The draft will be Ekblad or bust
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Edmonton’s defence looks AHL quality. When a guy like Justin Schultz leads your defence in ice time, you’re not going to win many hockey games. While this is a glaring problem that needs to be addressed, drafting an 18-year-old Dman isn’t the answer. Year after year it seems certain fans league wide, and even some oiler fans, cannot understand why the oilers choose to draft a forward with their high 1st rounder instead of a defenseman with the potential to fill a substantial hole in the oilers line-up. I addressed it in the previous blog but I’ll say it again, when you have a top pick, you draft the best player available, not the position that needs filling the most. Yakupov was that best player, RNH was that best player, and Hall was that best player.
This year’s top D prospect is Barrie’s Aaron Ekblad, now a household name after 3 seasons in the OHL, the granting of exceptional status at 15, and the constant media hubbub surrounding him leading up to the draft. Many fans have claimed that Edmonton should do all in their power to trade up to Florida’s pick to take the hulking Dman. Some irrational hockey fans even have suggested trading the 3rd overall and Nail Yakupov, arguing that Ekblad is a plug and play, possible franchise defenseman with the potential of becoming a Shea Weber. Edmonton could surely use a Shea Weber, but they should be fine sticking where they are at 3rd for a couple of reasons.
First, Ekblad is far from a sure thing. There’s a big risk in taking Dmen too high, and often they don’t reach the ceilings placed on them.
Since 2004, 13 Dmen have been taken top 4: Barker, J Johnson, E Johnson, Hickey, Doughty, Bogosian, Pietrangelo, Hedman, Gudbranson, Larsson, Murray, Reinhart, and Seth Jones last season. I’ll leave Murray, Reinhart, and Jones out, as they are too young to tell at this point. So we will say 10 Dmen, and by my judgement 4 of the 10 listed are top pairing guys (not a fan of Jack Johnson), 2-3 of them I would consider elite.
Since 2004, 27 forwards have been taken top 4: Ovey, Malkin, Ladd, Crosby, Ryan, Pouliot, J Staal, Toews, Backstrom, P Kane, JVR, Turris, Stamkos, Tavares, Duchene, E Kane, Hall, Seguin, Johansen, RNH, Landeskog, Huberdeau, Yakcity, Galchenyuk, Mackinnon, Barkov, and Drouin. Drouin and Barkov also haven’t had the chance to establish themselves so we’ll say 25 forwards. Yak, Galchenyuk, and Huberdeau had considerable slumps in their sophomore seasons but all looks like good bets to bounce back. Of the 25, 17 finished top 70 in NHL scoring while Stamkos, Ryan, and E Kane certainly would’ve made it had they not been extensively injured. Of the 25, I would consider 11 of them to be elite-level forwards and I’d consider all but Pouliot to be effective top 6 players or soon to be top 6 players.
Taking Dmen high is very risky and has very mixed results. It is much easier to predict how a forward will do in the pros, than a defenseman.
Second, some may think Ekblad is more of a sure bet being ranked 1st, but expert Ray Ferraro and others disagree, Ferraro had this to say about Ekblad, “I think he’s a second pairing defenseman… people will think that it’s negativity, but I don’t think he’s a 1 or a 2. I don’t believe he’ll be that at the NHL level… “ and, “[Ekblad's size & strength] will level off when he gets to the NHL because you can’t continually be the biggest/strongest guy”. Not only is there some worry that he may be close to his peak right now and that he won’t physically dominate the pros like he did junior, there is also concern in his even strength production. Even Darnell Nurse in his draft year, deemed a defensive/2-way Dman, had a better even strength PPG than Ekblad(.397 to Ekblad’s .362). Even strength offence tends to translate better to the NHL, and that number could be worrying. Despite being regarded as a safe and predictable prospect, there are some holes in Ekblad’s game that may hurt him carrying over into the NHL.
Third, EDM’s prospect pool is deep in defensemen and shallow in high end forwards. With Nurse, Klefbom, Marincin, Gernat, Musil, Simpson, Laleggia, and Oesterle in the system, defense prospects are EDM’s main area of strength while their forward crop is quite thin. EDM’s best forward prospect is a bit of toss up between 7th round pick Greg Chase and 3rd round pick Bogdan Yakimov. We can see nothing special for forwards thanks to all of the graduated talent in the NHL, so EDM should be fine with and even better served drafting a high end forward, namely a center. Whether it be Reinhart, Bennett, or who fans expect in Draisaitl, EDM should be fine drafting the center that could eventually slot behind RNH. From the success rate in Dmen, to the potential flaws in Ekblad’s game, to EDM’s need for forward prospects, EDM should not pay out the ass to trade up to 1st overall, should not see it as Ekblad or bust, and should be fine staying put and taking a forward.
Thanks for reading.