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Edmonton Oilers one step closer to contending

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The last time an organization had a run like this at the draft table, it went on to win the Stanley Cup. So logic would dictate we can expect the Edmonton Oilers to have a parade down Whyte Avenue sometime in June of 2017.

After all, that’s what the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche did. The funny thing about that, though, was none of the pieces they acquired lifted the Cup when the Avs won it in 1996. But Mats Sundin in 1989, Owen Nolan in 1990 and Eric Lindros in 1991 were all major contributors to the cause. And the same way those assets turned into valuable contributors and, in one case, a future Hall of Famer, the Oilers just might be in a position to do the same thing.

Largely because the NHL sees fit to continually award teams that are so bad for so long, the Oilers have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to their depth of young talent. They received the No. 1 ranking in THN’s Future Watch edition for the strength of their prospects and roster players 23 and under and, if they keep the first overall pick they won in the draft lottery Tuesday night, will almost certainly add another all-world talent in Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting.

And for the first time, Oilers GM Steve Tambellini acknowledged that it might be time for the franchise to start speeding up the process of becoming a contender. Now that’s always a tricky proposition when it comes to the Oilers because even they will admit it’s difficult attracting quality veterans, but the Oilers do have some leverage in that department. Guys who have spent their careers in warmer climates might not like the winter weather, but the chance to play with some of the best young players in the league might be enough to keep them warm at night.

“I think we’re now just coming into a phase where we’re presented with some options,” Tambellini said. “It doesn’t mean you have to do it. But I didn’t feel a year ago it was time to start moving people. We weren’t ready yet. We’re just getting to a point now where with what we’ve acquired in the draft, if there’s something great there we can use an asset for veteran help. I feel we’re just coming into that now, so that is an option.”

That doesn’t mean there will be teams falling all over themselves to move into the No. 1 spot. In fact, it’s likely the Oilers will have to hang onto the pick because there might not be any appetite to move up this season. But should they draft Yakupov, they’ll add to their stable of young players and might be able to use one of them to supplement their roster.

When the Avs won the Cup in 1996, Sundin, Nolan and Lindros were all gone to other teams. But they parlayed Sundin into Wendel Clark, but then more importantly, used Clark in a three-way deal to get Claude Lemieux. Nolan was traded to the San Jose Sharks for Sandis Ozolinsh and the pick of Lindros just kept giving and giving. Not only did they receive Peter Forsberg and $15 million, but Mike Ricci and Chris Simon were both on the Avs Stanley Cup winner in 1996. They also received a draft pick they used to select Jocelyn Thibault, whom they used in a package to trade for Patrick Roy.

Tambellini said having another top-shelf talent in the mix will give the Oilers a better chance to attract top free agents. As much as Ryan Smyth and his family wanted to go back home, Smyth was eager to play with such good young players and the Oilers wanted Smyth as a veteran who could show the young players the way.

“Now we’re starting to get people on July 1 talking about, ‘My client would be interested in playing with Jordan Eberle or Taylor Hall,’ or ‘My winger would like to play with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins,’ ”Tambellini said. “Those are signs we’re on our way.”

Despite having an almost 50 percent chance of winning the lottery and hanging onto the No. 1 pick, the Columbus Blue Jackets lost and will pick second overall, which is only fitting after everything that has gone wrong in Columbus this season. GM Scott Howson expressed his disappointment, but this in some ways might take some heat off him. As ridiculous as it sounds, there is a sentiment the Blue Jackets could not pick a Russian-born player this June because of their failures with Russian players in the past. That of course ignores the fact they haven’t exactly hit home runs with players from other countries either, but it allows Howson to not be in the spot where he would have to choose Yakupov, the consensus No. 1 prospect.



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