Oilers assistant general manager Kevin Prendergast was on the Pipeline Show last night for a full hour, and for anyone interested in the drafting and development side of the Oilers organization it's well worth listening to (the full show can be found here).
His comments were wide ranging; he talked about a good portion of the prospects in the system, the problems in Springfield (more on that later), the Oilers goaltending issues and more. Here though I'm going to focus in on his comments about the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
"We have to take the best player available. Whoever we take this year, irregardless of what the fans think ‘he’s small, he’s big’, whatever we’re not going to know what this player is going to be for another three or four years and we don’t know what our team is going to look like at that point."
That's a text-book defense of best player available; I really hope that the organization really views things that way. On the other hand, his next comment seemed to counter his first one:
"As far as the size thing goes, if we take a small player in the first round, chances are we’re going to take a big player in the second round."
Based on that, and the Oilers draft tendencies over the years, I'd say that the Oilers don't really use best player available; maybe they do in the first round, but they seem to try and come away from the draft with a varied group of prospects (at least of late) - some size, some defensemen, some forwards, and so on. I'm not convinced that's a bad idea, at least after the first thirty picks or so (when the options aren't so clear cut), but I it doesn't fit the strict interpretation of "best player available".
It wouldn't surprise me to see the Oilers make an effort to move up, at least based on something else Prendergast said:
"There’s a lot of good players in the top seven which is where you get the opportunity to basically turn your franchise around."
Going off TSN's list (which is hands-down the one that best reflects NHL tendencies), that means that Tavares, Hedman, Duchene, Kane, Paajarvi-Svensson, Schenn and Cowan are all considered possible franchise corner stones by the Oilers. If the Oilers don't move up, Prendergast did offer a hint as to who they might be looking at (although of course it could just as easily have been misinformation):
"We’ll pick the best player available; irregardless of what people say about [12th-ranked defenseman Ryan] Ellis I think there’s a lot of people in hockey that say ‘boy, they don’t have a Dan Boyle’."
Just for the record, I think that would be a great pick; Ellis had 89 points in 57 games in the OHL and regardless of the holes in the rest of his game, that kind of offense can't be ignored (even for a forward, indeed it's a superior set of numbers to Rob Schremp's in either his draft year or the one immediately following it).