LOS ANGELES — How can any team say no to a two-time Memorial Cup MVP, a player who dominated the OHL playoffs and a prospect most NHL scouts and scouting services considered the best major junior player on the planet last season?
The bottom line is you can’t, and the Edmonton Oilers didn’t at the Staples Center Friday, making Windsor Spitfires star Taylor Hall their first-ever, first overall pick in franchise history.
"He’s such an impressive young man," Oilers GM Tambellini said. "I don’t think I’ve met a more focused, competitive athlete in a long time. His compete level is off the charts.
"He’s one of those players that, if the game is at 10, he’s a 12. He just always seemed to be able to rise above whatever was happening at an important time.
"To see that quality . . . I know he was on a good team, but he was the best player on a good team for a long time. Back-to-back MVPs on that type of stage. That’s so impressive to me."
THE GREAT DEBATE
While fans, and Stu MacGregor’s scouting staff, debated the merits of Hall and Plymouth Whalers centre Tyler Seguin — passionate differences of opinion played out on hockey websites like Oilersnation and behind closed doors over several months, it became clear in recent weeks that the dynamic Windsor left-winger was the only way to go.
In the end — after Edmonton’s scouting staff met in the Okanagan a few weeks ago and each member stepped forward to have his say and make his case — the tide turned to Hall and stayed that way until his name was called by Tambellini.
"Our final discussion was today," Tambellini said. "It was a wonderful moment. We had our entire organization in there from hockey operations. Stu articulated his position, which was wonderful.
"I don’t know if it’s relief. The build-up and anticipation from our staff . . . I know Edmonton, the city itself, couldn’t wait. I can tell you also that the staff was dying to make the selection, too."
MacGregor, to name just one member of Edmonton’s scouting staff, was leaning toward Seguin before Hall and the Spitfires began their march to the Memorial Cup.
"I came to the conclusion about three weeks ago that it was Taylor," said MacGregor. "I felt very comfortable with that . . . all the information came together and it was really comfortable for me. Our staff was strong on Taylor. I hadn’t told any of the guys where I stood, then I laid it out today.
"I had the pleasure of being able to watch Seguin a number of times during the season when he was a dynamic player. I’m not at all knocking Tyler Seguin. He’s a tremendous talent and he’ll be a tremendous player in the NHL. He’s a fine young man.
"There were lots of times during the year that I was on Tyler Seguin’s side in this process."
Day-by-day and game-by-game, the evidence in Hall’s favour mounted and it became clear the six-foot-one, 185-pound Calgarian — how’s that for irony? — had to be the player at the front of the line, the face of the franchise, in Edmonton’s attempt to rebuild.
"We’d like to think it’s our one time to shine," said president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe. "Hopefully, it’s our only time."
KEY TO THE CITY
Hall and Seguin, as everybody knows, both visited Edmonton earlier in June. By then, with Tambellini and his staff playing poker-face, the decision as to who would get a return ticket to town had been made — despite claims to the contrary in recent days.
"They (scouting staff) were comfortable with Taylor and I had become very, very comfortable with Taylor, too," MacGregor said. "I felt really good about it.
"Taylor just plays so hard. He gives you something we haven’t had in so long — that absolute passion and drive. Everybody is dying to have a player like that, and now we have one.
"He’s just a guy who rises up. He wants to win. He wants to win a Stanley Cup. He’s the first guy out of all those high-ranked players who talked about winning a Stanley Cup right from the get-go.
"He talks about team. He talks about having success. He talks about not being worried about stepping up, about helping change our franchise, about how excited his is to come to the organization."
In the end, there is no arguing with the selection of Hall. Even those who at one point thought Seguin was the better choice have to admit that.
"This is a great step for us," Tambellini said. "A wonderful step just to see the passion Taylor has. It’s incredible."
Tough to argue that.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.