Assessing the Oilers' 2024 NHL Entry Draft picks

The Oliers were met with cheers and jeers that echoed in the halls of online expertise this weekend as another draft wraps up, the first ever held in Las Vegas.
2024 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7
2024 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

With the NHL draft in the rear-view mirror and the Jack Campbell buyout now official, it's time to review how the Edmonton Oilers did in what was a whirlwind of activity that honestly did live up to some of the media generated hype. (Which it often doesn't, if we're being honest).

On Friday CEO Jeff Jackson and staff -- much to everyone's surprise -- traded up into the first round. They sent their first rounder in 2025 to the Philadelphia Flyers, for 32nd overall this year. ( The 2025 pick is top-12 protected, in which case it would slide to 2026.)

Once at the podium, the Oilers selected a young man named Sam O'Reilly who's a centre for the London Knights that can also play wing and often does, and started his competitive hockey days as a defenceman. This was met with mixed reviews online amongst Oilers fans and we're going to assess both trains of thought. However, first a review of the top prospect whom upon doing more research, is one I really like and can understand why Jackson and his staff made this pick.

Getting to know O'Reilly

O'Reilly is described as a 200 foot player whose motor runs hot. He plays with a body first, puck second mindset, is relentless in his pursuit of of the latter and has shown -- albeit inconsistently -- a penchant for elite playmaking. The full breakdown from McKeen's Hockey is here, where Brock Otten (their director of scouting) has produced an excellent deep dive into the player's skillset with video evidence to support the conclusion.

To my eye, this player is a perfect fit for the current group. He is a much more physical/gritty, but less talented version of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. (At least stylistically, O'Reilly is very unlikely to reach Nugent-Hopkins' calibre.) He works very hard on the defensive side of the puck, is always committed to the back-check and has shown excellent penalty-killing prowess.

O'Reilly does the connective tissue stuff that we've come to expect from Nugent-Hopkins, seldom makes the highlight reel but is essential to the team's success. The low ceiling he's been given is Scott Laughton from the Flyers or Ryan Hartman from the Wild, with the potential to create more offence.

Was it right to trade a first rounder in this way?

The counter-argument to making this move shared by fans, beat writers and media members alike, is that the Oilers should not be in the business of trading first round picks right now, or at least not until the deadline, and this is a sensible position to hold to be sure. While Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are in their primes, all firsts should be sent to basement dwellers for their everyday NHL producers to bolster what is a team that is going on a deep run.

Both sentiments are correct.

I don't have a good argument against trading first rounders to acquire players like Matias Ekholm and Adam Henrique, who help push you deep into the playoffs. I also don't have a good argument against drafting players like Reid Schafer, Beau Akey and O'Reilly. Schafer of course was a part of the aforementioned trade to get Ekholm, but the Oilers are wrapping up a season where they were the second oldest team by average age. Second. The only team that was older? The Pittsburgh Penguins.

Assuming McDavid, Draisaitl and Evan Bouchard re-sign, the Oilers will be effectively opening a second window of contention as those three players remain in their prime and under team control. It behooves the organisation to surround them with productive players on entry level contracts. It's not a matter of opinion or philosophy - it's out of necessity. NHL-ready players won't be coming to them right from the draft, as they should be selecting late in the first round if at all each year, but restocking the cupboards must be done.

Furthermore, O'Reilly is scheduled to be given an increased workload and more responsibility this season under coach Dale Hunter, where if he excels and improves his skating, could become a trade chip in and of himself. I doubt it considering they just traded a first for him, but it's a plausible course of action.

All in all, I'm of the opinion this was a solid move. Had they not traded their first this year for Henrique, who may not play longer than his time already served, they would've selected him 31st overall anyway.

What about the Oilers' second rounder?

In the second round at 64th overall the Oilers selected Eemil Vinni, which lands among the ranks of my favourite hockey names. (Most of which are Finnish, because Finnish names are awesome.) But in all seriousness, the player they selected is the top ranked European goaltender who's draft eligible and this move comes at a significant time in the franchise's schedule. They have now solidified their NHL tandem, have a minor league starter in Olivier Rodrigue who will push at training camp for the backup role, and have now bought out Campbell as stated earlier.

After that, the list is as follows:

Fifth Round - 160th overall: Connor Clattenburg, F, Flint (OHL)

Age: 19

Hand: Left

Height: Six-foot-two

Weight: 197 pounds

Hometown: Arnprior, Ont.

2023-24 stats: 20 goals, 36 assists in 68 games; 1 goal, 1 assist in 4 playoff games

Sixth Round - 183rd overall: Albin Sundin, D, Frolunda Jr. (Swe-Jr)

Age: 19

Hand: Left

Height: Six-foot-two

Weight: 197 pounds

Hometown: Kungsbacka, Sweden

2023-24 stats: 4 goals, 13 assists in 41 junior games; 1 goal, 1 assist in 14 playoff games with the Frolunda Swedish Hockey League team

Sixth Round - 192nd overall: Dalyn Wakely, F, North Bay (OHL)

Age: 20

Hand: Right

Height: Six-foot

Weight: 197 pounds

Hometown: Port Hope, Ont.

2023-24 stats: 39 goals, 65 assists in 66 games; 13 goals, 10 assists in 16 playoff games

Seventh Round - 196th overall: William Nicholl, F, London (OHL)

Age: 18

Hand: Left

Height: Six-foot

Weight: 184 pounds

Hometown: Manotick, Ont.

2023-24 stats: 6 goals, 14 assists in 65 games; 1 goal, 7 assists in 18 playoff games

Seventh Round - 218th overall: Bauer Berry, D, Muskegon (USHL)

Age: 18

Hand: Left

Height: Six-foot-four

Weight: 198 pounds

Hometown: Grand Forks, ND

2023-24 stats: 1 goal, 13 assists in 59 games; 1 goal, 1 assist in 8 playoff games

Next. 1st round pick ends eventful day for the Oilers. 1st round pick ends eventful day for the Oilers. dark

In summary

Making seven picks in an entry draft only days after you've lost in game seven of the Stanley Cup Final is not such a bad thing. And while none of these players project to be elite difference makers in the near future, many so-called draft experts are wrong every year on who becomes what. That's not to slight on any of them - it's difficult work that pro scouts consistently get wrong all the time. The reality of the matter is that nobody truly knows what the futures holds for any of these young players, so be wary of what you hear of these names. Often times it seems like a grift to me.

However, in coming full circle, there are those who instead of projecting and offering criticism just do the job of evaluating a player's performance and call it like it is, which is what I cherish from McKeens Hockey and others. I highly recommend reviewing the report on O'Reilly before throwing him to the wolves publicly.

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