TORONTO — The biggest win of the year for the Edmonton Oilers came two days after the regular season ended.
The NHL’s 30th-place team retained the No. 1 overall pick in the draft lottery Tuesday night, giving GM Steve Tambellini an opportunity that none of his predecessors has ever enjoyed. And the timing couldn’t be better.
“This is a huge opportunity for this organization going forward,” said Tambellini. “I think it perfectly fits the moment of where we are as a hockey team, as an organization. We’re in a rebuild type of phase with this group. This is a huge building block.”
Barring an unlikely trade, the Oilers will have the final say in the debate between Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin when the draft kicks off June 25th at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles. The two OHL stars have gone back-and-forth in the eyes of scouts all season, with Seguin getting the No. 1 nod from the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau in its final rankings last week.
The Oilers haven’t made up their mind.
“That question has not been answered yet,” said Tambellini.
Edmonton entered the draft lottery with a 48.2 per cent chance of earning the No. 1 pick and Tambellini admitted to feeling some nerves while awaiting his team’s fate. He and executives from the four other teams with a shot at landing the top pick gathered at the TSN studios in Toronto.
It played out exactly as the odds dictated: Boston received the No. 2 selection (acquired from Toronto in the Phil Kessel trade) and was followed by Florida, Columbus and the New York Islanders.
The Bruins’ pick will be the highest for the franchise since it made Joe Thornton the No. 1 overall selection in 1997. When GM Peter Chiarelli sent Kessel to Toronto in September, he never imagined he’d find himself in position to land either Hall or Seguin.
“No, not really,” said Chiarelli. “We had a range in mind, we had to choose between the Leafs and a couple other teams, and we kind of had a range in mind. But not this high, no.”
The high picks are especially important this year because Hall and Seguin are considered can’t-miss-prospects and the talent level drops off from there. Seguin is a gifted playmaker whose value is increased by being a centre with a right-hand shot; Hall is a big, fast winger.
They tied for the OHL’s scoring lead this season with 106 points and will likely be given the chance to leap straight into the NHL next season. The offensive flair certainly appeals to the Bruins, who went from being the NHL’s second-highest scoring team last season to its lowest-scoring squad this year.
“First and foremost, it’ll give us some more goals, which is nice,” said Chiarelli. “It adds youthful energy, youthful enthusiasm. It adds to our forward group.”
The Bruins GM says he already knows which player he’d like to end up with — something he wouldn’t share publically — and will likely call Tambellini to inquire about potentially moving up to the No. 1 spot via a trade. It probably won’t be a long conversation.
Edmonton finished with a league-worst 62 points this season and Tambellini is eager to right the ship quickly. He was beaming after winning the draft lottery.
“It’s such an important step for us to have the ability to take the first overall pick, especially where we are with our cycle of development,” said Tambellini. “We’re more into a reshaping, a rebuilding mode right now. Everybody’s clear about that. This will be a wonderful building block to add on to some of the other draft choices we have in place now.
“(I’m) very, very excited for us and the city of Edmonton.”
Who can blame him?
With the NHL playoffs about to begin, several recent No. 1 picks will be playing starring roles: Alex Ovechkin (2004) in Washington; Sidney Crosby (2005) and Marc-Andre Fleury (2003) in Pittsburgh; and Patrick Kane (2007) in Chicago, to name a few.
“Where else can you attain those high impact players?” said Tambellini. “If you look historically at the top end of the draft, those are players (where) you can argue who’s better from year to year, but most of them are impact players that play in the NHL for a long time.
“You know you’re going to get a good player and it’s very important in this (salary-cap) system.”