EDMONTON – For the second straight year, the Edmonton Oilers are on the clock.
But there’s much more on general manager Steve Tambellini’s to-do list this off-season than merely picking first at June’s NHL draft.
Retaining the top pick in the draft lottery—a selection the Oilers used to take Taylor Hall last year—is indeed a good place to start. However, given Edmonton finished last for a second straight season, Tambellini has plenty of work to do.
“This is the time to be having these opportunities as far as selecting,” said Tambellini. “This window here within this couple years, it fits into exactly what we need as far as the age group here right now.
“You look at the age group of the players who just came into the lineup who have been here for a couple of years, we’ve added back-to-back first overall picks. This is the time to do it.”
Tambellini was hard at it Wednesday, signing centre Tyler Pitlick to a three-year entry level contract. Pitlick, 19, had 27 goals and 35 assists this season in 56 games with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers after being selected 31st overall by Edmonton last year.
On Tuesday night, Edmonton became just the second team in NHL history to get the first overall pick two straight years—the Ottawa Senators did it in 1995 and 1996. New Jersey actually won the lottery, but since rules dictate teams can only move up four spots, the Devils moved from eighth to fourth, leaving Edmonton with the top pick.
“This is part of the plan we talked about, of how we were going to rebuild,” Tambellini said. “These are players we are going to be selecting in June who are going to play for the Oilers and be a big part of it.”
Regardless of whether Edmonton takes Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a speedy centre with the Red Deer Rebels, Adam Larsson, a defenceman from the Swedish Elite League, or Kitchener Rangers forward Gabriel Landeskog, the player will represent just one piece of the puzzle for a team that posted a 25-45-12 record in 2010-11.
“One thing I want to be clear about is this organization is not ready to be looking for the free agent that is a US$10-million player,” Tambellini said. “We’re going to stick with the plan of developing from within, drafting, making people better who are here with the organization.
“Will we be looking for people to complement through free agency or player movement, such as a trade? Yes. Would we like to increase our ability to win a faceoff? Yes. Do we need some help on defence, do we need some help in some of our forward positions? Yes, we do.”
Tambellini has decisions to make on free agents and making qualifying offers to players already in the system. He has pending unrestricted free-agent Ryan Jones to sign and must decide what to do with the disgruntled Sheldon Souray, who was loaned to Hershey of the AHL last season.
“We’ve had discussions with Ryan Jones since the trade deadline,” said Tambellini. “There’s a couple proposals that have went back and forth. Ryan has expressed an interest to say in Edmonton.
“We told him we’d like to have him back … as far as Sheldon, we’ll see if there’s another option at the draft. That’s all I can really say about that at this point.”
Those decisions, along with who Edmonton selects first overall in the draft, will impact a roster that already includes such youngsters as Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Theo Peckham and Linus Omark.
“We had 11 draft picks last year. We have another 10 coming this year,” said Tambellini. “We need to feel depth in our organization in order to show competition.
“I said it last year and I’ll say it again, unless we have the competition from within, you don’t really have that push to fight for ice time. We’re starting to get that now.”