For the fourth time in six years, the Edmonton Oilers will have the first-overall selection in the NHL Entry Draft.
Saturday night in Toronto, the Oilers jumped ahead of the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes to win the NHL Draft Lottery, landing the top pick in this June’s draft and the chance to select Erie Otters center Connor McDavid. The 18-year-old McDavid is considered a generational talent – the top NHL prospect since Sidney Crosby – after finishing third in OHL scoring with 44 goals, 76 assists and 120 points despite playing just 47 games this season and being instrumental in Team Canada’s gold medal win at the World Junior Championships.
Buffalo, who finished the season with the worst record in the league and the best chance to land the No. 1 selection, slides back to second, where they are expected to take Boston University standout Jack Eichel. The Hobey Baker Award winner as the top player in U.S. College Hockey as a freshman, the Massachusetts-born center was neck-and-neck with McDavid in the prospect rankings heading into the year and turned in an outstanding season for the Terriers, but couldn’t keep pace with the insane numbers the Canadian put up in the Ontario Hockey League.
Edmonton is no stranger to picking first overall. From 2010 to 2012, the Oilers had the top pick in three consecutive drafts, selecting forwards Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov, adding them to an up-front core that included Jordan Eberle and Sam Gagner in hopes of reviving the struggling franchise. So far, ti hasn’t worked.
Gagner was shipped out of town after last season and Eberle led the way on offense with 63 points in 81 games this year, while Nugent-Hopkins turned in another solid, but unspectacular season and Hall battled injuries en route to just 14 goals and 38 points in 53 games. Yakupov has been the disappointment of the bunch, failing to crack the 35-point plateau in each of his three seasons and continuing to look disinterested in playing in his own end.
Given the amount of young talent Edmonton already has up front and the numerous holes it has elsewhere in its lineup, there is a real possibility the team could shop the No. 1 pick and see what kind of return they could net for the right to draft McDavid.
Edmonton assistant general manager Bill Scott was at Saturday’s draft lottery and told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that the team wasn’t ready to definitively say they were selecting McDavid, offering only that having the first-overall pick will be a major part of their decision-making this summer.
While the idea of trading a player like McDavid – or the chance to select a player like McDavid, officially – may sound insane to some, it has happened in the past and yielded pretty solid returns for the teams that moved on from the top of the draft board talent.
The Quebec Nordiques moved 1991 first-overall selection Eric Lindros at the 1992 Entry Draft after the former Oshawa General star declined to play for the team the previous season. In return for sending Lindros to the Philadelphia Flyers, Quebec received Peter Forsberg, Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, Chris Simon, Ron Hextall, two first-round picks, a bunch of cash and a partridge in a pear tree.
Forsberg became a fixture on a series of contending Colorado Avalanche teams after the Nordiques moved to Denver and the 1993 first-round pick was used on goaltender Jocelyn Thibault, who was the central piece in the package Colorado sent to Montreal in exchange for goaltender Patrick Roy. Roy and Forsberg won two Stanley Cups in Colorado; Lindros led the Flyers to the finals once and claimed the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP in 1995.
Given McDavid’s potential, it’s possible that Edmonton could net a similar package should they opt to move the first pick in June’s draft.
With Toronto at the start of a major rebuild, could the Maple Leafs put together an enticing enough package to secure the chance to have the Richmond Hill native suit up for his favourite team?
Are there current contenders out there willing to part with proven stars and future picks in order to land the latest player deemed “The Next One” or will Edmonton simply opt to hold onto the pick and see if McDavid and the current young nucleus can do what Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier et al were able to do in “The City of Champions” in the early ‘80s?
Only time will tell. For now, all anyone knows is that the Edmonton Oilers are on the clock.