EDMONTON -- Protection and development of prospects and future draft picks are atop the priority list for the Edmonton Oilers as the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline approaches.
The Oilers believe that's the way forward for a team that has made the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in the past 12 seasons. During the drought that has followed a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006, where the Oilers lost in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes, too few high-end draft picks have contributed in Edmonton.
Edmonton had nine first-round picks in the NHL Draft from 2007 to 2012. Forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (No. 1, 2011) and defenseman Oscar Klefbom (No. 19, 2011) are the only ones who remain with the team. Defenseman Alex Plante (No. 15, 2007), now playing in South Korea, played 10 NHL games, all for the Oilers. The remaining six players were traded, including the No. 1 pick from the 2010 NHL Draft, forward Taylor Hall. That trade, in 2016, was the only transaction that brought back a player -- defenseman Adam Larsson, who remains on the roster.
The lessons of that painful past can't be ignored, said Bob Nicholson, Oilers Entertainment Group CEO and Vice Chair, during the press conference that followed the firing of Chiarelli, who had been hired as president of hockey operations and general manager on April 24, 2015.
Keith Gretzky, Edmonton's assistant general manager, has been handed GM duties while Nicholson searches for a replacement. Gretzky, the brother of Hockey Hall of Fame member Wayne Gretzky, who won the Stanley Cup four times with the Oilers, says he's on board with the protect-the-future philosophy.
That doesn't mean the Oilers are giving up on this season.
"I want to clearly give the message, I know there's people out there that believe this team can't make the playoffs," Nicholson said during the Jan. 23 press conference. "We believe in the organization, we believe in the dressing room that we can."
Edmonton (23-24-3, 49 points) is seventh in the Pacific Division, three points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. There are six teams -- the Avalanche (52 points), Vancouver Canucks (52), Anaheim Ducks (51), Arizona Coyotes (50), St. Louis Blues (49) and Oilers -- separated by three points.
Edmonton lost its final three games before the All-Star break. It resumes on Saturday with a game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, NBCSP, NHL.TV).
Gretzky spoke Wednesday with NHL.com about the issues that he faces in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline. The future of goalie Cam Talbot, who can be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and the health of the defense -- with the looming return of Klefbom and Andrej Sekera from injuries -- are among the most pressing.
On what's going to happen to Talbot now that the Oilers have signed Mikko Koskinen to a three-year contract extension:
"We look at it like (coach Ken Hitchcock) has said; the goalie who's playing well is going to play. We've talked to Cam about the situation and said, 'Listen, we want you to play. You've been a great soldier, on and off the ice.' But we also know, as a team, it could help us if the right [trade] is there. So we're not going either way today, but if there's a deal that's built for us and for him, we would look at anything."
Video: CAR@EDM: Talbot stretches to rob Maenalanen
On how much the Oilers have missed Klefbom, who's been out since Dec. 11 with a broken finger, and Sekera, who hasn't played at all this season because of a torn Achilles tendon, and how they could energize the team. Each has been cleared for full practice Friday:
"Losing Sekera right before training camp was devastating. You're losing a top defenseman and he's gone for the whole year so far. That's hard to replace. You just can't. You have to try to fill from within and it's hard when you're asking Caleb Jones (21 years old) or Evan Bouchard (18) to do it. They're not ready. Sekera was a guy we were counting on, especially with his style of play and his leadership in the locker room. Those are key components of our team.
"Same with Klefbom. He's a power-play guy who logs a lot of minutes, great in the locker room. You lose that, times two, and it's significant.
"Hopefully they're playing soon and we can take off to where we thought we would be. When Oscar went down, we were going pretty good (8-2-0 under Hitchcock at that point). We lost him and Kris Russell in the same game (Dec. 11) and were already without Sekera; then we were scrambling. We feel that getting them back will be important."
Video: EDM@STL: Klefbom nets tying goal in final minute
On how the new player development model could work:
"You see it with all the teams now, that you keep your picks and draft the kids and believe in your kids. You let them develop on their timetable. Some take longer than others. We've talked a lot about (forward Tyler) Benson (No. 32 in the 2016 NHL Draft) having a great year (34 points in Bakersfield of the American Hockey League). We've let him be and there's been no consideration to call him up to give him a game just to say we should give him an NHL game. We want them to be ready and to be pushing for a job.
"For me, I think that's where the strength of an organization is. You develop them playing in the American Hockey League and then the NHL, in that order."
On whether the Oilers have been getting offers for their first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft:
"No, nobody's called me for that. Not yet."
On whether he's shopping the pick or if it's in play:
"No, we're not looking to move our pick. If we think something's going to help us today and in the future, we'll look at anything. But it's not in play, like Bob has mentioned. We're not actively shopping it. Not even close."
On whether the Oilers have any players on their roster they wouldn't trade, apart from center (and captain) Connor McDavid:
"There are guys that we're not going to move. Everybody has those. I'm not going to say who ours are. We have guys we feel are key in our group and we believe in them and we'll keep them."