The Edmonton Oilers
are in the same position at this year's NHL Scouting Combine as they were when they arrived here last year -- on the clock for the first pick of the draft.
There are some differences this year, however. And most of that is because unlike last year, when the Oilers narrowed their choice for the top pick to Taylor Hall
or Tyler Seguin
, the pool of possible selections for the No. 1 pick of the 2011 Entry Draft runs far deeper.
"We're going through the same process," Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini told NHL.com. "This year it's different because I think there's more people in play. You can talk to 30 teams and they may give you many different answers in how they rank 1-5 in this year's draft, and they're all really good players. There's a lot of good depth, especially at the top. That's what's different about this draft."
Tambellini wouldn't reveal how he had his list ranked, but the top names include Red Deer Rebels center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
(NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater), Kitchener Rangers left wing Gabriel Landeskog
, Saint John Sea Dogs center Jonathan Huberdeau
and Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson
(Central Scouting's top-rated European skater).
Another wrinkle is the Oilers' ownership of the 19th pick, courtesy of the trade that sent Dustin Penner
to the Los Angeles Kings
. The Oilers also have the first pick of the second round, No. 31, and Tambellini said he places a high value on all three picks.
"You can talk to 30 teams and they may give you many different answers in how they rank 1-5 in this year's draft, and they're all really good players. There's a lot of good depth, especially at the top. That's what's different about this draft."
-- Oilers GM Steve Tambellini
"These are the couple years where we needed to have high draft picks," he said. "We have (No.) 1, 19 and 31, which are very, very important. We had a very good draft, we thought, last year. We're looking at those three picks right now as very, very important for us."
Last year the Oilers opted for Hall, who had 22 goals and 20 assists in 65 games. Their three second-round picks also had strong seasons with their respective teams. Center Tyler Pitlick
had 27 goals in 56 games with the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers, and his 62 points was fourth among the league's first-year players. Defenseman Martin Marincin
led all WHL first-year defensemen with 56 points in 67 games with the Prince George Cougars. Left wing Curtis Hamilton
had 82 points in 62 games with the WHL's Saskatoon Blades, and had 4 goals in seven games for Canada at the 2011 World Junior Championship.
Those players could be ready to join Hall and two players from recent drafts who made their NHL debuts last season, Jordan Eberle
and Magnus Paajarvi
. Hall, Eberle and Paajarvi are the centerpieces of the Oilers' rebuilding plan. Eberle led the team in scoring with 43 points while Paajarvi had 15 goals and 34 points in 80 games.
Regardless of the individual numbers, however, Tambellini was thrilled with the growth of his young players.
"From the development camp in the summertime to training camp, and then seeing young guys that are great young players being introduced to an NHL environment and seeing their first few games around the League, what I could see is that they weren't totally comfortable, but to what they looked like at, say, Christmas time was not even close," Tambellini said. "That's the part you want to see. We knew there'd be some growing pains there, but we made sure we had the profile spots available to them to start, which gave them time to grow into that. Big difference from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.
"Jordan is such an intelligent, poised player, and Magnus, with his speed and drive to the net. Taylor had the ability to take over hockey games. There's not too many young players that can take over games."
Because of the success of his three high-profile youngsters, Tambellini said he doesn't feel the same level of pressure to draft a player who immediately can step into the NHL lineup.
"No, we don't need somebody to be able to jump in immediately," he said. "If they can, terrific. ? We just want to get the right person for the next few years."
Tambellini said whichever player the Oilers pick at No. 1 could dictate their next selection.
"I guess ideally everyone would like to have balance but you never know what's going to be there," he said.
Moving any of their top picks -- beside three of the first 31 selections, the Oilers also have a pair of picks in the third and fourth rounds -- right now doesn't seem like much of an option.
"I don't see us moving our top picks," Tambellini said. "This is the two years here that we need to acquire high-end people."
He also doesn't envision using those picks to acquire veterans, or shopping heavily in the free agent market.
"We're starting to formulate the semblance of a core," Tambellini said, "but we're not there. We haven't established an entire core to go the next 10 years with. We have to build that. There will be some action in free agency, but not to the point where we're adding a $10 million player."
Instead, he'll let core develop, and add to it with home-grown youngsters like defenseman Jeff Petry
and forwards Anton Lander
, Linus Omark
and Teemu Hartikainen
"I'm happy with the people that are coming to the Oilers," Tambellini said. "They're great, hungry kids that want to play in Edmonton. You're just starting to see Year 1 of the kind of building program here -- that's pretty exciting."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK