Like many of my fellow Oilers fans, the abysmal performance over the last 9 years, and the high draft picks that came with it sparked a passion for NHL prospects. So much so that I hadextensively pondered, the many possibilities the Oilers had at the 2015 draft with the 16th and 33rd overall picks. Will they take a Goalie? What D-men might be available? As enticing as many prospects looked I, like many fans, found myself hoping the Oilers would manage to swing a trade for an Elite defenseman.
As I’m sure you know my wish came true… sort of. Although unable to land the big fish, right handed defenseman Dougie Hamilton, we were able to acquire Griffin Reinhart. This trade immediately divided fans. One side was thrilled to have acquired a seemingly NHL ready top prospect, essentially fast forwarding the development of the draft picks given up. While the other side was enraged citing an overpayment from the Oilers, especially considering top prospect Matthew Barzal was still available. My opinion was more in line with the former, and after a month to mull it over am prepared to back up why.
After reading every opinion piece I could find regarding the trade, I have found three common arguments explaining why it was an overpayment from the Edmonton perspective. First, it was only slightly less that what Calgary paid for legit NHLer Hamilton, second there were players available at 16 that will be better that Reinhart, and finally, Reinhart is a poor skater and will not be able to adjust to the pace of the NHL game.
First we will look at the Dougie Hamilton argument.
The trade between the Bruins and Flames, was universally recognized as a lopsided victory for Calgary, and as such I believe it should not be used as a benchmark from which to compare other trades. I agree that I would much rather have paid what Calgary did for Hamilton, instead of what Edmonton paid for Reinhart, however the trades must be viewed differently because they are different situations. First Hamilton was a Restricted Free Agent due for a healthy raise. Boston was in poor shape to offer Hamilton the kind of money he deserved or match an offer sheet, and the whole league knew it, basically Boston had little bargaining power. The trade for Reinhart on the other hand had very little cap consequences as Reinhart was not yet a roster player, was still on an ELC, and not due for a new contract for another two years. Translation: the Islanders were in a much better bargaining position that the Boston Bruins were, which is why the trades cannot be viewed from a perspective that ignores situation consequences. Even more so, Edmonton was in play for Hamilton but reportedly had asked much more out of Edmonton than what they eventually settled for out of Calgary
Turning now to the argument that players available at 16 will be better than Reinhart. The problem with this line of reasoning is that no one has a crystal ball, and can 100% predict how a player will turn out. It is also a common error to overestimate the value of a draft pick on draft day. Any player taken outside the first round has the odds stacked against them in terms of becoming a regular NHL player, and even players taken in the first round are not guaranteed to play 100+ games. By no means am I saying that any players will or will not pan out, I’m just pointing out the uncertainty.
Looking back at recent drafts, it is clear that there is great disparity regarding the outcomes of these players. Some years are like 2006 with Ty Wishart (26 career GP) at 16th overall, and Igor Makarov (0gp) at 33rd overall, while some years are more similar to 2009, where Nick Leddy and Ryan O’Reilly went 16th and 33rd overall respectively, maybe you’ve heard of them. As much as we have been told that 2015 is an exceptionally deep draft year, there is still no way of being sure if either draft pick will turn out.
Another level to this argument, is that Matthew Barzal, who eventually was selected at 16, was at one point considered a top 10 pick. A problem with this line of reasoning is that Chiarelli explicitly stated in his post-draft comments that they guy they wanted was not selected with the pick at 16, meaning they weren’t after Barzal. Rumour was that Edmonton was very much interested in Detroit pick Evgeny Svechnikov the scoring winger from Cape Breton of the QMJHL. What all of this means is that New York, and Edmonton would have valued the 16th overall pick differently, since they were eyeing different players. Barzal may turn out to be an excellent second line centre for New York behind Tavares, but was near worthless to the Oilers because he would have been stuck behind some kid named Connor McDavid, RNH, Leon Draisaitl (who may move to wing), and Anton Lander (potential long-term 3rd line centre). It is instances such as this where two teams have different values for an asset, that allow for trades to happen.
My final gripe with this argument, is that regardless of who turns out to be better, this is exactly the type of trade the Oilers should be making in their position. Whomever they were to take at 16 and 33 would most likely still be a few years or more away from being a contributor in the big league. Reinhart on the other hand already has a year of North American professional hockey under his belt, and an NHL point (for whatever that’s worth). He may in fact be NHL ready and still has a large upside, which will be discussed in detail soon.
The final (and my most hated argument) is the accusation that Reinhart is a bad skater and thusly will fail at the next level. The reason this aggravates me so much is that it flies in the face of his scouting report from 2012. Back when he was a top prospect heading into the 2012 draft, it was said that he was a good skater for his size. Although that might seem like a back handed compliment, it made me think of other big defenseman in the NHL who, although not often praised for their skating, seem to get around the ice just fine. Never one to settle for someone else’s opinion, I decided to go back and watch a few of his NHL games to create my own scouting report.
Immediately I could understand the report on his skating. Although not darting around the ice, he seemed more than competent with his edges and pivots. I never saw him display a big burst of speed, in part because he never had to. His positional game appeared excellent to my admittedly untrained eye, but he always seemed to have good body position and I never saw someone skate circles around him. After watching a couple of his games, I would say that he is a sound skater, but could definitely use some work, and it is by no means a strength of his.
Continuing with my personal impressions of his game, his strengths were his positional play and the use of his big frame. Not one commonly to lay the body, (though he does occasionally), he can often be found leaning on the opposing forwards, making life difficult for them, and not conceding prime real estate around the goal mouth.
He also looked very poised with the puck, even when surrounded by opposition. He often made calm reads for passes, effectively moving the puck up Ice and out of danger (Something the Oilers often struggle with). What excites me the most about Reinhart however, is that he could be Edmonton’s solution to the cycle game. Edmonton has had well documented difficulties breaking down the cycle of the big western competition. Having Reinhart out there for 25 minutes a night against teams like St Louis, Anaheim, and Los Angeles can go a long way in improving out transition game and helping drive possession.
On the offensive side of things he possesses a booming shot from the point, and at least in junior was a good distributor on the power play. He will never provide offense in the mold of an Erik karlsson, but I could easily envision him putting up respectable point totals utilizing his shot on the power play, and making strong breakout passes to Edmonton’s stable of talented forwards, racking up a number of secondary assists.
Do I think that he’s ready to be an Elite defenseman come October? Doubtful, but I think a fair expectation would be for him to establish himself as a full-time member of the Oilers by season end, much in the same way as Oscar Klefbom this past season. Perhaps he will never have the level of offensive production associated with being a true number 1 defenseman, but in 2-3 years he could look mighty fine logging big minutes on a blue line that includes Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, and Andrej Sekera.
No doubt the price to pay was steep, but that’s to be expected when trying to acquire a young stud defenseman with a high draft pedigree. Only time will tell if Reinhart was worth the draft picks given up, but I personally am thrilled with the bold move taken by Chiarelli, as it gives the Oilers one of the brightest crop of young defensemen in the league, and a the kind of minute munching stabilizer that they’ve been desperately searching for, since the departure of Pronger.
– Dave O’Brien