PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 22: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman (L) poses with Neil Yakupov (C), first overall pick by the Edmonton Oilers, and Oilers team representatives on stage during Round One of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft at Consol Energy Center on June 22, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
That giant blast of wind residents felt in Saskatoon tonight wasn't a microburst - it was the collective sigh of relief from Northern Canada as fans watched the Edmonton Oilers draft the unanimous #1 - Nail Yakupov. Yakupov joins an incredible collection of first round forwards in Edmonton - Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (and Ryan Smyth if he comes back) and makes the Oilers look like an impending juggernaut up front.
The defense, well the defense is another story. The Oilers have to add at least two top four defensemen this off-season, and while those two won't come in rounds 2-7, Steve Tambellini could make a deal or two on day two to shore up his failed blueline experiment.
Two top-notch defensemen were traded tonight and traded mostly for baubles and trinkets. Ex-Oiler Lubomir Visnovsky was traded from Anaheim to Long Island for a second round pick next year, and Zbynek Michalek was traded from Pittsburgh to the Coyotes in exchange for Harrison Ruopp, Marc Cheverie and the Penguins third-round pick this year. Both Visnovsky and Michalek are top-shelf defenders and will slot into their respective top fours immediately. Getting veteran defensemen, even in the final year of their deal like Visnovsky, for nothing is a huge coup and it's one Steve Tambellini should be leading. If the opportunities are out there on day two, Tambellini needs to deliver.
More on the final six rounds after the jump.The Oilers remaining picks are as follows:
Round 2: #32
Round 3: #63
Round 3: #91
Round 4: #93
Round 5: #123
Round 6: #153
The Oilers are in a nice position with their remaining picks. It's highly unlikely that any of them will provide help within the next three years, so these are basically the replacement prospects for the players from the 2008 and 2009 draft classes.
Though the Oilers will do something silly with one of their third round picks, likely by spending it on a character player in the WHL...again, they have a chance to swing for the fences with the other picks. The notion that the team should look to draft and develop fourth line grinders and third line penalty killers in the later rounds is an antiquated one, one that many team, including the Oilers, still hold fast to, but the Oilers should be looking out for the possible stars, not grinding away at the bottom six.
The Oilers are going to get a very good player at #32. Three projected first rounders remain: Sebastien Collberg, Pontus Åberg and Matt Finn, ranked 13th, 18th and 19th in the consensus rankings. They could look at Dalton Thrower and Damon Severson, but with three top-end talents remaining, the focus will likely be there. I looked at Matt Finn's game earlier this season and with a game described as something like Dan Boyle's, the Oilers might be hard-pressed to pass on him. But if they do, it will be for one of the 'bergs - both superior talents, Åberg is a shooter who will one day torment teams from the weak side and slot on the power play, and Collberg is an extremely fast forward with questions about his ability to finish.
The selections at #63 and #91 are even more interesting. If I were a gambling man and he is still available, I would bet the Oilers grab the Oil Kings' Mitch Moroz at #63. He's gritty and strong with tons of poise and he's from the WHL - the hallmark of the Oilers recent third-round reaches. If they don't take Moroz, the Oilers might take a look at Lukas Sutter - another player of the same mold. I'd prefer they take a chance on a sliding Nick Ebert, a defensemen with top five skills and a load of questions about his non-game character and decisions. If not Ebert, Nathan Walker, the Aussie from the Czech Extraliga trying to become the first player from Oceania to make the NHL. Walker was a standout in the Spengler Cup, putting on a show that demonstrated his good shot, above average skating and his willingness to take on any puck battle. He's the kind of player that could be a boom or bust prospect.
At #91 and #93, both Ryan Olsen, the tall centre from Kelowna and Teddy Blueger, the talented Latvian, seem like interesting prospects. Blueger has a reputation for never backing down and some of his best performances have come on his biggest stages. Olsen is already a tough-minutes Centre in his draft year and has a chance to become a player like Brandon Sutter or Frans Nielsen. Watch out for the giant defensemen Dylan Blujus and Jaynen Rissling here as well.
After that, I'd love to see the Oilers focus in on players with an NHL skill (besides fighting!) or a set of skills being held back by some deficiency. Brian Cooper, the 5'9" defenseman from Fargo who is an excellent two-way guy, fits the mold. Ben Johnson, the centre from Windsor who may be the best skater in the draft, but brings a complete lack of own-zone awareness with him, is another player like this. Frank Vatrano, an American forward headed to Boston College, is a buzzsaw with a laser shot, but below-average skating - the kind of player who could develop into a very good NHL forward if his skating can improve.