Is this the face of the young man who will be the newest Edmonton Oiler at the end of June? This is Mikhail Griogorenko, who plays for the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, and he has the talent to be selected as high as second overall at the 2012 Entry Draft. If the draft was today the Oilers would be picking in that slot.
Born: May 16, 1994 in Khabarovsk, Russia
6 feet, 2 inches tall and 191 pounds
40-45-85 in 59 games, plus-35, 12 PIMs
It's plainly obvious that the Oilers require an overhaul to their defense, and there has been plenty of talk about trading this year's lottery pick to do it, or even just using the pick to add a blue chip defense prospect. Both of those might be options, but if the Oilers actually use the pick they should still use it on the best player available. If that player is Grigorenko, the Oilers should add him regardless of their glut of talented youth up front.
Having three highly skilled centers in Grigorenko, Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner would be an embarrassment of riches, and it's a situation similar to the one that worked out so nicely for the Pittsburgh Penguins. In the 2006 Entry Draft the St. Louis Blues selected defenseman Erik Johnson first overall, and with that the Penguins didn't have a conflict about whether or not they should draft a forward. There wasn't another defenseman picked until Ty Wishart went 16th overall to San Jose, and Pittsburgh certainly wasn't using their second pick overall on that player. Instead they added Jordan Staal, despite the fact that they already had two brilliant centers in Crosby and Malkin. Three years later Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup.
Adding Grigorenko doesn't mean that the Oilers will be able to completely emulate what Pittsburgh did, but it would draw the comparison a lot closer than it stands currently. The Oilers need some size up the middle, and Gagner (5'11", 195 lbs) and Nugent-Hopkins (6'1", 175 lbs) don't bring much to the table. Having these three would make the Oilers three lines deep and one day they would be very difficult to match up against.
Grigorenko is second on his team in total faceoffs taken and he's just a hair over 50% at 572/1131. Not necessarily a master in the dot, but he's keeping his head above water as a 17 year old in his first QMJHL season.
At the 2012 World Junior Championship, Grigorenko had 2-3-5 in 6 games and helped Russia to a silver medal. It was his first appearance in the tournament. At the World U18 Championship in 2011 he had 4-14-18 in just 7 games in Russia's bronze medal finish.
The playoffs start Thursday for Grigorenko's Remparts, and they have drawn the Drummondville Voltigeurs in the first round. The Remparts will have home ice advantage.
His decision to play for the Remparts in the CHL shows a certain amount of commitment to playing in the NHL, and should eliminate much of the stigma of being a Russian-born player.
The Oilers have done very well recently in drafting the best player available instead of the biggest player or the position they need most. The draft shouldn't be about what you need now, but which of the players that is available projects to be the best in the long term. Adding Grigorenko may set the Oilers back a touch as they wait for him to develop, but that shouldn't stop them from choosing him. He'll almost certainly develop at a faster rate than any defenseman picked in that slot. If the organization feels that none of the draft-eligible defensemen stack up to the forwards, then going off the board is probably ill advised.