In a draft that featured several surprising moves, many expected the Oilers to be a focal point of the day’s proceedings. Yet General Manager Craig MacTavish’s actions were quite tame, as the only trades he made saw the team swapping picks with the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues. But was MacT’s first draft a success or a failure?
It all depends on your viewpoint.
I personally feel that the Oilers’ first-round selection was solid but unspectacular. Although the 7th overall pick was very much in play, the Oilers ultimately opted to keep the pick, selecting Darnell Nurse from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. The 6’4” defenseman has been praised for his athleticism, skating ability, and rugged style of play, but statistically, taking defensemen near the top of the draft has always been a riskier proposition than taking forwards. Nurse may eventually blossom into a top-pairing defender, but there have been similar players taken in previous years- like Dylan McIlrath- that fizzled out. There are no guarantees, even in the first ten picks.
Furthermore, it’s unlikely that the young, raw Nurse will be able to make an impact in the NHL for a few years, which calls into question how much MacTavish has really done to improve next year’s roster. If the Oilers wanted a combination of size and skill, it may have been a better choice to take power forward Valeri Nichushkin 7th overall, since some scouts think he could step into the NHL as early as next year.
Beyond the first round, the Oilers made some fairly interesting decisions. By trading with Los Angeles and St. Louis, they lost their second-round pick gained two third-round picks and three fourth-round picks. While many (myself included) are disappointed that the Oilers didn’t use their second-round picks to acquire a roster player, it’s important to remember that such a trade would have likely been expensive. After all, the New York Islanders gave up former lottery pick Nino Niederreiter for third-liner Cal Clutterbuck.
Today’s trades also helped erase some of former GM Steve Tambellini’s mistakes, such as the ill-considered Jerred Smithson deal that essentially wasted a fourth-round pick. MacTavish entered a deep draft with six picks and came out with ten, and this has to be considered a victory on some level. Using those extra picks, Edmonton was able to acquire some intriguing young Russian forwards in Bogdan Yakimov and Anton Slepyshev, and it will be interesting to track their progress in the years to come. More company for Yakupov, perhaps? We’ll see. Neither one is considered a top talent, but they were likely selected lower than their true talent levels thanks to the usual fear of Russian players staying in the KHL.
Was this a successful draft? Was this a disastrous draft? It’s too early to tell at this point. The Oilers may not have taken the best player available at #7, and it’s unfortunate that MacTavish couldn’t find a way to acquire Braydon Coburn or a similar asset. On the other hand, MacTavish managed to acquire some talent even while trading down for quantity. We won’t know the impact of today’s events until well after the fact, but whatever the final result, there’ll be no shortage of discussion.
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