Adam Larsson

Winners and losers of the 2019 NHL Draft

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VANCOUVER — The 2019 NHL Draft is complete. Jack Hughes went first and Jeremy Michel was chosen with the 217th and final pick. A quiet first day was followed by a loud second day that saw a handful of big trades and a number of teams swapping draft picks.

A lot happened, so let’s take a look at some winners and losers from draft weekend.

WINNER: USA Hockey

There were 59 Americans were selected in Vancouver this weekend, led by Hughes, who went first overall to the New Jersey Devils. Hughes is the eighth American to be chosen with the first pick and only the second since 2007.  For the first time in draft history, seven of the first 15 picks were from the U.S., with a record eight coming directly from the United States National Team Development Program. (Hughes, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras, Matthew Boldy, Spencer Knight, Cameron York, Cole Caufield, who makes the Canadiens a winner, and John Beecher.)

LOSER: Ontario Hockey League

For the first time in 33 years no players from the OHL went in the top 10 picks. They ended up with 25 players going in the seven rounds, down from 35 a year ago.

WINNER: Colorado Avalanche

A team that is on the rise had two first-round picks and are positioning themselves as big players over the next few seasons. Thanks to the Senators, the Avalanche had the No. 4 pick and used that on defenseman Bowen Byram. With Cale Makar and Sam Girard excelling already, Byram, a quality puck mover, will only strengthen the blue line.

At No. 16 they picked center Alex Newhook, who became the sixth Newfoundland native to be a first-round selection.

WINNER:  Yukon hockey

Yukon-born Dylan Cozens became the first player selected in the first round when was picked by the Buffalo Sabres seventh overall. He’s the third Whitehorse native to be drafted following Peter Sturgeon (1974, Boston) and Bobby House (1991, Chicago).

LOSER: Day 1 trades

Usually the lead up to the draft and then Round 1 gives us some interesting trades. This year? Nope. There was no fun to be had Friday night as teams continued discussing moves, but there was no player moves consummated.

WINNER:  Day 2 trades

Before Round 2 even began we had news that Patrick Marleau and P.K. Subban had been traded, along with the initial details of J.T. Miller being sent to the Canucks. There was talk of there being a ton of chatter among general managers this week compared to previous off-season. Maybe now that we know the salary cap range for next season the deals will continue into the week leading into free agency?

LOSER: The J.T. Miller price

The Canucks were part of that active Saturday morning adding Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning for a conditional 2020 or 2021 first-round pick, a 2019 third-round selection, and goaltender Marek Mazanec. The versatile 26-year-old forward still has four years left on his deal that carries a $5.25M cap hit. Tampa gets cap relief while the Canucks gets a top-six forward coming off a year where he shot four percent. GM Jim Benning gave up a bit of the future — a potential lottery pick — in an attempt to fix problems now. 

WINNER: Walk-up songs

The 31 first round draft picks were able to choose their own walk-up song this year as they made their way to the stage at Rogers Arena. Sadly, Arthur Kaliyev went early in Round 2, robbing us of hearing “Old Town Road.”

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LOSER: Slovakia

While countries like the U.S. (57) and Finland (22) saw increases in the number of players drafted from last year, Slovakia saw a drop from five in 2018 to one in 2019. Meanwhile, Belarus had three players drafted this year, tying the record from 2004.

WINNER:  The Foote family

Two year after the Tampa Bay Lightning selected Cal Foote with the 14th pick in 2017, Julien BriseBois added another member of the Foote family to the franchise by choosing Nolan 27th overall. The Footes are now the fourth set of brothers to be drafted by the same team, joining Dave and Mark Hunter (Montreal), Daniel and Henrik Sedin (Vancouver), and Duane and Brent Sutter (New York Islanders).

WINNER: Ray Shero

In the span of about 16 hours, the New Jersey Devils Jack Hughes first overall and then acquired Subban. He had the salary cap space to work with and took full advantage of it, knowing some teams may have shied away until they learned what the 2019-20 cap range would look like.. 

So if you’re keeping track, Shero has acquired Subban and Taylor Hall — how will this affect his extension talks? — for a package of Adam Larsson, Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, and two second-round picks. Pretty, pretty good.

LOSER: The return for Subban

While moving Subban’s contract and not retaining any salary in the deal will help in his pursuit of an impact forward (Matt Duchene, hello!) this summer, the return for the defenseman was underwhelming. 

“We had to make a business decision,” Poile said in a statement. “With an aim at strengthening our forward corps this offseason, and the continued strength of our defensive group, we felt it was necessary to clear up salary cap space this way.”

It was a straight salary dump and now freeing up the cap space ups the pressure to land a big fish in free agency, especially if Duchene is the No. 1 target.

WINNER:  Devils-Rangers rivalry

P.K. Subban. Jacob Trouba (if he signs!). Jack Hughes. Kaapo Kakko. There was an injection of juice into the Metropolitan Division rivalry this weekend. Both teams are in the midst of changing their futures, and the additions on draft weekend will certainly go a long way to doing that. Add in the New York Islanders to the mix and the Metropolitan Division and hockey in the New York metropolitan area just got more interesting.

MORE 2019 NHL DRAFT COVERAGE:
Shero on Subban trade, Hall’s future with Devils
Round 1 draft tracker
Rounds 2-7 draft tracker

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Trade: Predators send P.K. Subban to Devils

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After a quiet start to NHL draft weekend on the trade front we got our first blockbuster of the offseason on Saturday afternoon when the Nashville Predators sent defender P.K. Subban to the New Jersey Devils.

In return for Subban the Predators will receive Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, and two second-round draft picks (one in 2019 and one in 2020).

There’s a lot to unwrap here for both sides so let’s break it down for each time, starting with Nashville.

In terms of assets, the Predators are not getting a ton back here. Santini is a 24-year-old defender with 112 games in the NHL under his belt, while Davies was a seventh-round pick of the Devils in 2016. Davies has yet to play a game of professional hockey and has spent the past three years playing at Northeastern University. He definitely has potential, but neither player figures to be an impact player in the NHL.

The 2019 second-round pick was No. 34 selection, which the Predators promptly traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for the No. 45 and No. 65 picks in the 2019 draft.

The biggest key here for Nashville, though, is salary cap relief.

The Predators are retaining zero salary in this trade which means all of Subban’s $9 million salary cap hit in each of the next three seasons comes off of their books. This creates a ton of salary cap flexibility for them that will allow them to, presumably, re-sign Roman Josi (who is due for a massive raise on his current $4 million salary cap hit through the end of this season) and take a run at a significant player in free agency, such as Matt Duchene.

Whether or not that makes them a better team in the short-term is up for debate, but general manager David Poile obviously felt he needed to dip into his surplus of defenders in an effort to bolster his forward group. He confirmed as much in the team’s press release announcing the trade.

“We appreciate P.K.’s contribution to the Predators and the Nashville community over the past three seasons, which have seen our organization have unprecedented success,” Poile said. “He was an integral part of our run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the 2018 Presidents’ Trophy and back-to-back Central Division titles. His work off the ice speaks for itself – he was an impactful member of our community, especially through the groundbreaking Blueline Buddies initiative.

“We had to make a business decision. With an aim at strengthening our forward corps this offseason, and the continued strength of our defensive group, we felt it was necessary to clear up salary cap space this way.”

On Saturday Subban posted a two-minute video saying goodbye to Nashville and thanking the Predators fans and organization.

Now for the Devils.

Let’s start with this: Wow.

This has been a massive weekend for the future of the organization as they have added two huge pieces in less than 24 hours.

On Friday night they selected Jack Hughes with the No. 1 overall pick, adding him to a core that already includes 2017 No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall, the NHL MVP from the 2017-18 season.

Now they added a superstar to their lineup without really having to give up anything of significance from their organization.

Even if Subban, who will now be entering his age 30 season, is not quite what he was a couple of years ago he is still an impact player offensively and adds a dimension to the Devils’ lineup that they did not have on their blue line, and they had more than enough salary cap space to make it happen.

The Devils obviously had a disappointing year, and even though some regression was expected after their surprising 2017-18 performance injuries (including a major one to Hall) definitely played a significant role in their struggles. The return of a healthy Hall and the additions of Hughes and Subban should make the Devils way more interesting (and better!) this season.

Even after the addition of Subban and his contract the Devils will still have somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million in salary cap space to work with.

It is also another huge move for Ray Shero as the team’s GM. Three years ago he managed to acquire Hall from the Edmonton Oilers for the low, low, low price of Adam Larsson, and now gets Subban without having to give up a top prospect, a key piece of his roster, or a first-round pick.

Shero’s next big order of business: Trying to figure out a way to sign Hall to an extension as his contract expires at the end of this season. Adding a player like Subban to the lineup can’t possibly hurt in that quest.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Trouba trade highlights Rangers’ brilliant rebuild

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While it’s important to understand the context for why the Jets made the trade, the bottom line is that the Jacob Trouba trade is a slam dunk for the New York Rangers. Scratch that, we need a more pronounced sports metaphor: it was a grand slam.

It also says a lot about the Rangers’ rebuild process that, while the Trouba trade might be management’s best move yet, there are plenty of other fantastic moves to choose from.

Brassard bonanza

If you want a starting point that includes an exclamation point, begin with the monstrously one-sided Mika ZibanejadDerick Brassard trade. The trade seems to get more lopsided with every Zibanejad goal, and after every time Brassard sadly packs his bag after being traded once again. It’s almost cruel that the Rangers received a second-rounder while Ottawa only nabbed a seventh-rounder as part of that deal.

(Really, that trade isn’t that far off from the Rangers’ buddies in New Jersey stealing Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson.)

If you start with the Zibanejad heist and end with trading for Trouba plus the near-certain selection of high-end prospect Kaapo Kakko, you’d see that the Rangers are writing the blueprint for how to run an NHL rebuild. Sure, there’s been luck here and there – particularly in getting 2019’s second pick – but the Rangers have done more to make their own luck than any other rebuilding team.

Turning Pionk and the 20th pick into Trouba

Neal Pionk‘s presence in the Trouba trade stands as one of the testaments to the Rangers’ full rebuild approach.

Where the occasionally rebuild-resistant Red Wings gave opportunities to aging veterans like Mike Green and Thomas Vanek (Vanek had a no-trade clause this past season!), the Rangers pulled a perfect “pump-and-dump” with Pionk. There’s some evidence that Pionk was a fairly substantial part of the package for the Jets, so the Rangers deserve some credit for driving up Pionk’s value. Depending upon whom you ask, the Rangers might have profited from the Jets overlooking dismal underlying numbers for Pionk.

Whatever Winnipeg’s actual opinion of Pionk might be, the bottom line is that Trouba is an enormous addition for the Rangers. You can get into a debate about how good or great Trouba really is, but the bottom line is that he’s immediately the Rangers’ best blueliner, and almost certainly by a wide margin.

(As great as the Pionk pump-and-dump turned out, the Rangers’ paltry defense opened up that scenario by … you know, being really bad.)

Putting on a hard hat for this rebuild

Yes, the Rangers have lucked out here and there (a huge lottery jump to the upcoming No. 2 pick, the Jets being in a bind so they needed to trade Trouba, the hilarity of the Zibanejad heist), but they’ve also made their own luck by making tough decisions.

Lesser teams would have kept all or some of Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, and Antti Raanta, possibly losing them for nothing via free agency anyway. Instead, the Rangers made those often-painful choices, and are healing faster after pulling off those Band-Aids.

Thanks to that hard work, they’ve added a nice war chest of picks, prospects, players, and assets.

  • Again, Trouba is a top-pairing defenseman, if not a star, and is thus a huge addition.
  • Adam Fox is a hyped defensive prospect in his own right, costing the Rangers a couple draft picks.
  • We’ll see how Lias Andersson develops, but the Rangers wouldn’t have received the seventh pick of the 2017 NHL Draft if they didn’t trade Stepan and Raanta.
  • Maybe the Rangers didn’t get a perfect deal for McDonagh and J.T. Miller, but it was another example of New York loading up on volume in picks and prospects. For example: if K’Andre Miller (22nd overall in 2018) becomes a gem, note that the Rangers used some of their quantity of draft picks to move up a bit and snag him.
  • A Stars’ Game 7 win against the Blues in Round 2 would have turned a 2019 second-rounder into a 2019 first-rounder for New York, but the bottom line is that the Rangers got a nice deal for Zuccarello. Also, if Zuccarello re-signs with the Stars, the Rangers get a first-rounder in 2020, instead of a third-rounder. You simply need to make that call with a 31-year-old winger, even one as beloved as Zuccarello.
  • The 20th pick of the 2019 NHL Draft went from the Jets to the Rangers in the Kevin Hayes deal, and that the Rangers sent it back to Winnipeg in the Trouba trade. So, if the Rangers didn’t trade Hayes, they might not have landed Trouba. Again: load up on picks and assets, and load up on scenarios where you can get better. The Rangers have been masterful at this.
  • If there was hand-wringing over giving up assets for Adam Fox, the Rangers soothed some of them by landing some lesser picks for Adam McQuaid.

Phew, that’s a lot of stuff, and this is the abridged version of that trade book; you can see a fuller list via Cap Friendly’s handy trade history page.

Mix those above moves with some interesting picks like Filip Chytil and Vitali Kravtsov, and the Rangers are making leaps, rather than baby steps, toward being competitive once again.

Kaapo Kakko ranks as the biggest pending prospect addition, yet he could have some nice help thanks to the Rangers’ other moves.

More work to do

Speaking of other moves, the Rangers’ work isn’t done yet.

The most intriguing situation would come down to switching gears if Artemi Panarin really is interested in hitting Broadway.

The Trouba trade, not to mention the influx of talent headlined by Kakko, could make the Rangers a more appealing destination for Panarin. That’s especially true if the Rangers have even more tricks up their sleeves as Cap Friendly projects their cap space at about $19M (though a Trouba contract and Panarin pact would make that dry up fast).

The Rangers don’t have to rush things if they don’t want to, or if Panarin looks elsewhere, though.

For one thing, Mika Zibanejad rules, is just 26, and is a bargain for some time ($5.3M cap hit through 2021-22). A potential trio of DJ Z-Bad, The Bread Man, and (whatever nickname we give) Kakko could be one heck of a start.

Especially since the Rangers boast other interesting forwards at or near their primes.

Chris Kreider (28, $4.625M), Vladislav Namestnikov (26, $4M), and Jimmy Vesey (26, $2.275M) all enter contract years in 2018-19. The Rangers could trade one or more of those three forwards, either before the season or even at the trade deadline, or keep them around if they’re primed for immediate competition. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the Sabres have already contacted the Rangers about Vesey, so for all we know, more significant moves could come soon.

(If you ask me, Kreider is the standout of those three, although that might make him even more appealing to trade.)

Money clearing up

The Rangers’ salary structure should look a lot cleaner after 2020-21, too.

Consider three expensive, aging veterans who are all coming off the books after two more seasons: Henrik Lundqvist (37, $8.5M per season), Kevin Shattenkirk (30, $6.65M), and Marc Staal (32, $5.75M).

For some, the Rangers’ rebuild is held back by Lundqvist, as there’s an objective argument that it would be wiser to part ways with the future Hall of Famer. That makes sense in a vacuum, but context matters: trading Lundqvist would be a very difficult thing to spin PR-wise, particularly since the Rangers are already asking fans to be patient. Maybe trading away “King Henrik” would be too extreme for fans paying big bucks at MSG.

It’s probably healthier to look at that situation with a more optimistic outlook.

There’s a scenario where the Rangers do indeed make a quantum leap from rebuilder to contender, giving Lundqvist one or two more chances to chase that coveted first Stanley Cup.

On the other hand, maybe the Rangers strategically stink, and Lundqvist either: a) plays out his contract, thus eventually opening up a ton of space in two years or b) gets antsy and asks for a trade to a contender, likely easing angst from fans if the Rangers did make a trade. Maybe Rangers fans could cheer on Lundqvist somewhere else, as some Bruins fans did when Ray Bourque lifted a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche?

All things considered, it could be worse, right?

You can apply similar logic to Shattenkirk and Staal.

In Shattenkirk’s case, I wouldn’t be shocked if the American-born defenseman rebounded at least to some extent. In 2017-18, he was hampered by a knee injury that eventually prompted surgery. Last season, it was probably tough for any Rangers defenseman to look respectable. (Hey, Shattenkirk’s relative stats are OK.)

It’s not outrageous to picture Shattenkirk’s perception rise if Trouba helps his fellow right-handed defenseman slide into a sheltered, and less prominent role. If that happened, the Rangers could either get more out of Shattenkirk from improved play, or maybe even trading him. This is a league where teams are desperate for defense, so you never know.

Marc Staal seems like more of a lost cause, at least if you look at deeper numbers, yet as we’ve seen frequently in the NHL, plenty of teams either don’t care about analytics, or will value narratives about “sturdy veterans” more than any graphs or stats.

Those teams are more liable to pursue Staal now that his term is down to two years remaining, and the Rangers could also offer to retain salary to make something happen.

Now, it’s possible that none of Lundqvist, Shattenkirk, or Staal would get traded. There may be no takers, and all three have clauses of some kind to make deals more difficult to strike.

But even if they play things out, and so at a disappointing level, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and that light isn’t even very far away.

***

After heaping all of this praise on the Rangers, it’s important to reiterate that there’s plenty of work to do, and plenty of ways where things could still go wrong. Maybe the Rangers make Bobby Holik-type free agent mistakes again once they start spending money, or maybe management gets impatient with losing and pulls the plug on the rebuild before the foundation settles?

Overall, though, you can’t ask for much better work than what we’ve seen from the Rangers, especially in the NHL, where teams aren’t always as bold as they should be when it comes to making trades and getting creative.

This could very well be the peak of the rebuild as far as a single week of moves goes, but this isn’t an isolated incident. The Rangers have done a brilliant job of building a brighter future after being in a pretty dark situation not that long ago.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Oilers visit Golden Knights on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Edmonton Oilers’ playoff hopes are hanging by a thread heading into their game on Sunday against the Vegas Golden Knights, and if they have any hope of pulling off the impossible and erasing what is a seven-point gap (and jumping over four teams!) over the next 11 games it is going to have to begin with a win tonight.

Standing in their way will be a Vegas Golden Knights team that has won seven of its previous eight games and is pretty much locked in to the third playoff spot in the Pacific Division. At this point it is simply a matter of whether or not they will have to play the Calgary Flames or San Jose Sharks in their first-round matchup.

The Oilers are led by Connor McDavid who enters the game riding an 11-game point streak, while also recording at least one point in 19 of his previous 20 games. That 20-game stretch for McDavid features 12 multi-point games, including seven in a row.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Edmonton Oilers vs. Vegas Golden Knights
Where: T Mobile Arena
When: Sunday, March 17, 2019, 10 p.m, ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Oilers-Golden Knights stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Edmonton Oilers

Forwards

Milan Lucic – Connor McDavid — Zack Kassian
Tobias RiederLeon DraisaitlAlex Chiasson
Jujhar KhairaRyan Nugent-HopkinsSam Gagner
Joseph Gambardella – Colby CaveJosh Currie

Defense

Oscar KlefbomAdam Larsson
Darnell NurseKris Russell
Andrej SekeraMatt Benning

Starting Goalie: Mikko Koskinen

Vegas Golden Knights

Forwards

Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith
Max PaciorettyPaul StastnyMark Stone
Tomas NosekCody EakinAlex Tuch
Ryan CarpenterPierre-Edouard BellemareRyan Reaves

Defense

Nate SchmidtDeryk Engelland
Brayden McNabbShea Theodore
Jon Merril – Colin Miller

Starting Goalie: Malcolm Subban

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Draisaitl’s season shows Oilers’ hope goes beyond McDavid

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If you scan a list of the NHL’s leading scorers, one name might surprise you: Leon Draisaitl.

Heading into Friday’s games, the Edmonton Oilers forward ranks sixth with 89 points, and his 42 goals leave him second only to Alex Ovechkin.

When you hear people express disbelief that the Oilers can fail this hard with Connor McDavid on their roster, perhaps that shock should be adapted to also include Draisaitl.

To some extent, that only makes the Oilers’ mismanagement more damning. They’ve landed a superstar in McDavid, someone between a star and a superstar in Draisaitl (depending upon your taste), and oodles and noodles of draft lottery luck, yet they find themselves in this profoundly sad state.

That’s grim in the present, yet the “they have McDavid and Draisaitl” talking point should at least provide Oilers fans with at least some faint hope for the future.

Now, no doubt, Oilers fans are probably jaded. They’ve heard one too many times about an alleged light at the end of the tunnel.

Well … sorry. Let’s try to squint to see some light.

More on Draisaitl’s year

Before I delve a little deeper, it’s fair to provide some qualifiers regarding Draisaitl’s 42 goals and 89 points in just 70 games.

For one thing, there’s no denying that Draisaitl’s numbers are buoyed by the time he’s spent with McDavid. Anyone with a pulse would see their production improve alongside number 97, and Draisaitl is no different.

That said, it’s not like Draisaitl is wholly tethered to McDavid in the way that, say, Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon barely ever play a shift without each other. As Natural Stat Trick’s listings show, McDavid is Draisaitl’s most common even-strength partner (648:10 with), yet Draisaitl’s also spent 435:24 without him.

The Oilers can wrestle with the loading up versus spreading the wealth question for years, but either way, it seems pretty clear that Draistail is for real.

This season’s numbers won’t be easy to match, though. Before 2018-19, Draisaitl showed some goal scoring ability, generating 29 in 2016-17 and 25 last season. His 42 goals come on an inflated 21.4 shooting percentage, much higher than his-already-fairly high career percentage of 15.7.

That number’s almost certain to go down, although maybe not catastrophically so if Draisaitl sticks with McDavid more often than not. (McDavid’s really that special.)

The best other pieces

Whether Draisaitl slides in on McDavid’s wing or serves as the 2C, the Oilers have two pieces just about anyone would clamor for at forward. So, what else?

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: Somehow, he’s only 25; it feels like he’s been suffering in Edmonton for our natural-born lives.

Maybe RNH won’t ever dazzle quite at the level that you’d want from a top overall pick, but he’s a steady scorer, generating 22 goals already this season (two short of his career-high), and already set a new career-high with 58 points.

Nugent-Hopkins seems like a perennial trade rumor target, but Edmonton would be smart just to keep him. Much like with Draisaitl, RNH gives Edmonton some versatility. He can be a center, or also give McDavid a more talented winger than the Oilers have normally been able to furnish. At this prime-age and at an affordable $6M cap hit through 2020-21, RNH is a nice asset.

(You could argue that maybe there could be actual value in trading RNH but … *gets interrupted by Oilers fans shrieking at the mention of another risky trade*)

Oscar Klefbom – A very good, very affordable, defenseman in his prime at 25. Even more than RNH, thank goodness the Oilers didn’t recklessly trade Klefbom for peanuts.

Varied value

Jesse Puljujärvi – Look, for all we know, he really might be a lost cause.

But even if he is, and the Oilers decide to part ways with Puljujärvi, they likely wouldn’t have sold lower than if they moved him during this fraught, lost season.

And there’s a possibility that things could go very right. Maybe a new coach would give the 20-year-old a clean slate? Perhaps he’s just a guy, but one who might sign a team-friendly contract as an RFA this summer?

His development could be key in the Oilers giving their top guys crucial support. There’s plenty of room for growth, and it’s not that outrageous to picture Puljujärvi actually figuring things out.

Kailer Yamamoto, Evan Bouchard – For Peter Chiarelli’s many many many foibles, he seemed to fall in line with conventional wisdom in recent drafts, which feels like a good thing. That can always change, as prospects are tough to project, but players like Yamamoto and Bouchard might be able to provide future boosts. That’s important if the Oilers remain cap-crunched thanks to lousy contracts like those of Milan Lucic and Kris Russell.

Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse – We can go back and forth about how valuable these two defensemen are. Opinions likely range based on the ups and downs of their seasons. But, really, both have reasonable-enough contracts, and can probably help a team win. They sure beat many of the Oilers’ other options, whether they are in the system or free agency.

(Maybe a trade would actually make sen—*interrupted by another shriek*)

Andrej Sekera – It’s been a lost season for the veteran defenseman, but maybe he’s not as “done” as he seemed?

The 32-year-old’s been limited to 12 games played so far, and hasn’t scored much (two assists) or logged big minutes (16:33 TOI average), yet Sekera’s possession numbers are strong enough to prompt some positive thinking. If nothing else, maybe Sekera could take minutes from lesser defensemen, like Russell?

***

The Oilers have some fantastic pieces (McDavid, Draisaitl), and some undeniable problems (bad contracts, executive who still might not “get it”).

Ultimately, there’s no downplaying how important it is to hire the right GM, and to make sure that no one gets in the way, bungling things like always. It would be convenient if this was just a matter of Chiarelli messing things up, but Edmonton’s issues extend well beyond Chiarelli’s era of errors.

The thing is, if a new GM hit the right notes, the Oilers could actually become a team worthy of McDavid’s and Draisatil’s time — and maybe turn things around pretty quickly.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.