It’s that time of the year again for the debate on which player should be taken with the first overall selection. Unfortunately (or fortunately that the Oilers at least got the first overall pick), that decision rests on Edmonton’s shoulders for the second consecutive year. Struck Oilers brings its two master debaters to the table to wage war for each of their respective sides with 250 words each. First we’ll have myself in the hulking Swedish defenseman, Adam Larsson’s corner. Curtis will then offer his rebuttal by arguing in favor of the pint-sized playmaker, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Eric throws the first punch: Taking a look at Edmonton’s defense is pretty disheartening. What is most apparent when looking at this defensive core is that none of these players excel at actually playing defense. That’s where Larsson comes in.
At 6’3, 200 pounds, and three years of playing against grown men in the Swedish Elite League under his belt, Larsson has the size and experience to step in and be a difference maker from day one. He possesses the size to be a physical force on the blue line, as well as the offensive touch to be compared with fellow countryman, Nicklas Lidstrom.
Since the end of the lockout, there has yet to be a Finals that didn’t include a team without a star defenseman. Edmonton has an opportunity to secure such a defenseman, who can carry the load every game on both ends of the ice and can have a successful franchise built around him.
While Curtis will argue taking the best player available over filling a need, I’m not sure that Larsson doesn’t offer both, as Larsson has had his time this year atop the scouting rankings as well.
If the Oilers instead go with Nugent-Hopkins, they will be adding another undersized yet talented player to an already deep, young offensive core. While the team would be exciting to watch play for years to come, it would get manhandled, especially in a playoff series, by any opposition that brought any type of size and grit. It seems like a pretty obvious decision.
Curtis (should be studying): What may be more disheartening than Edmonton’s defense is their lack of depth at the center position. Let’s face facts: Sam Gagner is a 2C at best, Shawn Horcoff doesn’t have the ability to play on the top line anymore, and prospects at center are slim. Here comes Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to save the day, the player so nice they named him twice.
I will in fact argue that taking the BPA is more important than filling needs and Nugent-Hopkins is that player. Larsson may have had his time at the top of the rankings but so did the OHL Player of the Year Sean Couturtier who is no longer considered an option for 1st overall.
Nugent-Hopkins is an extremely skilled player with tremendous vision and is not afraid to go into the tough areas despite his 6’1, 170 pound frame which has room for growth. Nugent-Hopkins put up 31G, 75A for 106 points in the WHL, a league known for its defense. There should be little doubt that RNH will be able to translate his ability to put up points in the NHL especially beside the emerging threat that is Taylor Hall.
Being undersized isn’t a detriment if you have the skill to back it up, look at the combination of Pat Kane and Jonathan Toews, neither player is towering and if I’m not mistaken they lead their team to a Stanley Cup. If Edmonton chooses to draft RNH they will simply need to look for grit (or jam) in their bottom-six.