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Tambellini won't tip hand on No. 1 pick

by Mike G. Morreale

PITTSBURGH -- While Edmonton Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini didn't admit who his organization has targeting with the No. 1 overall pick for the 2012 NHL Draft on Friday, he did offer a few tidbits during a Thursday media gathering.

First, he's received plenty of inquiries regarding that coveted No. 1 choice but nothing "good enough to make me think about discussing it with our staff." Second, the Oilers scouting department, headed by chief amateur scout Stu MacGregor, has been "very" consistent with their assessment of who the top pick should be.

"Our scouting staff has been very consistent from the halfway meetings to those meetings in the spring," Tambellini said. "A few things moved around, as always, but big picture, they're consistent with their direction and what they believe, in the end, the rankings will be. So I'm very comfortable with Stu's assessment."

The Oilers, of course, hold the No. 1 choice for the third straight year. In 2010, Edmonton won the lottery, retaining the top pick in the draft, which they used to select Taylor Hall. Last year, the Oilers again retained the first pick, which they used to select Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.


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Tambellini wouldn't take the bait when asked where his scouting staff feels the strength of this draft lies.

"There's decent balance," he said. "I think the draft has been a little underestimated for some time and now people are recognizing there are some high-end people here."

Many believe the Oilers will select either forward Nail Yakupov of the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting or defenseman Ryan Murray of the Western Hockey League's Everett Silvertips. The last time a Russian-born skater was drafted with the first pick was 2004 when Alex Ovechkin was chosen by the Washington Capitals. The last defenseman to go No. 1 was Erik Johnson, who was chosen by the St. Louis Blues in 2006.

Yakupov, NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater, finished third on his team this past season with 69 points, including 31 goals. He also has a plus-15 rating and 12 power-play goals. After Yakupov, Central Scouting listed Murray as the No. 2 skater, following by center Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Remparts. Sarnia center Alex Galchenyuk was fourth and Moose Jaw Warriors defenseman Morgan Rielly is fifth.

Murray, the first of six defensemen listed among the top 10 North American skaters, had nine goals and 31 points in 46 regular-season games for the Silvertips.

"Every draft has different qualities and this is a draft that everyone talked about maybe not being the same as two years ago," Tambellini said. "You get to this point and people are trying to position themselves for players that might not be available [to play in the NHL] right now, but are going to be very good hockey players in the near future. So it's an interesting time for us."

The Oilers finished 29th out of 30 teams in the League in points in 2011-12 but moved ahead of Columbus for the No. 1 choice by winning the NHL Scotiabank Draft Lottery on April 10. Tambellini expects to keep that choice.

"I had a lot of discussions … even [Thursday] I've had a few," Tambellini said. "Like I said from the very beginning, it'd have to be something significant as far as an addition to our team, a type of prospect or whatever the package is, for me to present to Kevin [Lowe] and our ownership that makes sense to give up the No. 1 pick. We didn't expect winning the lottery, but that put us in the position for an incredible piece that will bring us forward and I'm very comfortable, if it stays as is, we're going to make our pick."

Has Tambellini received any offer that was more intriguing than the rest?

"Obviously not good enough to make me think about discussing it with our staff," he said. "I haven't been pushed to that point yet, and it may not come. I'm perfectly fine with that. We have an asset coming to this organization that will join [Ryan] Nugent-Hopkins, [Taylor] Hall, [Jordan] Eberle, [Magnus] Paajarvi and [Jeff] Petry and some of the young defenders coming up also."

Tambellini admitted he wants to understand how the player they might be looking at with the first overall selection got to where he is at this stage in his career.

"You want to understand how this player got there to achieve that status in an NHL Draft," Tambellini said. "There's a lot of work, sacrifice and commitment … it's not just talent. It's usually a good support group, like family, mentorship or coaching.

"Leadership in the locker room is huge component, also. You can't have enough leadership. Championship organizations have such an abundance of leadership, and that's what we're trying to do."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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