In the prior two summers, the most significant offseason additions for the Edmonton Oilers arrived thanks to the singular combination of futility and luck otherwise known as being NHL Draft Lottery victors*.
Summer 2012 was no different.
Entering the 2012 draft lottery the Oilers, steadily assembling elite forward talent via the top of the draft, were in a not-last position and were reportedly ready to accept a promising defensive prospect in Ryan Murray or, had their lottery luck reversed, even local star Griffin Reinhart.
But a wonderful thing happened after a third straight top pick made selecting another forward in Yakupov a no-brainer: A very promising 22-year-old defensive prospect was ready to dodge his draft team and sign with the Oilers as an unrestricted free agent. If the futility that landed Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov was dumb luck, then the ample playing time that helped lure ex-Anaheim Ducks prospect Justin Schultz was serendipitous genius.
In seizing the loophole afforded to him by the CBA, University of Wisconsin product (but not graduate) Schultz was apparently partial to teams in his native Western Canada. So why he elected the last-place Edmonton Oilers over the perennially contending Vancouver Canucks can only be chalked up to the promise of NHL playing time and NHL salary and NHL bonuses sooner rather than later.
Schultz immediately enters the pool as one of the Oilers' top 10 players under age 25. That opportunity owes a minor nod to the Oilers' promising young talent and a quite larger, overt tip of the hat to their inability to address the weak blueline that has failed them year after year.
Offseason Changes / New Additions: Who Else?
Cynicism aside, Schultz projects as a fine NHL defenseman and major addition to the Oilers squad, and it's neither a guarantee nor a stretch to think the savvy puckhandler will be at least a positively contributing NHL defenseman in his rookie year. But aside from that and Yakupov, what else new do the Oilers have to look forward to?
For Oilers GM Steve Tambellini, what do you get a team that has everything, I mean has three straight first-overall picks? Patience, mostly.
Tambellini has preached patience in the rebuild, and the rebuild has produced the aforementioned top picks as well as standout sophomore Jordan Eberle and Oscar Klefbom, the latter as a return in the Dustin Penner trade. What it hasn't produced is any immediate help on defense or in goal.
Thus far this year the Oilers have re-signed defensemen Andy Sutton and Theo Peckham, re-signed franchise icon Ryan Smyth, re-signed Devan Dubnyk (to a debatable contract considering his performance), avoided arbitration to re-sign Sam Gagner, and continued a curious cold war with Linus Omark.
Schultz, quite clearly, is their lone upgrade of commission, while Yakupov is a happy addition who fell in their laps. If the Oilers are rebuilding from within, they are also hoping for progress from within and are likely to see it at forward from Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov and possibly Magnus Paajarvi. (Eberle is unlikely to exceed last year's breakout year.)
On the blueline Schultz should help, but the rest need help. Ryan Whitney and his problematic foot may never be the same again. Sutton is another year older and Peckham has struggled. Solid defenseman Nick Schultz was acquired for more-solid defenseman Tom Gilbert.
Chances are they will give Dubnyk all the work he can handle, and any work they can't handle will fall to Nikolai Khabibulin, who turns 40 in January and hasn't had a save percentage above .910 since he arrived in Edmonton three seasons ago.
The Oilers are accumulating talent through the draft. But the rebuild is far from over.
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