TORONTO – The conversation will go a little differently when the braintrust of the Edmonton Oilers sits down to decide on this No. 1 draft pick.
Essentially, the team had to decide between two players before selecting Taylor Hall a year ago. The decision promises to be a little more complex in June.
“I could list you six players that our people are extremely excited about,” Oilers GM Steve Tambellini said after Tuesday’s draft lottery. “They’re all very good and they’re all a little bit different this year, which makes it a unique draft. It’ll be interesting.
“There’s going to be a lot of discussions of who (the scouts) believe is truly the best player now, and maybe more importantly later, and then what is the best thing for the Oilers.”
Even though this draft doesn’t come with one or two headliners, it doesn’t mean the player Edmonton ends up with will be any less important to the organization’s future than Hall.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a dynamic centre for the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels and was named the top North American skater in the final rankings by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau. Defenceman Adam Larsson spent all season playing with men in the Swedish Elite League and was listed as the top European prospect.
With other players in the mix beyond those two, it will be important for Oilers head scout Stu MacGregor to identify the best fit for the franchise.
“I don’t plan on having the first pick overall next season,” said Tambellini. “When you do get a pick like this, it’s highly coveted with the organization because this is how you build something great.”
The 30th-place Oilers didn’t even need to win the draft lottery to secure the No. 1 pick for a second straight year. Since rules dictate teams can only move up four spots, the New Jersey Devils moved from eighth to fourth after winning the lottery, leaving the top pick to Edmonton.
Colorado will pick second followed by Florida, New Jersey, the New York Islanders and Ottawa, who dropped down a spot to sixth.
When the first envelope was opened during a live telecast at TSN’s studio, Senators GM Bryan Murray briefly thought his team might have won the top selection. Althrough the Senators actually fell back to No. 6, Murray saw a silver lining.
“We do have that number of players on our real top list as being guys that can step in and be impact players,” said Murray.
He also plans to try and swing a trade before the first round of the draft is held June 24 in St. Paul, Minn.
Without identifying which players he likes, Murray made it clear that he believes the top tier is a little smaller than the six players Tambellini narrowed it down to. He’ll be looking to pick higher, if possible.
“Certainly I would think that there’ll be some conversation,” said Murray. “I wouldn’t imagine that one and two would be interested in talking very seriously with me, but maybe after that there’s an opportunity to at least have a conversation.
“There might be one or two players, depending where certain people go, that we would do something big for.”
They might have their eye on Kitchener Rangers winger Gabriel Landeskog, who attended the draft lottery on Tuesday night. He was ranked No. 1 in mid-season rankings before dropping behind Nugent-Hopkins.
“I wasn’t really expecting anything less,” said Landeskog. “Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has had a great season, especially the second half he’s been really on fire. I’m just happy for him.”
Ranked immediately behind Nugent-Hopkins and Landeskog is centre Jonathan Huberdeau of the Saint John Sea Dogs, defenceman Dougie Hamilton of the Niagara IceDogs and defenceman Nathan Beaulieu, also of the Sea Dogs.
Tambellini pointed to Huberdeau and Beaulieu as players that have caught the attention of his scouts in addition to the players placed ahead of them.
Just like last year, he doesn’t expect to engage in serious trade talk around the pick.
“To move the first pick overall, it would have to be something that would change an organization,” said Tambellini.
The change in Edmonton will likely come with a continuation of the youth movement. Even though the franchise has had to live through back-to-back 30th-place finishes, they can look to other organizations for some hope that it will all be worth it.
Pittsburgh and Chicago are the last two teams to win the Stanley Cup and both did so with former No. 1 picks playing key roles.
“We are very clear on what we are going through as an organization on a lot of different levels,” said Tambellini. “From a coaching staff to a new American league franchise to a rebuild of our depth chart and our roster.
“If you’re going to do that, these are the couple years where you hope that you can be at the top of the draft and selecting the best player for the Oilers.”