The Pens enter the 2015 draft with zero selections in the first round, after trading their first-rounder to Edmonton in the David Perron deal. Penguins GM Jim Rutherford has spoken publicly about his desire to acquire a first-round pick, and has indicated the team is actively seeking a first-round selection.
“I’ll certainly pursue it,” Rutherford said to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to pick up one or not … There are some teams that have acquired an abundance of first-round picks, and they may not need them all.”
A deal between the Pens and Oilers could work well for both clubs. Not only would the Penguins get their 16th-overall pick back – allowing them to add some much-needed young forward depth to their top-heavy roster – but the Oilers could potentially benefit from Pittsburgh’s wealth of talented young defencemen.
Young blue-liner Scott Harrington (22-years-old) leads up that pack, followed be restricted free-agent Brian Dumoulin (23-years-old), who’s certain to be re-signed by the club.
While Pittsburgh would surely prefer to hold on to their blue-chip defensive prospects, the team’s blue-line won’t be short of strong options once their regulars heal up from their myriad of injuries.
Kris Letang and Olli Maatta figure to slot in as the top-pairing. Derrick Pouliot, Rob Scuderi, and Ben Lovejoy remain under contract next season as well. While Scuderi may be subject to a buyout this summer, Pouliot and Lovejoy should see ice-time come October.
Harrington and Dumoulin could vie for the sixth spot in the defensive corps, but restricted free-agent Ian Cole seems a more likely option. The 26-year-old came to the Pens in a trade-deadline deal from St. Louis and impressed during his 20-game run in Pittsburgh.
The possible return of veteran unrestricted free-agents Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoffcould further limit the young defensive prospects’ chances of seeing time in the big leagues.
Also an option for the Oilers is Pens goaltending prospect Matt Murray.
At only 21 years of age, Murray flourished in his rookie season with the American Hockey League’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, leading the league in goals-against-average (1.58), save-percentage (.941), and shutouts (12). Murray also set the AHL record for longest shutout streak, allowing zero goals for 304 minutes and 11 seconds.
The exceptional 2014-15 campaign earned Murray the Baz Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s top goaltender and the Red Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL’s top rookie.
While he seems like the natural successor to Pittsburgh’s current starter, Marc-Andre Fleury, some have suggested that the Penguins should sell high on Murray, as it remains to be seen whether he can continue to play at this elevated level for the rest of his career.
Despite Edmonton’s undeniable talent at the forward position, the team has long needed help when it comes to defence and goaltending. Bringing in any of Harrington, Dumoulin, or Murray would surely be a significant step forward for Edmonton. While Murray would be a long-term project due to his young age and inexperience, Harrington and Dumoulin have both shown promise at the NHL level, and have each flourished in the AHL.
A 16th-overall selection a draft as deep as this year’s could certainly net the Oilers a quality player, regardless of who they make a deal with. Just a few years ago the New Jersey Devils traded their ninth-overall pick to the Vancouver Canucks for future starting goaltender Cory Schneider.
Edmonton’s trading chip isn’t in the top ten, but it will still warrant a decent return should a trade be pursued, with talented prospects like Nick Merkley, Thomas Chabot, and Jakob Zboril projected to have their names called around the first-round’s midway point.
Regardless of the avenue they choose regarding their 16th-overall pick, the Oilers figure to end up with a talented prospect on their roster. However, a trade seems like the better option if Edmonton wants to truly transition from a team that could be successful in a matter of years to a team that could be successful in 2015-16.