For the first time since the Quebec Nordiques accomplished the feat from 1989 until 1991, the Edmonton Oilers will have the first overall pick for the third consecutive season. With their last two first overall picks resulting in solid (though seemingly consistently injured) offensive dynamos; it’s easy to wonder what GM Steve Tambellini is thinking with this year’s draft.
The biggest question is whether the Oilers will keep going to the well with a forward or if they’ll realize they have plenty of offense and start working on the defensive side of things. They’ve been a bit weak on the back-end and really don’t have too much on the horizon when it comes to their blue line. Of course, the option to trade the pick for someone who is more established is always there, though at the same time—you have to wonder if the return would be too big for the other teams to give up for the #1 pick.
Even so, the biggest dilemma at the Draft is deciding between the best player on the board (and hoping that he fits into the system) or the player who will most fit into the system who may be slightly less talented. The latter could allow other teams to take advantage and then have your scouts and upper management questioned along the way.
Luckily, since the Patrik Stefan debacle at the 1999 Draft, there haven’t been too many top overall picks that have been out of place with their team. You could make an excuse for Erik Johnson with the St. Louis Blues—but I’d rather blame a golf cart for his inability to actually make much noise with the Blues (which eventually led to him being shipped out of town).
As long as your team has a top-ten pick, there are a lot of options to choose from in this year’s draft. Many believe that Nail Yakupov from the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting is a lock for top pick despite his late season injuries (including a concussion). Many have raved about how Yakupov has all the tools to be successful in the NHL, but is that what Edmonton needs more of at this point in the rebuilding process?
Sure, they’d be able to score a lot of goals, but would they be able to keep them out?
The avenue that Edmonton should really look at is Everett Silvertips defenseman Ryan Murray, who will be a solid addition for the Oilers. While he won’t add to the offensive side of things all that often, Murray is a play-it-safe defenseman (that can add points when needed) who would be a solid addition for the Oilers. While the likes of Yakupov and Quebec Remparts’ Mikhail Grigorenko have gotten all the hype in their draft years because of the fact they provide more offensively; Murray is a safe bet and would provide any team with a sturdy blue line for years to come.
The Oilers aren’t the only team that would have had trouble with being in this position. The Columbus Blue Jackets would have had a choice to go with a defenseman who could help out their team in a few years or a Russian forward who may have made an instant impact—but may also not want to play in Columbus. As we all know, the Jackets and Russian picks haven’t been on the best of terms; as both Nikolai Zherdev and Nikita Filatov came and went with little impact on moving the franchise forward despite the promise behind them. Granted, both Yakupov and Grigorenko are coming from the Canadian Junior program rather than the Russian Federation program, but the worry and questions will be there for the Jackets with the second overall pick.
That’s one of the biggest predicaments at the Draft. Do you pick the “sexy” pick and give people what people expect? Or do you use logic when it comes to your team and build up early where you need the help? Tambellini already knows that Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are the real deal and coupled with Jordan Eberle, Linus Omark (though maybe not for long), and Magnus Paajarvi; the future up front looks bright. The big unknown in Edmonton is on the defensive side of the puck. Colton Teubert, Alex Plante, and Taylor Chorney have shown signs of making that next step… but haven’t made it yet. It’s a cause for concern and would make Murray a logical choice for the Oilers in June.
The problem with logic is that it may not go over well with the fan base. The Oilers have dedicated fans, but they’re also on edge as each year of their rebuild keeps passing by and there hasn’t been much progress. How many more seasons will it take before a whiff of the playoffs come passing through Alberta’s capital? While you could tell the fans that the pick was to actually help out the team’s future, if they saw a pick they could have had go onto greatness elsewhere; the outrage and backlash from it would push an already teetering fan base over the edge. That’s an argument you see a lot with the Detroit Red Wings late-round picks like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Both were picked past the fourth round and turned into superstars for the Wings as many fans of other teams are left to question their own scouting staff as to why they couldn’t pluck up the talent before the Wings did.
Steve Tambellini is in a position that many GMs crave to be in. But the downside is that Tambellini has been in this spot in each of the two previous years–only to be back for a third time. It may be a cause for concern that he hasn’t been able to build up a team around two top draft picks in the past, however the Oilers ownership seems to be giving him the leeway and slack needed for him to build a winning team for the self-proclaimed “City of Champions.”
Will the third time be the charm or will the Oilers experience another rough season in order to be in this position yet again next season? If they are in that position again—will Tambellini be there to try for a fourth time?