EDMONTON - By Saturday night, the Edmonton Oilers once-bare cupboards — emptied by two decades worth of attrition and failed investments — will be full again.
The team that the Hockey News recently ranked first overall in terms of organizational depth stands to get a lot deeper with three picks in the top 31 and six in the top 92 this weekend.
It’s more than just Ryan Nugent-Hopkins joining Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi, it’s the rest of the 2011 crop joining a second wave that includes Teemu Hartikainen, Anton Lander, Martin Marincin, Curtis Hamilton and Tyler Pitlick.
In the past, fans in Edmonton were conditioned not to expect much from the draft, but a new regime picking higher up in the order is changing the face of the franchise.
“I’m really impressed with the work of Stu MacGregor, the detail and depth of where they are looking,” GM Steve Tambellini said of his head scout, who took over the department in September 2007 and promptly stole Jordan Eberle with the 22nd pick.
“The book on players that is coming to me now is just a different way of approaching the scouting. It was quite a transition for some of our people on the amateur side. I think Stu has brought the amateur scouting staff to a different level. I believe that and I’m very, very happy with it.”
The team is also more committed organizationally to cultivating its future. There was a stretch there where the Oilers didn’t even want to spring for their own AHL team, then scratched their heads in bewilderment as prospect after prospect busted. Today, all of the short-cuts have been declared off limits. Offer sheets and pie-in-the-sky free agent pitches have given way to scouting, drafting, development and patience.
The Oilers left Los Angeles with a banner haul last year and as they prepare to pick first overall for the second year in a row Friday in Minnesota, a sense of real progress is sweeping through the team and its fans.
“I feel a lot more comfortable where we’re going with depth in the organization when I look at players like Marincin and Pitlick and Hamilton and some of the college free agents that we signed,” said Tambellini. “I feel a lot better about the young prospects coming in.”
Are they done yet? Not hardly. There are reasons teams finish last overall two years in a row and they take a lot more than two years to fix.
“Were introducing a lot of new people to the Edmonton Oilers, replenishing a depth chart,” said Tambellini. “But if you truly look at it, to be a great organization we need help in a lot of places. We need elite talent. Special people, special players.
“There’s lots of areas where we need help and this is the time to get it.”
There’s no such thing as having too many prospects, but the Oilers know that at some point they’ll have to shift the focus from harvesting to eating.
There is, after all, a shelf life on fans understanding why you missed the playoffs.
“Eventually you can’t play everyone and you can’t sign everyone,” said Tambellini. “You have to sort the (prospects) out, but that’s the problem we need to have right now.
“We’re starting to acquire some assets who are going to eventually push people for jobs here. That will be a point where we trade a couple of young guys for a guy who helps our roster right now. We’ll be in the position where we’ll have the ability to do that, but that’s a little bit away yet.
“Right now we’re developing good, young players who will either play for the Oilers or help us get something that can help the Oilers right now. That’s what we need to build.”