EDMONTON - It may be the difference between being a good team for the future and being a great team.
To know what the Oilers are really facing at the NHL Entry Draft, consider the old scouting axiom: "A draft year is a success if you end up with one good NHLer. A draft year is an overwhelming success if you end up with two."
Now if you manage to hit for three and if you manage to do it two or three years in a row ... whoa!
GM Steve Tambellini or head scout Stu MacGregor won't allow themselves to go there. But isn't that what this weekend is really all about?
Isn't that what head scout Stu MacGregor has been trying to do and isn't this the key year to it?
In essence, he's trying to do in 2009, 2010 and 2011 what Barry Fraser did back when the Oilers started with the ridiculously unfair advantage of having Wayne Gretzky protected from the WHA merger.
Nobody talks about it.
It's trying to do what the Chicago Blackhawks did and what the Pittsburgh Penguins did, they say, when they do talk.
But isn't this really about doing what the Edmonton Oilers did in the beginning?
Because we're talking about icons, legends and Hall of Famers here, nobody wants to use that team as the model. But the concept is the same even if nobody is expecting icons, legends and all those Hall of Famers.
1979 1/3 Kevin Lowe (21st), Mark Messier (48th), Glenn Anderson (69th).
1980 1/3 Paul Coffey (6th), Jari Kurri (69th), Andy Moog (132nd).
1981 1/3 Grant Fuhr (8th), Steve Smith (111th).
1982 1/3 Do you count Jaroslav Pouzar (83rd)?
1983 1/3 Jeff Beukeboom (19th), Esa Tikkanen (82nd).
Now the Oilers are at drafting in much better position with their bottom-feeding seasons since 2006 when Edmonton went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
2007 1/3 Sam Gagner (6th), Linus Omark (97th).
2008 1/3 Jordan Eberle (22nd), Teemu Hartikainen (163rd).
2009 1/3 Magnus Paajarvi (10th), Anton Lander (40th)
2010 1/3 Taylor Hall (1st).
Obviously none of those players have enough of a body of work to declare them real full-deal NHLers yet. Lander hasn't even played a game.
But if the Oilers didn't totally blow it after picking Hall first last year and there's another NHLer or two in there somewhere out of Tyler Pitlick (31st), Martin Marincin (46th), Curtis Hamilton (48th) and Ryan Martindale (61st), it looks like two NHLers a year with a whole bunch of maybes from deeper in the draft like goalies Olivier Roy and Tyler Bunz who could make it three for some of those drafts when we look back several seasons from now.
This isn't just about draft, it's about development. The Oilers have never been about development before.
And that's what this weekend is all about after picking another supposedly sure-fire NHLer Ryan Nugent-Hopkins No. 1 to centre Hall and Eberle in the future.
With the 19th pick and the 31st pick, the Oilers have a chance to make it not just a good draft with the No. 1, but a great draft if they get another one or two.
In all, the Oilers have nine picks and three of them will end up having a comparable beside their name, the kid they pick 19th (Dustin Penner), the young man they choose 74th (Steve Staios) and the lad they selected 114th (Mathieu Garon). So Tambellini did his job to give MacGregor the extra bullets.
Have the Oilers ever set themselves up better to pick off players at the draft than picking 1-19-31?
You could argue 2007 with 6-15-21. That turned into Gagner, Alex Plante and Riley Nash.
There was 7-16-33 in 1993. That turned into Jason Arnott, Nick Stajduhar and David Vyborny.
There was 6-19-32 in 1996. Boyd Devereaux, Matthieux Descoteaux and Chris Hajt.
The best chance ever, though, was probably 1994. The Oilers picked 4-6-32. Jason Bonsignore. Ryan Smyth. Mike Watt.
Of all those best-chance drafts, with three early picks, Smyth was the only guy to become a star here.
And Arnott the only other real NHLer.
This weekend is crucial.
This weekend may indeed make the difference in being a good hockey club in the future or a great one.