The season has only been over for three days, but the Edmonton Oilers have already had quite a bit happen. On Tuesday night, Edmonton dropped one spot in the NHL Draft order from seventh to eighth as part of the lottery. It’s the second time in as many years that Edmonton has actually dropped in the lottery.
Before that, on Monday, Bob Nicholson took to the podium to speak along with interim GM Keith Gretzky. It’s been a busy 72 hours since the season wrapped up, and there are plenty of things still to be decided before the draft in late June.
The Oilers are searching for a new GM, and it appears they will be searching for a new Head Coach as well. It’s an important summer, and it promises to be an interesting one. Before we can move on, let’s take a look back at the last few days.
All in all, it was disappointing to see the Oilers drop from seventh to eight in the draft order on Tuesday night. Edmonton has had great luck at the lottery before, but has dropped at least one spot in each of the last three lotteries they have taken part in. Old narratives die hard I suppose.
Either way, the result was disappointing, especially when the team you passed on the final night of the regular season jumped up to the second overall spot. The New York Rangers will end up selecting Kaapo Kakko, while Edmonton hopes someone will drop to them.
Among the possible selections is Trevor Zegras, a highly skilled center that is overshadowed by Jack Hughes on the NTDP’s U18 team. Zegras will head to the NCAA next season to play for Boston University and will surely be given a featured role on the rebuilding Terriers. He doesn’t get the love of Hughes because his foot speed isn’t as good, but Zegras should settle in at the NHL-level as a top-six forward in due time.
Kootenay’s Peyton Krebs, NTDP’s Matthew Boldy and Alex Turcotte and Vancouver’s Bowen Byram are all potential picks in the eight spot as well. Byram is likely a long-shot in this spot, he’s a potential top five pick, but the other three players are likely to be on the board.
Boldy in particular interests me. Another NCAA commit (Boston College), Boldy has some real scoring skill and should eventually fill a top-six role as well.
Anyone drafted in the eighth spot is going to need development time, likely two seasons. That said, the Oilers will still have the chance to add another strong prospect to the system. It’s a bright spot in a largely dark season for fans of the Oil.
Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, this likely increases the odds of Edmonton moving their first round pick. The smart play would still be to draft someone, but it is no longer out of the realm of possibility that the Oil move the pick for someone that could help now.
Would you move the pick to a team in a cap crunch, like Tampa Bay (Tyler Johnson) or Winnipeg (Nikolaj Ehlers) for a top-six winger that can improve you right away? It’s an option that I believe is now on the table for the Oilers.
On Monday, Bob Nicholson gave his annual postseason press conference alongside interim GM Keith Gretzky. It was odd to see Gretzky, who is currently a candidate for the full-time job, up on the podium answering questions that might not matter to him in a few weeks’ time. It was an odd dynamic, and it gave me the impression that Gretzky is a bigger candidate than we might think. I still believe the job will go to him.
Nicholson and Gretzky didn’t say a ton that stood out to me, but there were things that I heard that I believe are positives. On the other hand, there were things I heard that could be seen as negatives.
In terms of positives, I was thrilled to hear Nicholson specifically mention sports science and analytics as things they want the new GM to be strong in. I’m not saying build an entire team on a spreadsheet, but it is insane that Edmonton is so far behind when it comes to analytics. They are doing a disservice to themselves by ignoring these numbers, and will be better off when they get a functioning analytics department.
Another positive? Mike Gillis was confirmed to be on the list. Of course that doesn’t mean he will get the job, but Gillis being considered has to be seen as a big positive. Gillis was ahead of the curve on a lot of things in Vancouver, and I thought he did a good job surrounding that core with a strong supporting cast. His use of analytics and sports science, along with his willingness to clean house in Edmonton, are huge positives. He remains my pick to run Hockey Operations.
Nicholson did not make any firings on Monday, and he won’t be making any before hiring a GM. I think that’s a negative, he should be clearing house ASAP, but it is positive in the sense that whoever gets the GM job will be able to hire/fire people as they see fit. That’s a positive change.
I was very happy to not hear the phrase ‘character’ thrown around, and I thought it was positive that both Nicholson and Gretzky specifically mentioned speed and skill as areas of need for Edmonton’s roster.
Overall, we didn’t really hear anything all that surprising and nothing changed. I was a little surprised, in a good way, that Nicholson admitted Gillis is on their list. I think it is a positive that the emphasis is on speed and skill and that the Oilers realize they have to use analytics and sports science.
In the end, the only thing that matters is action. We’ve heard Nicholson talk about a plan before, never getting into details. In that sense it felt like groundhog day in Edmonton. There were positives, however, and I think it is fair to be cautiously optimistic.
In the end, nothing Nicholson said on Monday will matter if he doesn’t act on it. The most important thing, no matter what was said, is that the Oilers hire the right GM and make meaningful changes to their management team. Do that, and you’ll begin to earn the trust of fans back. Begin to build a legit supporting cast and you’ll earn even more trust back.
Action, not words, that’s all that matters in this observer’s mind.