After being inundated with “are you crazy?” Tweets after I suggested the Oilers not take a forward with the first overall pick, I decided to lay out my argument in it’s entirety. Of course, it’s irrelevant, as the Oilers can always be trusted to do what’s expected of them rather than address any real organizational need.
It is a hockey truism that defense wins championships. The blueprint for years has been to build from the net out. The Edmonton Oilers, who have selected first overall in the NHL draft more frequently in recent years than anybody else, appear to have decided to ignore conventional wisdom, with the poor results to show for it. The Oilers will again have a high selection in the 2015 draft but, after being awarded the first pick overall in the draft lottery over the weekend, they can be counted on to fail to address their glaring organizational needs.
The Oilers will select Connor McDavid with the first overall pick because they will have been bullied into it by the media, and seduced by McDavid’s skill. To be clear, Connor McDavid is a blue chip prospect, a franchise player, and will probably be a dynamic pro. This is not an indictment of McDavid, but rather a plea for the Oilers to ignore the flash and expectant hype, and make the proper operational move to improve their team.
The Oilers have few high end prospects on defense or in goal, with defenseman Darnell Nurse being the only one who looks like he could make a difference in the near future. Nurse began this season in Edmonton, and looked a bit out of his depth before being sent back to his junior team. Defenseman take time to develop, it is the most difficult position to learn at the NHL level, but one the Oilers desperately need help at.
Many teams who have a balanced prospect list will draft the best player available. In most drafts, that player will be a forward. When a team is repeatedly picking high in the draft, blindly subscribing to the best available model while ignoring the conspicuous holes on their roster, they will struggle, as the Oilers have. Edmonton needs defensive help, and they need it right now.
In a sane world, the Oilers would select Ivan Provorov of the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, or trade the first overall pick for current NHL defense and goaltending help, plus prospects. Though Zach Werenski and Noah Hanifin are also highly regarded defensive prospects, they are college players and, as such, they will take longer to adjust to the NHL game.
Members of the hockey media have suggested the Oilers pick McDavid and trade Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for defensive help. On its face, this is not a terrible idea. McDavid would be an upgrade sizewise to Nugent-Hopkins, with a similar offensive upside, and Nugent-Hopkins would likely bring a decent return on the trade market. At issue is the fact that the Oilers, as currently constructed, finished the season strong under interim coach Todd Nelson, and fans could see the young core of high flying forwards beginning to coalesce and mature together. It would seem to be a poor time to upset the chemistry and the rebuild that is happening in Edmonton, solely for the sake of being afraid to disappoint the hockey world. Sometimes doing what is right and what is popular are not the same thing. Oilers GM Craig MacTavish ought to block out all the noise and take Provorov with his first pick.