TORONTO, ON - The NHL has a flair for the dramatic when it comes to their draft lottery. As the 14 eligible teams were ticked off one by one in reverse, the general managers and team reps in attendance watched stone-faced as they awaited their logo.
There was definitely tension as the Oilers own general manager looked on. His team had recent lottery success, landing the top pick in four of the last six years heading into Saturday night.
|Peter Chiarelli announces the first-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. Photo by Getty Images. |
The lowest the Oilers could pick was fifth, and Peter Chiarelli was hoping his team would stay put at two, but braced himself for a small drop. When the card revealing the fourth-overall pick was flipped over, the Oilers crest confirmed Chiarelli’s club would own that spot in the upcoming 2016 NHL Draft. While Edmonton had the second-best odds at landing the top pick (13.5%), four was their final stop.
The Toronto Maple Leafs won the lottery and will pick first overall. Winnipeg and Columbus round out the top three, respectively.
“I was a little disappointed,” Chiarelli said of his initial reaction. “I was hoping we would hold at two. Going into the event, when you look at the odds, once the first pick gets out, once the first lottery takes place our best odds or most likely percentage was to be at three. That was kind of the way it goes, if you don’t win it. I was preparing myself for potentially moving down. It was disappointing, but I’ve been watching a lot of these players lately and we’re going to get a real good player.”
The talk of the draft leading up to the lottery has largely centred around the top three picks and the prospects who may see their name called when Toronto, Winnipeg and Columbus make the opening trio of selections.
A pair of Finns and American phenom Auston Matthews are the projected top picks, which leaves the Oilers to scout that second tier of available prospects.
“What’s exciting with the second tier is that there’s a lot of defencemen and there’s a lot of good-sized forwards,” said Chiarelli. “Those are two needs we’re looking at so we’re going to look a little more closely. If we keep the pick or we move it and get another pick, there’s still a lot of those good players that are big or are defenders.”
Should the Oilers choose to stay at four and make a selection, Chiarelli’s expectation is that player would need more seasoning before joining the NHL club.
“I wouldn’t characterize those next group of players that would come in right away. I wouldn’t characterize it as that. You never know, but I certainly wouldn’t plan on it.”
At four, the Oilers are likely to have options, of which Chiarelli will explore in depth. Could the Oilers forgo making a selection at four, and instead move down the draft order to pick up assets or even move the pick for an established talent? Yes, everything is on the table.
Dropping out of the top three has not increased the likelihood of a trade, per Chiarelli, but he will continue to stay open to any and all possibilities.
“As a manager, you have to be available to anything that comes forward with regard to improving your team,” he said. “You could take a position not to move a pick and just call it a day, but I want to improve this team and we’ve drafted a lot of players in our group right now and I think it’s an opportunity to look at a lot of different options with players that are already NHL players. I’ll certainly look at those options.”
Next up for Chiarelli and his staff is more scouting and more planning and conversation.
“We have our meetings starting Monday, our amateur meetings. Then we have our combines at the end of May, beginning of June so those are the next two things. There’s still some viewings left in the chase for the Memorial Cup. There’s still some top players playing.”
The 2016 NHL Draft will take place June 24-25 in Buffalo, NY.
The Maple Leafs are on the clock.