In 2010, scouts were split on who would be the better player: Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin. Eventually, Hall went No. 1. But Seguin has had the better career thus far -- and he was supposed to be the one with the longer development curve.
Before that draft, I made an argument that Seguin should go No. 1 because he plays center, while Hall is a winger. So naturally, I have to revisit this idea since winger Nail Yakupov and defensemen Ryan Murray and Mathew Dumba seem to be getting all the love at the top of the draft -- and some elite centers aren't getting as much attention.
But first, I want to look at the way we treat defensemen and centers in the NHL. A few years ago, I talked to Sharks GM Doug Wilson, and something he said really stuck: "There are very few good defensemen, and very few centermen. If you have them, you want to keep them." Right after that, I talked to Wings GM Ken Holland who basically said the same thing, which wasn't a surprise since he's always said his philosophy is to build around centers and blueliners. Now, this isn't groundbreaking, yet the way they talked about centers and defensemen was the first time I realized it's similar to the way we talk about quarterbacks in football.
If you want a more recent example, Hockey Canada chief scout Kevin Prendergast makes an argument for Murray as the No. 1 pick because, as he tells the Edmonton Journal, "I think you have to draft a defenseman because nobody's going to give you one."
So people around the league really value defensemen and centers -- obviously not as much as the NFL does quarterbacks, but enough that position makes a significant difference.
But drafting a defenseman high in the draft would make me really nervous, no matter the player. They are huge risks. As noted in a previous piece, only about 25 percent of blueliners drafted in the top-five become anything close to elite-level players. Compare that to 40 percent for forwards.
So that means if you want a highly valuable, low-risk player, you want a center.
However, this year's top centers -- Filip Forsberg, Alex Galchenyuk and Mikhail Grigorenko -- aren't getting too much attention. But if centers really are that valuable, and they really are low-risk, shouldn't the Oilers consider these guys if they want to maximize the value they get out of the pick?
Now, a lot of this depends on how you feel about Yakupov. If you think he's in another class compared to the centers, then position shouldn't matter. This high in the draft, you should never draft for need; you always want to draft the best available player. But if you think it's a toss-up -- or they're very close -- let's consider the following:
The above table shows that centers are the best value picks -- and they reach the NHL a bit quicker than wingers. Oh, and centers generally have longer careers, as well. Both their expedited arrival and longer stay in the league are closely linked to the high value on centermen.
There are two way to looks at this.
You could say: Centers have more responsibilities on the ice, so they have more opportunities to make significant offensive contributions. That's why they generally fare better when you look at the metrics. (After all, defensemen usually fare the worst in the GVT metric.)
The other argument is: Centers are usually more skilled players, and they overachieve more often than wingers. In short, they end up being better than we expect. If that's the case, it may be time for the Oilers -- and clubs with the next few picks -- to give Forsberg, Galchenyuk and Grigorenko serious consideration, perhaps before Yakupov, but definitely before the defensemen.
Of course there are inherent risks with these guys: Some worry about Forsberg's skating; Galchenyuk has some injury concerns; Grigorenko has character red flags. And if those concerns make Yakupov the definite top player, take Yakupov. The draft is already a big crapshoot as it is, so not taking the consensus top player is just asking for trouble.
But after all that, if scouts see Yakupov and these centers on the same plane, I'd give the centers a long, hard look.