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Oilers' latest No. 1 pick viewed as rebuild accelerator

by Mike G. Morreale

BUFFALO -- The Edmonton Oilers, who have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs nine straight seasons, will be picking first at the NHL Draft for the fourth time since 2010 on June 26 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.

They will do so with a new general manager in Peter Chiarelli and coach in Todd McLellan. Bob Nicholson, the new chief executive officer and vice chairman of Oilers Entertainment Group, hopes the changes at the top will help steer the organization in a promising direction.

If there was ever a year to own a pick at the very top of the draft, this was it, with Erie Otters center Connor McDavid and Boston University center Jack Eichel in the mix. Each is projected to be a generational talent, an instant difference-maker for any organization in need of one.

Oilers head amateur scout Stu MacGregor said he and his staff feel fortunate to have an opportunity at not only one of the best players in the 2015 draft class, but two picks in the top 20.

"Certainly the top two players are outstanding players," MacGregor said of McDavid and Eichel. "They are players you don't see very often. Certainly there's usually one a year, and this year it's more than one, so it's exciting for sure to be in this position where we can make that decision."

The Oilers have already spoken to each prospect during the interview phase of the NHL Scouting Combine at First Niagara Center this week.

"Overall I think it's a really good draft, and you will find good players right into the third round and a few that have potential even beyond that," MacGregor said. "I think the top end is outstanding; you have some very talented players that are going to be major impacts in the NHL for a long time right through picks No. 20-25."

When the Oilers introduced Wayne Gretzky to the NHL in 1979-80, there was certainly a sense of excitement surrounding the organization. Many believe McDavid, who is projected to go No. 1, will provide the same adrenaline rush.

MacGregor wasn't coy about his impressions of McDavid and Eichel and the presence each provides.

"I see two tremendous players who will have impacts on their teams moving forward," MacGregor said. "McDavid is a unique guy in that he's been so incredible through his career so far in what he's done in the Ontario Hockey League, his points per game compares to some of the best players to ever play in the OHL. What Eichel did in college is unbelievable; comparative to Paul Kariya (at the University of Maine in 1992-93), who was an outstanding NHL player. When Eichel played with men for the United States at the World Championship, he produced, scored a key overtime goal for them too.

"McDavid and Eichel rose up to show that they're the best there is in this draft class and they proved to be what everybody had felt they would be all along."

The Oilers ended up with the sequence of numbers needed to win the NHL Draft Lottery in April, despite having an 11.5 percent chance at doing so. The Buffalo Sabres, who had the worst record in the NHL this season and best chance to win the lottery (20 percent), dropped to the second pick. The Arizona Coyotes, who finished next-to-last (13.5 percent), fell to third.

"We're excited as an organization, and I look forward to working with [Chiarelli and McLellan]," MacGregor said. "[Chiarelli] is a man that has a direction and a way he wants to work. He pretty much described the kind of player he's interested in during his original press conference. He wants players that are hard to play against and win puck battles."

McDavid witnessed Chiarelli's steadfast demeanor firsthand during his 1-on-1 interview with the Oilers on Tuesday.

"In a word, intense," McDavid said of Chiarelli. "He's definitely looking to win; he's not going to settle for mediocrity."

The Oilers, who finished 24-44-14 in 2014-15, used prior No. 1 picks to draft forwards Taylor Hall (2010), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011) and Nail Yakupov (2012). Those choices have yet to pay dividends in the standings. Edmonton also has high hopes for 2013 first-round pick (No. 7) Darnell Nurse and 2014 first-round pick (No. 3) Leon Draisaitl.

Draisaitl, who played 37 games with the Oilers in 2014-15, won the Stafford Smythe Trophy as the 2015 Memorial Cup most valuable player after scoring four goals and seven points in five games in a losing effort for the Kelowna Rockets.

"We feel we have a lot of good prospects in the system, including Darnell and Leon, who will start to make impacts within our organization," MacGregor said. "It's an exciting time for our group and our team moving forward."

There's no question McDavid would be a huge part of whatever rebuild Chiarelli envisions.

McDavid, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters eligible for the draft, was named the Canadian Hockey League player of the year and was the sixth-youngest recipient of the Red Tilson Trophy as the MVP in the Ontario Hockey League. He tied for fourth in the league with 44 goals and was third with 120 points in 47 regular-season games. In the OHL playoffs McDavid had points in 18 of 20 games, and led all players with 21 goals and 49 points.

"McDavid and Eichel carry that crown to be the best every night, and you see it in their production and how they perform in important situations," MacGregor said. "They are very special young men who have handled the spotlight extremely well. It can't be easy some days, but they have proved that their love of the game overrides everything that happens to them or the pressures involved."


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