Once again, the Oilers got incredibly lucky at the draft on Friday. As I should’ve expected, I was totally wrong with my mock draft. It worked out better in the end anyway.
Peter Chiarelli had been working on trading the pick for a defenceman that could fill an immediate need, but nothing worth doing emerged prior to the draft. Chiarelli had his eyes on a cluster of defencemen with the 10th pick, most of which were expected to be taken well before the Oilers were slated to pick.
In order for one of these defencemen to be available for the Oilers, a few things needed to happen in front of them. Finnish centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi wasn’t slated to go in the first round prior to the season starting. His draft stock increased exponentially by the time the season had ended, and it went up even higher once Montreal was awarded the 3rd pick. They went off the board and selected Kotkaniemi 3rd overall.
Ottawa picked 4th and after trading Mike Hoffman, they needed a winger that is close to playing in the NHL. They took winger Brady Tkachuk. There was a school of thought that suggested Ottawa might draft a defenceman in fear of losing Erik Karlsson. Edmonton dodged that bullet.
Canadian centre Barrett Hayton was in the conversation as being a player that the Oilers might look at with the 10th pick. He certainly wasn’t expected to go in the top 10. However, Arizona surprisingly stepped up and took Hayton with the 5th pick, even though they have a plethora of young centres already. They have one right-handed defenceman on their team at the moment, and no significant right-handed defence prospects. Them choosing Hayton was another break for the Oilers.
Czech winger Filip Zadina was expected to go 3rd overall. He ended up slipping to Detroit with the 6th pick. The fact that he went so low was a surprise.
Through the first 6 picks, 1st overall pick Rasmus Dahlin was the only defenceman taken. The Canucks bucked the trend by taking American defenceman Quinn Hughes. Hughes is left-handed, which meant that all of the right-handed defencemen that the Oilers were looking at were still available.
The Chicago Blackhawks made an interesting pick with the 8th pick. They took Swedish defenceman Adam Boqvist, who is the player that I predicted that the Oilers would take in my mock draft. In April, I thought Boqvist would go in the top 5 of this draft. It was speculated that he could fall as low as the 12th pick leading up to the draft. Boqvist is likely 2-3 years away from playing, but they have time to let him develop with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook signed long-term. Boqvist was yet another player to be taken ahead of where he was supposed to go.
The New York Rangers have a lot of young defencemen already, so I had a feeling that they might be looking for a forward. Most of the forwards that they were thinking of had been taken already, except for Oliver Wahlstrom. They surprised everyone by going off the board and taking Russian forward Vitali Kravtsov.
Kotkaniemi, Hayton, Boqvist, and Kravtsov were all players that were not expected to go in the top 10 that were taken ahead of the Oilers. That left the Oilers with their choice of the sniper Wahlstrom, and two right-handed defencemen in Evan Bouchard and Noah Dobson. All three of these players were expected to go higher in the draft. The odds that all three of these players would be available to the Oilers were next to 0, but that’s the way it played out.
The Oilers stepped up and took their man: London Knights defenceman Evan Bouchard. He’s a great passer, he’s got a heavy shot, and he can run the powerplay… and he’s right-handed! He scored 87 points in 67 games this past season. He’s closer to playing in the NHL than most of the other defencemen taken in this draft because he has 3 CHL seasons under his belt already.
So, what does the drafting of Evan Bouchard mean for the Oilers going forward? Here is a list of the highest scoring NHL defencemen currently that played CHL hockey and their points per game in their best CHL seasons:
Dougie Hamilton- 1.44
P.K. Subban- 1.36
Kris Letang- 1.3
Evan Bouchard- 1.3
John Carlson- 1.29
Keith Yandle- 1.27
Ivan Provorov- 1.18
Alex Pietrangelo- 1.16
Tyson Barrie- 1.14
Ethan Bear- 1.04
Seth Jones- 0.92
Dustin Byfuglien – 0.91
Aaron Ekblad- 0.91
Morgan Reilly- 0.9
Drew Doughty- 0.86
Mikhail Sergachev- 0.86
Mathew Dumba- 0.83
Bouchard’s production in the CHL was better than the vast majority of the best defencemen in the NHL today. The names that his offensive production compares to gives you an idea of the type of defenceman he can become.
You’ll notice Ethan Bear’s 1.04 points per game on that list as well. Bouchard out-produced Bear by 0.26 points per game in the CHL. Bouchard is a much higher-end prospect than Bear, and we got a glimpse of how good Bear can be at the end of last season. Having both of these guys in the system is great. Both could be contributors on the Oilers in a couple of years, or they could use Bear in a trade for an elite winger.
Make no mistake about it: the Edmonton Oilers just drafted a franchise altering defenceman!
None of the defencemen on the list had to wait very long to start playing in the NHL. After being drafted, most of these players played one more year in the CHL, or they played one year in the AHL. Some were even in the NHL during the next season after they were drafted.
The Oilers have 5 defencemen under contract for next season including Klefbom, Larsson, Russell, Sekera, and Benning. Nurse is an RFA, and he will be signed soon enough. Based on the fact that we have so many NHL defencemen signed already, I can’t see Bouchard playing for the Oilers next season.
However, I could definitely see him on the Oilers to start the 2019-20 season.
In order for that to happen, one of Sekera or Russell will have to be moved once their NMCs are modified to allow such an occurrence at the conclusion of next season. I would expect Sekera to be the casualty since his cap hit is higher, he’s older, and his knee injury has slowed him down.
Bouchard is the final piece of the core of the Oilers defence that was missing a right-handed offensive defenceman that can run a powerplay. His addition to the existing young defence core has the Oilers defence in position to become one of the best groups in the league in short order.
Cam Talbot has proven to be an effective starting goaltender in his time with the Oilers so far. Time will tell if he is the answer going forward. The Oilers traded up to draft Olivier Rodrigue in the 2nd round on Saturday. He is regarded as the best goaltending prospect in this draft. Chiarelli also traded for goaltending prospect Hayden Hawkey. Those two have been added to a group of goalie prospects that includes Stuart Skinner and Dylan Wells. It’s a strong group that is full of potential, but they are all long-term projects at this point.
The Oilers are strong at the centre position with McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Strome, and Khaira. 2018 2nd round pick Ryan McCleod is a centre as well, and he has the potential to be a middle six centre in the NHL.
The right wing is stocked with young talent. Puljujarvi and Yamamoto are the brightest lights going forward. Ty Rattie has been given an incredible opportunity to prove himself as a top winger playing with McDavid next season.
Left wing is the on spot where the Oilers are lacking going forward. Natural centre Nugent-Hopkins will start the year on McDavid’s left. Struggling winger Milan Lucic will likely start as the 2nd line left winger. Newly signed Drake Caggiula will likely start as the 4th line left winger. The Oilers will have to get one more left winger in free agency, and they won’t have much money to spend to do it. Tyler Benson, Cooper Marody, Kirill Maksimov, and Ostap Safin are the left-wing prospects with the most potential going forward. None of these players are sure bets to catch on as NHL wingers.
In other words, the Oilers are one left winger away from completing their rebuild. That winger could be signed as a free agent in 2019, or he could be acquired in a trade prior to that. He could also be taken in the 2019 draft.
John Carlson. Justin Schultz. Kris Letang. Duncan Keith. Drew Doughty. Zdeno Chara. Niklas Lidstrom. Scott Niedermayer. Chris Pronger. These are all of the top offensive defencemen that have been on Stanley Cup winning teams since 2007. Carolina in 2006 was the last Stanley Cup winning team that didn’t have a true number 1 offensive defenceman. They beat Chris Pronger and our Oilers in the final that year. You pretty much have to have that type of defenceman if you’re going to win in the NHL.
Bouchard is that type of defenceman. If the Oilers win a Stanley Cup in the McDavid era, Bouchard will have a major impact.
Here is the full list of players that the Oilers drafted in 2018:
Round 1: 10- Evan Bouchard, RD, London Knights (OHL)
Round 2: 40- Ryan McCleod, C, Missisauga Steelheads (OHL); 62- Olivier Rodrigue, G, Drummondville Voltigeurs
Round 6: 164- Michael Kesselring, RD, Des Moines (USHL)
Round 7: 195- Patrik Siikanen, C, Blues U-20 (Finland)