Steve Tambellini was a very happy man by the conclusion of the 2011 NHL entry draft. Of course there is no way that he and his staff acquired every player they had their eyes on, but they were extremely excited about the players that did get. At the same time, despite what he said, I truly believed that Tambellini was doing everything he possibly could to bring Ryan Smyth back to Edmonton. From his tone and from his body language, maybe even a twinkle in his eye I was sure that he was trying to get Ryan Smyth and that there were some issues beyond his control that he was battling with. Now, the draft is over and wouldn't you know it, Ryan Smyth is once again my favourite Oiler (don't tell Magnus Paajarvi or Jordan Eberle though, I think there is still room for all three with me). I suppose this also means that I need to take apart my home made Tyler Seguin jersey. Yes, this time last year I used masking tape to turn my Ryan Smyth jersey into a Seguin. It made for a great draft day conversation piece.
When asked about taking Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall, Tambellini was quick to comment that he felt RNH will complement the rest of his core youth well "Oh yeah, to look at the list I guess and to see first of all the skill level and vision and of a Ryan Nugent Hopkins and to really start thinking about that, over the next few years. To see him playing with Taylor, Jordan or Magnus, that's really exciting." I think he's right. There are aspects to each players' games that will help their team-mates learn, grow and develop. Not a single scout, reporter or even hockey fan I spoke with at the draft, at the pubs or even on the ride home could deny how exciting it will be to watch the Oilers going forward, and just how magnificent they can become.
Taylor Hall is also said to be excited about Nugent-Hopkins joining the team. Hall joined Tambellini and the rest of the Oilers brass in the twin cities to help welcome Nugent-Hopkins to the Oilers' fold. Tambellini commented "Taylor said, that's not bad if that guy passes me the puck for a few years." And added that no, it would not be a bad thing at all.
The week prior to the draft, Tambellini mentioned that there were some definite holes in the Oilers line-up, that he wanted nothing less than to add elite players to his list of prospects and even his roster. With the addition of defenseman at the draft, Tambellini noted "I'm excited that we really built on our depth of defenseman; size for sure, people that can play against speed, people that can play against size for sure. We've got depth on power play position with Dillon Simpson that eventually will get a chance to run the power play He's going to get a chance with team Canada this year. Some skill with Rieder, a couple of goaltenders; depth that our goaltenders coach Freddie Chabot was very excited about and Matty VerNon our pro scout in Finland was very excited about... we filled some major spots."
The conversation of Ryan Smyth was brought up continually, and each time Tambellini was quick to let everyone know that this was not a subject he was willing or able to discuss. "I wish I could give you something new right now but I honestly don't have anything." Thankfully we have something now. Thankfully Tambellini did not lay out all of his cards and focussed on making the deal of the off-season for the Oilers. It was interesting that when asked about Brule, about whether or not he was healthy enough to play, Tambellini responded "He's been cleared to play for a long time." It was pretty clear with that phrase, at that point in time just where the hold up lay.
There was a plan in place. When asked about the possibility of using the higher draft picks Tambellini said "My philosophy on trading down... I stress quality not quantity." Unless Tambellini felt that he could get just as good a player, he was not interested in trading one pick for 3 (for example).
Part of the excitement of this draft, a large part of the excitement of this draft, was the dynasty Oilers' connections. Keegan Lowe was the only son of an Oiler I had the pleasure of seeing up close and in person this season, but the excitement surrounding the other players was unmistakeable. "It's not just the organization, that's special and unique to the Oilers. Just the fact that there is the blood lines there that understand the culture, the pressure, to know what it takes. Sometimes these young guys don;'t know that they have it in them until you see the way that they react to different situations, they just sort of know." When Tambellini mentioned this to the media scrum, I got shivers. He's right though, these young players not not just good on the ice, but they have also been raised to love the Oilers the way you did (in most cases) plus they also grew up with added pressures of being in the public eye.
When asked about Keegan Tambellini responded "I remember the same situation in Vancouver. I'm thinking that if you bring your son immediately inot the organization, ya it can work. Think about the pressure on the young player, regardless of if they can do everything right... I was so happy to see a team step up the way Jimmy did with Carolina realised with Keegan. That kid is competitive and he's gotten a lot bigger in a short period of time. he;'s going to be a great pro. I love the fact that he is able to establish himself on his own two feet." I have no doubt that Lowe could have been successful with the Oilers, but I completely respect his request to set out on his own path. It's not just pressure for Lowe junior, but it would also be Kevin Lowe that would feel the pressure. "I think people underestimate not just the pressure on the young men, but also the emotion and pressure on the parent for their child... I'm sure the weight of the world is off their shoulders."
When asked about the Finnish goaltender Samu Perhonen, Tambellini quickly responded "Our people were really excited about him... We knew that we were going to have to take him a little bit earlier maybe than what people thought. The two tournaments prior to the under 18 where teh team struggled maybe a little bit knocked him a touch,, but if you look at his whole career and where he's come from with that type of size and that technical base that he already has, he has a chance to be a great goaltender." Perhonen clearly struggled speaking with the media after his selection. You could see and sense his excitement, but also his frustration and panic when asked questions he was clearly not prepared for. I asked Perhonen about his army commitments, he had no idea what I was asking. I posed the same question to Oilers' head amateur scout Stu MacGregor who could not answer that question for me either. I will have more from MacGregor and Perhonen later this week.
"Whether its through free agency or trade we recognize that we need to also have some solid leadership people." Tambellini noted, and concerning RFAs added "We can't bring everyone back at this point, we're going to have to make a few decisions with some people... We have some work to do." Of course Tambellini still recognizes this as a long term goal. "You've got to acquire the talent first. The talent is not always in Edmonton yet. We're just building our American league franchise... We're definitely in the right direction."
Before Tambellini could run away to do interviews with the NHL I managed to sneak in one more question, are you satisfied with this weekend at the draft table. "I'm extremely satisfied. I think Stu did a wonderful job. Mission accomplished with depth of D and a very special player." With that, he tapped me on the shoulder, said it was nice to see me and thanked me for coming. Yes, this was the second media scrum in as many days I had taken part in with Tambellini, but still it was a nice touch. It's easy to say that we don't agree with decisions that may be made, but we are all still just human and all trying to do the best we can with what we have.