The Edmonton Oilers are currently the most notable team that is looking towards the future. To be specific, they're looking towards June 24th or what they might refer to as Decision Day.
As soon as the Oilers found out they were going to have the luxury of selecting first overall in the 2011 NHL Entry draft, the clock began to tick on GM Steve Tambellini.
When asked who he might select with the number one pick, Tambellini was rather elusive and responded, “At this point, it’s more of a large group.”
But one can only assume one thing based on the recent scouting reports and rankings as June 24th gets closer. The Oilers will have narrowed it down to either defenseman Adam Larsson, center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or possibly right winger Gabriel Landeskog.
When it comes to the draft, the conventional thinking by most teams in pretty much all sports is to take the best possible player available regardless of his position or any other circumstances.
However, the central scouting rankings for the top prospects have changed several times in the last six months, so I refuse to believe that there is an obvious number one prospect in the 2011 NHL Entry draft.
What do the Oilers do now?
They could simply leave it up to their own amateur scouting staff to determine who the best player is. Another option would be to go with the player who impresses them the most at the pre-draft workouts. Or they could fill a gaping hole at the position they desperately need a future star at the most.
If you go with the latter of those three options, the player the Edmonton Oilers should pick is obvious.
It’s Adam Larsson.
Larsson is exactly what the Edmonton Oilers need more than anything else if you take a look at their roster.
Let’s start with the amount of centers the Oilers currently have. At 32-years-old, Shawn Horcoff probably isn’t an integral part of the teams’ future, but his $5.5 million cap hit over the next four years will be almost impossible to move in order to make room for a prospect like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Then there are the centers that Edmonton should actually want to keep for the future. Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Gilbert Brule are all under the age of 25 and have the potential to make significant contributions to the team for years to come.
Why get rid of any of those players in order to make room for Nugent-Hopkins when you can draft a top prospect at a position you actually need help in?
The Oilers also have wingers. Ales Hemsky, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and last years’ number one overall pick, Taylor Hall, are all top six calibre wingers. They are also young and can potentially be strong contributors to the Oilers success for many years to come. Obviously a prospect like Gabriel Landeskog would help, but that’s not the area where the Oilers need the most help.
That area of need is unquestionably on the blue line.
The Oilers haven’t had an All-Star calibre defenseman since Chris Pronger and he only lasted one year in Edmonton. The closest thing they have to an elite defenseman right now is Ryan Whitney and after that, their depth is very thin. An elite young defenseman like Larsson is exactly what the Oilers need to move forward and improve for the future success of the franchise.
Larsson has already drawn comparisons to fellow Swede Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings for both his ability and his style of play. In fact, Sweden’s national team coach Par Marts swears Larsson is better than Lidstrom was at the same age.
Obviously this doesn’t mean that Larsson is necessarily going to become a 12-time All-Star and a six-time Norris Trophy winner. However, it’s always a good sign when a guy who coached Lidstrom at the age of 18 says that you’re a better player than he was at that age.
Larsson is also big.
He’s 6'3" and 210 pounds to be exact. Even now, Nicklas Lidstrom isn’t anywhere near that size. So when you have a smart, talented and poised young defenseman who can produce points and shutdown the opposition, you have to take him.
After all, defensemen like Larsson don’t come around very often, but wingers like Landeskog and especially centers like Nugent-Hopkins just might. In the last five NHL Entry drafts, at least four centres have been selected in the top 10 of every single draft. Only once in those draft years has that been the case when it comes to d-men. Now is the perfect opportunity to grab the next great defenseman of the NHL, especially when your team is extremely thin at that position.
Considering the fact that the Edmonton Oilers are still a couple of years away from being a playoff contender, the odds are pretty good that they will be picking in the top 10 of the 2012 NHL Entry draft as well.
Given the recent wealth of top prospects at the center position, they can always draft a centre or possibly another winger then. But they might not have another opportunity to grab a defenseman as good as Adam Larsson, which is why he is the only option for the Oilers on Decision Day.