5/17/2012 11:18:00 AM
On June 22, the Oilers should take Nail Yakupov first overall.
In saying that, I'm disagreeing with a man who actually ran an NHL team. "The defence control the game," former Lightning GM Brian Lawton told Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer on Wednesday. "It would be hard for me to pass up the quality defenceman that are out there."
Yes, the Oilers are thin on the back end. Yes, there is a stellar crop of defencemen in this year's pool, including Everett's Ryan Murray, Red Deer's Matt Dumba, and Griffin Reinhart of the Oil Kings.
But, no, I wouldn't take one of them with the top pick.
The Oilers need to cut down on their goals against, and Yakupov can help with that more than a young defenceman.
In 2005-06, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the AJHL allowed only 110 goals in 60 games. Goalie Jimmy Bernier set a record with ten shutouts. During that season, I asked Oil Barons head coach Gord Thibodeau the key to their stinginess. His answer was simple: strong forechecking. It had nothing to do with clearing the front of the net or a first pass or spectacular goaltending. While those things are important, the Oil Barons won the championship that year mostly because they had the puck more than their opponents.
Yakupov would give the Oilers another player who could put pressure on the other team. Too often this past season, only Jordan Eberle felt like a real threat to score. Oilers foes were rarely on their heels, rarely rattled by a relentless push.
Combine Yakupov with Eberle, hopefully healthy versions of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall, and maybe consistent versions of Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky, and suddenly the puck is going to be a long way away from the Oilers net a lot more often.
And that's the best way to improve your defence.
You can reach Reid Wilkins on Twitter @ReidWilkins or by email: email@example.com.