I told you there would be surprises in this draft.
Things went as predicted for the first two picks with Hughes going to the Devils and Kakko going to the Rangers, but the surprises began when Chicago took Kirby Dach with the 3rd pick. I can’t think of a single mock draft that I saw where Dach went that high. I thought their pick would be Podkolzin because they needed someone to play on the right side in their top 6, and I was on the right track in thinking that. Dach is a righty that predominantly plays centre, but could easily play right wing with Dylan Strome as his centre a couple of years from now.
Colorado made out like bandits in this draft! They can thank Ottawa for Bowen Byram, whom they got with the 4th pick as a part of the Matt Duchene deal. They got a legitimate top pairing LD in Byram. To top it off, they got dynamic speedster Alex Newhook at 16. He will solidify the centre position on the 2nd line behind Mackinnon. Colorado is going to be a juggernaut with the amount of speed and skill that they have in every position after this draft. Mackinnon, Rantanen, Landeskog, Newhook, Jost, and Kerfoot up front and Johnson, Barrie, Makar, Byram, and Girard on defence. That is absolutely scary!
The next real surprise came with the 6th pick. LA had predictably taken Alex Turcotte, who was the best player available at 5. Detroit then stepped up and took German defenceman Moritz Seider with the 6th pick. He was ranked somewhere in the mid-teens by most experts, and he went 6th to Detroit. Buffalo surprised me as well by taking right-handed centre Dylan Cozens instead of left-handed centre Trevor Zegras.
The Oilers were up next. We knew the Oilers had only taken two prospects to dinner at the combine: Cozens and eventual 8th pick Philip Broberg.
I have to start by talking about what the Oilers didn’t do with this pick. Everyone knows that the Oilers have an organizational weakness at wing. Zegras, Podkolzin, Matthew Boldy, Cole Caufield, Peyton Krebs, and Newhook were all still on the board when Holland approached the podium. You could’ve made strong arguments for any of the 6 forwards that I listed here, but Holland and the Oilers went with Broberg instead. Broberg was consistently ranked just outside of the top 10 by most experts, so this may have been a bit of a reach; but many experts also said that there wasn’t much separating anyone ranked from 5-12 or so, so this wasn’t THAT much of a reach. Regardless, the Oilers missed an opportunity to bolster their forward ranks with this pick.
Now let’s focus on what the Oilers DID do with this pick. Although he wouldn’t have been my first choice given what was available, I’m a fan of Broberg’s. I watched him live at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, and I came away impressed with him. He’s a 6’3″, 200 lb offensive defenceman that is heralded as the best skating defenceman in this draft. Some experts have said that his skating is surpassed only by Hughes in the entire draft class. Broberg can carry the puck out of trouble with his skating alone, much like current Oiler Darnell Nurse can. Broberg has a good wrist shot that he is able to get to the net consistently. He says that he models his game after Victor Hedman… If he is anything close to what Hedman is, then the Oilers just got one hell of a defenceman.
Like every prospect, Broberg has things that he needs to work on. Broberg struggles with his decision making with the puck at times. His puck distribution is going to need some work. He’s a converted forward, so his defensive game is a work in progress (as it is with all young defencemen honestly). I believe that he is 2-3 years away from playing in the NHL. The only other negative thing that I can say about him is that he isn’t the forward that many fans were hoping this 8th pick would be.
Before we as Oilers fans dust off our pitchforks, let’s look at the big picture here. Broberg is another addition to an already impressive stable of LDs in Edmonton. Klefbom, Nurse, and Sekera on the current roster with Jones, Lagesson, Samorukov, and now Broberg coming up. Broberg is likely 2-3 years away from playing, and he projects to be at least a top 4 defenceman (possibly even a top pairing D).
Klefbom is currently 25 years old and he has 4 years left on his contract. Klefbom is a fantastic defenceman that is just entering his prime. We saw just how bad the Oilers are without him, but he is by no means an elite defenceman in the NHL. Klefbom’s injury history has always been a concern for him as well.
Nurse is currently 24 years old with one year remaining on his deal. He is 3 years away from being eligible for unrestricted free agency. No one really knows how long his next contract will be. It could be another 2-year pact that would take him right up to unrestricted free agency, or it could be a 5-year pact that would take him right up until the age of 30. Nurse is a really good defenceman, but I don’t know anyone that has said that he projects to be a top pairing defenceman.
We have two solid options as top 4 LD right now, but there’s a chance that Broberg could eventually be better than both of them.
Let’s fast forward to three years from now. Broberg is ready to be a 2LD, Klefbom has one year left on his deal, and Nurse is hypothetically on an expiring deal. Do you keep all three, or do you look to trade Klefbom just before he turns 30? Perhaps you trade Darnell Nurse while he is still in his prime? I would predict that one of the two will be moved before Broberg is ready.
Along with Broberg, I would also expect that all of Jones, Lagesson, and Samorukov will be ready within the next 3 years. That’s 4 people. I’m not a math major, but there’s only room for 3 LDs on the ice on any given night. There’s also Klefbom and Nurse to think about. We can’t forget about Sekera for the next two years either.
Regardless, there are more players here than roster spots.
Let’s pretend that the Oilers keep one of Klefbom or Nurse, Broberg, and one more LD prospect. Along with one of Klefbom or Nurse a couple of years from now, two of Jones, Lagesson, and Samorukov are entirely expendable. I’ve already gone on record with the prediction that one of Jones, Lagesson, or Ethan Bear will be moved this summer because they are all going into the final year of their ELCs and there are so many defence prospects that need ice in Bakersfield next season. I predicted that it will be Jones because of how strong the Oilers are on the left side and because he would yield the greatest return of the three. The addition of Broberg has only increased my level of confidence that a trade involving an LD prospect will get done this summer.
The benefit to loading up the prospect pool with defencemen like the Oilers have done is that the Oilers can trade from a position of strength to a position of weakness, which in this case is on the wing. I look at a deal like Vegas made for Mark Stone at this year’s deadline as an example. Ottawa got a collection of assets including Oscar Lindberg and some picks and prospects, but the highlight of their return was highly regarded Swedish defence prospect Erik Brannstrom. I don’t expect as big of a deal as the Stone deal was, but the Oilers can flip defence prospects for help on the wing.
Peter Chiarelli famously said that wingers are easier to come by than defencemen or centres. The reason for that is math… A roster on a game night has 8 wingers, 6 defencemen, and 4 centres. Wingers are the most plentiful resource in the NHL. Most Oilers fans would scoff at that idea because Chiarelli said it and the Oilers haven’t been able to find wingers after trading a couple of good ones away, but wingers do become available via trade quite often. The Oilers now have an excess of quality defence prospects to spare in trades for wingers that could provide an immediate spark.
The promise of being able to trade for help on the wings is not the same as actually drafting a winger, but there’s no guarantee that said drafted winger would have worked out anyway (cough, cough, Puljujarvi, cough, cough). If the plan is to trade for a known commodity at wing, then I’m here for it. Broberg wouldn’t have been my first choice with that 8th pick, but I’m certainly intrigued by what Holland might have planned over the course of the next couple of summers with all of these defence prospects.
As luck would have it, the Oilers would eventually wind up taking Halifax Mooseheads winger Raphael Lavoie with the 38th pick. This was an absolute steal for the Oilers! He was ranked in the top 20 by most experts coming in to this draft, and he fell to the Oilers at 38. One could choose to question why he fell so far, and the only answer I can think of is consistency issues and decision making issues away from the puck. He’s an 18-year old kid, of course he’s not going to be a perfectly polished player! He is a goal scorer with a big frame and decent mobility. He’s also a right-handed shot. He mostly plays on the wing, but he can play centre as well. There’s a reason that Bob Green wasted no time in announcing this pick Saturday morning. It was a no-brainer!
I see a potential top 6 right winger in Lavoie. This is a nice addition to a prospect group at RW that includes Puljujarvi (likely Europe bound after not being traded this weekend), Yamamoto, Marody, and Maksimov. If one of these players can catch on as a top 6 RW in the next 2 or 3 seasons, then the Oilers will be in decent shape. If 2 of them can find their way on to the roster in the top 9, then that would be fantastic! Lavoie has a high likelihood of being one of those players.
In the 3rd round (85th overall), the Oilers took an interesting goaltender by the name of Ilya Konovalov. I really hope he catches on in Edmonton because I will have a lot of fun saying Konovalov all of the time! Anyway, he’s a 20-year old that just won the rookie of the year in the KHL, thanks to a 25-15-1 record, a 1.89 GAA, and a .930 save percentage for Yaroslavl. Yes, that is the team that Craig MacTavish is now coaching. Fun fact: the last goaltender to win the KHL rookie of the year was Andrei Vasilevskiy. I’m not saying he’s going to win a Vezina, but this is an exciting goaltending prospect! There are some red flags here though… he’s a bit small (only 6’0″), and this is his 3rd year of draft eligibility. However, he’s got 2 years left on his KHL deal, and he might be NHL ready by that time (or very close to it).
The Oilers took a pair of Czech forwards with their next two picks, Matej Blumel (100th overall), and Tomas Mazura (162nd overall). The two are actually good friends, which makes for a cool story! Blumel had a breakout season in the USHL this past year (60 points in 58 games), and is headed to NCAA Connecticut next season. Blumel might be a late bloomer… you never know what will happen with a 4th rounder! Mazura had 54 points in 37 games playing high school hockey in the States this past season, and will be heading to NCAA Providence next season. I’m not as optimistic about Mazura making it at the NHL level, but I also can’t say that I know anything about the player aside from what has been shared already.
To round out the day, the Oilers took centre Maxim Denezhkin from Yaroslavl’s junior team. He will also be coached by Craig MacTavish. He’s a small and skilled centre, and he will have the next two years to develop his game in Russia. He’s a 7th rounder, and they RARELY pan out, but here’s hoping that the kid turns into a player!
All in all, I’ve got no complaints about this draft from the Oilers. Broberg wouldn’t have been my first choice, but he did impress me at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and looks like a really good prospect. I was pumped to get Lavoie where the Oilers got him! I have high hopes for him being a top 6 RW for the Oilers. They got a decent goaltending prospect, and they took measures to add depth to a depleted forward group in the pipeline in later rounds.
Holland didn’t make any deals at the draft in Vancouver. He was reportedly working the room, and there were rumblings about deals involving Lucic, Puljujarvi, and Russell. The salary cap for next season was released today ($81.5 million). It’s good news because teams now know how much space they are working with. It’s bad news because it’s $1.5 million lower than was originally projected. Regardless of whether it’s good news or bad news, it’s news that should allow some teams to make some moves between now and July 1. The negotiating period for unrestricted free agents begins tomorrow. I expect Holland to be more active on that front than he has been thus far in the trade market, although there could be more trade activity now that the cap has been set.
Look out for my Free Agency Preview next week! I’ll also be posting reaction to any moves that get made between now and then, so keep your eyes peeled for any news there.