There has been a new wrinkle in the drama that is the NHL draft, and a slight dilemma has presented itself for the Edmonton Oilers. On tuesday the New Jersey Devils won the draft lottery, which means the Oilers will pick first overall for the second straight year. The problem is who to take. There is no clear Taylor vs. Tyler or Tavares vs. Hedman debate. There has been a relatively equal split between a large number of players that could conceivably go number one. Right now it has been between Nugent-Hopkins vs. Adam Larsson, but the real number one prospect may be emerging in the Quebec League for the St. John Seadogs.
That player is Jonathan Huberdeau. As of right now, Huberdeau has amassed 10-9-19 in just 8 playoff games, along with a plus-9 rating. He's been far and away the best draft-eligible player in the QMJHL playoffs. In fact, Huberdeau has been the most prolific draft-eligible scorer in the playoffs of the entire CHL. He has almost twice as many points as Sean Couturier, and he does have more than twice as many as Nugent-Hopkins. He is playing on a very good St. John team that is loaded with talent, but Couturier's Volitgeurs and Nugent-Hopkins' Rebels are no slouches either.
However, Huberdeau presents a problem for the Oilers. He is listed as a center, but he isn't one. He plays left wing as well, and when he makes the NHL it will almost certainly be in that position. Huberdeau has taken a total of 18 faceoffs in the entire playoffs, winning just 7 of them. When it comes to doing the hard legwork that is required of a center, it seems to fall to Zack Phillips, Michael Kirkpatrick and Steven MacAulay; who have taken 152, 73 and 70 draws respectively. Steven Anthony is listed as a left winger, but he has taken 84 draws in the playoffs so far.
The Oilers desperately need a number one center who can win a draw, and it seems that Huberdeau isn't it. The fact that he doesn't take draws speaks to his ability in the discipline even more than his 39% efficiency. He only took 280 draws all season and won a mediocre 114 for around 41%.
At 6'1" and 171 pounds, Huberdeau isn't much bigger than Nugent-Hopkins. If size is a knock on RNH, it's got to be one for Huberdeau too. He's probably slippery enough for it not to be that big of a problem, but he may need some time to bulk up. Some question his quickness as well. His first few steps are not an area of strength, but he has overcome these minor deficiencies to be third in regular season QMJHL scoring and first in plus/minus.
Interestingly, Sean Couturier's points per game number in the Q this season was actually better than that of Huberdeau. Couturier had 1.66 ppg, and Huberdeau 1.57. In the same number of games played, Couturier was on pace to outscore him 111 to 105. Furthermore, Couturier took 1430 draws this season, and won 778 of them for 54% effectiveness.
Still, Huberdeau appears to be separating himself from the pack in these playoffs. In a year when there is no clear-cut number one, playoff performance could be enough to tip the scales. Last year when Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin were neck and neck going toward the draft and Seguin was ranked #1 by Central Scouting, it was Hall's fantastic playoff performance that made him the first overall pick. The playoffs are when players must really shine if they can, and Hall did it, just like Huberdeau appears to be doing now. If all of the top four players in this year's draft class are as close as Hall and Seguin, the playoffs could truly be the difference.
But can the Oilers take Huberdeau? What the Oilers don't really need is another undersized, skilled winger, and that's exactly what Huberdeau projects to be. It's possible that this could be the best offensive player in the draft and the Oilers will have to pass on him. Of course, there's always the possibilty of trading down and trying to get value for the fact that they have to pass on Huberdeau, but it seems doubtful that the Oilers will trade the first overall pick.
Couturier is still the best fit for the Oilers in this draft. He has size, scoring, playmaking and he can win faceoffs. However, more will be known about who is the true number one as the quest for the Memorial Cup continues.