Edmonton Oilers head amateur scout Stu MacGregor doesn't believe the 2014 NHL Draft is as deep as previous years, but is confident several prospects within this class will ultimately develop into solid NHL performers.
The Oilers hope to target one of those future stars with the third choice in the first round slated to kick off at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on June 27. It marks the sixth straight year the Oilers will be picking among the top 10 and fourth time in the past five years they will hold a choice in the top three.
One thing is certain, MacGregor and his staff need to make the pick count as the organization currently doesn't own another selection until the fourth round (No. 91).
"We have to start making some moves, and by moves I don't necessarily mean trades, but moves as a team in moving forward to build our prospect base and make some strides," MacGregor said. "Everyone has asked me why it isn't happening right now with the young core we have in place.
"But keep in mind our best players, and the players we rely upon, are still only 21, 22, 23 years old, so some of those players are still learning the NHL."
MacGregor makes a legitimate point, as forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011, No. 1) and Nail Yakupov (2012, No. 1) are still adjusting to the rigors of an 82-game regular season and Taylor Hall (2010, No. 1) is now beginning to find his niche within the system. Hall is 22, Nugent-Hopkins 21 and Yakupov 20.
"These guys have been able to gain that experience early in their career and hopefully that will be an advantage in the end," MacGregor said. "It's been challenging for them and us to be able to try and produce these players slightly earlier than most."
The Oilers will likely take the best available player with the third pick, meaning if defenseman Aaron Ekblad of the Barrie Colts is off the board then the next best forward will be selected.
"That's what makes this year's draft interesting at the top end," MacGregor said. "What do you want? Do you want bigger, smarter, most driven, highest skilled? We're going to be sitting there waiting to see what the team holding the No. 1 pick and No. 2 pick do and react from there. There are a few scenarios we have mapped out. Sometimes things change, so we try and develop a plan for that."
It has been rumored that the plan for the Oilers would be targeting German power forward Leon Draisaitl if still available.
"He's determined to make plays and can speed it up when he needs to and slow it down," MacGregor said. "The draft is traditionally strong at wing, and this year's crop has some good centers in the early stages. It's not deep on defense, but there will be some good defensemen available later, but not a plethora of high-end blueliners in the early going."
Draisaitl is probably the most physical of the top five players ranked on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters eligible for the draft. Ranked No. 4 on the final list, he has played left wing and most recently center, so he is not only bullish, but versatile.
He finished in a fourth-place tie with Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice for the Western Hockey League scoring crown with 105 points (38 goals, 67 assists) in 64 regular-season games. Reinhart, No. 3 on Central Scouting's final list, did it in four fewer games.
"What sets Draisaitl apart from other prospects is his ability to protect the puck; he's very Jaromir Jagr-like in that sense," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald said. "He's got that same style. He'll connect with guys coming in late and hold onto that puck until the right play is there. He's got a great wrist shot and snap shot and has surprised a lot of goalies."
Draisaitl and Reinhart were named First Team All-Stars in the WHL's Eastern Conference this season.
MacGregor was asked about the differences between Central Scouting's No. 1-ranked North American prospect, Samuel Bennett of the Kingston Frontenacs in the Ontario Hockey League, and Reinhart.
"Bennett can keep the play alive by battling to continue to make it happen; he enjoys the contact in the corners," he said. "Reinhart is a thinking player and he always seems to be in the right position. If the play breaks up, he's looking to create a turnover and get it back in the other direction."