Organizational need is a bad way to draft players

Jonathan Willis
May 22 2012 03:58PM

If the Edmonton Oilers decide to make organizational need the primary criteria at this year’s NHL Entry Draft, they would be making a mistake.

As Robin Brownlee has been making clear, organizational need is part of the conversation. Here’s the quote he got from Stu MacGregor a little over a week ago:

I think (GM) Steve Tambellini was pretty clear that, you know, maybe we do have to make an organizational decision…

And here’s Brownlee this morning on the significance of that comment:

What struck me in my last conversation with MacGregor was his reference to Tambellini making it clear that organizational need is a factor that has to be considered, as opposed to taking the garden variety BPA. This is the first time I remember MacGregor making that reference regarding Tambellini or Lowe. Might "organizational need" bump Sarnia centre Alex Galchenyuk or defensemen Ryan Murray or Griffin Reinhart ahead of winger Nail Yakupov or am I just reading between the lines and seeing something that isn't there?

Organizational Need

Which organizational need is more pressing – defense, centre or wing? In terms of the 2012 Oilers, clearly defense is the biggest need to be addressed, followed by centre, followed by wing. Based on need alone, that top pick at the draft should be a defenseman.

But then there’s another question – how likely is the player drafted to fill the hole, and how soon will he do it?

Ryan Murray is the consensus top defender in the draft, at the lead of a tightly grouped pack that includes Mathew Dumba, Morgan Rielly, Jacob Trouba and Griffin Reinhart. Murray’s polished, well-rounded, and mature, but lacks high-end offensive skills. If the Oilers are looking for a replacement for Chris Pronger, Murray’s probably not the guy. If they’re looking for a guy who can be Kevin Lowe (the comparable that Red Line Report uses), eventually, than maybe he is.

There’s a lot of value in that sort of player, the kind of guy who can play big minutes for 15-20 years. It typically takes a bit of time for that player to develop; certainly it would be unreasonable to expect Murray to take on that sort of load immediately. In Chicago, cornerstone defenders Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were both older than the club’s young star forwards – does it make sense to place the hopes for the blue line on a defender younger than Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins?

On the other hand, if the Oilers opted for a centre – Alex Galchenyuk or Mikhail Grigorenko – they could expect some significant offensive production right away. Likely, that centre would slot into the spot Sam Gagner occupies now, freeing up Gagner to be dealt as the centerpiece of a package for a young defenseman. That young defenseman would likely be better in the short-term (the next season or two) than Murray will be.  From a rebuilding perspective, drafting a centre might make more sense than drafting a rearguard.

Asset Management

But, then again, maybe it just makes more sense to take the consensus choice. Nail Yakupov, according to nearly every service out there, is the best available player in this year’s draft. Some experts have been more effusive in their praise – legendary coach Scotty Bowman went so far as to compare Yakupov to Pavel Bure.

Is Nail Yakupov’s trade value going to be higher than Ryan Murray’s a year from now if Yakupov performs as expected in his rookie season? If it is, does it perhaps make more sense to draft Yakupov, attempt to address the defense through trade or free agency this summer, and take stock in a year? If Yakupov seems compares favourably to Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle a year from now, might one of the latter two players be dealt for a defenseman? If so, what caliber of defender would one of them bring back in trade?

For that reason, more than any other, I oppose drafting a player based on team need. If Yakupov turns out as good as everyone seems to think he will, then it shouldn’t be too difficult to pry a high-end defenseman out of another team in exchange for his services (or those of Hall, or those of Eberle, should that make more sense).

Recently by Jonathan Willis

Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.