In the previous two drafts, the Edmonton Oilers landed cornerstone forwards Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the first overall pick.
They pick first overall in this NHL Draft as well. Sarnia Sting winger Nail Yakupov appears to be the top prospect available, but Everett Silvertips defenseman Ryan Murray would fill a bigger long-term need.
Columbus, picking second, could use an offensive catalyst like Yakupov. But the Blue Jackets’ unhappy experience with Russian washout Nikita Filatov gives that franchise pause. Filatov seems destined to finish his career in the KHL after failing to stick with Columbus or Ottawa.
So the Blue Jackets appear to covet Murray. Given that, there will be a bit of intrigue as the draft nears. If another team really, REALLY covets Yakupov, Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini would answer the phone.
And if Columbus really, REALLY wants to swap picks to get Murray, the Oilers would have to consider that too.
“You can always listen,” Tambellini told the Canadian Press at the NHL’s draft combine. “But for us to move the No. 1 pick it would have to be quite a significant proposal.”
The Oilers have focused intently on Murray, a potential cornerstone defenseman for a team lacking skill and depth on the blue line. Edmonton is awash in offensive wingers – especially after re-upping potential free agent Ales Hemsky – so Yakupov could be a superfluous addition.
Murray played for Team Canada at the World Championships. As luck would have it, Oilers president Kevin Lowe oversaw the Canadian squad in that tourney. He spent a lot of time with Murray as a result.
“I think you have to draft a defenseman because nobody’s going to give you one,” said Hockey Canada chief scout Kevin Prendergast told the Edmonton Journal. “Murray has a special knack. He could play for 15 years. He’s tough, he’ll fight, he’s got good hands, he adapts quickly. Nothing fazes him.”
Edmonton has yet to name Tom Renney’s replacement as head coach, so that could be a mitigating circumstance in any trade talks.
“We’ll have the right coach,” Tambellini said. “If it’s done at the draft, great. If it’s done after that, so be it.”