With the World Junior Championships about to get underway in Ufa, Russia one NHL team seeing some of its future stars in action is the Edmonton Oilers. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for Team Canada and Nail Yakupov for Team Russia are both suiting up for their respective teams and captaining them as well. In recent years the Oilers have had a large representation at the tournament. The likes of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, and Magnus Paajarvi have all represented their fellow countries, all outstanding and talented forwards.
Drafting highly-touted forwards the past few years seems to have been the drafting strategy of the Oilers. Although these forwards all pack an incredible offensive punch are the Oilers starting to overstock on forwards? This past draft, Edmonton entered having the number one pick for the second year in a row. After having selected Nugent-Hopkins the year prior many analysts questioned whether Edmonton should look to pick up the top skater in the draft (Yakupov) or fill other positional needs such as a highly skilled defenseman or a goaltender. Edmonton finished the 2011-2012 season 23rd in goals against, with only the Ottawa Senators being the only team behind them to make the playoffs. So, help on defensive positions may be what Edmonton needs most. In 2012 of the top 10 players selected 8 were defensemen, meaning the opportunity for Edmonton to pick up a highly skilled defenseman was there.
Besides the young blood Edmonton has in its system, they also have some other key forwards as well. Edmonton’s forwards include: Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Nail Yakupov, Magnus Paajarvi, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Smyth, Shaun Horcoff, and more. Of all Edmonton’s forwards, Hemsky and now Yakupov, are the only natural right wingers, the rest being either centremen or left wingers. Now this group of forwards is no doubt a very solid group. Each of the young forwards in time will be all-stars in the league, but how will the team fair defensively? A typical NHL lineup consists of 2 scoring lines, an energy line (a mix of fast and physical players), and a fourth line (typically made up of checking forwards). With players of this caliber of skill it makes no sense to either have players change their game or to omit an essential part to any team or trying to balance the ice-time that each will demand.
On top of this once the entry level contracts of each of the young forwards expires there is no question that each player will demand a hefty paycheck, something that the Edmonton’s salary cap will not be able to accommodate. So, in the end some of these names are going to have to be traded elsewhere or see time in the minors.
Edmonton does have defensemen Ryan Whitney, prospect Colton Teubert (who is a former first round draft pick and also suited up for Canada at the World Junior Championship in 2009-2010), and now Justin Shultz (who is tied for tops in AHL in scoring, with teammate Jordan Eberle, as a 22 year-old in his first professional season). Will these three be enough to hold the weight of the Oilers' defense?
The question of whether to draft the best player available or to address the needs of the roster has been a puzzle general managers have toiled with every draft season. It seems in the past Edmonton has been drafting the best available skaters, which may not have been the best strategy, but only time will tell.
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