Huge pressure on Tambellini

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:42 PM ET

EDMONTON - LOS ANGELES — Contrary to popular opinion, there is a wrong answer to the Taylor or Tyler question.

It’s a cop out to suggest that it doesn’t matter how Edmonton spends the first pick overall, they’ll be getting a great player no matter what.

One of these kids will grow up to be better than the other, maybe a lot better, and determining who that is is a daunting, nerve-racking and quite possibly franchise-altering challenge for a hockey club that leads the league in mistakes.

“This is a huge moment for our organization,” said general manager Steve Tambellini, who’ll be clearing his throat, taking a deep breath and making the biggest decision of his career on Friday. “I think everybody realizes when you have the first pick overall there is a big weight that comes with that.”

Big weight? Homer Simpson’s bike seat isn’t under more pressure.

Four years with their face in the muck and their reputation as a franchise in tatters have taken a terrible toll, and left the organization with zero room for error.

You pick first overall for a reason, and in the weeks, months and years leading up to this, the Oilers pretty well hit every item on the Things Bad Teams Do checklist.

They missed the playoffs six times in eight years while spending to the cap, they’re neck deep in bad contracts, they have a litany of busted picks, they’re on their third coach in 13 months and in trying to buy their way out of trouble they’ve been offering everything but their souls to unrestricted free agents, only to discover that no amount of money can entice a superstar to join this calamity.

And now, there has been a ruthless blood-letting in which the head coach, the assistant GM, the head trainer, the head equipment guy, the minor league coach, a longtime scout and another long-time equipment guy were all turfed.

It’s getting so bad the Zamboni driver is scared to pick up the phone.

Suffice it to say the franchise needs something good to happen.

That’s why Friday can’t get here fast enough for Tambellini. The first pick in Los Angeles represents a new beginning, a fresh start for a once-proud organization that’s been too long on its knees.

“We’re at the beginning of a huge process,” said Tambellini, who’ll have Jordan Eberle, Linus Omark and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson in camp next season. “We’ve already accumulated some great people to go forward with and the selection we make here is going to be a significant building block. The timing is perfect.”

But judging teenagers is an imperfect science. There weren’t supposed to be any wrong answers when Patrick Stefan, Rick DiPietro or Alexandre Daigle went first overall.

Fifteen years later the Oilers still get ripped for taking Steve Kelly over Shane Doan with the seventh pick, so you don’t have to remind them that the name they call out Friday will be chiselled into their headstones.

“There was a little of (nervousness), but I’m excited to be so close,” he said, adding he’s sure they’ll be taking the right guy. “After you go through the assessment process and come up with an answer, then you can’t wait to make the right selection. I’m excited.

“We feel great as a staff that we went through the process and now we’re looking forward to making that pick.”

They have to be sure. Damn sure. So the Oilers did everything but have a doctor cut the two guys open and look inside.

They met with parents, coaches, high school counsellors, friends, teammates and coaches from as young as long ago as bantam, and saw dozens and dozens of games.

And they’re positive they’ve found their answer.

“The process is one of great depth, it’s been a two-year process, really,” said Tambellini. “We got a feel for who they are as people, why they are the way they are. People probably don’t understand the depth that you go through for something like this. You have to be sure.”

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca


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