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Oilers get nifty centre, big defenceman and two-way forward in first round @NHLdotcom

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CP) - The Edmonton Oilers came to the NHL entry draft armed with three first-round draft picks, and GM Kevin Lowe had hoped at least one of them would be trade bait.

In the end, failing to make a deal for the defenceman he craves, Lowe went ahead and drafted three times Friday night. But he did report some progress in trade talks.

"I want to say there's a couple deals pending," said Lowe. "A little bit frustrating because in both cases they're tied to teams doing other things and maybe that has to do with the cap world.

"But I remain optimistic that that'll happen. You spend a long time in the days leading up, 72 hours of non-stop effort and if it doesn't happen it can be a little disappointing, no question.

"But I'm still very optimistic."

In the meantime, the Oilers drafted a nifty playmaking centre, a big defenceman and a solid two-way forward. They were the first Canadian team to the mic and they used the sixth drafting position to select centre Sam Gagner of the OHL's London Knights.

Gagner, the son of former NHL forward Dave Gagner, scored 35 goals and assisted on 83 in 53 regular-season games. The 5-11, 190-pounder from Oakville, Ont., reads plays well, which makes him an exceptional set-up man. He also was a member of Canada's world junior championship team.

"To hear my name called was a great feeling, especially the Edmonton Oilers, a Canadian city," said Gagner. "I couldn't be more thrilled."

Scouts have compared him to NHL forward Marc Savard.

"I'm happy to be picked but I realize this is just the beginning, there's a long way to go," said Gagner. "There's a lot of work to be done."

Another year with the Knights will more than likely be in the cards for Gagner.

"I'm going to continue to work hard and try and get as NHL-ready as possible but if I were to spend another year in junior I think it would be great for my development," he said. "I thought I developed a lot this year in London. The Hunters (Dale and Mark) really know their hockey and they're able to teach me a lot about the game. I don't think that would be bad for me at all."

Edmonton was up again in the 15th slot and took six-foot-four, 225-pound defenceman Alex Plante of the Calgary Hitmen. Plante scored eight goals, assisted on 30 and was assessed 81 penalty minutes last season. His improvement in agility and overall play led to a jump up in the rankings in the second half of his season. Scouts have compared him to NHL defenceman Kyle McLaren.

"We just like his potential," said Oilers scouting director Kevin Pendergrest. "He's 6-4, for a big guy he uses his reach really well. Lots of upside there."

Phoenix traded the 21st pick to Edmonton for the No. 30 and 36 spots, and the Oilers selected six-foot-one, 175-pound centre Riley Nash, who scored 38 goals for the B.C. Jr. A league's Salmon Arm team.

"I was mostly Canucks growing up but the Oilers are a good fit," said Nash.

Nash will play college hockey at Cornell in the autumn and has some areas he wants to improve in his game.

"I got to get a better stride," he said. "I'm not quick enough. And I need a better shot, all NHL players have great shots."

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