“We’ve been very clear — and Edmonton has a very clear understanding — that these two years are very important, because we’re not going through this to try to be good, we’re going through this to try to be great,” said Oilers GM Steve Tambellini in a cellphone interview on his way from the TSN studio to the airport.
“It’s so important these two years to have these two No. 1 picks.”
It’s 73 days to Christmas for the Oilers this year — one day longer than the wait last year, when they won the lottery and went to the NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles and made Taylor Hall the first-ever No. 1 pick in team history.
Did Hall, at an Oiler fan function at an Edmonton bar last night, just watch the hockey gods give him his play-making centre — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels?
Nugent-Hopkins, in the minds of many scouts, has moved up to the No. 1 position, with six-foot-three Swedish defenceman Adam Larsson the other player in the debate.
Now the Oilers, as was the case in the Taylor Hall-vs,-Tyler Seguin draft, have won the right to make the decision themselves.
The Oilers became just the second team in NHL Lottery history to end up picking No. 1 two years in a row — the Ottawa Senators turning the trick in 1995 (Bryan Berard) and 1996 (Chris Phillips).
And, like the Senators, they only “won” the draft one of those two years.
In 1995 Los Angeles won the draft and moved from seventh to third leaving Ottawa with the No. 1 pick.
The Oilers didn’t win it Tuesday. The draft was actually won by the New Jersey Devils. But a late-season surge moved the Devils up in the standings, to ninth in the draft order, where the mathematics of the 14 bingo balls and the 1,001 combinations gave them a 3.6% chance of winning.
The Devils joined the 1999 Chicago Blackhawks as the longest shot to win the draft. That year Atlanta retained the first pick and chose Patrik Stefan No. 1, the only real bust among first picks since the Senators took Alexander Daigle in 1993.
Tambellini went from thinking he’d won, to lost to won as NHL vice-president Bill Daley revealed the card with the logo of the fifth-place team.
“The moment Bill Daley walked in, there was that same poker face as last year, when I thought he wouldn’t make eye contact because we didn’t win. Looking at him I thought for sure we were not going to get it,” said Tambellini.
“Then I saw red as he unveiled the logo on the card and I thought ‘Great, that’s Ottawa and we win,’ ” he
“But then I saw New Jersey and I was disappointed, until I realized there was no one from New Jersey sitting at the table,” he said of the representatives from the five teams with a chance of picking first.
Tambellini said he couldn’t be more happy for head scout Stu MacGregor who, for a second straight year, wanted the No. 1 pick.
“Some people out there would be happy picking second because they know they’re going to get a good player.
“Stu said ‘You just get me No. 1.’
“I just love that. He’s just so coming into his own as anybody can see with his picks the last two years. He’s got great confidence. He wanted to have the decision to add another franchise player to join Taylor Hall.”
Last year Tambellini didn’t take a single good-luck charm to the lottery. But this year, to get MacGregor that No. 1 pick again, he did.
“I wore my lucky tie. I’ve had a few good things happen wearing this tie.”
It was the one he wore last year on draft day in choosing Taylor Hall.
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