LOS ANGELES, Calif. - The Edmonton Oilers selected forward Taylor Hall with the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft on Friday, finally ending a year-long debate about the two best 18-year-old prospects in hockey.
The league-worst Oilers chose Hall over fellow Ontario Hockey League forward Tyler Seguin on Friday, making the toughest call at the top of a draft in several years. Edmonton general manager Steve Tambellini said the club didn't make its final decision until earlier in the day.
"They're such a great franchise with so much history behind them," Hall said. "With the five (Stanley) Cups they won, it will mean a lot to me to join their organization and hopefully bring another one up there."
While Hall will go to a rebuilding club, the playoff-tested Boston Bruins eagerly grabbed Seguin moments later with the No. 2 pick. The Bruins acquired the pick from the Toronto Maple Leafs as part of the Phil Kessel trade.
Edmonton believes Hall has the physical gifts and work ethic to be a mainstay in the middle for a club that has lacked an elite front-line talent since trading Ryan Smyth three years ago.
"He's such an imposing young man," Tambellini said. "I don't think I've ever met a more focused, competitive athlete. He was the best player on a good team for a long time."
Many NHL scouts and executives couldn't choose a favourite between Hall, a physical left wing from the Windsor Spitfires, and Seguin, a smooth-skating centre from the Plymouth Whalers. Seguin was the league MVP last season, and Hall was the playoff MVP while leading the Spitfires to the Memorial Cup.
"I think everyone has their own opinion," Seguin said. "We've seen it all year with whatever scouting service there may be. Edmonton decided to select Hall first overall, and good for him. He deserves it. And I'm happy to be a Bruin."
Hall and Seguin both expect to be on NHL rosters this fall, and they realize their careers are likely to run on parallel tracks for many years.
"I don't think it matters who goes first overall," Seguin said. "I'm just excited to be here and to be going to Boston. I'm sure the rivalry will continue if we're both in the NHL next year, but we both respect each other. We're good buddies, and that isn't going to change."
Hall and Seguin spent much of the past three days hanging out together at various tours and events—everything from batting practice at Angel Stadium to a red-carpet Hollywood movie premiere—in the NHL draft's first trip to Los Angeles.
Hall is the fourth straight OHL player chosen No. 1, following Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, and John Tavares. Those three picks are working out quite well—and Hall believes he can join the Oilers' young core to return some respectability.
"I feel honoured with all the players that have gone No. 1," Hall said. "When I came into this year, that was one of my goals, was to go No. 1. In saying that, there's still a lot of work to do out here."
The first overall pick was hotly anticipated back in Edmonton, so much so that Mayor Stephen Mandel was on hand to witness the selection of Hall in person.
Just the first round of the draft was scheduled for Staples Center on Friday. The final six rounds are Saturday.
The first day featured few significant trades involving current players. Florida shipped defenceman Keith Ballard to Vancouver in a four-player deal involving Steve Bernier and Michael Grabner.
Later, the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired the rights to defenceman Dan Hamhuis from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for a third-round pick. The Flyers had acquired Hamhuis from the Nashville Predators just last week.
While the Los Angeles Kings hosted the draft, the Anaheim Ducks made the biggest splashes. Anaheim picked defenceman Cam Fowler with the 12th pick, grabbing a prospect expected to go much higher, and then drew a huge cheer from the crowd when they picked Long Beach native Emerson Etem with the 29th overall pick.
The New York Islanders traded up to take centre Brock Nelson, a high-school player from Minnesota, with the 30th and final choice of the first round. "Entourage" actor Kevin Connolly, a big Isles fan, announced the pick.
Earlier, Florida selected Kingston defenceman Erik Gudbranson with the third pick.
"I did my research on their team," said Gudbranson, a physical defenceman with a big shot. "(With) Dmitry Kulikov there, I feel like I could be a good complement to him on the back end. The real attraction was having (new Panthers general manager) Dale Tallon there, seeing what he did with the Chicago Blackhawks and winning the Stanley Cup and building that team from scratch. I feel this is a team that's going in the right direction, so there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to be here."
Columbus grabbed Western Hockey League centre Ryan Johansen with the fourth pick. Forward Nino Niederreiter, Johansen's teammate in Portland, became the highest-drafted Swiss player in NHL history when he went to the Islanders with the fifth pick. The Islanders already have defenceman Mark Streit, the only NHL all-star from Switzerland, as a club cornerstone.
"I'm trying to be a scorer one day," said Niederreiter, who believes he can make the Islanders roster this fall. "At the moment, I think I'm a two-way player with some skills and also defensively. At the end, I just want to be a goal-scorer."
Prince George forward Brett Connolly went sixth to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who weren't worried by his recent injury problems. The Carolina Hurricanes pulled a mild surprise at No. 7, grabbing Kitchener centre Jeff Skinner, a former figure skater who has more goal-scoring potential than concrete achievements.
The Atlanta Thrashers took Russian forward Alex Burmistrov with the eighth pick, and the Minnesota Wild grabbed Finland's Mikael Granlund at No. 9. The New York Rangers used the 10th pick on tough Moose Jaw defenceman Dylan McIlrath, who was rated much lower than still-available defencemen Fowler and Brandon Gormley by most scouting services.
The Dallas Stars chose the draft's first goalie with the 11th pick, selecting Jack Campbell from the U.S. national development team.
Fowler was projected as a top-five talent by most observers, yet he fell all the way to No. 12, where the Ducks eagerly added him to a roster badly in need of talented defencemen. Fowler accepted his new jersey from Scott Niedermayer, the recently retired defensive star and Fowler's model for his game.
"It's hard when you're projected as a top pick and you slide, but it's something to use as motivation," Fowler said. "Who knows why it happened? I'm just glad I landed where I did."
Phoenix chose Gormley 13th. The Moncton defenceman was the only player taken in the first round from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The host Kings made the first trade of the draft, moving up four spots to No. 15 to grab U.S. national team defenceman Derek Forbort, who's headed to North Dakota this fall. The six-foot-five Minnesota native rose rapidly in scouts' estimation over the past year with his performance on the strong U.S. team.
"It's pretty cool to go to the hometown team," Forbort said. "Hopefully I'll get to see the facility and find out what the situation is like while I'm in town."
The Pittsburgh Penguins made local history with the 20th pick when they chose right wing Beau Bennett. The native of nearby Gardena is the highest-drafted California born-and-trained player in NHL history.
The Ducks then chose Etem, a speedy forward from Long Beach who plays for Medicine Hat in the WHL. Etem had a huge contingent of family and friends in the Staples Center stands.