Edmonton Oilers chief scout Stu MacGregor knows whose name he wants to call with the team’s second consecutive first overall pick at the NHL Entry Draft in Minnesota June 24.
Of course, MacGregor isn’t about to tell me who he has in mind, and he’s not above letting people try to sway his opinion when he and his scouting staff, along with GM Steve Tambellini and president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe, open four days of meetings in Phoenix May 15.
Regardless of who MacGregor has in mind, it won’t be a two-horse race (one that soon turned into a runaway for Taylor Hall over Tyler Seguin) like it was a year ago at this time when he and his scouts compared a season worth of notes and put together a final list heading into Los Angeles.
My guess is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels is the player MacGregor has pegged for the top pick. Then again, it could just as well be smooth Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson. And what about big Sean Couturier of Drummondville, red-hot Jonathan Huberdeau of Saint John or Gabriel Landeskog of Kitchener?
If you look at the rankings of all the different scouting services and talk to hockey people, you can make a case that any one of the above players should be part of the conversation. Does that diversity of opinion exist on MacGregor’s staff?
That’s what the meeting is for.
MACGREGOR HAS HIS GUY
"I’m pretty good on one, yes," said MacGregor, when I asked him if he’s leaning toward any one player at this point. "I feel pretty good about my guy, yes."
A lot of people would be willing to wager that the gifted but undersized Nugent-Hopkins is the player MacGregor likes with the first overall pick. The slight centre obviously has talent and he plays a position the Oilers didn’t fill last summer when they took Hall over Seguin.
After all, MacGregor and a rotating series of Edmonton scouts, along with Lowe and Tambellini among other team brass, have had eyes on the kid, as you’d expect, several times this season.
Then again, MacGregor just got back from the east coast where he was following Huberdeau, who has been tearing it up of late. And he was just over in Europe to see Larsson. Eyes on Couturier. Eyes on Landeskog. He’s been living out of a suitcase, making only occasional stops back home in Kamloops.
"There’s a lot more players in the mix this year than there was last year," said MacGregor, who was completely sold on Hall by the time the staff met at Predator Ridge a year ago. "Probably four or five . . . I would think that you could hear, probably, four."
By the time Hall and Windsor rolled through the playoffs and Memorial Cup a year ago, it was obvious to MacGregor who the Oilers had to pick. It’s not nearly as cut-and-dried this time, and that’s why there’s bound to be plenty of lively debate in Arizona.
"This is where we put our final list together," MacGregor said. "We make some major decisions on positioning and how it all fits together."
If there isn’t a clear and concise consensus with his staff, MacGregor gets the deciding vote. It’s a standard part of a process in which a year or more of travelling, drinking bad coffee and taking notes culminates with everybody making a case for the player they have in mind.
"If you watched Oil Change, this is where everybody was talking about each player (a year ago)," MacGregor said. "This is where most of your major discussions go on. We’ll have more at the draft and so on, but this is where the majority of your work gets done."
Is Nugent-Hopkins the player MacGregor has in mind? He isn’t saying. Might he be swayed if one or two or more of his scouts insist Couturier, Larsson, Landeskog or Huberdeau is the way to go? Maybe. By the way, who is the one you’re "pretty good on," Stu?
"That’s a good one," he laughed. "I knew that was coming."
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.