Oh, and the 29th-place Oilers are in real danger of catching Montreal, the Islanders and Minnesota.
The water could get very murky. Here’s a look at the issues and scenarios facing Edmonton on June 22 in Pittsburgh.
Should Edmonton win the lottery (there is an 18.8% chance if they finish 29th and 14.2% at 28th), then the pick will make itself.
He’s too gifted and dynamic to pass by, even if he is another small forward on a team that’s soft up front and doesn’t protect its kids.
The 5-11, 189-pound winger is a game-breaker with fire in his belly who would give Edmonton an embarrassment of riches up front, but still leave them woefully short in three significant areas — defencemen, size in the top six and strength up the middle.
Nevertheless, there’s no need to overthink this one. A quick scan of the last nine forwards taken first overall tells you all you need know about what the Oilers should, and will, do if their lottery number comes up.
If all the trends hold true, however, the Oilers will pick second, the spot with the most options and biggest potential pitfalls.
The question isn’t who the Oilers take at No. 2, it’s what.
Big centre or stud defenceman.
They need both. Badly. And both options, 6-3, 200-pound centre Mikhail Grigorenko or one of the prospect blueliners will be right in front of them.
But both come with significant risk. Defencemen are a crap shoot with (somebody cover Cam Barker’s ears, please) major bust potential, while Russians can be a one-dimensional, temperamental lot who are one plane ticket away from a KHL escape hatch.
For every Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin, there is an Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk, extreme talents who struggle with team play and have accomplished little in the playoffs.
There is also the KHL factor. As Alexander Radulov just showed, playing four full seasons in Russia because the rubles were greener there, the flight risk is very real.
Maybe even greater now that Radulov, who played for the same Junior team (Quebec Remparts) as Grigorenko does, got filthy rich by bucking the system.
What happens, for example, if there’s a lockout and Grigorenko decides to start the season in Russia? Maybe gets a little comfortable …
Remember Alexei Mikhnov (Oilers No. 1 in 2000)? Of course not; nobody ever saw the guy. Stayed in Russia. Of the 98 players Edmonton drafted in the 11 years since, only five were Russian. Nothing higher than fourth round. None since 2006. And none have ever played a game for Edmonton.
Coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe the Oilers management doesn’t like the thought of collecting Aeroflot miles.
OK, so just take a defenceman (and if they fall to third, they won’t have much choice).
There’s the polished Ryan Murray (6-2, 205), big two-way Jacob Trouba (6-2, 193) and rough and tumble Matt Dumba (5-11, 183) to choose from. All very good, but there doesn’t seem to be an impact player in the lot.
And, unfortunately, defencemen can be a bigger risk than Russians.
There have been some beauties lately in Drew Doughty and Alex Pietrangelo, but Thomas Hickey, Karl Alzner, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Cam Barker, Joni Pitkanen and Ryan Whitney were also lottery-pick defencemen.
Cam Fowler is going to be excellent one day, but today he has the fourth-worst plus minus in the NHL (-22) and is -47 in 150 career games.
Defencemen simply take longer to develop and they hurt your team more while they’re learning the NHL.
Trade the No. 2 pick?
If they’re drafting second and aren’t sure about Grigorenko, this might be the year Edmonton puts that pick on the market. Trading from 2 to 4 (to the team that wants to leapfrog No. 3 to get Grigorenko) will get them one of the young defenceman and something else.
Of course, if Grigorenko grows up to be Malkin, it’ll haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Plenty to think about.
This figures to be the last major piece of Edmonton’s multi-year puzzle (they can’t be a lottery team four years in a row, can they?) so they can’t afford to mess this up.
Happy drafting, Steve.
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The prospects by the numbers:
RW, Sarnia Sting
GP 42 G 31 A 38 Pts 69 PIMs 30 +15
C, Quebec Remparts
GP 59 G 40 A 45 Pts 85 PIMs 12 +35
D Everett Silvertips
GP 46 G 9 A 22 Pts 31 PIMs 31 Even
D, Red Deer Rebels
GP 69 G 20 A 37 Pts 57 PIMs 67 -6
D, US National Development Team
GP 20 G 4 A 13 Pts 17 PIMs 35 +10