TORONTO – The rich simply get richer.
Already armed with a pool of young players that any NHL team would love to have, Steve Tambellini arrived at Tuesday night’s draft lottery not even thinking about winning it. And then the Edmonton Oilers beat the odds and earned the No. 1 pick for a third straight year.
“I guess if you’re in the lottery and you come here you might as well win it,” said Tambellini, the Oilers general manager, whose team had just an 18.8 per cent chance to do it. “I feel really excited about the fact that now another young talent hopefully at the level of what the past few picks have been (is coming).
“To add another player like that is pretty exciting for our organization.”
If the Oilers end up making the selection at the June draft in Pittsburgh, they’ll be just the second franchise to make three consecutive No. 1 picks. The Quebec Nordiques did it from 1989-91 and went on to win the Stanley Cup five years later after moving to Denver.
The days when that is expected again in Edmonton might not be that far off, especially with Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins already playing key roles for the Oilers, and another top-ranked prospect in Nail Yakupov seemingly on the way.
This has been part of the rebuilding strategy Tambellini laid out for fans in the “City of Champions,” which has endured three tough seasons with finishes of 30th, 30th and 29th.
“We articulated a plan two years ago that we felt we had to develop and draft our own,” said Tambellini. “We knew that in our market that we weren’t going to attract the A-plus free agents just to come without us being a good hockey club. We know that this is our only way to really, as a core, to get better.
“We have to do an incredible job drafting, to be the best in the league as far as developing from our American league to our big club and then we can worry about adding those pieces on that are profile pieces.”
The Oilers victory in the draft lottery came at the expense of the Columbus Blue Jackets, which entered with higher than a 48 per cent chance of landing the No. 1 pick. It’s just one more thing that didn’t go to plan during a dreadful season.
“We’re disappointed, but this draft is challenging,” said Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson. “I know we’re going to get a really good player at No. 2 … It’s really a good chance for us to move our franchise forward in a positive direction.”
The Montreal Canadiens will pick third followed by the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs.
There isn’t much consensus at the top end of this draft class beyond Yakupov, the Sarnia Sting winger who is listed as the best North American-based skater by NHL central scouting. Everett Silvertips defenceman Ryan Murray, Quebec Remparts centre Mikhail Grigorenko and Sting centre Alex Galchenyuk are also intriguing options for teams with a high selection.
“It’s very significant,” Habs assistant GM Larry Carriere said of his team’s pick. “You look at this pick and you look at the number of top five picks—and certainly No. 3 picks—that have good impacts on teams over the years and there’s quite a few of them. We’re pretty excited and looking forward to having a real good young player.”
The Oilers plan to do plenty of homework on everyone available.
Stu McGregor, the team’s director of amateur scouting, has prepared an in-depth draft book for Tambellini outlining everything he needs to know about prospects heading into the past couple drafts. The organization places as high a value on personality traits as hockey skills, especially when it comes to the top pick.
“To be a No. 1 pick overall you have to really be comfortable with the fact that you’re the guy,” said Tambellini. “There’s lots of great players but not everybody wants to be that person. So you have to make sure when you’re talking about the No. 1 pick overall in the NHL draft he’s ready for it and he wants it.”
With the expectations on the rise for the franchise next season, Tambellini acknowledged that he would look more seriously at trade options heading into the draft. That could involve trading the No. 1 pick or other young assets already within the organization.
“We are just now coming into a phase where we are presented with some options,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you have to do it. But I didn’t feel a year ago that it’s time to start moving people, we weren’t ready yet. …
“We’re just getting to a point now with what we’ve acquired through the draft, if there’s something great there, we can use an asset to change something.”