With only a few days before the draft, we’ve seen intense speculation about what the Edmonton Oilers will do with the #7 overall pick. They could trade down to pick up Bo Horvat or Curtis Lazar, or they could trade up to grab someone like Sasha Barkov. However, trading up to a higher position often requires an overpay since picks are so highly valued leading up to the draft, and trading down is often fraught with danger (just ask Kevin Lowe if he’d rather have Marc Pouliot or Zach Parise today).
The likelier option is that the Oilers stay put at number 7. If that is indeed the case, GM Craig MacTavish will have options. Highly touted defensemen Darnell Nurse and Rasmus Ristolainen should both be available, and it is possible that big center Sean Monahan will fall to #7. However, the best course of action for the Oilers may be to take skilled center Elias Lindholm with their first-round pick.
Why not Nurse or Ristolainen? It’s nothing against these two players themselves. Nurse had a fine offensive season in the OHL with 41 points, and Ristolainen played big minutes against older players in the Finnish Elite League. However, history has shown that taking defensemen early in the draft is far riskier than taking forwards, since their future success is harder to project. Just ask the St. Louis Blues whether they would rather have Erik Johnson (who they drafted 1st overall in 2006) or Jonathan Toews (taken 3rd overall).
Why not Sean Monahan? It’s not that he wouldn’t be an appropriate selection, it’s just that choosing him over Lindholm would be a sacrifice of skill in favor of size. Monahan earned 78 points in 58 games in his third year with the Ottawa 67s- a good total, but well below elite-level scoring. He’s not regarded as a great skater, and there are questions about what his offensive ability will be at the NHL level. A 6’2” center, Monahan’s size may be his best feature- however, MacTavish has recently emphasized the need to prioritize skill in his lineup over mere bigness.
Enter Elias Lindholm. The 6’0” center from the Swedish Elite League won’t impress anyone with his build, but he more than makes up for it with his offensive skill and two-way play. Lindholm scored 30 points in 48 games, all while playing against grown men, and has been lauded for his skating, scoring, and playmaking ability. His season this year has drawn comparisons to Peter Forsberg, and while it’s unlikely he’d reach that level of success, his season this year was very similar to Nicklas Backstrom’s in 2006.
While some may shy away from Lindholm due to his unassuming stature, and while several fans have argued that the Oilers need more size up front, it’s important to realize that it’s usually a better plan to draft the best player than to draft for need. The Oilers have taken several players in the first few rounds with impressive size but questionable skill (Mitchell Moroz, Travis Ewanyk, etc.) and more often than not, it’s come back to haunt them. From MacTavish’s recent comments, it seems that he recognizes this, and plans to prioritize skill level in his draft selections.
Ultimately, Lindholm seems like a fit with Craig MacTavish’s plan going forward. While the young center may be taken before the #7 overall spot, it’s hard to argue that he wouldn’t be a smart choice.
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