto? Can they afford to pass on another guy like Yamamoto? Both are intriguing questions.
Jack Quinn, RW, Ottawa (OHL)
6’0″, 176 lbs
I’ve read many comments that suggest that Quinn is the best pure goal scorer in this draft. There doesn’t seem to be any issues with the defensive side of his game either. His skating is not quite at the level of Jarvis, but basically every draft eligible player needs to improve his skating. His scoring ability might make teams ignore the skating thing.
Dylan Holloway, C, Wisconsin (NCAA)
I got to watch Holloway play live at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, and I was impressed. His speed and tenacity were impressive to me. He was great as a checking centre in that tournament. That’s how I see him as an NHLer. If the Oilers are hoping for a centre and they miss out on Lundell, then Holloway would be a solid option. He’s a great skater, and he can get in on the forecheck. He doesn’t have the high-end skill of Jarvis or Quinn, but he will be an important player for one NHL team.
Dawson Mercer, C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
6’0″, 180 lbs
Think of Mercer as a right-handed version of Holloway. Mercer isn’t as fast as Holloway, but his skating is not an issue. If the Oilers were to pick Mercer, it would be as that righty that would balance out the lefties that currently play centre for the Oilers.
Rodion Amirov, LW, Ufa (Russia)
6’0″, 177 lbs
The Oilers taking Amirov with the 14th pick would be considered a reach, but he could be the best fit for McDavid out of all of the wingers I’ve talked about here. Amirov has the shot, but he can also finish close to the net. He isn’t afraid to get to the dirty areas. He can also find soft spots in the defence. He’s not noted as a playmaker, but he keeps it simple with short passes. That tells me that he will be able to get the puck to McDavid, and he will be able to finish the play off when McDavid gets it to him.
The Oilers are pretty well stocked on defence. Ethan Bear graduated to the Oilers’ top pairing last season, and he was excellent there. Caleb Jones appears to be ready for full-time NHL duty now. We can’t forget about RFA William Lagesson. It’s tough to call him a big-time prospect at 24 years of age, but Lagesson has shown that he can handle himself at the NHL level in a limited sample size thus far. Dmitri Samorukov has already earned KHL Rookie of the Week honours twice in the young season in Russia. The Oilers’ 3rd rounder from 2017 is starting his 2nd pro season, and he offers a nice mix of offensive production and a physical edge. Evan Bouchard, the 10th overall pick in 2018, promises to be an elite right-handed puck moving defenceman. Philip Broberg was a controversial pick at 8th overall because of the amount of quality forwards that Ken Holland passed on for him, but I don’t hear many complaints about it now after watching his training camp in July and his start to the season in Sweden. He looks like a franchise puck moving defenceman.
Holland will once again find himself in a situation where there are multiple forwards available along with some tempting defencemen:
Jake Sanderson, D, USNTDP
6’2″, 185 lbs
Sanderson’s strength is his ability to defend with his feet. His skating is what will allow him to have proper gaps and be in good position to defend in the NHL. The offensive side of his game started to emerge in the latter half of last season, which is why he could go anywhere from the top 5 to the top 15.
Kaiden Guhle, D, Prince Albert (WHL)
6’2″, 186 lbs
Sherwood Park’s Guhle is also known as more of a defensive defenceman. He will be effective as an NHLer because he does the little things well in his own end, but he is a bit lower in the rankings because he lacks elite offensive ability.
Braden Schneider, D, Brandon (WHL)
6’2″, 202 lbs
Schneider is more of an all-round defenceman. There isn’t one particular element of his game that really sticks out as being elite, but he will be a strong defender in the NHL.
You can tell that I’m not as high on the defencemen here as I am on the forwards.
The Oilers haven’t had stability in net for many years, and it has been a major problem during the time that the Oilers have been consistently outside of the playoffs. They have been trying to rectify that in recent years. They and the Hurricanes are the only two teams to draft at least 6 goalies in the last 6 years. The Oilers have drafted 7. Ilya Konovalov, taken in the 3rd round last year, appears to be the best bet. He’s rocking a .936 save percentage and a 2.04 GAA through 6 games for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in the KHL. He’s in the early stages of his 3rd year as a starter in the KHL, and he appears to be on the fastest trajectory towards the Oilers crease. Stuart Skinner would be the next most promising goalie prospect. The 6’4″ Skinner was taken in the 3rd round in 2017, and he will likely be the starter in Bakersfield the next time we see AHL hockey. The Oilers traded up to take Olivier Rodrigue in the 2nd round in 2018. He’s a bit more raw than Konovalov and Skinner, but he is talented.
Just like the forwards, there are no sure bets in goal. The last time the Oilers held the 14th spot in the draft they drafted Devan Dubnyk, who did start for the Oilers for a bit before starring in Minnesota. The Oilers might get the chance to let history repeat itself on Tuesday:
Iaroslav Askarov, G, SKA St Petersburg (KHL)
6’3″, 176 lbs
Askarov is the most hyped goalie prospect since Carey Price. He’s going to be really tough to beat along the ice because of how effective he is with his legs. He’s quick, lanky, and agile, which are all fantastic goalie traits. The assumption is that he will be gone by the time the Oilers pick him because there are a handful of teams ahead of them that could use a top goalie prospect, but if he falls then Holland will need to think long and hard before passing up a potential solution in net for many years to come.
In a perfect scenario where all of these players are available to the Oilers, it would be a tough call. If the idea is to take the best player available, then Askarov is the pick. Goalies take longer to develop, they carry much more risk, and the playing in Russia thing could be an issue, but Askarov has the highest ceiling of any player I’ve named in this piece. Here’s how I would rank them:
Those are the two that are the most likely to be taken before the 14th pick. Continued:
If Askarov and Lundell are gone, then the next best available player is a winger whether it’s Jarvis, Quinn, or Amirov. If the Oilers take a defenceman at 14, then their scouting and management teams are seeing something that I am not seeing.
The other philosophy would be to draft based on positional need. That is wing for the Oilers. More specifically, the need is for left-handed wingers. The Oilers already have Yamamoto, Puljujarvi, Lavoie, and Maksimov as young right-handed wingers or prospects. They only have Benson as a lefty. Righties Jarvis and Quinn are ranked higher in the draft, but Amirov would be an exciting left-handed pick. Under no circumstances do I feel that the Oilers should draft a defenceman at 14.
No matter who gets taken in front of the Oilers, Holland will definitely have a lot of quality choices with the 14th pick. Look out for my mock draft where I will tell you how I think the first 14 picks of the draft will unfold.