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Thanks to some luck in the annual draft lottery, the Edmonton Oilers are on the clock for the NHL Entry Draft well before the event actually takes place – for the third consecutive summer. With a surplus in young talent, there is talk that the Oilers may deal the top overall pick. Should they trade it and gain assets, or select Nail Yakupov, far and away the top prospect?
Why Edmonton should hold on to the pick
While there are some good reasons for GM Steve Tambellini and the Oilers to trade the No. 1 pick, it makes a lot of sense for them to keep the pick and draft Yakupov.
Yakupov – who broke Steven Stamkos’ franchise record for points as a rookie with Sarnia of the OHL, and put up 170 points in 107 games with the team – is the unanimous choice to be the first player selected in this summer’s draft.
He was rated as the top-ranked skater by Central Scouting and the International Scouting Service. Also, the compact Russian has drawn comparisons to the likes of Pavel Bure and Ilya Kovalchuk, in the sense that he has potential to be the next great sniper to light up NHL scoreboards.
The argument that the Oilers need a defenseman instead of another goal-scorer is understandable and probably accurate. But if you’re the Oilers and you have trouble attracting big-time free agents to your city, don’t you have to take a premier talent like Yakupov when you have the opportunity?
Eventually, they won’t have the luxury of drafting in the top five every summer because, at some point, they will fulfill their potential and become a playoff contender. Once that happens, they won’t be able to select talents like Yakupov in the middle of the first round.
The contrary point of view is that Yakupov only improves a strength, not a weakness. Top-pair defensemen do not grow on trees and if they can’t attract them through free agency, the Oilers’ last resort is to find one via trade. As for goaltenders? They are a dime a dozen.
If they keep the pick and take Yakupov, the Oilers would have an unbelievable quartet of forwards to build around. The trio of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is already viewed as the future top line in Edmonton – but you need more than one quality line to succeed in today’s NHL. Add Yakupov to that mix, and look out.
It’s not like having four dynamite forwards is a bad thing; just look at Chicago. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are a damn good quartet that they can build around; likewise in Pittsburgh, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Jordan Staal.
Drafting Yakupov doesn’t fill an immediate need, but the game-breaking Russian may be too good to pass up.
Why Edmonton should trade the No. 1 pick
The Quebec Nordiques are the only other team in league history to draft first overall three straight summers. The Nordiques once drafted Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan and Eric Lindros in succession, but kept none of them long-term. They dealt Lindros on draft day and received a huge haul in return (which included Peter Forsberg; see below), one that helped the franchise win a Stanley Cup in Colorado.
Given Yakupov’s status as the head-above-shoulders top prospect, Quebec’s blueprint is one that Edmonton could possibly draw from.
With Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers don’t need another dynamic forward – they need a young blue-liner to build the defense around. Though the NHL draft is usually more about drafting the best player available rather than for need, defense is a specific and glaring need for the Oilers’ future nucleus.
The returning package for the right to draft Yakupov would be big. It wouldn’t be as monstrous as the one Philadelphia traded for Lindros’ rights – Philadelphia traded Forsberg, Chris Simon, Mike Ricci, Kerry Huffman, Steve Duchesne and two first-round picks for Lindros – but it could be significant enough to entice Tambellini to pull the trigger.
Naturally, Tambellini – last week he was candid about the possibility of trading the pick – would be seeking a young defenseman that is in the NHL and has top-pair potential. If the Oilers are looking to make a trade and stay in the top 10 of the draft, options could be limited.
There is really only one team currently slotted in the top 10 that has a big trade chip on the blue-line, and that’s Montreal. Would their new regime be willing to deal P.K. Subban and the third overall pick in order to draft Yakupov – the type of talent the Canadiens could really use to give the franchise a shot in the arm? The flamboyant Subban would fill the defensive need and fit into the fabric of the Oilers’ young nucleus – and they could still draft a quality talent at third overall.
There is also the possibility that the Oilers could instead acquire a forward and then draft their defenseman of the future later in the first round. (This upcoming draft class is said to be rich with quality blue-liners.)
No matter what the deal would be, the Oilers would receive two, three, maybe four assets in return for the No. 1 pick. In the long run that could be the best strategy since they already have a great trio to build around.
Tambellini finds himself in what seems like a win-win situation. For the much maligned Oilers GM, it’s either draft Yakupov or trade the No. 1 pick for a considerable package to make a young, promising team much deeper.
However, Tambellini’s decision could help define his tenure in Edmonton. He better make the right call here.
Photos credit: Getty Images
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