After multiple trades to acquire win-now pieces, the Edmonton Oilers made just three selections in the 2023 NHL draft. Their first-round pick was sent to Nashville as part of the Mattias Ekholm trade, the third-round pick to Arizona as part of the package for Nick Bjugstad, the fourth sent to the Flyers at last year’s deadline, and most recently sending their fifth-round draft pick to the New York Rangers for the rights to Jayden Grubbe, who was signed shortly after. This left Ken Holland with his second-round pick (56th overall), sixth-round pick (184th overall) and seventh-round pick (216th overall).
With the 184th pick of the draft, Edmonton selected goaltender Nathaniel Day of the OHL’s Flint Firebirds.
Nathaniel Day – G – 184th overall
The Oilers’ organizational depth in goal is somewhat lacking. It appears likely they’ll run back Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell at the NHL level while Calvin Pickard and Olivier Rodrigue make up the tandem in Bakersfield. Ryan Fanti enters the final year of his entry-level contract after struggling in his first pro season.
Last year’s fifth-round pick Samuel Jonsson followed an underwhelming draft year with another unremarkable season in Sweden’s junior league. This level rarely results in any NHLers at all, with the SHL and Allsvenskan being the typical home of future North American Pros in the country. At this point, I’d say it’s unlikely Jonsson ever crosses the pond.
With this makeup of the team’s depth chart, the Oilers had a big hole with goalies coming through the pipeline. The youngest goalie they had that appeared likely to make an appearance was Rodrigue, who just wrapped up his entry-level contract and w-il be reportedly be qualified to extend his stay in the organization.
With cap space at a premium and injuries always playing a factor, the team selected Day to make an effort to fill that pipeline with youth pushing up as the players they currently have either pan out or bust. Here’s whether that was a smart selection or not.
What the stays say about Day
Day has played two seasons for the Firebirds. He was the backup last year, appearing in just eight games. This year, he played 32 games, posting a .874 SV% and 3.91 GAA.
The stats definitely look underwhelming, but there’s more to the story. St. Louis Blues prospect Will Cranley was traded for to be the Firebirds starter last summer after signing an entry-level contract with St. Louis and playing a single game in the American league.
Even with pro pedigree, the 2020 sixth-round pick posted similar to Day, finishing an .887 SV% and 3.87 GAA in 42 regular season games. Come playoff time, it was Day who led the Firebirds, starting all seven games in Flint’s seven-game first round exit to Saginaw.
When comparing what Flint had to the rest of the OHL, nothing seems out of the ordinary. The average save percentage amongst goalies playing 10 or more games was .888, not far off from either Firebirds netminder.
Further analysis shows that not only did multiple teams have their goalies show up in groupings for their stats behind the same defensive environment, but there appears to be a strong correlation between the strength of the team and both of their goalie’s save percentages. Now while a good goalie is necessary to have a good team, these goalies likely benefited from a strong group in front of them, which happens frequently due to the cyclical nature of junior hockey team building.
The OHL is also known to have some of the most high-octane offence, making it a nightmare for goalies to play against.
What the scouts say about Day
Elite Prospects had the most in depth prospect profile for Nathaniel Day. With analyst Greg Balloch covering their goalies, the EP draft guide called Day “one of the biggest wildcard goalies in the draft.” Their report lists patience and positioning through multiple types of chances as a strength. The weaknesses include his wide stance limit his lateral mobility while his weaker tracking allowed goals from distance this year. Their breakdown of goal locations showed his glove side as a weakness, in addition to being beat more frequently from the glove side of the ice.
Brock Otten of OHL Prospects had similar thoughts, calling day strong on 1-on-1 situations in tight, in part due to his upright stance and big frame, but also saw Day struggle with perimeter shots.
Meanwhile, Corey Pronman of The Athletic had this to say on Day: “Day is a very athletic goalie who can make high-difficulty saves. His frame isn’t huge, but it’s big enough for the NHL. His reads and consistency are the main concerns in his game.”
What the eye test says about Day
Here are video clips on Day’s career thus far:
Now everyone is going to look good in highlight reels where they make the saves, but there’s a couple things to take note of from this video. The first is that Day does a good job at holding his edges then building up as he moves across with his gloves coming with his legs as he stretches across.
That body control with his big frame will be a huge moving forward. Perhaps even more so, the ability to make that outside the box save is tough to teach, so having that in the toolbox will be a major asset as Day develops.
However, part of the reason that Day ends up on these highlight reels is how he makes these saves. They’re all tough chances, but the way that Day pushes flat without complete rotation results in outstretched limbs that could be more compact with more direct lines towards the angle. This shows up as a combination of symptoms from his wide stance and somewhat lacking tracking.
Day also has a habit of starting to drop his weak side leg, loading the back leg for a strong push. Increased strength as his body matures will help this, but this trend will need to be rectified or pro shooters will throw it back short side.
Was Day a good pick for Edmonton?
In the sixth round, there are no top prospects left. The strength of the goalie crop, which featured Adam Gajan, Micheal Hrabel, Trey Augustine, and my preferred option heading into the draft, Karson Bjarnasson, was long gone. No matter the position, the pick at this part of the draft would be a project.
Having said that, Day is the exact type of bet to make in this part of the draft. Perhaps there might have been prospect with high NHLes that fell, but the high upside nature of Day’s style means that if he’s able to make some adjustments, the Oilers will have a quality goaltender in their system.
The promising thing is that the weaknesses that Day shows actually fit the Oilers as an organization. Day’s strengths and weaknesses actually resemble Stuart Skinner when he was drafted, although the current Oilers’ starter was a better prospect overall at the time of the draft.
Goalie coach Dustin Schwartz has a strong reputation for his emphasis on tracking, which should help Day work on this part of his game. Additionally, his wide stance has been an issue that both Skinner and Jack Campbell have worked on since joining the organization. Any sixth-round pick will be a long shot, but I believe there’s promise in Nathaniel Day’s future.