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Tencer's Blog: Process yields top pick

by Dan Tencer / Edmonton Oilers
*** This entry is Part 1 of a 3 part series. Part 1 is a look at the scouting and management staff, Part 2 on Thursday is a look at Taylor Hall and Part 3 on Friday will feature Tyler Seguin ***

Whom will Steve Tambellini announce as the number one pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft? The best player as determined through a year-long Oilers scouting process, Dan Tencer says. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES – 48 hours from now, the Edmonton Oilers will make one of the biggest decisions in franchise history, stepping to the podium at Staples Center with the coveted first overall selection. Despite drafting the likes of Mark Messier, Kevin Lowe, Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr, Jason Arnott, Ryan Smyth and others over the course of their 31 year history, the team has never picked higher than fourth (Jason Bonsignore in 1994). The pick is the consolation prize for enduring a poorly-played, injury-plagued 2009-10 season that saw the team plummet into 30th place in January, a position they endured through the rest of the year.

As General Manager Steve Tambellini would say, the freefall presented a great clarity, an obvious indication of how to approach the future. No longer would the team be chasing expensive veteran goaltenders via free agency or looking to trade away future with the hope of acquiring a spoiled sniper. No, this team will become what the draft makes them -- nothing more, nothing less. With previous selections like Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Linus Omark, Jeff Petry and others approaching NHL readiness, the foundation has already been broached. Those pieces, though, must be complemented by countless more fruitful 18-year-old selections, starting with a home run on Friday.

If the Edmonton Oilers ran their draft operation as a democracy, dynamic Windsor Spitfires winger Taylor Hall would don Copper and Blue for the first time this weekend. Sitting today in a Beverly Hills conference room, by a majority of which the size differs depending on who you talk to, the hockey operations staff of the team (written to mean all those employed by the club in a position directly associated with personnel in some form) is in on what the Oilogosphere has dubbed Team Hall. With no disrespect to Tyler Seguin they say, Hall is the best player available in this year’s draft and probably would have went first overall last year, too, if he’d been eligible.

There are those who disagree, of course. Seguin, the more complete and cerebral player, commanded the attention of those in the industry a year ago when he dominated at the U-18 World Championships. Those on Team Seguin argue that you can’t ignore the rapid development of the player since he hit his growth spurt around the time he entered the OHL two seasons ago. That all said, this isn't a democracy.

Oilers head scout Stu MacGregor (seated centre) meets with his scouting staff in LA days before the draft.
This isn’t the first rodeo for Oilers head scout Stu MacGregor. He’s been in the business for more years than he’d care to remember sometimes and he’s been in charge of the last two Oilers drafts, yielding Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson as first round choices in 2008 and 2009 respectively. This time is different, though. This isn’t number 10 or number 22, it’s number one; he’s the Homecoming King of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

Contrary to many in his industry, and certainly going against the grain of the media machine, Stu MacGregor hasn’t found himself swayed too dramatically throughout the yearlong courtship of Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. He’s backing the same horse on Friday night that he was even before it became apparent that the Oilers were going to get to choose. Of course, Stu’s opinion only translates into a name bar on a jersey if it avoids a veto by Steve Tambellini.

The Oilers GM didn’t use that hammer in 2008, nor 2009, and he won’t this year, either. The brass of the team heads to Staples Center as a unified group, in agreement on which player they have deemed Best Player Available. But, they aren’t telling. It seems they all have a “Tyler Hall” or “Taylor Seguin” joke. Make no mistake, there’s no indecision: the decision has been made for some time, even if they aren’t tipping their hand.

Of course, that decision wasn’t arrived at without some serious discussion. Rewind to early this month at Predator Ridge resort in British Columbia. The scouting and management staff sit around a u-shaped table in a conference room . . . again. MacGregor and Tambellini have instructed the team to put on a pageant of sorts, designating two scouts as the main performers. The first gets up to make an impassioned argument in favour of Tyler Seguin, followed of course by another who does the same for Taylor Hall; a years worth of work put into one oral examination. It’s all there. The strengths of the game, the character, the unique abilities he’d bring to the franchise. Damn convincing, both of them.

The room listens, already having their own minds made up, of course. Shortly thereafter, each man gets a turn. Tambellini and MacGregor soak it all in, calling out names from around the room and expecting a direct assessment of who the individual feels is BPA and why. It’s just another step in a rigorous process of diligent research. As Assistant GM Ricky Olczyk told me midway through the process, if a teacher had taught or a preacher had preached or a coach had coached one of these players, the Oilers had talked to them.

In the end, it translated into over a year of work, thousands of man hours, dozens of interviews with each player, countless game film reviewed and opinions from more people than they'd care to remember. Those on either side of the argument acknowledge that it's an extremely close race; they say they'd be perfectly content having the other player under any circumstance. But, tight as it may be, one player will have a better career, will make a bigger impact on his team and, most importantly, will win more.

Who are the Oilers hedging their bets on? Find out on Friday as 630 CHED's live coverage from Los Angeles kicks off at 3pm MT.

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