Ken Holland and the Edmonton Oilers need to be smart navigating the draft this season, and trading down could be an option.
The Edmonton Oilers and their scouts have spent countless hours researching different players in different leagues. Leagues like the USDP and the WHL are well represented in the first round of this draft. Last year it was the SWE and the OHL. in 2017 it was the WHL and the OHL and in 2016 it was Finland and the OHL. You can keep going back and see that there is a correlation between the leagues of the top two players and those with the most ranked in the first round.
You can argue that since the scouts are often watching players from a certain league, that they feel more comfortable recommending them. I think the answer is much simpler. Scouts are only human and anyone who follows minor league hockey knows that it is easy to like the players you cheer for regularly. This bias is not intentional, it is just human nature.
This is how the Oilers ended up with Jesse Puljujarvi instead of Matthew Tkachuk. Scouts were sent to check out Patrik Laine and many other players of the Finnish U18 team. Jesse’s 28 pts in 58 games put him 6th overall on his team and only 3 points ahead of a defence man who was 9th overall in team points. Jesse’s success was the product of him playing with Center Sebastian Aho who had roughly double the ppg that Jesse did.
The reason I bring this up is not because of the Oilers current troubles with the under performing Finnish prospect but it is something that will be a big factor in the upcoming draft this weekend. Kailer Yamamoto had 99 points in 65 games with the Spokane Chiefs before being drafted 22nd overall by the Oilers in 2017. The kid has incredible talent and as Oiler fans, we know all too well the difficulty he is having, transitioning his game to the NHL.
Oilers will have choices to make when they make their selection. With the 8th overall pick and some of the US U18 team will almost certainly be left. Cole Caufield whose point totals are very similar to Kailer Yamamoto despite Cole being on a much better team. Cole is an inch shorter than Kailer who was the shortest player drafted in the first round in the history of the NHL. A scouting bias has some people ranking Caufield in the top 5 of this years draft. This is just one example of players not only looking better because they have strong line mates but also because scouts, who have watched this team all year, are showing bias towards these players.
There is obviously a lot of talent on the US U18 team but how do you pick a Patrik Laine and not a Jesse Puljujarvi? That will be one of the pitfalls for many teams including the Oilers this weekend. My suggestion, pass on Matthew Boldy, Cole Caufield and Cam York unless you are picking outside the top 20. Also avoid Victor Soderstrom and Philip Broberg from the SEL, for the same reasons. If the Oilers are going to gamble with someone not ranked in the top 10 or if they decide to trade down, there are three players they should consider.
#3 Raphael Lavoie. The 6’4 200 lb winger has put up incredible points for Halifax this year. He has 32 goals (73 points) in 62 games and added 20 goals (32 points) in 23 playoff games. He plays a big game with great hands and the ability to drive to the net with the puck. He has a great hockey IQ and he is an amazing goal scorer. I know they Oilers have one but it could never hurt to have another big, scoring forward that is used to playing either wing (right handed).
#2 Alex Newhook. The 5’11 190 lb center is arguably the fastest player in the draft. He has another gear in him that only few NHL players have. He put up 102 points in 53 games with Victoria (BCHL) and another 24 points in 15 playoff games. Newhook chose to not be drafted in the CHL so he would be eligible to play for Boston College in the fall. If you have seen him play he is an outstanding forward. He slides out of the top 10 because of the league he played in. Had he played in the CHL or in Europe, there is no doubt he would be ranked in the top 10. They only way to properly compare him to other prospects is his play during the WJC for Canada last year where he led the team with 10 points in 7 games (tied with Peyton Krebs). He might be the best forward in the entire draft and he will almost certainly be available when the Oilers pick.
#1 Spencer Knight. The 6’4 goalie from the US U18 team is said to be the best US goalie ever by many people. TSN’s Craig Button compares him to Martin Brodeur, arguably the greatest goalie in NHL history. He has incredible hockey sense with great lateral mobility. I know the Oilers have goalie prospects in Starrett and Skinner, however it is really hard to pass on a goalie prospect of this caliber. Oilers gave 4.5 mil to Mikko Koskinen because he was a large goalie with average ability. Spencer Knight is basically the same except he has elite skills. I haven’t seen a prospect goalie this good since Marc-Andre Fleury in 2003.
There are many reasons the Oilers should try to trade up in the draft and secure an Elite forward, however there are equally as many to try to get a second pick in the late first round even if this means trading down from 8th. What I do know for sure is that I would love the be the Colorado Avalanche picking 4th and 16th. There isn’t much I wouldn’t trade to switch spots with them in this draft.