EDMONTON - Just days before the draft, Steve Tambellini was still not tipping his hand.
The Edmonton Oilers general manager knows who he’s taking with the first pick in Friday’s NHL Entry Draft, but he’ll keep that between him and the club’s inner circle until it’s time to step to the podium.
The Oilers and their scouting staff have been back and forth on the merits of taking either Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall first overall.
“I can tell you that the discussion has incredible with the debate,” said Tambellini. “It needs to be, they are always going to be talking about Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall and the strength and weaknesses and projections. I expected that, I wanted that. But at the end of the day, I know we’ll walk out, totally focused and have everyone onboard with the decision.”
The Oilers have three picks in the first two rounds heading into the draft.
It’s almost a certainty they’ll keep the first overall pick to select one of the two projected franchise players. After that, Tambellini will be open to any quality offers that come his way allowing him to build toward the future.
He has the luxury of having practically his entire current roster in play.
“If I had the choice and the opportunity to grab another pick, absolutely I would,” he said. “Is there any better time? We’re sitting right now with the first pick overall, then at 31 and 47 in the second round. This is an incredible opportunity to set the table again. With Magnus (Paajarvi-Svensson) coming, with this first pick coming and the potential of Jordan (Eberle), we’re getting some good, young players that are going to be playing here a long time. If I can add another piece to that, absolutely I’m going to do it.”
Tambellini doesn’t know what kind of deals will be offered up when the entire league converges in Los Angeles this weekend. Yet it’s unlikely he’ll be able to offer up enough to pry the second overall pick away from the Boston Bruins in order to get both budding stars. The Bruins acquired the pick from the Toronto Maple Leafs last year in a trade for Phil Kessel.
On Tuesday, the Bruins traded away their 15th overall pick to the Florida Panthers in a deal that sent winger Nathan Horton the other way.
“I’m not really surprised,” said Tambellini. “(GM) Peter (Chiarelli) told me what he was close to doing, looking to acquire a proven player. But he’s told everyone that he wants to retain that No. 2 pick.”
The Bruins are expected to take whomever the Oilers pass on with the second selection.
Since winning the draft lottery and knowing they’ll get the top pick for the first time in team history, the Oilers have delved deep into the background of each player. They have talked extensively to both prospects, their parents and former coaches.
The club even flew both of them into Edmonton for personal meetings.
“That reaffirmed that they are two great, young people,” Tambellini said.
“If you think about people that age coming to a new city and how they handled potential questions of being the No.1 overall pick in the National Hockey League, I thought both of them were fantastic. The poise they showed was impressive.”
The general rule of thumb going into the draft is to take the best player available at the time, regardless of what the team’s needs may be.
Yet with two players so close in talent, the Oilers have the luxury of trying to fill a specific void.
“At the end of the day we’re going to make the selection that is right for the Edmonton Oilers,” Tambellini said. “We’ve done an incredible amount of work on these two individuals.
“One guy maybe played in bigger games and had some more exposure, but Seguin was the best player at the U-18, in his age group. So it’s all part of it. I don’t think you can go into one part of it and say that’s the determining factor. It’s the whole thing.”