SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers land No. 1 pick

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:34 AM ET

EDMONTON - Steve Tambellini didn't have a rabbit's foot or a lucky charm or anything like that going for him last night.

“So many people were suggesting things I could bring, but all I brought was a positive mindset,” he said in a cell phone interview moments after winning the first pick in the ‘Taylor Or Tyler’ NHL Draft Lottery.

Where the heck the Edmonton Oilers general manager managed to find the positive mindset to take with him is difficult to envision, considering the way it went with the Oilers' worst-ever season, 865 games lost due to injury in his two years as GM, and Sheldon Souray proclaiming he wanted traded, pointing fingers at Tambellini and Oilers management.

Who actually expected the Oilers to get lucky and win this thing? This team hasn't had a lick of luck of any sort since Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final four years ago.

But this day they did. The team which finished last in the league for the first time in franchise history will pick first at the NHL Entry Draft for the first time in Oilers history, as well.

Maybe it's symbolic. Maybe franchise fortunes will turn on this.

“This is a huge day for the city of Edmonton and this franchise,” Tambellini proclaimed to the national TV audience.

“It's just a huge day,” he reiterated on the drive back to the airport.

“It's so important. Not just for the Oilers. It's very exciting for Edmonton. It's a wonderful opportunity.”

The Oilers asked Billy Moores, the assistant coach who lost his job when Craig MacTavish lost his, to be their man in the lock-up as the ping pong balls came out of the bingo machine in New York.

“I realized when I was in the room that I was sitting in on an historic event. The thing that struck me was how happy everybody in the room seemed to be for the Oilers,” said Moores after they finally gave him his cell phone back and allowed him out of the room when the event had ended in Toronto.

Is having the first pick this year really that big of a deal?

They were going to get Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin, regardless. They're both supposed to be franchise players, the likes of Steven Stamkos and John Tavares — the first picks in the last two drafts. Seguin and Hall are said to be so close, so does it really matter who picks first?

“It is a big deal,” Tambellini said with emphasis.

“We get to choose who we want. You want to be in charge of the draft. You want to pick the player that you think will be the best Oiler.”

Tambellini told the TV audience it was “perfect timing,” and mentioned “excellent players in our system.”

The GM said it was more of a nerve-wracking experience than he expected.

“When Bill Daley starts flipping card,s you get a kind of a knot in your stomach,” he said of the NHL VP opening large envelopes containing cards featuring logos of the five teams.

They came out the way they went in with Boston picking second (Toronto's pick from the Phil Kessel deal), followed by Florida, Columbus and the New York Islanders.

With Boston staying second, there is very little likelihood that Tambellini will even get a conversation started about trading Ales Hemsky or any combination of Oilers for the second pick, so that Edmonton could end up with both No. 1 and No. 2.

“It would be a huge surprise,” said Tambellini of any hope of something like that.

It was the third straight year the 30th place team — with 48.2% odds — won the right to pick first.

Indeed it was the fourth time in the last five years.

But the No. 1 pick was obvious in those years. Not this time. Now there's a 72 day wait until June 25 and the actual selection of one or the other.

Tambellini said the Oilers will wait until draft day to make the picks, continuing to follow Hall through the playoffs, checking the two out at the combine evaluation camp and doing draft week on-site player interviews.

Hey, that's going to be more fun than trying to unload Souray at a $5.4 million salary cap hit over the next two years. He'll need a truck full of good luck charms and Billy Moores driving the truck to get that lucky.

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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