First Overall Pick: The Moment of Hope or Despair

These two men control the fate of the free world. (Photo by Abelimages / Getty Images for NHL)

The first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft is in the books. The Oilers walked out with Taylor Hall in their pockets and not much else to speak of besides hope and rumour and supposition. I'm sitting in my cheap hotel in a dangerous neighbourhood waiting for tomorrow morning when we will once again rouse ourselves and send our credibility hurdling into the abyssal void that is trying to predict the hockey careers of teenagers.

Rounds two through seven of the draft tomorrow are carried online by NHL Radio, but we'll of course be giving you live coverage of the draft through this very site, starting with round two and the Oilers' second pick of the draft at eleven A.M. Mountain Daylight Time.

My day one live blog from the Staples Center is after the break.

3:45 PM Pacific Daylight Time: This is it. 4 PM Pacific Daylight Time. The draft picks are in town. The media members have assembled, cards marked "PRESS" crudely jammed into the bands of their fedoras. The world has occupied couch and chair, televisions thrumming with activity, the collective brain trust of the hockey world having spent its considerable mental energies on determining right here and right now the thirty teenagers whose names will be shouted and who will have the responsibility of carrying a multi-million dollar organization on their shoulders before most of them are old enough to drink.

It's a daunting moment. Even viewing it from the outside, there is actual, genuine, palpable tension in the air. Each team in the NHL employs maybe a dozen scouts whose primary function in life is to get their team as prepared as possible for this moment. General managers are evaluated intently today, and the evaluation of their performances will not let up for a generation. Senior hockey men who spend most of their time in the shadows come to the forefront to make some of the biggest decisions in sports. Even the media personalities, the Bob McKenzies and Pierre McGuires, develop all of those contacts and watch all of those clips from teams we could never bring ourselves to care about just so they can sit on national television and give an informed opinion on which pimply kid barely out of puberty is better than the others.

And then there are the kids themselves. And their parents, their families, their agents, their assorted hangers-on. For almost every last one of them, this is the biggest day of their lives and the biggest stage they've ever seen. For some it's the first step on a long staircase to glory. For others, they will never top the moment their name is called one gorgeous clear evening in Los Angeles. Today, nobody knows which side of that divide they will fall on.

Hell, no wonder it's tense here. For all my (bluntly) bragging about coming to the draft, this is essentially a lark. If I completely blow it and wind up writing 2,500 words about how annoyed I am with David Staples that he named this arena after himself, it hardly matters (what, are people going to make fun of me? Ooooh nooooooo!). But I'm feeling nervous just because three quarters of the other people here seem to be teetering on a razor's edge.

I'd be thrilled if it wasn't so terrifying.

(This post will be updated with reactions as we pick the next Michael Henrich. Stay tuned, drop in your comments, and click that "refresh" button once in a while.)

3:54: They're doing a roll call of the thirty teams at the Staples Center. No, seriously. I guess the assumption is that some of the teams might not have showed up?

They're also asking the teams to identify the two guys who will be making the decisions. The two guys announced for the Oilers were Steve Tambellini and Stu MacGregor. Read into that what you will.

4:01: As you'd expect, the Los Angeles Kings got huge cheers and the Anaheim Ducks/San Jose Sharks both got seriously booed. But there's actually a huge Oilers traveling section here too! They're pretty much clustered in the corner over Edmonton's draft table, they booed Calgary like hell, and the Kings and Oiler fans combined to just serenade the Canucks with hatred.

It was great

4:14: Gary Bettman, up on stage. As has grown traditional, the Staples Center booed the hell out of him until he started to suck off the home team with the vigour of a particularly down-on-her-luck homeless resident of Nanaimo.

Maybe it's just the voice like he drank a glass of razor blades, but Gary's powers of boredom are even more mesmerizing than usual. I want to nap on my computer just looking at him.

Taylorhall_medium4:22: Well, that was a poorly-kept secret. Taylor Hall of the Windsor Spitfires is an Edmonton Oiler, and the mighty Copper and Blue roll out the same cute kid as last year to pose with him (Daryl Katz's son, or so they say).

The Bruins are taking their sweet time coming out. Has Jordan Eberle and Ales Hemsky for the number two happened? Bettman's still standing there...

4:50: Taylor Hall kept us waiting for about fifteen minutes before coming out for his press scrum and said absolutely nothing that took him outside the Bull Durham School of Press Conferencery. You'll be interested to hear he thinks Edmonton is a great hockey town, that he hopes he can make the Oilers next year, that he doesn't know what number he wants or whether he'd wear #4 if Kevin Lowe offered it, that Steve Tambellini liked his courage, and that my left arm really hurts from holding that goddamned recorder up.

5:01: While I was standing around suffering serious arm strain waiting for Taylor Hall to grace us with his presense, Seguin, Gudbranson, and Johansen all went. Now Niederreiter and Connolly. Has Cam Fowler got swine flu or something? What the hell is going on here?

5:16: A brief scrum with Vice-President of Remembering the Eighties Kevin Lowe. No, he didn't say whether he'd let Hall wear #4. But he did say that the Oilers had decided on Hall a little ways in advance but deliberately tried to milk the tension for public relations purposes. Seriously. He said that, and with a you-know-me smile on his face. I'm going to have to try to get the exact quote except I think I was recording the palm of my hand most of the time.

Lowe is like the un-Bettman: he's much more engaging in person. No wonder the Edmonton media stands up for this guy. When the Oilers PR guy said time was up he actually stuck around for a bit, and he gave the impression of being honest. I think I might love the guy.

5:27: More Taylor Hall gossip. Kevin Lowe was asked if the Oilers were worried about picking a winger when centre is such a hard position to draft for. And Lowe hemmed and hawed a bit but finally said that Hall had reassured him he could play centre as well as anybody, and that he'd played centre in his early junior/bantam career. Now, Lowe was also capable to point out that this isn't what made the decision for them. But it seems like something you wouldn't want to put much stock in, if you're asking me. Taking draws against Bobby Rottencrotch in an Ontario bantam league is a bit of a different beast than taking them in the NHL, as Andrew Cogliano could tell you.

5:35: Okay, one more piece of Kevin Lowe lore. He said that, yes, they talked to Boston about getting the second overall pick. And yes, the Boston Bruins listened. But there was no indication Peter Chiarelli was actually interested in making a deal. Essentially, it was the Bruins doing their due diligence and listening to serious offers but certainly not shopping anything.

5:39: Nobody on the press risers has any idea what's up with this McIlrath/Campbell nonsense while Cam Fowler still wastes away on the draft board. Did he get a DUI or something on his way to the rink? This is just bewildering.

By the way, I'm running the most recent updates at the top, and then they go in order from the first to the next-most recent. It was Bruce's idea. I hope this is making sense, guys.

5:48: Fowler goes twelfth. Twelfth! He was easily the third-best player in this draft! And he goes twelfth! To Anaheim! I think all that booing was not least because the goddamned Ducks just stole one.

6:02: The worst part of picking first overall is that you spend an awful long time sitting around trying to be analytical, trying, trying, trying, and you just wind up being sarcastic.

The journalist in me still wants the Oilers to trade up, because it would give me something to do. But the fan in me knows that we're deep into the second tier of the draft now. I'd happily take a guy like Mark Pysyk if we could fetch the pick to snare him, but what would that pick cost us? Andrew Cogliano? Fine by me! Andrew Cogliano and Riley Nash? Well, I'm getting questionable. More? Certainly, packages that size haven't been getting it done so far.

Hey, it's Bob Stauffer! A little nervous that I might meet him and he'll challenge me for the title of "Lord Bob". He's a big guy and I'm worried he could take me.

6:08: Finally, a trade, as the Kings grab the fifteenth overall for the nineteenth and fifty-ninth overall picks. There is an immediate "Pick Etem!" chant, which brings back more than its share of horrible, awful Shane Doan memories to me. On my right, Kings blogger Connie Kim is suddenly typing like her fingers are on fire.

And there it is: Steve Kelly! Er, I mean, Derek Forbort! It's beautiful! It's gorgeous! It's hockey! I have seen this exact movie before and I hated it the first time but now...!

6:16: The Ottawa Senators complete the first trade I didn't hear about on Twitter before I heard about it in person, moving the sixteenth overall pick to the St. Louis Blues for defenseman and last year's first rounder Derek Rundblatt. My knowledge of Derek Rundblatt could be conservatively estimated by the fact that Derek had to tell me how his name was spelled.

The Blues promptly use that pick on Vladimir Tarasenko, a short and stout Russian forward. Tarasenko is actually at the draft, which may make the only time he spends in a North American hockey arena for a long damned time.

6:27: Pierre Lacroix is not a tall man, and new Colorado Avalanche centre Joey Hishon can look him in the eye. That's a bad sign. You're drafting a 5'9" centre who didn't play particularly well for a not particularly good OHL team with the seventeenth overall spot. You should be getting Jordan Eberles there, not... well, I can't think of a decent midget centre without any sort of junior pedigree to speak of.

6:34: Austin Watson (eighteenth overall to Nashville) had, like, four rows worth of family members leaping up and cheering as the Predators called his name. I was actually taken aback by the cheering - what, Predators fans in the house? - until I turned and saw this big guy in a cheap suit hugging, like, nine hundred people.

6:53: Not much going on in Oilersville but I had a chance to ask a couple questions to John Davidson. This one's for Derek: the Blues took Justin Schwartz and his nine millionth overall draft ranking because they liked Schwartz better. The trade with Ottawa wasn't finalized at that point, and Doug Armstrong was holding back on pulling the trigger before seeing who the Kings took. Los Angeles took the evolutionary Steve Kelly, and then the Blues made the move to bring in the Tarasenko pick.

Davidson seemed to like Rundblatt, or at least he said he did, but he was quite explicit that he was drafting for need. The team had a surplus of young defensemen, so gassing a defensive prospect for an attacking prospect like Tarasenko seemed like a logical move for him.

7:12: Mark Pysyk of the Edmonton Oil Kings is off to the Buffalo Sabres at the twenty-third overall. A great pick for the Sabres in every way. He's a nice player with a good attitude and you know his numbers weren't being padded by his team because his team was terrible. Buffalo, meanwhile, won the Northeast Division and is actually pretty good. They're got a good history with defensemen, too. I like this pick for everybody concerned. I don't even have any sarcasm for this one.

7:20: Now that I've seen it in action, I have to say: that board they've been displaying the draft picks on for the last fifty years is bloody magic.

Steve Yzerman and Scotty Bowman are hanging out. I'm not saying they're talking trade. I'm saying they're hanging out. That's actually kinda nice to see.

7:35: Mark Pysyk is probably ten times smarter than Taylor Hall. Just talking to him, even sitting behind a counter with the cameras in his face, you could see the wheels turning. You'd ask him a question and he'd think about it and before long he'd be answering. Never giving anything away, never opening himself up for a criticism, but because he was intelligent enough to catch his mistakes rather than because of a lack of natural thoughtfulness. I asked him what it was like going from the last-place Oil Kings to being drafted by the division champion Sabres and I could see his eyebrow twitch, just slightly, as if thinking things he knew he could never enunciate in a million years. Then he gave the answer you expect, of course: the Oil Kings are on the way up but it's nice to be part of a winning organization.

Hell, he even got the "cracking self-deferential jokes" thing right. And he's got all the talent in the world. But this smart, likable kid falls to twenty-third and an idiot frat boy goes first overall. Such is sport.

7:47: Just two picks left in the day: Anaheim and Chicago, with the Ducks already walking towards the podium. There's no way to express how weird covering the draft in person feels to a guy who watches it on TV like I do. You feel like you're in some bizarre universe where everything is familiar except how it's all completely different. Somebody makes a pick and you shoot the shit with the guys sitting next to you about it, then you go out and talk to him and start talking about how his eyebrows twitch.

I've probably missed seven, eight selections just because I was talking to guys. I don't even like interviewing that much. It just seems like such an efficient way to get an answer to a question and before you know it it's 29th overall and you realize you should probably find out how to get back to your hotel at some point.

7:50: Emerson Etem. Well, that was a tap-in for Anaheim. The local boy still on the board, probably ten slots past where he should have gone, and the Ducks aren't nearly stupid enough to let him miss. Second time Anaheim's grabbed a guy when he should have been gone loooong before they got there. The reaction on the press riser was tremendous: a guy sitting the row in front actually shouted "yes!" and leapt up pumping his fist. Anaheim Calling's Arthur, sitting directly to my left, insists he's "trying to be professional" but he doesn't look it.

The crowd gives Etem a bigger ovation than any Duck has probably ever had in this building. A "let's go Ducks!" chant starts up, but the Kings fans come to their senses in time to silence it with a round of booing.

Shane Doan has gone to Winnipeg.

7:59: As we reach four hours even on this thing, the draft sputters to a close with the Chicago Blackhawks on the clock. But there's a trade - the Hawks move down five spots, taking the fifty-eighth overall pick as compensation for their trouble. A stiff price to move five spots in the late first round. Surely the New York Islanders have some clever coup up their sleeves.

Instead we see... Brock Nelson. A 6'3", 200-odd pound centre out of an American high school. Ranked early second round on the sorts of people who rank the early second round, but not highly esteemed by yours truly. Three American high school players go in the first round today, despite the fact that, well, they're playing in high school. The bust-to-boom ratio out of high school is awfully poor. But that doesn't only not stop teams from picking high schoolers today, it doesn't stop them for trading up for the privilege.

A bewildering ending to day one of the draft. But, then, it was a pretty bewildering day.

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