Yesterday, I looked briefly at what Steve Tambellini had to say about Darcy Hordichuk at the conclusion of the first day of free agency (if you want to listen to the whole thing, it's available on the Oilers' website). Later on in that press scrum, Steve Tambellini was talking about adding size to the lineup (and where Teemu Hartikainen might fit in particular), and moved from that to talking about the entry draft. No one had asked him about the draft, so I thought it was interesting that he took the discussion there and wanted to talk a little bit about his comments, especially in light of the mostly negative review the Oilers got for picking Mitch Moroz.
Here's what Tambellini had to say:
We're conscious of the fact that we would like to have a heavier presence in the top of our lineup. A lot of that happened around the draft too, you know. When we start talking about objectives, that most of the time you have to draft those players. Getting those big heavy players that can play that high in your lineup--pretty difficult to get.
As I mentioned in the opening, these thoughts come to us without anyone else mentioning the draft. This suggests to me that Tambellini saw an opportunity to take a question about adding size generally to explain why the team did what they did at the draft, knowing that there has been some dissatisfaction with it from fans and media. Honestly, that in and of itself is pretty smart.
Now, on to the actual content of what Tambellini said. On the one hand, the Oilers have a team filled with small talented forwards, so he's quite clearly describing a draft-for-need policy here, which I generally don't like all that much. On the other hand, these small talented forwards will likely be around for a decade, so drafting for need up front actually makes sense. More importantly, he's at least trying to acquire players that he thinks are difficult to get for free, which in my view, is the whole point of the draft.
There's nothing to be gained from drafting a player that you think will fill out a fourth-line role, which is why the pick of Cam Abney pick was so bad. It makes much more sense to go with a player that you think might play higher in the lineup if everything works out. For the Oilers, that means going for players that a solid combination of size and skill. When Stu MacGregor spoke about the pick of Mitch Moroz, I think that's exactly what he was trying to communicate:
You always have to step up if there's a player you like, and we liked him. We've followed him and we think his development curve is on the way up. He provides some, not just toughness, he's a good hockey player. He takes the puck to the net really hard, he shows a little bit of touch around the net, he's only played one year of junior. I think that he's got an opportunity with continuous development and drive, he's got a chance to be a good player for us.
This is not a guy that the team hopes will be a fourth line player. This is a guy that the team hopes to see develop into a guy that can play as a top nine forward. He won't be driving the bus offensively, but he'll be able to keep up with the skill players and give the team the physicality that this management group believes to be necessary to win.
Now, is it really the case that these guys are hard to acquire? At the top end, this is obviously true, but if you're willing to take on risk or get a guy at the lower end of the scale, there are usually a few players available. Taylor Pyatt is still available. Guillaume Latendresse and Colby Armstrong both would have fit the bill and went cheap on July 1 because both players are also coming off serious injuries. Regardless, it's good to see that there's some method to drafting a guy like Mitch Moroz beyond looking for depth guys--the Oilers were approaching that selection (and much of this draft) with an eye toward acquiring talent that they feel is necessary and would be difficult to procure in other ways.