2012 NHL Draft - A First Look At Defensemen

For hockey fans September is a fun time of year. September marks the point where, after a long summer without hockey, we can actually start to see the upcoming season on the horizon. Training camp is right around the corner. Nobody has suffered a season ending injury yet (Marc Savard excluded, of course), and the shine hasn't yet worn off on that big free agent acquisition that was just signed to a lifetime deal for just about as much as the franchise itself. In September, the possibilities for the season ahead are just about unlimited.

Sadly though, for fans of the Oilers the possibilities are a little more limited than they are for most of the NHL's other fan bases. Coming off back-to-back last place finishes, the Oilers are once again the odds on favourite to be right at the bottom of the league this season. With the rebuild in full swing, the only hope that the rebuild will ever end is success at the draft table. So while fans of most teams dream of Stanley Cup parades, I find myself thinking ahead to next June's NHL Entry Draft.

When I gazed into my crystal ball a few weeks back, looking ahead to what the Oilers roster might look like three years from now, I realized just how little top end talent the Oilers have among their defense. None of the team's top current defensive prospects - a group that includes Jeff Petry, Oscar Klefbom, and Martin Marincin - are what I would classify as a guaranteed top pairing defenseman. That's not to say that none of the defenseman the Oilers have recently drafted will turn out to be a top pairing defenseman, it's just that none are blue chip prospects.

That the Oilers lack top end defensive prospects might well have been by design as the team has selected just four defensemen - Alex Plante, Marincin, Klefbom, and David Musil - out of the team's 13 selections in the first two rounds of the last five drafts. Rather than draft defensemen the Oilers have chosen to stock the cupboards with forwards. It's a fine strategy, and based on the prospects currently in the system, it has been good to the Oilers, but in the next draft, I think the Oilers need to turn their attention to the blueline.

It typically takes more time for a defenseman, even one taken in the first couple of rounds, to go from draft pick to NHL player than it does a forward taken in the same spot. There are a lot of responsibilities for a defenseman in the NHL and dropping a player into the deep end usually doesn't yield good results. So even though one of the defensemen already in the Oilers' system may turn out to be a star, if the team chooses to wait until they know for sure before looking for a more sure thing, we could be waiting a very long time for that player to arrive on the scene and provide significant benefits to the team.

I first called for the Oilers to draft a defenseman back in June, but in what I feel is becoming a rather alarming trend, the Oilers chose not to follow my advice. The next time around, however, they might not have a choice as the top end of the 2012 draft is more than a little loaded with defenseman. The Scouting Report recently published their top 30 prospects for the upcoming draft (split into two posts, 1-15 and 16-30) and their list included eight defenseman among the top 12 prospects.

The four forwards found in their top 12 - Nail Yakupov, Mikhail Grigorenko, Alex Galchenyuk, and Filip Forsberg - are all listed at left wing or centre. That the Oilers have spent the first overall pick in the last two drafts on a left winger and centre and have an obvious hole on the blue line; all signs point to a defenseman unless the team goes off the board, trades their pick, or surprises us all by making the playoffs. Assuming that none of those three things happen, the Oilers first selection in next year's draft could very well be found in the following list.

TSR Rank
Player
Height
Weight
Team
Last Season
4
Ryan Murray 
6'0"
190
Everett Silvertips (WHL)
70 GP - 6 G - 40 A - 46 PTS - 45 PIM
5
Nick Ebert 
6'1"
185
Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
64 GP - 11 G - 30 A - 41 PTS - 44 PIM
6
Jacob Trouba 
6'1"
172
US U18 Team (USDP)
21 GP - 2 G - 5 A - 7 PTS - 24 PIM
8
Griffin Reinhart 
6'4"
198
Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
45 GP - 6 G - 19 A - 25 PTS - 36 PIM
9
Mathew Dumba 
5'11"
165
Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
62 GP - 15 G - 11 A - 26 PTS - 83 PIM
10
Morgan Rielly 
6'0"
170
Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
65 GP - 6 G - 22 A - 28 PTS - 21 PIM
11
Jordan Schmaltz 
6'2"
174
Univ. of North Dakota (NCAA)
53 GP - 13 G - 31 A - 44 PTS - 22 PIM
12
Olli Määttä 
6'1"
183
London Knights (OHL)
42 GP - 3 G - 11 A - 14 PTS - 14 PIM

 

Some notes about that list:

  • Murray is the guy to beat right now. He led this group in points last season and when Derek looked at multiple draft sources he ranked as the consensus number two. He also missed being eligible for the 2011 NHL draft by less than two weeks so he has a significant age advantage over some of his counterparts.
  • At 6'4" you can almost picture NHL GMs drooling over Reinhart right now. If he can string together a solid season on what could be a great Oil Kings blueline and make Canada's World Junior team he could easily become the first defenseman selected.
  • Dumba scored more goals than anyone else on this list last season. For him to hold steady, or move up, he will need to build on that total this season. He could have a lot riding on whether or not the Oilers return Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to Red Deer.
  • Määttä is the only European on the list but he will be leaving his native Finalnd for the OHL this season, a move that could help raise his draft profile.
  • Schmaltz's numbers came while playing in the USHL last season with Sioux City. It'll be interesting to see what happens for him this season in the NCAA. 
  • Four of top six will be playing in the WHL this season, so if you live near a WHL city make sure you get out and see these guys throughout the season because one of them could easily be the Oilers next draft pick.

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