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Oilers set to zero in on centre crop, filling major need

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish says there are “six scenarios” the team is prepared for when they are on the clock with the third overall pick in the first round of Friday night’s draft. Should the Oilers not trade out of that spot, they will have a decision to make based on the two players already taken ahead of them. This means the Oilers are still undecided on what player they will pick when it is their turn.

“The teams ahead of us will have something to say about who falls to us,” MacTavish said at his pre-draft chat with the media in Philadelphia, PA. “I think the scenarios are becoming more and more clear. There are six pending scenarios I think we can be presented with in terms of packages of players. There are a couple of players we’re going to have to decide between. We still continue to do our homework in terms of the character and the assessment with people who know these players well. I think it’s probably unusual that we’re down to the last 24 hours before the draft and we’re still not completely sure on which way we’ll go in certain scenarios. I think that tells you that these players are very equally rated.”

At three, the Oilers are expected to have a choice between at least two out of the draft’s three top centre prospects: Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart and Leon Draisaitl. With much improved depth and blueline talent in the Oilers system, the organization feels their needs have shifted toward adding help up the middle.

“A lot has been said about our need at defence, which is clear, but it doesn’t trump our need at centre,” MacTavish said. “An argument could be made that centre is our most needed position to find somebody who’s got that size and can play big minutes in that division and that conference. I think that is open to debate on what our biggest need is right now. We’ve got more defence coming and more depth at defence but I think it’s an open question on what our greatest need is.”

With top defenceman Aaron Ekblad presumably off the board at three, the Oilers will more than likely look to address an equal, if not greater, need by adding a top centre. Knowing that, the Oilers are still undecided on just which one, per MacTavish. Regardless of who is available and who eventually gets selected by the Oilers, the management can sleep well at night knowing it’s going to be a good player.

“It’s still a very subjective question on who we should take. In that respect, it’s pretty easy to keep the cards close to your vest. I’ve said this before, we’re very comfortable in the position we’re in knowing that we’re going to get somebody that addresses a significant need for our club, whether it’s a centreman or a defenceman.”

Should they go the centre route, size is something MacTavish pointed out as a factor towards making that decision. Adding size up front is key to the Oilers becoming more competitive in the division and conference. While size won’t be the absolute deciding factor, it does come into play.

“Size is a factor certainly but our drafting philosophy is to draft the player that is going to have the greatest impact over time on his NHL team,” MacTavish said. “If everything else is equal in that regard, in that assessment then we’ll default to the bigger player. It’s no secret that we play in a very difficult division, a difficult conference and we’re going to need some size to compete.”

If the Oilers were drafting solely on size, it would appear that Draisaitl would be the front runner. Straight from the prospect’s mouth in Philadelphia, the German-born centre is now 6-foot-2 and closing in on 215 pounds. Based on his body type, he could continue to grow. But as MacTavish said, size isn’t the only trait the Oilers will look at. Each top centre prospect could provide something special to the Oilers lineup. Whether that is Draisaitl’s size and offensive skills, Reinhart’s hockey intelligence and playmaking ability or Bennett’s competitive nature and two-way prowess.

For the Oilers, it will come down to who projects to impact the roster the most over time. The hope, according to MacTavish, would also be that this year's pick could jump in the lineup right away. Although, MacTavish says the team won’t force the young player into a situation he is not ready for.

With the third overall pick in hand, MacTavish has the opportunity to add a key piece to the future of the Oilers. The only question that remains is, “which piece will it be?”
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