Oilers' last chance at first

After getting Taylor Hall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Stu MacGregor knows the Oilers likely won't...

After getting Taylor Hall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Stu MacGregor knows the Oilers likely won't have another No. 1 pick any time soon beyond 2011. (QMI Agency file photo)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:38 AM ET

EDMONTON - If everything goes according to plan, this will be the last time the Edmonton Oilers ever draft first overall -- maybe even the last time they get a pick in the top five.

So they need to get this right.

The last vital pieces of their rebuilding effort will be somewhere in the sea of prospects at the Xcel Energy Centre in Minnesota this weekend, and whether GM Steve Tambellini and head scout Stu MacGregor can find them or not is a question that will impact the organization for years to come.

"This isn't something that you get very often, there's no doubt about that," said MacGregor, well aware that two years in a row with the No.1 pick is more than any scouting staff can ask for.

"It's important when you're choosing this early that you make good selections. We're going to do the very best we can with it."

Last year it was a coin toss with no wrong answer between Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin.

This time there are more horses in the mix.

The majority of scouts love the skill and vision of Red Deer Rebel Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but Gabriel Landeskog is a physical beast -- exactly what the Oilers are lacking up front -- while Jonathan Huberdeau, like Taylor Hall before him, has a Memorial Cup MVP on his resume.

Then there's defenceman Adam Larsson. What if he grows up to be Nick Lidstrom?

"I really think this year is much more difficult than last year," said MacGregor. "There are more players in the mix. Not to say that we won't be able to sort it out, we will, but there are some tremendous prospects and players who've shown that they require attention and consideration for the No.1 pick."

With three picks in the top 31 (first, 19th from the Dustin Penner deal and 31st), the Oilers get their second pick before some teams get their first.

As a result, MacGregor and his staff have been cramming for months to make sure they get it right. Jordan Eberle went 22nd overall, remember, so the 19 hole isn't to be taken lightly.

"We'll get a good player at that spot, there's no doubt about it," said MacGregor. "I think the draft is 90 to 100 players deep. That's probably why this draft is a little busier, too, because we have another pick in the first round. We have to be more prepared, there are more players to follow."

While drafting first overall gives you pick of the litter and control of your own destiny, it also comes with massive pressure and expectations.

"These aren't the mid '80s to late '90s, where Edmonton can blow 16 of 18 first-round picks and shrug the whole process off as crapshoot.

They can't make a mistake at No. 1.

This is supposed to be the foundation that makes Edmonton the next Pittsburgh or Chicago.

"Having two first overalls back-to-back is unique, but the teams you described picked in the top five of the draft four or five or even six times.

"That was a big advantage as well," said MacGregor. "From our end, we do expect to find the players who will help us position ourselves to be one of the better teams in the league.

"If we hit it out of the park like we did last year I'll be very, very happy.

"I feel we had a very strong draft last year and if we can do something along those same lines again, we'll be extremely happy."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@Sunmedia.ca

TWITTER.com/TYCHKOWSKI


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