Edmonton - March 27, 2014 - With the Edmonton Oilers heading for what could quite possibly be their fourth first overall pick in the last five years, many fans have finally reached their breaking point.
Not surprisingly, much of the blame for what currently ills this roster continues to be hurled towards former general manager Steve Tambellini.
While it’s nearly impossible to not look at Tambellini and point the finger for what appears to be a rebuild that has gone terribly wrong, let’s not go completely overboard here.
Ever since receiving a beat down of epic proportion at the hands of the Calgary Flames during last Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, there have been those who have accused this organization of going about this rebuild in the wrong way.
Again, a fair point but when the discussion turns to how the Oilers should have used their lottery picks of years gone by to help build this team from the backend out, one can’t help but chuckle.
As they are currently structured, this team is flawed in more than a few areas and the gaping hole on the backend stands out above the rest. No one would ever question that.
With that said, can someone explain how this organization would be any better off if they had focused on drafting defencemen during the Tambellini era as opposed to route they chose? If you go back and take a look at not only where the Edmonton Oilers drafted from 2009 - 2012 at NHL Entry Draft but also consider the blueliners who were taken by the other 29 organizations over the first couple of rounds, some of you may want to change your position.
In my mind, selecting Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were no-brainers with the first overall pick in both 2010 and 2011. Now some would argue they should have gone with Tyler Seguin and Gabriel Landeskog but no matter what side of the ledger you come out on, none of those guys are defencemen. In fact, if you look at the first thirty names that were selected in each of those years, only Cam Fowler and Jonas Brodin have turned into legitimate top pairing NHL blueliners.
The Anaheim Ducks had Fowler fall on their laps at #17 in 2010 and the Minnesota Wild made what turned out to be a brilliant selection when they snatched Brodin at #10 in 2011. Many of the so-called experts felt Adam Larsson could have easily been selected ahead of either Nugent-Hopkins or Landeskog but he ultimately fell to number four on draft day and the kid is still struggling to find his way as an NHL regular with the New Jersey Devils.
How about 2009? That was Tambellini’s first kick at the can and Edmonton grabbed Magnus Paajarvi with the ninth overall pick. Almost no one expected him to be around when the Oilers were scheduled to pick and everyone felt it was a solid selection by Stu MacGregor and his staff. One could argue they should have called the name of Dmitri Kulikov, who Edmonton also had on their radar, but they decided to go with the Swede instead.
Just like Paajarvi, the talented Russian rearguard went much later than most were anticipating, as the Florida Panthers took him fourteenth overall. Kulikov would have been a solid pickup but as of this moment, he is a second pairing D man at best. The funny thing about the first round in ’09, it did produce two great defencemen in Victor Hedman (#2 to Tampa Bay) and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (#7 to Phoenix) but both started really hitting their stride in 2013…four years after being drafted.
Which brings us to 2012…and the Nail Yakupov vs Ryan Murray debate. At this stage of the game, it is common knowledge the scouting staff wanted to take Murray but Daryl Katz wanted the young Russian sniper. Leading up to the draft the vast majority of fans wanted the Oilers to take Yakupov and in the end, both the fans and owner got their wish.
Regardless of whether you think they made the right call or not, that pick has absolutely zero to do with the Oilers current predicament. While Murray had himself a decent rookie campaign in Columbus before getting injured, let’s remember the situation he was placed with the Blue Jackets, compared to what he would have had to deal with in Edmonton.
The kid has all of sixty-one NHL games under his belt and is nowhere near being an impact defenceman at the tender age twenty. He is coming off back-to-back season in which he has been injured and is by no means a guarantee to turn into the stud defenceman everyone wants so badly. That doesn’t mean he won’t turn out to be one but there is no guarantee.
If you want to blame Steve Tambellini for doing a piss-poor job of constructing the Edmonton Oilers rebuild during his four plus years at the helm, by all means, have at it. He didn’t do nearly enough to improve his NHL roster during his tenure and seemed almost scared to make a move that might come back to bite him down the road…not exactly good qualities to have if you are the general manager of a sports franchise.
That aside, when it comes to the how the Oilers used their draft picks over that same time frame, it is rather difficult to find fault with many of their selections. There were some poor picks along the way, just like every other organization, but the vast majority were solid bets and with the likes of Oscar Klefbom, Anton Lander & Martin Marincin all starting to push for regular NHL duty, they look that much better.
It is all well and good to sit here and say they should have done X,Y and Z four years after the fact but in reality, the players people are complaining about them not having were not even available for them to select at the time. That will likely change this summer and regardless of whether Stu MacGregor and his staff decide to take Aaron Ekblad or go a different route with one of Sam Bennett, Leon Draisaitl or Sam Reinhart with their first round pick, there will always be those who question it in the future.