To trade or not to trade the No. 4 overall pick? The Oilers have many options when they take the draft floor June 24.
The most common question I’ve received about next week’s NHL draft is, by far, “What should the Edmonton Oilers do with the fourth overall pick?”
So let’s tackle it. We know GM Peter Chiarelli has indicated the No. 4 pick is available should the right offer come his way. That doesn’t guarantee Edmonton trades it or should want to trade it. Let’s look at a few different options for Chiarelli next Friday night in Buffalo.
OPTION 1: Keep the No. 4 overall pick
Retaining the No. 4 overall pick puts Edmonton on the podium to choose between left winger Matthew Tkachuk and center Pierre-Luc Dubois. It has to be one of these two. They’ve emerged as virtual consensus No. 4 and 5 selections in the 2016 draft class, though opinions vary on who ranks above whom.
Tkachuk holds the No. 4 spot in THN’s Draft Preview. He can score goals like his dad, Keith, who had 538 of them, but Matthew is less of a bona fide net filler and more of a two-way maven. Scouts told our staffers they love Tkachuk’s hockey sense and all-around fundamentals. They see him as a mature teenager. We know Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and probably Jesse Puljujarvi jump right to the NHL, but Tkachuk making the Oilers wouldn’t be a shock, as his defensive game is nicely developed.
If we judge the Oilers depth chart at face value, not yet factoring in any trades, they are stacked at center with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. They need high-end help on the wings after Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov. It would allow them to rely on Patrick Maroon, Benoit Pouliot and Zack Kassian in depth roles, where they’re better suited in the long run. Tkachuk’s blend of physicality, smarts and scoring touch makes him a piece Edmonton doesn’t have right now. He’d augment this lineup instead of becoming a redundant piece, as Yakupov has. And, should the Oilers want to shop Hall, Eberle or Yakupov in a trade for a defenseman, landing Tkachuk would make such a move more palatable.
On the flip side, Dubois’ tools are awfully tantalizing. He’s a natural left winger who shifted to center with the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in 2015-16. At 6-foot-3 and 201 pounds, he has the coveted “Western Conference center” build. He has a mean streak to him, too. One scout likens him to Jarome Iginla in Draft Preview. If the Oilers view Dubois and Tkachuk as virtually equal, Dubois’ size and positional versatility could break the tie.
Because Dubois can play wing and center, he’d also give Chiarelli more flexibility to trade someone from his veteran forward core. Nugent-Hopkins could go, for example. It would be a nice luxury to have two “swing men” in the long-term top six in Draisaitl and Dubois.
There is no bad pick between Tkachuk and Dubois. Mark Spector recently tackled similar Oiler draft questions for Sportsnet and made the excellent point that drafting a forward and trading a pricey veteran would free up money for Connor McDavid’s megadeal when his entry-level contract expires after 2017-18.
OPTION 2: Trade down in the first round and draft a defenseman
Defensemen Mikhail Sergachev, Olli Juolevi and Jakob Chychrun all make for strong top-10 choices but feel like reaches at fourth overall, so why not trade down and net something if you want one of them, especially if you don’t rate one significantly above the others?
One idea Spector raises is to trade down to net a veteran blueliner and still pick one of the Big Three blueliners in the first round. That will be tough to accomplish.
Look who picks directly after the No. 4 slot. The Vancouver Canucks at No. 5 could use a high-impact blueline prospect after drafting forwards Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen and Brock Boeser in consecutive seasons. Might they pass on Tkachuk or Dubois to snag Sergachev, whom many compare to Ivan Provorov? The Arizona Coyotes pick seventh and are stacked with young forward prospects, from Max Domi to Anthony Duclair to Dylan Strome to Christian Dvorak. Maybe they snag Juolevi or Chychrun.
It would be very risky, then to trade much further down than eighth or ninth. Staying inside that top 10 would still probably ensure Chiarelli lands a Big-Three D-man, likely Chychrun, but it wouldn’t net a good veteran on top of that. Can you land an established top-four NHL D-man by only trading down from fourth to ninth? Would team No. 9 give up a high-impact player just to climb five spots? Unlikely. Chiarelli would have to trade further down if he wants to land a good veteran. And that of course would put him out of the running for the Big Three kids. Quite the Catch-22.
It’s one or the other. A top-end rookie or a top-four NHLer. Trading down and still landing Sergachev, Juolevi or Chychrun likely means just netting, say, a second-round pick. Nothing wrong with that, of course.
OPTION 3: Trade the No. 4 overall pick for a veteran defenseman
The possibilities open up a lot If Chiarelli decides he doesn’t have to land any of The Big Three. A team trading up with Edmonton from a much lower draft position should be far more willing to surrender a useful veteran blueliner. Might No. 15 Minnesota dangle Jonas Brodin or Matt Dumba in a deal for the No. 4 overall pick? Maybe No. 24 Anaheim offers Sami Vatanen. The trades wouldn’t necessarily be single player for single pick, of course. Edmonton might have to send a body the other way to balance the books, as Spector notes.
There are merits to all three draft-day routes for Edmonton. The first two options can continue to lay long-term foundation. The third option would help the Oilers improve immediately. It’s a matter of how quickly Chiarelli wants this franchise to ascend.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin