ST. PAUL, Minnesota — I don’t imagine Steve Tambellini’s flight had been on the tarmac for very long when his phone started ringing. I don’t expect it’ll stop until he selects Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the first pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft Friday.
Of course, Tambellini hasn’t come right out and called his shot yet. Neither has chief scout Stu MacGregor, who has three selections in the first 31 picks — 1st, 19th and 31st.
And there’s even been some buzz, unfounded as best I can tell, the Edmonton Oilers might put that first overall pick up for grabs and move down, if the price is right. Please. Bet the farm it’s RNH at No. 1.
It’s not that Tambellini had the slight but oh-so-talented Red Deer Rebels center over for dinner the other night. The Oilers did the same thing with Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin last summer, inviting both of them to Daryl Katz’s swank joint overlooking Hawrelak Park.
What telegraphed Tambellini’s intentions for me was his not-so-subtle emphasis Tuesday that while the Oilers obviously want the best player with the pick, it’s not a priority that player wears Edmonton silks when the 2011-12 season begins.
Tambellini was as vague as you’d expect with reporters at Rexall Place Tuesday, offering little in the way of insight as to specifics about what he’s got on the go and who he’s been talking to. No surprise.
It was his insistence the Oilers get a "special player" with the first pick Friday, as opposed to putting any premium on a player ready to jump into the NHL right away, that stuck with me. What Tambellini said screamed, "We’re taking Nugent-Hopkins."
"When I ask our scouts in the meeting, when we get in there, point to me someone who is special," Tambellini said. "Someone who is special who can bring something we don’t have.
"Something that is, maybe not right now, but maybe a couple of years from now is going to be obvious elite. That’s what we need."
I don’t think selecting Nugent-Hopkins and then sending him back for another season in the WHL is a particularly hard sell, even if the vast majority of forwards taken first overall in the last 25 years have made the jump directly to the NHL the season after they’re drafted.
"I’m not adamant that this player, whoever he is, has to play next season," Tambellini said. "That’s the difference, I think. Taylor, I think, we knew more than not that he was going to play and we had a spot for him.
"This year, if the player can play, great. If he doesn’t, I’m not worried about that right now. I just want the best player."
Besides, we’re putting the cart way ahead of the horse to suggest Nugent-Hopkins won’t play in the NHL next season just because he’s a bit scrawny. Assuming, of course, they pick him.
Fans roll their eyes, and with good reason, when we begin churning out the obligatory stories about the possibility of the Oilers moving up in the first round. That’s happened how many times? Exactly.
The dynamic is considerably different, however, with Edmonton already holding the first pick.
Tambellini has already said he’d like to move up, be it a bold move into the top-five with an eye to landing Adam Larsson, or into the top-10, and he hasn’t backed off that.
The way I see it unfolding, the 19th overall pick, obtained in the Dustin Penner trade with Los Angeles, stands to be a big bargaining chip in any effort Tambellini makes to move up, be it something he bundles with the 31st pick, a roster player or a prospect.
"That’s why that pick at 19 was so important to us," Tambellini said. "We’ve spoken for some time that these are the couple of years where we need to build and acquire elite talent.
"I just don’t want to move up to move up. If our staff, if someone is there and they are extremely passionate about a player who is sitting there, whether it’s two picks up or seven picks up, we’re going to be aggressive to try to move up and get this player, if that player is the right player."
2012 PICK UP FOR GRABS?
Jim Matheson and I asked Tambellini specifically about the possibility of packaging the 19th pick Friday with his first pick in 2012 in an bid to land a second top-five pick. He certainly didn’t shoot the idea down, and I remain convinced it’s a possibility that’s on the table here.
"If you’re doing something in a big deal at the top end of the draft, those things would come into discussion," Tambellini said. "I’ve had a lot of talks with all the teams in the top five or six. I would consider, if it’s the right deal, I’d consider anything."
Like I wrote several days ago, I see Dale Tallon and the Florida Panthers as a primary target if Tambellini is swinging for the fences in his pursuit of Larsson. If Tambellini can’t get that done and he’s looking at defensemen Duncan Siemens or Ryan Murphy, my bet is he calls Scott Howson and the Columbus Blue Jackets, who hold the eighth pick.
"I think there would be confidence with our organization," Tambellini said when I asked him if he believes the Oilers will improve enough next season to avoid giving up a lottery pick, should he decide to offer up his first selection in 2012 here.
"But it may not be the same with the other person I’m dealing with. Once you make up your mind it’s a player you really want, you’re going after it. Sometimes the price is lower, sometimes it’s higher, but you’re going to be aggressive to go and get it.
"It’s more on what they think of our organization, what they’re trying to project, not what I’m saying."
THIS AND THAT
— 630 CHED is poised to strike a three-year extension as radio rightsholder for Oilers broadcasts. It’s a package that will see them take Bob Stauffer and his popular Oilers Lunch show away from TEAM 1260 after two years at Astral.
— Jason Gregor and I will be live in Minnesota today and then I’ll get on the sniff this afternoon to see what’s happening. All the schmoozing between GMs will pick up this afternoon and reach its peak tomorrow as everybody rolls into town. I’ll file another item tonight.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.