Saturday, May 1, 2010
Status of the Rebuild: Where are the Oilers so far?
The blueprint for a re-build was set heading into the 2007 off-season, when the Oilers had three first-round draft picks - 6th, 15th, and 30th (eventually turned into 22nd) - and the opportunity to stockpile the prospect depth heading into the future. Although the selection of Sam Gagner resulted in a future top-2 center for this team, I'd say the Alex Plante and Riley Nash selections are yet to pay off. Another relevant highlight from that draft includes Linus Omark.
However, after that draft, GM Kevin Lowe did something counter-intuitive, and went on a free-agent signing spree, essentially calling off the re-build in favor of becoming competitive again within a season. It cost the Oilers big time - leaving them with only the 22nd overall selection in one of the deeper drafts in recent history - one where their place in the standings would have given them the 12th overall selection if not for the free agent signing spree. The Oilers lucked out, grabbing a top-15 talent in Jordan Eberle, saving face by grabbing another component key to their re-build in a year where they almost screwed up big time. Other highlights from this draft include Johan Motin and Teemu Hartikainen.
After 3 drafts like that, some are convinced the Oilers are 1-2 top selections away from having finished putting the framework for this team together. I'd like to argue otherwise.
Although after this draft the Oilers will have added 4-5 key components to their future top-6 since 2007, there is a glaring hole in this organization's depth chart heading forward: the defense.
Since 2005, the Oilers have failed to draft and develop enough legitimate top-4 NHL defenseman. The Taylor Chorney experiment has been unsuccessful thus far, with him struggling to acclimatize to the NHL game after 2 pro seasons. Alex Plante is looking like more of a project than originally thought when he was drafted. Theo Peckham has looked great at times - bringing a physical element this team has lacked greatly since Matt Greene left - but he has no puck-moving or offensive game to speak of. Johan Motin looks like he will be solid #4-6 defenseman, but again, he brings no offense to the table. The only real promise is shown by Jeff Petry, a 2nd rounder from 2006 that recently signed with the Oilers after a breakthough college career.
After this draft, I doubt the Oilers will have added to the defensive depth with a legit top-4 talent - unless they turn their 31st overall pick into a defenseman. Even then, the Oilers will be missing that blue-chip defensive prospect that other teams have had in the past - the Hawks with Keith/Seabrook/Barker, the Penguins with Letang, the Capitals with Green/Carlson/Alzner, the Kings with Doughty/Hickey/Teubert.
Regardless of this recent splurge of offensive prospects, I think it'll be another 2-3 drafts before the Oilers will have added enough defensive depth to be a future threat. There needs to be some balance in the Oilers' drafting strategy - they can't over-load up front and expect it to lead us to glory.
I think there are a couple things the Oilers could do in the next couple years to expedite the re-build.
1) After taking Hall/Seguin with the #1 - I think the Oilers should try to trade up with that 31st overall pick to grab one of the defensive prospects still on the board. Obviously it's going to be expensive to move up into the top-10 to grab one of Gudbranson/Fowler/Gormley, but if the Oilers scouting staff finds someone worthy of a selection that can justify 31st+ going the other way, I think it's the right move to make.
3) With almost the entire team on the trading block, I think the Oilers' main focus other than draft picks should be picking up defensive prospects a la the Bergeron-for-Grebeshkov deal of 2007. Adding players further along in their developmental process than fresh draftees would help in making this team competitive sooner.
If this team wants to compete by 2013-2014, it's important you have a young crop of talented defensemen ready to step in and grab the reigns. Gilbert and Whitney will be 30-31 by then, while Smid will be 28 - so there are players in the peaks of their careers ready to take the brunt of the load at that time. This should open up room for these young prospects to come in and flourish under less high-pressure minutes.
If the Oilers can add 3-4 defensive prospects at least as good as Petry in the next couple of years - I think the re-build will be nearing it's completion - but if they continue to pursue forwards with their higher draft picks you could see a one-dimensional team within a few years.