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Oilers win lottery, will pick No. 1 in 2012

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton, AB - Can you believe it? Neither can General Manager Steve Tambellini, whose not-so-subtle smile lit up the TSN studio when his club's logo was revealed, giving the Oilers a third-straight No. 1 overall pick and dropping the Columbus Blue Jackets to the second, less desirable spot.

"I was sitting at the desk and there were a million things going through my head about various players and options," Tambellini laughed as I spoke with him over the phone, post-lottery. "I did my best not to look at (NHL Deputy Commissioner) Bill (Daly), so I was looking at all the monitors and I eventually saw our the logo come up.

"Bill's got a great poker face, so I was trying not to pay too much attention because the odds of winning weren't as good as Columbus'. No matter what, it's such a great feeling to get this unexpected gift."

As extraordinary as it is to have the league's top pick once again, Tuesday's outcome was downright historic.

Since the process was introduced in 1995, the second-to-last place team had never won the lottery. In 2010 when the Oilers chose Taylor Hall, the pick was secured by winning it outright as the team with the best odds. The New Jersey Devils won last year, keeping spots 1-3 unchanged and ultimately bringing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to Oil Country.

The Oilers had an 18.8 percent chance of winning.

"It's the best position, no question," Tambellini said. "We control what happens. Whether we move (down) or not, it's up to us, as a management team in a couple months, to decide that once our homework is done -- what the options are, and if it's moving the pick, how we determine what the value is. If it's keeping the pick, what type of player is it? Are we picking a forward or a defenceman?

"We've got an incredible opportunity," he added. "There are about six or so defencemen that we believe are going to be good, quality NHL players down the road. There's a big centreman in Mikhail Grigorenko that's going to be an impact player, too. Then there's an explosive winger, Nail Yakupov. There are so many things that we're going to have to talk about, so it's going to be an exciting time."

From beginning to end in 2011-12, Yakupov's name has held the top spot on NHL Central Scouting's rankings list among North American skaters. In 42 games with the OHL's Sarnia Sting, he scored 31 goals and 69 points, along with a +15 rating. In addition, he represented Team Russia at the 2012 World Junior Championship, winning a silver medal as an 18-year-old.

"Just as a player in watching him, he's an emotional, exciting, explosive player," Tambellini said, citing a comparable to one of the league's greatest pure goal-scorers of the 1990s. "He reminds me a little bit like Pavel Bure and how he was when he scored. [Yakupov] absolutely loves to score and this young player shows it all the time, much like Pavel did with such raw emotion."

Tambellini would have a good idea, too. He was working with the Vancouver Canucks in various capacities, including such titles as the Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations and Vice President of Player Personnel in the late 90s when The Russian Rocket was potting goals at will.

In more ways than one, Bure helped shape the community and the Canucks organization with his thrilling style and unbridled, off-the-ice enthusiasm. 

"I haven't met Nail personally, but that will be part of the process. It's our duty to determine why these kids are good, or why they might not be able to handle being the No. 1 overall pick. When you speak to Taylor Hall and you speak to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at the Combine and away from that, you understand immediately that they're capable of being that pick -- and there's a lot that comes with being that pick -- it's important, so it's time for us to go to work and determine who's the right choice for us."

As impressive at Yakupov's (and others') seasons were and continue to be, the GM stressed that the interview process is equally as vital. It's part of what made Hall and Nugent-Hopkins such shoo-ins in management's eye, regardless of how closely ranked they were among their peers.

"No question," Tambellini agreed. "As much as you need to know what kind of player he is on the ice, it's most important that we understand how he can get to a point where he can be the best player; and if he has the makeup and character to be able to handle being such a headline player in an incredible, hockey-mad market in Canada.

"There's a lot that goes into making a decision, but you really have to understand the character and priorities of a person as you go through this process."

As of Tuesday evening, Tambellini hadn't spoken with Head Amateur Scout Stu MacGregor, who's currently off in Hungary on a scouting assignment -- but he has been in contact with other members of the staff, expressing their thrill with the day's unlikely (but highly-positive) outcome.

Tambellini will now return to Edmonton, address the media Wednesday at Rexall Place, then depart overseas where he'll meet up with MacGregor to watch the 2012 IIHF World U18 Hockey Championship in Europe.

"We'll get a good look at a lot of the players that are available," he said. "It will be an excellent opportunity for us to sit down over the next week and really get into the meat of decision-making."

Oil Country can't wait. The 2012 NHL Entry Draft will be another monumental event.

-- Ryan Dittrick, - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick

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