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No. 1 pick no guarantee Oilers won't be basement dwellers again

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Don’t get Steve Tambellini wrong. He was absolutely beaming at the prospect of having the first overall choice for the second straight year. It’s just that having that status has a certain, uh, stigma attached to it.

“I don’t plan on having the first overall pick next season,” Tambellini said after learning the Oilers would choose No. 1.

The New Jersey Devils actually won the lottery and moved from eighth to fourth, which means the Oilers retained the first overall pick.

Tambellini’s optimistic projections aside, there’s a chance he could be standing in exactly the same position a year from now. There is little to suggest that this rebuild in Edmonton is going to be a quick process and it’s not outlandish to suggest that the Oilers, as currently constituted, will not be vying for the first overall pick in 2012. And it’s doubtful that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, Gabriel Landeskog or whomever the Oilers decide upon June 25 in St. Paul, Minnesota will speed the process up in Edmonton.

In fact, should the Oilers take Nugent-Hopkins, there’s no guarantee he wouldn’t go back for another season of junior hockey. Most scouts agree that while both Larsson and Landeskog could very well be physically ready to step into an NHL lineup next season, Nugent-Hopkins and his slight frame would be best served by waiting until he adds some serious bulk.

In any event, the Oilers are once again in the driver’s seat when it comes to procuring the most sought-after talent in the world. Tambellini gave lip service to the possibility that the Oilers would trade the choice if an absolutely stunning offer comes along, but there’s every reason to expect the Oilers will step to the podium first.

“We need to be able to acquire elite players and this is exactly what fits into our plan,” Tambellini said. “We’re right on plan.”

Tambellini said he and his scouts will spend the rest of their time looking at players still in the playoffs and Tambellini himself is leaving for the Under-18 World Championship Friday morning. None of the top three prospects will be playing in that tournament, but Tambellini, at least publicly, has not wedded himself to one of Nugent-Hopkins, Larsson or Landeskog.

“I could list you six players our people are extremely excited about,” Tambellini said.

The GM did say he’s looking for a player who can play in pressure situations and handle the on-ice scrutiny that star players inevitably receive. They also want a player who covets the pressure of being the No. 1 pick the way Taylor Hall did last season, not one who is merely happy to be drafted high. So in interviews with the Oilers, prospects would be advised to display as much bravado as possible.

“That’s the type of person and the type of character we’re looking for,” Tambellini said.

The Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers also retained their draft positions at Nos. 2 and 3, while the New York Islanders moved down to No. 5 and the Senators to No. 6.

The lottery victory represented a triumph for the Devils in a year that has been bereft of them both on and off the ice. You’ll likely recall that when the league nullified the Ilya Kovalchuk contract last summer, it fined the Devils $3 million and stripped them of a first round pick and their third rounder in 2011. Luckily, the Devils can choose which first rounder they want jacked from them in one of the next four drafts and it’s certain this will not be the year they do that.


Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray said that despite the fact it has become a seller’s market for coaching positions with five teams looking for head coaches, his organization will not be rushed into making a decision just to get someone before another team has a chance to hire him.

“I’m not going to do that,” Murray said. “We’re going to talk about who we can get and we’re going to interview some people, but I’m not going to start this week. Maybe it will be the end of April.”

Murray then displayed his wry sense of humor on the matter of the plethora of coach firings that have taken place since the season ended. Five teams are currently searching for coaches with Jacques Lemaire of the New Jersey Devils being the only one who departed of his own volition.

“Marc Crawford is not the last guy, I don’t think,” Murray said. “I think there will be a couple of others. We hate coaches, don’t we?”

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to His blog will appear every Monday throughout the season.


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