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Oilers GM Tambellini interviews potential No. 1 picks

TSN.ca Staff

6/3/2011 11:21:04 PM

Last year, the Edmonton Oilers found out what it was like to make the number one overall selection in the NHL Draft when they made Taylor Hall the first player off the board.

However, even with an off-season's worth of experience scouting and eventually selecting the top pick in 2010, the Oilers' choice in the 2011 NHL Draft doesn't get any easier. 

"I think it's different this year because last year it narrowed down to maybe two people, and this year when you talk to teams there's possibly four or five that all could legitimately be the top pick," explained Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini.

Red Deer Rebels centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Swedish defenceman Adam Larsson are the two front runners with three weeks to go before the June 24 NHL Draft in St. Paul, Minnesota. Jonathan Huberdeau has creeped into the conversation for the top pick after leading the Saint John Sea Dogs to a Memorial Cup victory, while being named MVP of the tournament. Swedish winger Gabriel Landeskog has also been mentioned as having an outside shot to hear his name called first.

"These couple years we need to pick high, we need to bring in elite athletes and players into our organization again this year," said Tambellini. "Is there pressure? Maybe, but when you get to the end of your meetings and discussions and then you finally make up your mind on who you're taking, it's a good feeling because we know we are going to get a great player."

The Oilers are holding the first, 19th and 31st picks in June's draft, giving them plenty of bargaining chips if they wish to make a move, something Tambellini isn't ruling out.

"I think it's my responsibility to stay open to anything. If I feel it really helps our organization, I'll consider it," he stated. "I'm not afraid of moving up with the 19th pick or the 31st pick, if that's something [chief amateur scout] Stu McGregor and his staff really feel is important. If they really believe in it, then I'll consider it."

Tambellini was in attendance for Friday's NHL Draft Combine, giving him a first hand look at the top prospects.

"It's the first for me to actually speak with them and get to know a little bit about [the prospects]," said Tambellini. "Obviously the physical aspect of the combine, which started today, is an important thing as far as projection and to really see where these young guys are versus each other.

"There are different levels of physical maturity that you see. Some of the players that you see walking through right now, they look like they are pros that they are ready to take it on, and other guys look like maybe they are a year or so behind. But at the end of the day it all evens out, they just come in at different stages."

With a roster full of young talent up front, including Hall, Magnus Paajarvi, and Jordan Eberle, it seems only logical that the Oilers would look to solidify their blue line with an elite defensive prospect, but Tambellini wasn't willing to give up any details his club's plans heading into the draft.

"We are looking at bringing in what we feel can be the biggest impact and building block to our organization," said the Oilers' GM.

"We don't necessarily need a young player to break in. If he does, great, but it's not a deciding factor on who we are going to take."