It’s no secret that the Edmonton Oilers could use an elite defenceman. Maybe Oscar Klefbom or Darnell Nurse will eventually develop into an elite defenceman, but that’s a big maybe. Many Oiler fans would like Peter Chiarelli to acquire an elite defenceman before the 2016-17 season begins. But how likely is that?
Edit: Chiarelli was asked today about the difficulty of acquiring a number one defenceman. Here’s what he said:
It’s hard. Over the years, we’ve had discussions on how many true No. 1 D there are. Maybe there’s 12. There are 30 teams and only 12 true No. 1s. To think you’ll get one, it is tough.
Drafting an Elite Defenceman
I made a list of 21 NHL defencemen who would be considered by many to be elite. I’m sure most people reading this post won’t agree with every name on the list. There are probably a couple of players you’d like to subtract, and a couple of players you’d like to add.
Where have elite defencemen been selected in the last few NHL drafts? You can see below.
Drew Doughty – first round (#2)
Victor Hedman – first round (#2)
Alex Pietrangelo – first round (#4)
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – first round (#6)
Ryan Suter – first round (#7)
Ryan McDonagh – first round (#12)
Erik Karlsson – first round (#15)
Brent Burns – first round (#20)
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – second round (#35)
Roman Josi – second round (#38)
P. K. Subban – second round (#43)
Shea Weber – second round (#49)
Travis Hamonic – second round (#53)
Duncan Keith – second round (#54)
Zdeno Chara – third round (#56)
Kris Letang – third round (#62)
Jake Muzzin – fifth round (#141)
John Klingberg – fifth round (#151)
Dustin Byfuglien – eighth round (#245)
Mark Giordano – undrafted
Andy Greene – undrafted
As you can see, 13 of the 21 defencemen listed above were drafted outside of the first round. I think this tells us that drafting an elite defenceman isn’t as easy as it might seem. You’re almost as likely to draft an elite defenceman in the second round as in the first. However, you’re much more likely to draft a top-four defenceman in the first round.
I think the above list also gives Oiler fans hope that maybe one or more of the defenceman drafted in the later rounds (e.g., Brandon Davidson, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear, or Ziyat Paigin) could develop into very good defencemen.
Acquiring an Elite Defenceman Via a Trade
How easy is it to trade for an elite defenceman? Not very. Only three of the above elite defencemen were involved in a trade. Chara was traded in 2001 by the Islanders to the Sentators in the Alexei Yashin trade. But at that time, Chara hadn’t established himself as a top defenceman. Byfuglien was dealt in 2010 from the Blackhawks to the Thrashers, but he was actually playing forward at the time of the trade. Finally, Burns was traded in 2011 by the Wild to the Sharks. Like Big Buff, Burns has flip-flopped between playing defence and forward.
This is why it was such a big deal when it was learned that Hamonic (though many would argue he’s not elite) had requested a trade. It’s very rare for a player like that to become available via a trade. Subban and Hampus Lindholm (an emerging elite defenceman) are also rumoured to be trade bait, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Edit: Apparenty there is some truth to the Subban rumours:
Acquiring an Elite Defencemen Via Free Agency
Finally, what about free agency? Only two on my list of elite defencemen have been acquired as free agents: Chara and Suter. Weber signed an offer sheet with the Flyers, but the Predators matched the offer. Teams usually do everything they can to sign elite defencemen to extensions, preventing them from hitting the UFA market.
Conclusion: How does an NHL team acquire an elite defenceman? Usually by drafting that defenceman. This is why it might be a good idea for the Oilers to trade down in this year’s draft and select a player they’re convinced will become an elite defenceman. Based on what I’ve observed, I thought maybe the Oilers were thinking that Mikhail Sergachev could develop into an elite defenceman. However, the tweet below indicates that the Chiarelli doesn’t think that Sergachev will be the next Drew Doughty.
Unless Hamonic is still available via a trade, it’s unlikely that the Oilers will be able to acquire an elite defencemen this offseason. It’s much more likely that they’ll be able to add a second tier defenceman–a player like UFA Jason Demers, Tyson Barrie, or Kevin Shattenkirk. Edit: And if Subban–a bonafide number one defenceman–is available, you try like heck to get him.