If the Edmonton Oilers want to draft the player likeliest to have the biggest impact in the NHL next season, they can end any mystery now and announce they’ll be selecting Taylor Hall of the Windsor Spitfires in June, should they retain the No. 1 pick in the lottery.
If you’re projecting three, five or even seven years down the road — which is what the NHL Entry Draft is about — you can make a case Tyler Seguin of the Plymouth Whalers is the name Oilers’ chief scout Stu MacGregor should call at the podium in Los Angeles.
With little to separate, Hall, who tallied 40-66-106 in 57 games in his third OHL season with Windsor, and Seguin, who had 48-58-106 in 63 games in his second season with Plymouth, in Central Scouting Service rankings, any rankings for that matter, MacGregor and the Oilers have a decision to make. Hall or Seguin?
The next step in that decision-making process begins in the second round of the OHL playoffs in Windsor Thursday when Hall and Seguin go head-to-head as the Spitfires face the Whalers.
I wrote not long ago I believed the Oilers were leaning toward Hall, a dynamic left winger who is less than three months older than Seguin, but has one full OHL season more on his resume. If the Oilers want the player who is most NHL ready now — which doesn’t preclude him from staying a tick ahead of Seguin five or seven years down the road — then he’s the guy.
But, if MacGregor and the Oilers scouting staff think Seguin, who fits an obvious need at centre, projects better beyond the next couple of training camps when, successful rebuild willing, this franchise is on the upswing, well, duh, he’s the guy.
While that’s an obvious conclusion, deciding who’ll be better when the puck drops in 2012-13 isn’t so easy. When it comes to Hall and Seguin, consensus among the Oilers scouting staff has been elusive. I can’t say for sure what they’re thinking. I don’t know if they can, either.
I don’t know what MacGregor’s call will be, let alone if he’ll get it right, which is the object of the exercise.
"Hall is the easy pick. I understand that," MacGregor said. "But, you want to make the pick that makes you better for a long time.
"So, maybe the other guy isn’t quite as developed as Hall is. It’s easy to say, ‘Taylor Hall,’ and then you move on. It depends where you want this thing to go.
"The idea of the process we’re now going through is to make sure we make unemotional decisions. We make decisions based on the best thing for this hockey club moving forward and projecting this player."
MacGregor, going into his third Entry Draft as chief scout and a hockey man I’ve known since the New York Islanders got it wrong by taking Dave Chyzowski of the Kamloops Blazers second overall in the 1989 Entry Draft — ahead of Bill Guerin, Olaf Kolzig and Adam Foote — won’t tell me which way he or any member of his staff is leaning.
MacGregor has personally seen Hall a dozen times, including twice in the opening round of the OHL playoffs. He’s seen Seguin eight or nine times, including twice in the first round. He’ll see both in this series.
So will amateur scouts Chris McCarthy, Kent Hawley and Brad Davis, as well as pro scout Morey Gare, GM Steve Tambellini and, I’m guessing, president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe.
"You learn something every time," MacGregor said of seeing Hall and Seguin in the first round. "It was good. The players, for me, responded extremely well.
"The biggest thing is I can kind of go in and out of rinks without anybody knowing, but Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini can’t. The players would know, generally, if those guys are in the rink."
So, did Hall or Seguin make any substantial gains or lose any ground in the first round?
"I won’t say anybody helped themselves more than the other, but neither of them hurt themselves," MacGregor said. "And, in one case, and I’m not going to tell you which case, he showed me something that I hadn’t seen before."
The Oilers won’t know where they pick until the NHL lottery is held April 13, but they’ve got a 48.2 per cent change of getting the first pick as the league’s 30th-place team.
Here and now, Hall and Seguin are about as joined at the hip as Henrik and Daniel Sedin. They were dead-even in OHL regular season scoring, although Hall played six fewer games. They’re dead-even in playoff scoring through one round. Hall has 6-4-10 in four games. Seguin sits at 5-5-10 after five games. No surprise, then, they’re dead-even with every ranking outfit that matters.
Those who think Seguin is the better prospect point out Hall played on a better team with far better teammates and still only marginally outscored Seguin in points per game (Hall was 1.86 and Seguin 1.68).
A look beyond the boxcars shows Seguin was a more productive goal-scorer at even strength, scoring 35 goals even up and just 13 on the power play. Of Hall’s 40 goals, 22 came at even strength, 14 were on the power play and four came shorthanded.
Hall backers point out he’s more explosive, a physical presence, a leader — we’ve heard comparisons to Mark Messier. As an aside, he’s bigger and stronger than Seguin right now — forget what he’s listed at, Hall weighs in at 200 pounds.
All the above goes in the hopper with what MacGregor and his staff will see in this series and the rest of the playoffs as they await the lottery and draft day. Ultimately, though, all that matters little when the puck drops in 2012-13 or so.
"As long as you’ve done your preparation and your work, you are in a situation where you should be comfortable and you’ll be able to make your decision without having emotion into the pick," MacGregor said.
"At that point, once we get to the draft table, we’ll be comfortable where we’re at."
For now, it’s too close to call. As I recall, it was much the same back in 1989, when the Islanders took Chyzowski one pick after the Quebec Nordiques called Mats Sundin’s name.
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