Edmonton Oilers have one good shot to hit it big at the 2021 draft. Can Wright and Green do it?

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There’s no sure road to success in the NHL but drafting well is as good as any, which is why it’s so crucial that each entry draft Edmonton Oilers draft bosses Tyler Wright and Bob Green get it right.

The Oilers have just five picks this year, the 19th overall pick in the first round, then picks of marginal value in the fourth, sixth (two) and seventh rounds.

For Edmonton to be successful, it’s got to find at least one Core 12 player in the 2021 draft. That pick is most likely to be the team’s first selection, which has four times as much as value than it’s other four picks combined.

Wright and Green have simply got to nail that selection.

The Core 12 player: key to NHL success

What is a Core 12 player? The Core 12, as defined by NHL player agent Ritch Winter, are the six forwards on a team’s top two lines, the third line centre, the top four d-men and the top goalie. Teams with strong and productive Core 12 have a great shot at advancing in the playoffs.

Teams without a strong Core 12 are the like the Edmonton Oilers much of this century.

If you want to look at why the Oilers lapsed into the Decade of Darkness-plus from 2006-07 to 2018-19, the team’s inability to find Core 12 players outside the first round is Exhibit A.

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You can’t always count on a first round pick panning out, so finding these players every few years in a later found is the measure of a strong NHL scouting staff.

The Oilers scouts have been able to pull off this impressive move just two times this century, taking Jarret Stoll with the 36th pick in the 2002 draft and Jeff Petry 45th overall in the 2006 draft.

This represents a massive indictment of the team’s management and scouts.

Recent improvement? It’s trending that way

But all is not lost, mainly because the Oilers hit it big three years in a row with high-end draft picks, Darnell Nurse in 2013, Leon Draisaitl in 2014 and Connor McDavid in 2015, but also because under Bob Green (and Keith Gretzky for a time) a number of players have been drafted who are trending to be Core 12 players. Not all of them will make it, but if half of them succeed as Core 12 players it’s far more likely the Oilers will also succeed.

The picks who are now Core 12 candidates include: Caleb Jones, 117th overall, Ethan Bear, 124th overall, and John Marino (now with Pittsburgh) in the 2015 draft; Stuart Skinner, 78th overall, and Dmitri Samorukov, 84th overall, in the 2017 draft; Ryan McLeod, 40th overall, in the 2018 draft; Raphael Lavoie, 38th overall, Ilya Konovalov, 85th overall, and Matej Blumel, 100th overall, in 2019; and Carter Savoie, 100th overall, and Tyler Tullio, 126th overall, in the 2020 draft.

That is at least 11 players with Core 12 potential for the Oilers taken outside the first round in the last six drafts. The Oilers don’t need all of them to hit as Core 12 aces (and Marino is already beyond their grasp). But they need four or five of the remaining ten candidates to do so.

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The best bets? Your guess is as good as mine, but it’s good to have so many possibilities, and it’s a testament to Green’s work that this is the case.

Seven strong first round picks in a row? Maybe

Green’s reputation took a hit when it was rumoured he favoured moving high picks for Griffin Reinhart in 2015, but late round success could make up for that alleged gaffe. It’s also the case that the first round picks since Green joined as a scout have also either aced it or are trending well: Draisaitl, McDavid, Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Evan Bouchard, Philip Broberg and Dylan Holloway.

Of course, it’s true the Oilers had great picks to work with in the first place, including five picks in the Top 10 of the draft, but the Oilers appear to have done well with most of those high value picks, which can’t necessarily be said of Tyler Wright when it comes to his work in Detroit.

In his 8 seasons leading draft before he came to Edmonton, two of them in Columbus, six in Detroit, Wright had 68 picks to work with. So far six of them have turned out to be Core 12 players, including three later round picks, Josh Anderson, 95th overall in the 2012 draft, Oliver Bjorkstrand, 89th overall in the 2013 draft, and Filip Hronek, 53rd overall in the 2016 draft.

There are other recent non-first round picks made by Wright who could still turn out to be Core 12 players, including winger Jonatan Berggren, 33rd overall in 2018, Antti Tuomisto, 35th overall in 2019, Albert Johnansson, 60th overall in 2019, and Elmer Soderblom, 159th overall in 2019.

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If two or three of these most promising prospects pan out, Wright will have salvaged his reputation for drafting well, something that took a hit in Detroit after he led two strong draft for Columbus in 2012 and 2013.

Wright’s first round picks in Detroit? Hmm

The problem in Hockey Town? Not all of Wright’s first round picks have hit the mark. Dylan Larkin, 15th overall in 2014, has been strong, but Evgeny Svenchnikov, 19th in 2015, has been slowed by injuries, and Dennis Cholowski, 20th overall in 2016, has yet to grab hold of an NHL job. But Wright’s two biggest question marks are huge Michael Rasmussen, drafted ninth overall in 2017, and Filip Zadina, taken sixth overall in 2018.

When you draft in the Top 10, it’s crucial to make good, but it’s not clear if either Rasmussen or Zadina will pan out. Both have struggled so far to put up points at the NHL level.

On the plus side, Detroit’s first pick in the 2019 draft, d-man Mortiz Seider, drafted sixth overall, had an outstanding season in the top Swedish League. If Seider and one of Zadina or Rasmussen make it as top line players, that will also help Wright’s reputation.

As it stands now, he failed to draft enough Core 12 players in his Detroit days, with just Larkin and Hronek hitting the mark to date.

He and Green appear to have done better together in the 2020 draft in Edmonton, but they need to come through for Ken Holland.

Holland’s Detroit Red Wings did better than any other NHL team in finding top talent in the draft from 1983 to 2004 and made the playoffs 25 years in a row. But when Detroit’s scouting fell off after 2005, that made it difficult for Holland to continue to assemble winning teams. Holland’s problem? He hung on too long to scouts who had done so well in the 1990s but no longer could get the job done.

Scouting is a terrible grind, with many scouts doing their best work in there first few years on the job, as seen with Wright in Columbus. It’s up to him to prove he’s still got game. It’s crucial for the future of the Oilers that he come through.

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