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Oilers' first draft step is lottery

Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini will once again sit through another draft lottery and face...

Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini will once again sit through another draft lottery and face a tough decision come June. (QMI Agency file photo)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:43 AM ET

First? Or second?

One? Or the other?

It’s not Taylor vs. Tyler this time. But it’s time to find out who gets to decide between Adam Larsson and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

When Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini sits on the TSN set for the NHL Draft Lottery Tuesday to find out if he will have the first pick or the second pick June 24 in St. Paul, Minn., it will be very much the same for him as last year. But it will also be very different, regardless if he’s picking No. 1 or No. 2.

If Monday’s final rankings by Central Scouting matches the top of head scout Stu MacGregor’s list, it’ll again be one or the other other for the Oilers.

Except this time, the players won’t both be forwards and they won’t both be from North America.

They’ll be six-foot-three, 222-pound Swedish defenceman Larsson vs six-foot, 163-pound Red Deer Rebels centre Nugent-Hopkins.

Central Scouting ranked Nugent-Hopkins ahead of Kitchener Rangers Gabriel Landeskog, the mid-season No. 1 among North American skaters, while Larsson remained No. 1 on the list of European skaters.

“I think there are more similarities than differences,” said Tambellini, as he selected his lucky tie to head to Toronto to go through the same ordeal as he did last year.

“What I remember is 30 seconds of self-doubt as I looked at (NHL vice-president) Bill Daly, knowing that he knew what the results were and seeing that he was avoiding making eye contact with me.

“Once you start doing it you are very much in the game mode,” he said of the nervous tension.

And Tambellini, who offers the usual stuff about wanting to be No. 1 “to be able to control the draft” definitely knows the difference in getting it right picking No. 1, as he did with Taylor Hall, or going to the draft hoping the lottery winner gets it wrong.

“Until we get together later in the spring, we’re not making the decision. We’re not there yet. And I’d guess that when we get to the draft, 25 of the 30 teams would probably have different top fives.”

That may be. But all 30 almost certainly will have Larsson and Nugent-Hopkins at the top.

If it’s Larsson, he’d become the first Swedish-born player to go No. 1 since Mats Sundin in 1989.

It was no surprise to see the big kid who turns 18 Tuesday as the top European listed by Central Scouting. A force at two World Juniors who has been playing with men in the Swedish Elite League despite being the youngest member of the team, he’s getting big minutes on defence with Skellefea AIK, his home town team, which made it to the final for the first time in 33 years.

Nugent-Hopkins’s stock has been on the rise throughout the season and the Central Scouting final rankings were revealed on NHL.com and came with this powerful quote supplied by scout Peter Sullivan.

“A couple people high up in the Oilers organization — and I’m not naming names — said Hopkins has the best vision on the ice since No. 99,” Sullivan said of Wayne Gretzky.

“That’s the highest compliment you can get.”

If the couple people high up in the Oilers organization are any combination of Kevin Lowe, Tambellini or MacGregor, then you have to wonder if the Oilers are going to ignore size when it comes to this — come-to-think-of-it — Gretzky-sized guy.

Tambellini admits he was surprised to see that comment from somebody at Central Scouting.

“I don’t know who would say something like that, so I can’t comment,” he said.

Sullivan had further comment.

“Another thing is the way Ryan competes. He never takes a night off and he works as hard in his own end as he does in the offensive zone. It takes a special player with special skill to do that,” he said.

Also commenting in the NHL.com release was ex-Oiler B.J. MacDonald, head Western Scout for Central Scouting.

“I think Hopkins will be prolific because he’s one of the few this year where he consistently beats players 1-on-1. He’s the only guy in the draft who can do it consistently.

“As he advances, his learning curve is so fast that he’ll be able to elevate his play alongside better players.”

No. 3 in the mid-term rankings, Nugent-Hopkins moved ahead of Landeskog who dropped to No. 2, while mid-season No. 2 Sean Couturier fell to No. 6.

Landeskog is listed as a left winger and with Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi, Linus Omark and Ryan Jones, the Oilers are already knee-deep in those.

Clearly the Taylor or Tyler this time was going to be Nugent-Hopkins or Larsson regardless for the Oilers.

But the big question is whether Edmonton gets to decide. That answer comes next.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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