Entry Draft: Who Should the Oilers Target in the 1st Round?

NHL Draft, Edmonton Oilers Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
NHL Draft, Edmonton Oilers Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports /
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NHL Draft, Edmonton Oilers
NHL Draft, Edmonton Oilers Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports /

With the 2021 NHL draft around the corner, now would be a good time to review the options likely to be available to the Oilers at 19th overall. Given the nature of the season that’s just occurred, there’s even less publicly available information than usual so the analysis will be limited.

I’ve been writing about the draft in various places for a number of years and love checking my own preferences after the fact. Over the past few years, the players I would’ve picked in the Oilers’ draft positions within the first two rounds included players like Lukas Reichel (2020), trade down for Philip Tomasino and Nick Robertson (2019), Noah Dobson and Cam Hillis (2018), Henri Jokiharju (2017), and Mikhail Sergachev and Carter Hart (2016).

With that out of the way, let’s dive right in with the big and obvious name first!

G, Sebastian Cossa (ranked between 14 & 32)

Sebastian Cossa is a monstrous 6’6, 203 lbs goalie for the Edmonton Oil Kings (*flashbacks to Mitch Moroz and Griffin Reinhart*) who plays a calm and controlled game between the pipes. Posting a ridiculous 17-1-1 record with .941 save percentage (sv%) and 1.59 GAA. This comes after a draft-1 season where his stat line was similarly impressive (for a 17 year old) at 21-6-3 with a .921 sv% and 2.23 GAA.

In the interest of honesty, I can say nothing original about Cossa’s game. I have neither an eye for or much of an interest in the finer nuances of the goaltending position. As such, I’ll direct your attention to the analyses of Ben Kerr over at Last Word On Sports and Josh Tessler at SmahtScouting. The following is an excerpt from Kerr’s article:

"“Coming in at 6’6″, Cossa has the type of ideal size that NHL teams are looking for in a modern goalie prospect. He takes advantage of his size and gives shooters little net to look at with his strong positioning. He gets out to the top of the crease and cuts down angles well. He’s not one to get outside of his crease, but given his frame and his ability to stay square to the puck, Cossa doesn’t need to. Cossa has strong legs and good movement. His puck tracking is very good and he gets side-to-side quickly, always being in the right position to challenge the shooter. By playing a slight bit deeper than most goalies he can get side to side quickly and make saves on cross-ice passes.  Cossa’s legs are strong and he gets up and down in the butterfly quickly.” – Ben Kerr"

Now, I know what many of you might be thinking: “But picking goalies in the 1st round isn’t worth the risk!”. While this may have been true at times in the past, I’ve seen compelling arguments to the contrary.

Looking back at more recent drafts, there were 4 goalies selected in the 1st round: Jake Oettinger (26th in 2017), Ilya Samsonov (24th in 2015), Andrei Vasilevskiy (19th in 2012), and Malcolm Subban (24th in 2012). A small sample size but 2 are currently NHL starters, 1 is trending towards an NHL starter’s role, and the last one is an NHL backup. What if we expand the scope of the search to the first 2 goalies selected in each draft (as Cossa projects to be the 2nd goalie picked after Jesper Wallstedt)?

2017: Oettinger*, Luukkonen
2016: Hart*, Parsons
2015: Samsonov*, Blackwood*
2014: MacDonald, Demko*
2013: Fucale, Jarry*
2012: Vasilevskiy*, Subban

*denotes players who I would call ‘successes’ relative to draft position

Considering this, we’re looking at 7 of 12 goalies in the sample as ‘meeting or exceeding expectations’ which equates to a 58.3% success rate. Considering the success rate for the picks ranging from 19th (~55%) to 54th (~36%), I don’t see evidence to suggest that picking a goalie is quite the risk it’s made out to be. Of course, this necessitates that we trust our player development staff and goalie coaches to properly develop such a pick- and I don’t blame anyone for having their doubts.

The most apt comparison I’ve seen of him is to Ben Bishop of the Dallas Stars. Both huge goalies, both play within their crease, and both are more-than-capable puck handlers.