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STAUFFER STUFF: The Group of Four

by Bob Stauffer / Edmonton Oilers
Photos by Getty Images

So we know where we stand after the NHL’s Draft Lottery took place on Tuesday as the Edmonton Oilers will head to Philadelphia with the third overall pick. Judging from your comments directed to “Oilers Now” and my personal twitter account (@Bob_Stauffer) many of you have some strong and differing opinions on who the club should take.

The General consensus amongst the experts, like TSN’s Head Scout and former Calgary Flames GM Craig Button or former Nashville scout Kyle Woodlief who puts out the Red Line Report, is that there is group of four at the top of the charts: Barrie defenceman Aaron Ekblad and three centres; Kingston’s Sam Bennett, Kootenay’s Sam Reinhart and Prince Albert’s Leon Draisaitl.

Here is a look at the “Group of Four”.

Aaron Ekblad

Aaron Ekblad (photo by Getty Images)
The 6’ 3.5”, 216 pound-defenceman for Barrie is literally a man-child.

Ekblad is ranked number one by the Red-Line Report, second by the Craig’s list that Button puts out, second by Central Scouting and second by International Scouting Service.

Ekblad entered the OHL a year early through the exceptional-player rule and has now played three full seasons of Major Junior. He blossomed during the 2012-13 playoffs for the Colts, putting up 7-10-17 in 22 GP and continued that pace this season, finishing top five in OHL for power play goals with 16 and registering 23-30-53 in 58 GP with 91 penalty minutes. Ekblad also played well for Canada at the 2014 World Juniors.

There is little doubt that Ekblad has the size and physical strength to step in and play in the NHL right away, and being a right shot will help as well.

The Oilers do have Justin Schultz and Jeff Petry as right shot D and those two combined to play roughly 45 minutes a game this past season.

The club also has arguably five of their top seven prospects being left shot D: Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin, Martin Gernat and David Musil, so an argument could be made the Oilers already have lots of “D” prospects.

But, Ekblad is special and has a chance to be a 25 minute-a-game stud along the lines of a Shea Weber.

Button, for one, doesn’t see the Florida Panthers, who have the first overall pick, passing on Ekblad.

“Aaron is exactly what the Panthers need, they have no one else in their organization like him,” said Button on Oilers Now on Thursday.

If he is available when the Oilers pick you would have to figure that he would merit serious consideration to be Edmonton’s selection.

Sam Bennett

Sam Bennett (photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)
Bennett is the youngest of the “Group of Four” (he turns 18 on June 20) and the smallest 6’ .25”, 178 pounds but he is highly competitive and has drawn comparisons to his coach in Kingston Doug Gilmour or Philadelphia Flyers legend Bobby Clarke.

Bennett is ranked number one by Central Scouting, third by Button’s List, second by Red Line Report and fourth by International Scouting Service.

The Kingston Frontenacs centre finished the season tied for ninth in scoring in the OHL with 36-55-91 in 57 GP with a +34 and racked up 118 Pims. He had a 25-game point-scoring streak from November 8, to January 26, where he registered 16-29-45 and was +21. Bennett also missed five games with a suspension as well.

For fans concerned about Bennett’s size, don’t buy it.

By all reports Bennett is a driver on the ice that plays with relentless passion.
Oilers GM Craig MacTavish said in his end of the year media availability that the organization was looking for competitive players, Bennett might be the most competitive player in the draft.

It should be noted that Buffalo GM Tim Murray would have seen a lot of Bennett, when Murray was employed in Ottawa. The Sabres currently are slated to pick second, one spot ahead of the Oilers.

Sam Reinhart

Sam Reinhart
The third of the Reinhart boys, Sam was recently described as “elegant” by one NHL Insider.
Reinhart is 6’ .75”,  and 185 pounds and has already played three full seasons with Kootenay in the WHL as he is a late ’95.

The centre is ranked number one by both the Button List and ISS, and third by Central Scouting and the Red Line Report.

After scoring 35 goals and 85 points last season, Reinhart finished tied for fourth in WHL scoring with Draisaitl with 105 points (36-69-105). He represented Canada at the World Juniors and was on fire upon his return going on a 19-game point-scoring streak (18-26-44, +19).

It should be noted that Reinhart’s linemate Jaedon Descheneau also had a stellar campaign with 44-54-98 during the regular season and those two each had 17 points in a 6-game upset of the Calgary Hitmen in the opening round of the play-offs.

There is a thought out there that Reinhart is too similar to the Oilers’ top centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and that the Oilers need to look at a different type of player.

I am not buying it.

Reinhart is a right-shot, RNH a left-shot. Reinhart also hasn’t exclusively trained for hockey in the off-season; he has more room to grow as Nugent-Hopkins has done this past season. Reinhart does not possess RNH’S explosiveness in terms of skating, but he rarely puts the puck in a bad spot on the ice.

The one similarity that they might have is that they both are really smart with exceptional hockey sense.

“Bottom line, Sam Reinhart makes everyone else on the ice better,” says Button, who has had Reinhart in his top two all season on the Craig’s List.

Leon Draisaitl

Leon Draisaitl (photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oil Kings)
At 6’ 1.5” and 204 pounds the “Deutschland Dangler” is the biggest of three centres. He is also the oldest. Draisaitl has a thick build and will probably be no less than 215 pounds in a couple of seasons.

Draisaitl is ranked fourth by the Craig’s List, fourth by Red Line Report, fourth by Central Scouting and sixth by ISS.

Draisaitl has suggested he patterns his game after Joe Thornton and is equally adept at distributing the puck on his forehand and backhand.

He had a break-out performance at the 2013 WJC but struggled at this past year’s World Juniors.

His game took off in February and March helping carry an under-manned Prince Albert team into the playoffs picking up points in 18 of 21 games (19-26-45, +9).

Draisaitl finished the season with 38-67-105 in 64GP, the next highest-scoring forward on the Raiders was Colin Valcourt with 72 points and he was acquired during the year.

Button and Draisaitl’s coach in Prince Albert Cory Clouston recently both scoffed at suggestions that there are character issues with Draisaitl.

What cannot be denied is Draisaitl has top-end vision and can really protect the puck.

“His all-around game improved tremendously this season,” said Clouston.

Still Work to Do:

So there you have it, a look at the “Group of Four”. Oilers management and scouts still have a lot of work to do before the draft and I am sure the debate will continue with wingers like Michael Dal Colle (Oshawa, 39-56-95/67 GP) and Jake Virtanen (Calgary, 45 goals, 100 Pims) surely being looked at too.

What do you think the Oilers should do?

Bob Stauffer is the Radio Analyst of the Oilers Broadcasts on the Oilers Radio Network and Host of “Oilers Now”, Monday through Friday from 12-2 p.m. on 630 CHED. You can follow him on twitter at @bob_stauffer.
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