With only an 18.8% chance, the Edmonton Oilers beat the odds and for the third straight year will be picking with the #1 pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. The first team to have that chance since the Quebec Nordiques in the early 90’s. Columbus, going in with a 48% chance of picking first, ended up with #2.
Going into last night’s lottery, Steve Tambellini was no doubt anticipating a #2 or possibly #3 pick. The odds would dictate that this should this have been the case, wherein most experts would have the team taking the best available defenceman on the board to fill their biggest need, very likely Everett’s Ryan Murray or Red Deer’s Matt Dumba, all the while logically assuming that Russian sniper Nail Yakupov would go #1 to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
That is the beauty of the NHL Draft Lottery, and with the Oilers winning the lottery a whole new set of predictions and possible scenarios are now being thrown out there. It also leaves Edmonton management with some tough decisions going into June’s draft. A situation, I might add that every team wishes they had to deal with.
The main question is now, what do they do with their pick? Do they use it or trade it? On the surface it’s a no lose situation, they could use it on the best player available and add yet another franchise type talent, or trade it for a king’s ransom and add multiple high end pieces to complement the already enviable stable of young talent they do have.
History has shown that team’s who pass up or trade the #1 pick usually do not end up winning the deal. The last five #1 picks have yielded talents such as Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, Tavares, Stamkos and Kane not to mention Ovechkin and Crosby in ’04 and ’05. With that kind of track record it’s hard to believe any team would deal that pick away.
With the philosophy of taking the best player available regardless of need usually the case with picking first, it would look as though Sarnia Sting forward Nail Yakupov will be wearing the Oiler blue and orange come next season, should they hold onto the pick. Just picture Yakupov joining Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and a healthy Taylor Hall. That’s just downright scary for opposing goaltenders, and would have Edmonton fans dreaming of the high-flying offensive powerhouse from the Oilers of old.
This version of the Oilers are in a somewhat unique position, however, and unlike many teams owning the #1 pick, they do not have a desperate need for a young forward to come in and be the face of a franchise. They already have three such players in their lineup. They do however have a glaring need on the backend for that kind of talent. Would they be better to drop down in the draft and acquire and young talented defenceman as well as a high end first round pick for their top choice?
Should they look to trade down, they would first have to evaluate the players available and be sure they could still get a player they wanted at that selection. Could there be a situation where they ask Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs for their #5 pick and say Jake Gardiner in a deal or perhaps the Anaheim Ducks at #6 for their pick and a Cam Fowler. In that situation it would be realistic to think there would still be a top end defence talent still on the board at that time in the mold of a Matt Dumba, Jacob Trouba or Griffin Reinhart. This would be a case of the Oilers adding two potential top pairing defencemen for Nail Yakupov and would round out their roster nicely.
We are of course only surmising at this point and who knows if either of those teams would value Yakupov enough or want to part with young defencemen of that calibre to consider those deals.
The fact remains that Steve Tambellini and the Oilers are in a position to listen to all offers and make the deal they think will be in the best interest of the team’s future. It’s a position all 30 teams would like to be in on draft day, but one that puts a lot of pressure on Tambellini and his staff. It appears to be a no lose scenario on draft day whatever decision they make, but it will be a couple of years down the road that Tambellini and this management group will be judged, not 2012.
As of now, finishing at the bottom of the standings is just an accepted part of the rebuilding process, but 2-3 years from now if the core group that starts the 2012-13 season isn’t a contender, that is where the decisions of the summer of 2012, as well as the body of work over the past few years, will be deemed a success or failure.
Regardless of the outcome in years to come, the Oilers will have one of the most exciting young teams to watch in 2012-13.
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Carl covers the Edmonton Oilers for THW as well as providing additional prospect coverage. Follow him on twitter @carlTHW, connect on Facebook or contact at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions, comments or if you’re interested in him writing for you.