For the third consecutive year the Edmonton Oilers hold the top overall selection at the NHL's entry draft, which will take place over two days starting this Friday night. Will the Oilers use that pick to grab a skilled forward for the third year in a row, or will Edmonton management instead dip into the deep pool of solid blueliners available to be selected?
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Yakupov the consensus top player available for Friday
The Oilers selected winger Taylor Hall with the first pick in the NHL Draft back in 2010, and last year they picked up slick centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the top pick at the event. Combined with breakout winger Jordan Eberle and returning veterans Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner the Oilers have loads of talent up front, but could definitely use a boost for their defense corps. Still, the consensus top available player is another forward, Nail Yakupov from Sarnia of the OHL. Most draft experts think that the Oilers will end up taking Yakupov with the first pick and worry about their defensive depth with later picks.
Of course, Edmonton could also throw those experts a curveball and either select a defenseman with the first choice or make a trade and move down the draft order. Ryan Murray from Everett of the WHL is considered the top d-man available this week, but the Oilers could also have interest in Griffin Reinhart, who played for Edmonton of the WHL.
Blue Jackets, Canadiens watching the Oilers with interest
The Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens hold the second and third overall picks in this weekend's draft, with the Jackets needing upgrades at every position on the ice and the Habs expected to focus on picking up a centre. If the Oilers take Yakupov first overall the Jackets could bolster their defense with Murray. Montreal would then be free to take centre Alex Galchenyuk of Sarnia of the OHL, Yakupov's junior teammate, or they could even reach for Mikhail Grigorenko of Quebec of the QMJHL, whose stock has been falling.
That, of course, all assumes that none of the top three teams at the draft make a move with their pick; if the Oilers wanted to trade down the Canadiens would have interest in Yakupov as would the New York Islanders and the Toronto Maple Leafs, who sit fourth and fifth in the draft order. Toronto would be especially keen on making a big move on the weekend, with GM Brian Burke desperate to get his team back in the playoffs next year. The Maple Leafs, however, might not have the assets needed to move up in the order.
Stanley Cup odds set to shift after events of NHL Draft Day?
Along with participating in the draft itself, NHL teams should be looking to wheel and deal in Pittsburgh this weekend – meaning the 2013 Stanley Cup futures posted at Bovada after the Los Angeles Kings completed their title run could start to move around. The biggest names available on the trade market are Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo and Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash; Luongo's latest playoff failure has him (and his lengthy contract) on the outs in Vancouver, while Nash reportedly finally wants out of Columbus.
Teams that manage to land those players would see their Cup odds improve. The Rangers, at 12/1 to win the 2013 Stanley Cup, are a possible destination for Nash, as are the Flyers (14/1), Sharks (20/1), and Senators (40/1). The Maple Leafs (35/1) and Blue Jackets (75/1) both could use upgrades between the pipes and would be kicking the tires on Luongo, who has a cap hit of $5.3 million on a contract that runs through to 2022. The Penguins, who sit as the 15/2 Cup favorites right now ahead of the 11/1 Kings, could also look to move forward Jordan Staal this weekend, and plenty of teams would have interest.
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