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Oilers Draft Strategy - Acquire More Swedes

Photo by:  <a href="" target="new">Canada Hky</a> via <a href="" target="new">Wikimedia Commons</a>, Creative Commons Attribution Licesne
Photo by: Canada Hky via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution Licesne

Bruce has already searched through the rubble of the 2010-2011 season to find reasons to watch the last ten games, but many fans, including yours truly, are already looking ahead to the off-season to keep things interesting. Though the prospect of free agency and prospects graduating from the junior ranks to the professional game holds promise, it's once again the draft that will captivate Edmonton for the next three months. 30th place is all but clinched again, meaning the Oilers will have just shy of a 50% chance of landing the first overall pick once again.

Whether it's the lack of truly phenomenal talent, or the inability for the high-end talent to separate from the pack, sifting through 2011 draft information to come to a decision about the first overall pick is complicated.  2011 is much more complicated than 2010, a season in which only three players were under close scrutiny for the first pick - Cam Fowler, Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin.  Fowler's stock dropped throughout the year just as Seguin's was rising, so in essence, it was only a two-man race at any one point in time.  Taylor Hall was the number one pick and a foregone conclusion to insiders, and for the rest of us, the pick was never more complicated than a 50/50 toss-up.

The 2011 class features four players who have already been discussed as the possible first overall pick and given the way prospects are rising and falling, it wouldn't be a surprise to see two more players thrown into the fray before June.  Though this year's class is more difficult on the experts, determining who the Oilers should take should they draw the first overall pick is easy, for me, that is.

My approach to team-building has always been like Lorne Molleken's game plan - "from our end out". If I were a general manager, my main hobby would be collecting defensemen - I'd have them stashed in the AHL, European Leagues, the NCAA, even the ECHL. An organization can never have enough defensemen, and if there comes a time when a team does have too many, there is always a market for defensemen. Always. When it comes to player procurement, ceteris paribus, I take the defenseman, but in the case of Adam Larsson, all things are not equal.

The Oilers should look to Sweden once again and select the young Swede.

Adam Larsson

#5 / Defense / Skelleftea HC



November 12, 1992

GP G A P +/- PIM
2009 - Skelleftea HC 49 4 13 17 -7 18
2010 - Skelleftea HC 37 1
8 9 +12 41

Larsson is the next in a long line of large, smooth-skating, Swedish defensemen capable of playing in both ends of the ice and in all situations. Skelleftea HC has relied on him as one of their top defenders for two seasons even though he didn't turn 18 until November of 2010. He was a member of the disappointing Swedish team at the 2011 World Junior Championships, though he was injured and his injury certainly had an impact on Sweden's performance.  David Staples focused on Larsson during Sweden's game against the Czech Republic in that tournament and came away with this take:

Essentially, Larsson came across as a smart, heads up and tough player, not a blazing skater but an extremely adept and shifty one, as well as being a strong, clever puck mover, a player who almost always makes the right move with the puck, even under pressure. Imagine a bigger version of tough, clever and shifty Jordan Eberle, and this guy playing defence. That's Adam Larsson, at least on first glance. In other words, Larsson appears to be a player any NHL team would love to have.

Larsson has impressed the draftmakers* as well.

Source Latest Rank
Bob McKenzie 1
The Scouting Report 1
Craig Button 3

*Kirk Luedeke and Central Scouting both rank Larsson as the best European skater.

The Scouting Report's notes:

Larsson is no longer the consensus number one pick he may have been a year ago, but he’s still an enticing player that has a lot of NHL ability. He’s a composed defender with solid skills at both ends of the ice, and while he might not be a franchise type player, he certainly has top-pairing potential.

Kirk Luedeke's take:

Larsson is a smart guy who sees the ice well and has a high panic point, meaning he'll hold onto the puck until the last possible second for his teammates to get open, meaning he often takes a good amount of hits over the course of a game and season. He also has a booming shot and can score his share of them from the point.

My bias towards defensemen and desire to draft Larsson first overall goes against my colleague Scott Reynolds' advice:

Almost all of the good forward talent goes early and your chances of picking up an impact forward outside the first hundred picks is very small, much worse than the chances of getting a top defender. However, defenders work out better almost all of the time!

...In the first three picks of the draft, I would have an extreme bias toward forwards. There aren't too many sure things at forward, but a top three pick is pretty close. After that, things get dicey.

...After creating my top three, I would then revert to a bias toward defenders as the draft moves through the top twenty-five. If it's close, give the edge to the defender. The difference is just too much at that point in the draft.

In the end, however, the allure of a top-pairing, all-zones defenseman on the blueline for the next 12 years is too much to pass on, and though the Oilers need a high-end defenseman, team need doesn't play into my personal preference at the top.  In fact, I've never been a fan of using team need to determine draft choices.  I've always been of the "best player available" school.  Adam Larsson is the best player available.