The draft can not get here soon enough. Mostly as it should be the start of Holland fixing the Oilers. I can say this with certainty because they can't get anymore broken. Also the draft's arrival will stop sites like TSN.ca claiming that Kakko is "closing the gap" on Hughes. There is no actual gap. NJ is picking one player and that is going to be Hughes. Are they looking at others? Sure, just like the Oilers did before drafting McDavid. Doesn't mean anyone closed the "gap" there either. Whether you think the very talented but very small player should go first or not, he WILL be picked by NJ.
Personally I don't know if Hughes is the best player in the draft. He is certainly an incredibly gifted player and the one I would most likely draft first but will he be the best long term? I am not sure. Not with the likes of Byram, Dach, Kakko and Cozens in the draft. There is a chance this could be alot like the 2014 draft. Draisaitl went third and although he is obviously the best player in that draft, there is an argument to be made the Ekblad and Reinhart are valuable in a different way.
My focus is on who the Oilers will get at pick 8 and I think we can all agree that every team in the top 10 will pick the best available player this year. No one is going to pass on Byram to get a forward. Byram will go top 5 and will be the only d-man drafted in the top 10. On the extremely slim chance he does slide for some reason, lets take a really quick look at the only apple among these oranges.
Byram is an extremely fast and gifted player that is great at either end of the ice. He is already solid at 6'1 - 200 lbs and would be an amazing long term partner for Bouchard on the Oilers blue line. There is little chance the Oilers will get him unless they trade up which is unlikely. He might be the best player in this draft long term and the Oilers definitely should move up to get him but it is not likely.
This blog is going to go with the assumption that Hughes and Kakko go top 2. Byram most likely third which will still leave the Oilers with a great prospect at 8. There is a lot of speculation on the order of the players picked from 3-10. The next best in my opinion is Dylan Cozens.
Ranked as high as 5 (ISS hockey) and low as 14th (Hockeyprospects.com) on the main scouting services, the 6'3 C/RW from Whitehorse would be an incredible fit on the Oilers. Now some will argue that his 84 pts in 68 games is partly due to Lethbridge's great year. Also his 9 pts in 7 games at the WJC can also be attributed to the strong team he was on. Still if you watch this guy play, you can will be certain that his success comes from his own skill more than anything else. Simply put, the guy creates chances when he is on the ice. He is fast, great with the puck and his ability to see the game is why he got 50 assists this year. These are really skills that are hard to teach. Adding a versatile forward that can play center but also shoots opposite of Draisaitl if needed on the top wing, would give the Oilers all types of options. He is big, can play the body and is fast enough to keep up with McDavid. Plus he can add scoring and not just capitalize on the chances Connor and Leon create. The big Canadian might be the best player in this years draft and there is a small chance he will be there at 8.
The next best for the Oilers would be Kirby Dach. The 6'4, 200 lb C/RW hometown boy is ranked as high as 4th (TSN) and as low as 11th (ISS). "Great combination of size, strength and puck skills … ‘offence first’ mentality … soft hands… good puck pursuit … quick stick … finds availa" - ISS Hockey 2017. I don't really like ISS rankings but some of their scouts are really good and they say it all. What little I can add is that this guy has mad skill with the puck. Like McDavid he can make use of small space at high speeds. His point totals are not as good as Cozens but he could turn out to be a better player. He is a natural center that shoots right and can fit easily in the Oilers lineup when ready. Adding them all sorts of options for their top 9. If you haven't seen him yet, check out his highlights on youtube. It will leave you skeptical that any team in the top 5 would pass on him. With his point totals, I think there is a chance he could be around at the 8th spot. If that is the case, then the Oilers should definitely take the huge Center.
The last one I am going to talk about is Alex Turcotte. The son of Alfie Turcotte (first round pick by Montreal in 1983) is ranked anywhere from 4th (ISS) to 11th (TSN). Turcotte is a gifted player that can play a full 200 ft game. He is a strong skater and a great play maker. Despite what the scouts say (I will get into scouting bias in another blog) he is not better than the players I have mentioned already. He absolutely is a product of a strong USNTDP team. With a lot of its players ranked in the top 30 of this draft. Like Puljarvii he is ranked high because of the substantial number of scouts covering the team all year and their tendency to recommend players they are more familiar with. He is a good player and a strong competitor. Another C with a left handed shot that would fit nicely on the Oilers second line beside Nuge. He is fast and can add much needed offence. He is not as gritty as either Tkachuk boy but he is quite comparable in his level of compete.
Of course there is a chance that none of these players will be available when the Oilers pick but if I was making a list for the Oilers to draft it would be:
That would cover all possible scenarios and adds Krebs the play making center from Calgary and Podkolzin, the solid RW (that shoots Left) from the KHL. Both of these are offered so the list has 8 and they are the next best available players. The both have obvious question marks and lack the speed and skill of the first 6.
Now most blogs cover sleepers like Lavoie (ranked 15 by ISS), who is a great player if the Oilers want to move down, but these guys are too unlikely to be around when the Oilers second pick comes.
Instead I am going to list a few players ranked in the top 10 that should be passed on by the Oilers.
Cole Caufield is a great goal scorer with 70 goals, 100 pts in just 64 games with the US National U18 team. He also had a notable 14 goals and 18 pts with Team USA during the WJC tournament. He is an incredibly gifted goal scorer. However he played with some great play makers like Turcotte that clearly added to his success. The big problem with him, from an Oiler stand point, is his size. The 5'7, 160 lbs forward is WAY too much like Kailer Yammoto for the Oilers to take a chance on him. We have seen how hard it is to transition from the minors to the NHL for players of that size and we might have already wasted a pick on the talented Kailer. He could very well be great in the NHL but it would be a big gamble for a team like the Oilers that really need to, and could likely, get a future top line player out of this draft.
Alex Newhook the 5'10 forward from St. John's had 102 pts this year in 53 games. WingNation.com says him and Hughes are the two fastest players in the draft by a fair margin. The problem is that Newhook played in the BCHL. If you watch him play it is easy for the small and speedy forward to go around the much less skilled players of that league. It is tough to say with any certainty that he would have the same success had he played against players like Cozens and Byram of the WHL. Although ranked as high as 9th (Eliteprospects.com) I wouldn't take him in the top 15. He would be a good gamble for some team in the second half of the draft.
I would really try to stay clear of any players not named Hughes, from the USDT. It is really tough to tell which players are Laine and which are Puljarvii on that skilled roster. I could see a scenario where the Oilers trade their first pick to move up or down in this draft. Dropping to grab two players like Lavoie and Tracey in a deal with the Sens would not be terrible. Still moving up to grab a guy like Byram would also be great. Byram and Bouchard would be amazing to watch as the Oilers top pairing in 3-5 years. Oilers would go from one of the worst blue lines to one of the best all with one draft pick. Worth their second round and someone like Benning to move up to 4th. Give Colorado some blue line depth and they can pick a strong forward prospect with their easy come easy go 4th pick.
Not saying these deals would happen as trades in the top 10 have always been rare but are getting rarer as teams rely more and more on ELC to fill out their rosters in this cap system. I am just saying that if Holland can make one happen, don't worry too much. There is a lot of good picks in this draft.