Ken Holland will have made up his mind when he steps to the microphone next week.
Until then, there’s plenty to ponder ahead of the 63-year-old’s first NHL draft as general manager of the Edmonton Oilers.
Holland might look to continue rebuilding a defence that has some decent roster options and promising prospects, but still needs plenty more high-end skill.
On the other hand, he could add a talented forward to a group led by Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and not much else.
No matter what the GM decides, one thing is clear — Holland can’t afford to miss when he takes the podium and picks eighth in Vancouver on June 21.
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“I can give you the philosophical reason why we should take another defenceman … adding to what we have, the makings of a good, young defence,” Holland said in an interview at the NHL’s recent scouting combine. “But I could also philosophically tell you that we’ve got some good, young defencemen and maybe it’s an opportunity to grab a guy we think can be a top-6 forward.
“There’s some good defencemen there, but there’s some really good forwards.”
The top of the first round is fairly clear-cut. Star centre Jack Hughes of the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) and Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko are all but assured of going 1-2.
After that, Holland envisions things playing out a number of different ways. Like many teams, the Oilers will have to think on their feet with options like centres Dylan Cozens and Trevor Zegras, wingers Cole Caufield and Matthew Boldy, and defenceman Philip Broberg among the players potentially still available when Edmonton finds itself on the clock.
“From pick No. 3 to 10, 11, 12 — anything can happen,” Holland said. “It’s a good draft.”
Holland joined the Oilers last month from the Detroit Red Wings, where he served in various capacities for 36 years. The Vernon, B.C., product won four Stanley Cups, including three as GM, but was briefly shuffled into the senior vice-president’s role following April’s hiring of Steve Yzerman before the Oilers came calling.
Detroit and Edmonton were in similar positions last season — outside the playoff picture — meaning that Holland has a good handle on what he views as the top-40 or so prospects. His home in Michigan also isn’t far from the USNTDP’s facilities, he scouted the world under-18 tournament and attended several WHL playoff games this spring.
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Holland knows there’s no quick fix to what he’s walked into with the Oilers, a team that’s missed the playoffs in three of McDavid’s four seasons and 12 of the last 13 overall. But the hope is that getting both himself and new head coach Dave Tippett on board long term will help steady things in the Alberta capital.
“If you’re going to have success in this league, you can’t have a different direction or a different vision every couple of years,” Holland said. “We’re going to build around our young players. We’ve obviously got some star players up front.
“We’ve got to stick with it. You’ve got to have a plan.”
So what is that plan?
“Short term we’re going to try the best we can to make the bottom-6 (forward group) a little bit different and try to get another goalie,” he said. “We’re going to try to be competitive for a playoff spot in 2019-20.
“The young players that we already have need to be part of the solution.”
Among those young players is defenceman Evan Bouchard, who made the Oilers last October before being returned to the OHL’s London Knights. The 10th overall selection in 2018 played for Canada at the world juniors and also joined Edmonton’s AHL affiliate in the playoffs after London’s season ended.
“You want to make it tough on the coaches to send you down,” Bouchard said last week in Toronto after picking up the OHL’s defenceman of the year award. “My goal is to stay with Edmonton, but I know there’s still lots of work to be done.”
The same is true for Holland as he looks to rebuild the Oilers, a team that fired its head coach and GM during the 2018-19 campaign and missed the playoffs by 11 points.
The work starts in earnest next week.
“You’ve got to make a trade here and there, you’ve got to sign a free agent here and there, but you’ve got to draft well,” Holland said. “It’s a decision at a time. Not every decision I make is going to work out.
“But you’ve got to believe you’re going to make way more good decisions than bad decisions.”
That would be nice change for Oilers fans after more than a decade of mostly the latter.