Friday, June 20, 2014

Drafting Aaron Ekblad

There is no question that the Edmonton Oilers greatest area of organizational need is at centre ice. 
Outside of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the polarizing figure that has become Sam Gagner, the Oilers cupboards are completely bare when it comes to options down the middle of the rink. 

With the likes of Sam Bennett, Leon Draisaitl and Sam Reinhart all ranked inside the top four heading into the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, it looks as though Craig MacTavish will be given every opportunity to go out and address what is a glaring weakness on the 27th of June in Philadelphia. Barring some sort of last minute deal, it would appear to be a no-brainer of a pick but what happens if a wrench is thrown into the mix and we see a repeat performance of what occurred in New Jersey? 

While no one could have complained about the Colorado Avalanche’s decision to use their first overall pick to snag Nathan MacKinnon in 2013, the fact the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning passed on defenceman Seth Jones in favour of Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Drouin is another matter altogether. Both are quality young players who look to be headed towards very long and productive NHL careers but the former Portland Winterhawks blueliner looks as though he is going to be the real deal. 

Those moves left the Nashville Predators with the good fortune of using the #4 pick to not only steal Jones but also put the biggest grin ever seen on a National Hockey League general manager’s face following a fourth overall selection at any entry draft in recent memory. David Poile was well aware of the fact he and his organization were handed a gift and simply could not believe their luck. 

Could the Oilers find themselves in a similar situation in exactly one week from today? One would have to think the Florida Panthers or whomever they trade the first overall selection to will be calling the name of defenceman Aaron Ekblad but perhaps it is not so cut and dry. By the sounds of it, the Buffalo Sabres are leaning towards Reinhart with the #2 pick…with Bennett as their backup plan. 

Meaning if any other organization had the intention of adding the Kootenay Ice centre to their organization, they would need to swing a deal with the Panthers or be forced to sit and watch the kid pull on a Sabres jersey right in front of them. Should a fellow general manager suddenly get that urge to call Dale Tallon and make a deal, Edmonton would be handed the chance of becoming this year’s version of the Preds but would they take advantage of the opportunity or do they still look to bring in that centre they so desperately need? 

As much as MacT and company want to add a player with Draisaitl’s size and ability, they would be absolutely nuts to walk away from a guy with Ekblad’s skill set. While there are never any guarantees when it comes to the draft, the Barrie Colts blueliner has all the necessary tools to be an impact defenceman for years to come and would be ready to make the jump to the NHL in 2014-15. 

Coming off a season in which he put up fifty-three point in fifty-eight games, including twenty-three goals (sixteen of which were on the man advantage), the 6’ 4” ,220 pound defender has simply outgrown junior hockey. While he still may only be eighteen years old, the kid has nothing left to prove in the Ontario Hockey League. 

As much Edmonton may need a centre, the chance of adding a prospect like Ekblad to a group that already includes Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin, Darnell Nurse, Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz would be, in my mind, impossible to pass up on. Now that does not mean all six of those guys will be here long term but it would certainly put Craig MacTavish in a position of strength when it comes to trying to improve his hockey club in other areas. 

At the end of the day, this will all likely be a moot point as I fully expect to hear the name of Aaron Ekblad being called as the first overall pick of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. However, history tells us we should always expect some sort of surprise to come from the draft room floor and you can bet the Edmonton Oilers are hoping that will hold true on Friday night in Philly. 

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