The Edmonton Oilers will have a decision to make when it’s their turn to submit their selection with the third overall pick in tonight’s draft. A question that has come up in the scouting meetings has been whether or not the Oilers rank immediate help above future impact or vice versa.
“That’s an interesting question and something we’ve been throwing around a lot over the last year,” Oilers Head Scout Stu MacGregor said. “Positional need, a desire to have a player that can make an impact today or who will be the best player in five years.”
MacGregor says the scouts always lean towards future projections over the short-term value of a player.
“Obviously longterm for a scout, you’re projecting five years ahead,” he said. “Management may look at things a little realistically on a shorter term basis. We do need to make some strides. Hopefully those strides forward will come from the group that’s already there and a coaching staff that’s solidified in working with that group and a comfort that the players believe in the direction we’re going on the team. Adding something that can help immediately would be a great benefit but it’s like anything, you’re judged longterm and what type of success you’ll have. One good year may buy you a few more years of employment but if you can get through those development years, probably five great years on an on-going basis probably buys you 15-20 years of employment. It’s an interesting process but scouts project longterm.”
The Oilers are in position to take one of the draft’s top four prospects: Aaron Ekblad, Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart or Leon Draisaitl. MacGregor said he thinks all four of them have the ability to make the jump to the NHL right away.
“I really believe all four have an excellent chance. I don’t think there is any varying degree of difference in their opportunity. Opportunity will have to present itself with the team that they’re with and their development plan and there’s a lot of factors that come with that. But I would expect that all four of them have an outstanding chance to play.”
PHILADELPHIA - Holding the third pick overall, the Oilers can't definitely say who they are going to take at the 2014 NHL Draft but even if they could, MacTavish said that there's still a lot to decide before they step up to the stage on Friday night.
- RAW | MacTavish Media Avail
- WATCH | Top Prospects Clinic Feature
- RAW | Draisaitl
- RAW | Dal Colle
- RAW | Bennett
"There’s six pending scenarios that we could be presented with in terms of packages of players. Couple of players we’re going to have to decide between. We’re still content to do our homework in terms of character assessment. It’s very unusual that we’re down to the last 24 hours before the draft and not completely sure which way we’ll go in terms of certain scenarios. That tells you that these players are very equally rated."
The one defenceman at the top of the draft class is Aaron Ekblad, though he's expected to go first overall. The other top players are all centres, which suits MacTavish just fine.
"A lot has been said about our need on defence, which is clear. But it doesn’t trump our need at centre. An argument could be made that centre is our most needed position. Someone who’s got some size and who can play some big minutes in that division and that conference.
"We’ve got more defence coming and more depth on defence. I think it’s an open question on what our greatest need is."
PHILADELPHIA - Oilers GM Craig MacTavish is hoping to find a good bargain in this year's crop of free agents.
"There are a couple still available," he started.
"Who are the Grabovski’s of this year that Washington picked up last year. They paid less for a guy like Grabovski and added a good element to their team. Those are some of the guys we’re going to be trying to find as this period and process goes on."
Grabovski, who was bought out by the Maple Leafs last summer, had 13 goals and 35 points in 58 games for the Capitals. He was on a one-year, $3 million deal.
MacTavish hoped to snag one of those value-type players for his blueline.
"There are a few of those (who are) puck-moving defencemen, I think. And Nikitin certainly fits into that category (as a puck-moving defenceman)."
MacTavish was pretty clear on what the team is looking for.
"We need one more defenceman, ideally, and possibly a forward or two."
“It’s not a revelation that UFAs are expensive," said MacTavish, who signed Nikitin to a two-year deal at $4.5 million per year. "We felt that we very much needed to upgrade our defence. I’ve been talking about that for a long time. We had a great need at that position and we had an opportunity to land a defenceman that we think will fit very nicely into our top four. He’s a very versatile defenceman. The term was attractive to both the player and us. It buys time for us to develop our young defencemen appropriately, whether that’s sending them back to junior if they’re not ready or putting them in the American Hockey League.
"It made sense on a lot of fronts to pay the price that we paid and we look forward to getting the player in here at training camp."
MacTavish was asked if the interview process that is now in place — where teams can contact free-agents-to-be a handful of days before free agency hits on July 1 — is driving up the price. He said it did not.
"The price was always exorbitant. The mistakes that we’ve made — and a lot of teams have made in the past, in this regard — is undervalue what the price is going to be to land the player. Ultimately, you want the player and we were in a pretty enviable position to pay the price. It gives us a little bit of protection as we proceed in this UFA market, knowing that we have a piece which helps us achieve our fundamental objective."
PHILADELPHIA - Boston College goaltender Thatcher Demko is above the rest in many minds. He is NHL Central Scouting’s top-ranked North American goalie and will possibly be the first of his position off the board when the draft gets underway in Philadelphia.
Demko says it is his love of the game and his will to win that separates him from the pack of draft-eligible netminders.
“I think just my will to win,” Demko said. “I work really hard off the ice to make sure I’m getting myself prepared to play. Definitely in the off-season too, I am making sure that I’m getting better for next year so when I do get back to the next season I will be ready to go. I think I just love the game more than most guys do and I want to be in the NHL.”
Demko, 18, is a native of San Diego, CA. He finished his freshman year at Boston College with a 2.24 goals against average and .919 save percentage.
PHILADELPHIA - There is no denying the potential of Peterborough Petes forward Nick Ritchie. With size on his side, Ritchie hopes to one day become one of the better power forwards in the NHL. He looks up to players like Boston’s Milan Lucic and Dallas’ Jamie Benn.
For him to become like one of those two, Ritchie will have to “bring it every night.”
“I think those two guys are pretty good players in the NHL,” Ritchie said. “They’re big and they bring it every night. I think for me, if I bring it every night, I can be one of those guys.”
Consistency is reportedly an issue with Ritchie. But the power forward who scored 74 points (39-35-74) this season believes that will get better with maturity.
“I think as I get older and more mature that will come. I will just keep working hard in the gym. I think once I get it I will be alright.”
Some of the top draft prospects gathered at Scanlon Ice Rink in Philadelphia this morning for the Top Prospects Clinic. They skated with local youth hockey players and participated in drills with the children.
“It’s awesome,” Prince Albert centre Leon Draisaitl said. “Seeing those kids enjoy themselves and play hockey. That’s the best thing in the world. They love being out there. They obviously have a passion for it and that’s the ultimate and that’s awesome.”
Now that the pre-draft process is winding down and the days have turned to hours in anticipation of tomorrow night’s draft, the prospects’ nerves are building. Being able to lace up the skates and leave it all off the ice was a welcomed break for the players.
“A lot of the focus is on tomorrow and obviously that’s still up in the air for all of us right now,” Oshawa Generals forward Michael Dal Colle said. “But being able to skate with these kids has been a great experience and what they’ve got going on here is awesome.”
“It was awesome,” Kingston’s Sam Bennett said. “Anytime I can lace on the skates it’s going to be a good day. I’ve had so much fun out here with these kids and I think it’s great for these kids to get out here. I’m having fun, I can see the smiles on these kids and it looks like they’re have a great time.”
Draisaitl added, “It’s always nice to be on the ice. There is no better feeling than being on the ice. The nerves are coming and I’m already a little bit nervous to be honest but it’s not too bad. I think tomorrow will be pretty nerve-racking for sure.”
PHILADELPHIA - There are numerous questions regarding whether highly-regarded prospect Sam Reinhart goes first overall or slips as far as fourth but the centre with a high hockey IQ isn't letting that get to him at all.
"The draft is just a one-day thing. It's just where you're at right now. The bigger goal is trying to make an impact as soon as next season."
Reinhart was asked if he can play in the NHL next year.
“I’m confident in that right now," he said. "Right now, that’s all that counts. My focus isn’t all on the draft itself. Making an impact as soon as next year when training camp starts, wherever that may be. I’m going in with the mindset that I’m ready to play next year.”
PHILADELPHIA - Leon Draisaitl was supposed to meet with the Oilers several weeks ago, but those plans got cancelled. Both sides plan to make up for that in short order now that all parties are here in Philadelhia.
“I’m going to meet with them in the next couple of days, whenever that’s going to be. I’m looking forward to it," said Draisaitl.
The German centre talked about the possibility of being selected third overall by Edmonton.
“It would be amazing for me. The Oilers, they’ve had so many unbelievable stars: Gretzky, Messier, those guys. Wearing the same jersey as they did would be awesome."
The 6'2" pivot talked further about the current edition of the team and the excitement of being a teammate with them.
“They’re stars in the League. Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins they’re all stars. It would be exciting to be a part of that team."
When Sam Bennett failed to complete a pull up at the NHL Scouting Combine, he didn’t know that it would be a huge deal. NHL Central Scouting’s top-ranked North American skater then had to read about it and watch reports on it on television in the following days.
What helped Bennett deal with the media and fan scrutiny was a phone call from an established NHL player. Ottawa Senators centre Jason Spezza sought out Bennett’s number and delivered some career advice.
“Jason Spezza gave me a call right after he saw it,” Bennett said. “He said he saw the articles in the paper and he was like, wow I’ve got to call this kid. He got my number, he gave me a call and I had a really good talk with him. He just talked about how you’re going to go through bad publicity throughout your entire hockey career. He’s been through it and he just really helped me deal with that and it was a great learning experience.”
It doesn’t appear as though Bennett’s lack of a pull up at the Combine will affect his draft stock. He is expected to be a top-four pick.