Edmonton is on the clock
There is plenty of talent for the Oilers to choose from at this year’s NHL entry draft
The NHL entry draft is upon us, and this year’s draft class has no shortage of talent.
For diehard hockey fans, the draft is like Christmas morning, especially if your favourite team hasn’t exactly been stellar over the years. The entry draft is often seen as a reward for all of the pain that fans have had to endure over the past year.
In recent years, early draft picks like Jonathan Toews and Evgeni Malkin have helped teams win Stanley Cups, while late-round steals like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have done the same. What makes the draft exciting is the ability to quickly improve your team without giving anything up.
Edmonton Oilers fans can rejoice, as they once again hold the first-overall pick in the draft. With last year’s first-overall pick the Oilers selected Taylor Hall, an offensive specialist. This year, the Oilers must choose between numerous highly-touted prospects that any team would be lucky to get their hands on.
Top prospects in this year’s draft include Canadians Sean Couturier, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jonathan Huberdeau as well as Swedes Gabriel Landeskog and Adam Larsson.
Arguably one of the top players in the 2011 draft is Nugent-Hopkins, a winger from the Western Hockey League’s Red Deer Rebels. This guy is an absolute treat to watch. He is a game changer that knows how to put the puck in the net. In 69 games with the Rebels last year, Nugent-Hopkins managed to rack up 31 goals and 75 assists.
After missing the cut for the world junior team last year, Nugent-Hopkins didn’t stop working. Arguably, Team Canada may have had a better chance at winning the gold medal with him on the roster. With the right off-season conditioning, Nugent will be a force to be reckoned with, especially on a line with Hall or Eberle.
Larsson is another rising young player . The Swedish defenceman is a great puck mover and may have the best hockey sense in this year’s draft. Scouts have compared him to future hall of famer Niklas Lidstrom and say he will be a very reliable number one or two defencemen who can play 20-30 minutes a game. At last year’s world juniors, his performance was dynamite and at the uner-18 world championship he was named the best defencemen of the tournament.
With his experience at the national level, Larsson appears to be NHL ready. If the Oilers would rather go with a big blue liner over their typical choice of a small forward, Larsson would be tough to pass up.
Couturier is a six-foot-four, 195-pound centre and is perfect for a team that is looking to add a player who can score goals and make creative plays. This season he put up 96 points with the Dummondville Voltigeurs in the Quebec Major Junior League and also cracked the Canadian world junior squad, where his play was very strong.
Landeskog is another Swede who many believe is the best player in the draft. Despite injury troubles, he managed to put up 66 points in 53 games with Kitchener in the Ontario Hockey League. At six foot one, Landeskog is a big body who gets out in front of the net and scores dirty goals. At the same time, he is said to be a very vocal leader and doesn’t shy away from protecting his teammates. It was this characteristic that led him to be named captain of the Rangers at just 17 years of age.
Another name worth looking at is centre Huberdeau, who was recently named Memorial Cup MVP after capturing the Canadian league championship with the Saint John Seadogs of the Quebec league. Huberdeau is a kid with great hands, hockey smarts, and play-making skills. He’s also a great skater with a quick release shot that is very accurate. His skills on the power play are a huge asset and, with a memorial cup championship under his belt, he’s a proven leader.
Adding any of these players would be a huge boost to any NHL team. However, is it really fair that the Oilers have received two straight first-overall picks?
According to some people, it isn’t. With the amount of excitement the NHL draft brings, it is time for the league to make a change and add even more excitement. Fans were on the edge of their seats for the 2005 NHL entry draft, in which every single team got a shot at picking Sidney Crosby. Currently, it is almost a sure thing that the last-place overall team will end up picking first. In 2010 and 2011, that was Edmonton.
It appears as though the NHL is rewarding failure. Teams are going out of their way to spend way beneath the cap and finish poorly in the standings to get a good draft pick. How much more do the Oilers deserve this draft pick than the Carolina Hurricanes, Calgary Flames or Columbus Blue Jackets?
Drafting is the best way to build a great hockey team, but let’s put everyone on even footing. The Detroit Red Wings have had no trouble continuing to be competitive without throwing a top five pick in their face. They are perhaps the best team of the last 20 years. There is no reason other teams can’t do the same.