June marks both the end of the hockey season, and the start of a new one. Not quite in those exact terms, but the Stanley Cup Final is played this month – and then, not too long after, the NHL draft happens as teams look to the future in hopes of also one day reaching the Final.
The Flames will be one of those teams. They look to have a bright future ahead of them, but there are still a number of holes that need filling: one that, hopefully, the sixth overall pick well help out with.
But who might the pick be? They’re at the mercy of five other teams above them.
Two key things have happened recently that may have implications for the draft: the Memorial Cup concluded, and the Vancouver Canucks traded for Erik Gudbranson.
The NHL readiness of prospects isn’t always a sure thing. Those taken at the top of the draft are expected to be ready to step in, but there’s no guarantee that happens with picks four, five, and six. This is a reason why it makes more sense to draft the best player available, and not focus on need: chances are the player you’re taking won’t be ready to help you out in that area of need right away, if at all.
Barring a trade, the Oilers, with the fourth overall pick, won’t be receiving immediate help. However, Matthew Tkachuk has long been rated as one of the top North American skaters of this draft class, and his performance at the Memorial Cup – eight points through four games, including the overtime winner – certainly couldn’t have hurt things.
As much as the Oilers need help on defence, it’s difficult to see a defenceman going fourth overall, just as it’s difficult to see any of the current options immediately stepping into the NHL. Tkachuk, meanwhile, has size, grit, offensive talent, and now a championship pedigree.
The Canucks, meanwhile, took steps to solve their defence problem by acquiring the 24-year-old Gudbranson. Whatever your thoughts on the trade, the important thing here is they believe they’ve added a young top four guy – and dealt away a 20-year-old centre to get him, with expectation he can be replaced with the fifth overall pick.
Specifically, Benning says he expects to get either an eventual first line player or top four defenceman – but I would be surprised if it wasn’t a forward, probably Pierre-Luc Dubois. He’s someone who can play all three forward positions, including centre, which the Canucks just lost.
Unless there’s a major surprise, it seems more and more likely both Tkachuk and Dubois will be unavailable to the Flames. In all likelihood, that leaves Calgary with Alexander Nylander or a defenceman: Jakob Chychrun, Olli Juolevi, or Mikhail Sergachev.
Of course, a few surprises could still happen yet. If the Oilers take Dubois, do the Canucks stick with a forward – even if he won’t be a centre – or do they go for that top four defenceman, leaving Tkachuk to fall to the Flames? Or the Oilers could trade their pick for immediate help, and then who knows what would happen?
As things currently are, the way I see it, it’s difficult to envision Dubois falling to sixth overall – especially with the Canucks wanting to fill a hole they created in their centre prospects. There’s still a chance Tkachuk could fall to sixth, though – but in all likelihood, it’ll be Nylander, a defenceman, or maybe someone else the Flames have higher rated that appears off the board to outsiders.
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