With the 63rd-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, Edmonton took big, Finnish defenceman Markus Niemelainen.
“Very proud and excited to be a part of the Oilers organization, and looking forward to see what is coming next,” he said.
At 6-foot-6, Niemelainen towerd over much of the competition in the Ontario Hockey League this season. In 65 games for the Saginaw Spirit, Niemelainen recorded 27 points (1-26-27).
Niemelainen describes himself as a two-way defenceman, who is more defensively inclined than offensively. However, the Oilers do see a little offensive upside in his game. A tough year for his Saginaw squad perhaps limited production.
“It was a tough year in Saginaw,” said Oilers Director of Player Personnel Bob Green said. “He lost his defensive coach early and then they fired the head coach later. It was a tough year for those kids on that team. He’s big, he can skate, he can move the puck. He likes to play the game with a little bit of offensive flare. I don’t think his numbers this year are indicative of his talent level. There’s more there than just a 6-foot-6 shutdown guy.”
Toward the end of the pre-draft process it seemed as if Niemelainen’s name was being associated with a second or even first-round pick. So the Oilers were surprised to see him there at 63.
“We were,” said Green.
There’s potential Niemelainen returns to his home country next year, but it isn’t confirmed. The Oilers just want him to go somewhere to grow his game.
“We want him to go somewhere where he’s going to play and develop,” said Green. “We’ll have that discussion with him. He’s got options for sure. We try to let the player determine that. If they need help, we can help but they have plans where they want to go. It’s tough to alter that for them. They have to feel comfortable with it.”
The Oilers have selected Vancouver Giants winger Tyler Benson with the 32nd-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.
Benson, an Edmonton native, played just 30 games this season for Vancouver. He scored nine goals and added 19 assists for 28 points as the captain of the Giants. Benson battled through injuries, but has an impressive past resume.
He averaged almost five points per game in his final season of Bantam AAA. He recorded 146 points (57-89-146) in just 33 games. His numbers set the Major Bantam Hockey League record for points in a season. He won the league’s MVP in 2012-13.
Benson’s brother, Cole, played for the Edmonton Oil Kings.
It’s a common thought that big deals happen at the Draft. You get all of the general managers in one room together and expect the trades to start flowing. While that can be true, the Oilers desire to add an NHL defenceman was not dampened by a lack of action on day one.
It would only be a problem for Edmonton if the only deals they’ve looked at involved the fourth-overall pick, which they used to select Jesse Puljujarvi.
But, as Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli described, the fourth pick was only involved in one serious offer. It was an offer that got close, but never came to be.
“I’ve said it’s been difficult to get a defenceman,” said Chiarelli. “We put four in a couple of scenarios that we moved along. At the end, one became very real. It just didn’t happen. Sometimes those things just don’t happen.”
Despite that deal not happening, there are more conversations to be had.
“It will be a good discussion day tomorrow where if something moves along where it’s to the point we have to execute a deal we’ll do it,” said Chiarelli.
“Today there was really only one deal involving the pick. So it doesn’t really change it that much. What happens is you build momentum on these deals and think let’s get it done on draft day, the first day. But it’s not essential it gets done on draft day if it doesn’t involve the pick which is essentially what happened.”
When the Oilers dropped to the fourth-overall pick in the NHL Draft Lottery, their GM Peter Chiarelli said he felt that meant not getting an NHL-ready prospect. But, as it would turn out, Columbus chose Pierre-Luc Dubois third, allowing Edmonton to take Jesse Puljujarvi a pick later.
Puljujarvi was one of the prospects, along with Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, some predict will make the jump to the NHL this season.
The Oilers own staff believes that too. He's a big-bodied player who played well in Finland's top league, playing against men. Although there's still work to be done by Puljujarvi to get there, the Oilers feel he could contribute right away
“That’s what I’ve been told by our staff, and throughout the season — even before we picked him — that these three players we thought had the best opportunity of playing in the National Hockey League next year. A lot of things have to happen before that occurs. He’s got to adjust to his environment in Edmonton, the language barrier is a bit of a thing, he’s going to have to learn some things there and he’s going to have to come to camp and we’re going to have to determine the type of camp he has, how he fits our team and what the best development path is for him. If he’s ready to play, we think he can contribute and we’re doing the right thing organizationally for him and us then he’ll play. But I think we’re talking about something we can’t pin down at this moment. We’ve got to wait and see what happens and we’ve got to take a look at what our team looks like at that point as well.”
Many expected Jesse Puljujarvi to go third overall in the first round of the Draft, but when Pierre-Luc Dubois’ name was called, that meant he slid to the Oilers at four.
It didn’t completely shock Edmonton, who had obviously done extensive legwork to determine a course of action for a variety of scenarios.
“It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out who may be available at four,” said Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli. “But what we started doing was, at one point, we started to look to move down. While that was happening, we got the sense that maybe Puljujarvi would drop. We kind of backed off. You kind of know what other teams’ needs might be, and while there’s some speculating and it happened that he was available. We’re fortunate. He’s a big, strong kid, a smart player who can shoot the puck. Happy to get him.”
The Oilers selected the 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger from Finland. They were prepared for a number of things to happen Friday night, it just turns out they got a prospect who many believed would have been gone.
“The staff led by Peter Chiarelli and the rest of the group did a tremendous job because they anticipated a number of different scenarios and we played them out,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “One of them was one of those top two or three guys falling to us at number four. Of course, it happened and we were prepared to react and make the pick immediately. It’s interesting how much strategy and stress maybe goes into figuring out what you’re going to do. Are you going to move down? Are you going to trade the pick? And as it turned out, we got a player we coveted and we’re excited about joining our organization. We think he has chance to be a long-time Oiler.”
Charlie McAvoy finished his freshman campaign at Boston University with 25 points (3-22-25) in 37 games. That was good for second in defensive scoring.
It was a good transition for the player, who is expected to go in the first round Friday night at the Draft in Buffalo.
McAvoy credits his older teammates for helping him jump right in and contribute.
“I think it was our upper class,” said McAvoy. “Our upper class and our seniors. You come in as a freshman and you’re not really sure where you fit.
Guys like Matt Grzelcyk, Daniel O’Regan, Matt Lane, Mike Moran, Sean Maguire were guys who right away made you feel like part of the family and I can never thank those guys enough for that,” said McAvoy. “That’s really what led to the year we had, was making everyone feel so close.”
McAvoy finished sixth on Central Scouting’s list of North American skaters.
Matthew Tkachuk is a presumptive top-five pick in Friday night’s first round. But the London Knights forward, obviously, doesn’t 100 percent know which team he’ll go to.
“It’s exciting,” Tkachuk said. “It’s also exciting just to know where you’re going to play. This whole process, especially since the season has been over, has been pretty crazy. But I’m excited. It’s almost down to the wire.”
Tkachuk won’t be completely in the dark on whichever team takes him. The hockey player is also very hockey knowledgable.
“I’m a hockey guy, so I pay attention to all of that,” he said. “I guess I’m kind of involved in researching that stuff. But just from watching hockey, you just know. I know what they have, I know what they need, I know what I can bring. It’s just the fact of if it’s going to be a good fit or not.”
Tkachuk is certainly in the mix for the Oilers if they select fourth overall. He met with them at the Combine, and also went to visit the city.
“I went to Edmonton. I got to sit down with them for a little bit longer than the (Combine) interview.”
They may have played half a world away from each other, but two Finnish prospects are no strangers.
London Knights defenceman Olli Juolevi watched his countryman put up a more than solid year for Karpat in Finland. Puljujarvi had 28 points (13-15-28) in 50 games this season. He had four goals and five assists in 10 playoff games.
The big right winger has turned plenty of heads among scouts and fans alike, but he also made an impression on Juolevi, who had a big season of his own in North America.
“Probably just how much he loves to play hockey," said Juolevi. "You always see him smiling even on the ice. Just a big smile. His skills, the skating, the big body. He’s just a great hockey player.”
Juolevi had a 42-point season on London’s back end this year. He is expected to be among the first defencemen off the board in Friday’s first round. Puljujarvi is a presumptive lock in the top five, and almost the consensus third-overall pick.
The Oilers have the fourth-overall selection in the first round. They choose 32nd overall in the second round.
In the third, the Oilers hold their own pick (63rd overall) as well as two via trades. Edmonton has Florida’s 84th-overall selection and the 91st pick from Pittsburgh. They received Florida’s third-round pick in exchange for Teddy Purcell at the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline. The Penguins sent the Oilers their third-round selection in exchange for Justin Schultz.
Edmonton has no selection in the fourth round, after trading it to Anaheim with Martin Gernat in exchange for forward Patrick Maroon.
The Oilers have the 123rd and 139th-overall (from St. Louis) picks in the fifth round. The Blues’ fifth-round pick came to Edmonton in exchange for goaltender Anders Nilsson.
The Oilers close out their draft with the 153rd (sixth round) and 183rd (seventh round) picks.
The draft takes place June 24-25 in Buffalo, NY.
84th Overall (From FLA)
91st Overall (From PIT)
149th Overall (From STL)
Many draft prognosticators have Auston Matthews going first overall to Toronto at the end of this month. Don’t remind Patrik Laine, who is hoping to convince the Leafs he is worthy of that spot.
“Sure, of course,” said Laine. “There’s lots of time until to the draft to show the Leafs that I’m worth the first overall. I will do everything I can to make that happen.”
Laine concedes that there isn’t much left he can do to swing their decision at this point in the off-season, but he’s still hoping the tape will speak for itself.
“I can’t do that much anymore, it’s just interviews and a couple of tests,” he said. “I think I showed my skills this season. I think I’ve done my work on the ice and they can now decide.”
Laine won the Jari Kurri Trophy as playoff MVP with Tappara in the Finnish Elite League. He had 17 goals and 33 points in 46 games this season.