BEST PLAYER AVAILABLE, PLEASE

The question about drafting the best player available versus selecting based on organizational need isn’t a tough one. The way I see it, there is no greater "organizational need" than drafting the best player available, especially when a team holds the first overall pick, as the Edmonton Oilers do.

That approach seems pretty obvious to me, and to you, too, based on all the response generated by what Oilers chief scout Stu MacGregor told me May 14 when I asked him if he and his staff had come up with a clear No. 1 prospect on the team’s draft list going into Pittsburgh June 22.

"We’re still working through that process," MacGregor said. "We haven’t really got to that point yet. I’m going to say it’s between a group of guys."

Really? A group of guys? (Nail) Yakupov, (Ryan) Murray and . . . Alex Galchenyuk . . . Morgan Rielly . . . Griffin Reinhart? Or is it just that you won’t tell me?

"That’s right,” MacGregor said. “But I think (GM) Steve Tambellini was pretty clear that, you know, maybe we do have to make an organizational decision . . ."

An organizational decision? Like to NOT take the BPA and instead draft based on what the roster might look like two, three or even four years from now? Say it isn’t so, Stu. Say it isn’t so.

IT ISN’T SO

My interpretation, and I wrote this in the comments of the May 14 item, is "organizational need" will only come into play if MacGregor and his staff have two prospects playing different positions, say Yakupov and Murray, rated too close to call based on what they’ve seen all season and what testing at the NHL combine in Toronto will reveal in the next few days.

That situation, a dead heat, doesn’t happen very often, especially with teams holding the first pick. I do recall, however, two times over the course of the last decade when organizational need did sway who the Oilers selected with picks later in the first round. That would be 2002 and 2003. It went badly.

In 2002 after failing to move up in a bid to land defensemen Jay Bouwmeester, the Oilers moved down one spot, from 14th to 15th, and then went right off the board by taking Finn Jesse Niinimaki. Chief scout Kevin Prendergast explained the pick this way:

"He fit the bill for us as far as needing a big centreman. He’s got all the tools to be there. We don’t think he’s that far away."

In 2003, after failing to move up in an effort to land defensemen Ryan Suter, Braydon Coburn or Dion Phaneuf, the Oilers moved from 17th to 22nd by way of a trade with New Jersey rather than take Zack Parise. Edmonton opted for Marc Pouliot because, in part, organizational need had the Oilers looking for more size (they also got J.F. Jacques with the 68th pick).

"Parise would have given us another small centre," Prendergast said. "We felt we had to get a little bit bigger. Zach’s skating is something that bothered us a little bit, too."

Did I mention this turned out badly?

HERE AND NOW

In both cases, organizational need – the desire to add size – influenced who the Oilers selected. And again, to be fair, the picture is not nearly as clear with mid to late picks in the first round like Pouliot and Niinimaki as it should be with the first overall pick.

If MacGregor and his staff have a dead heat atop their list in terms of the absolute BPA (I don’t think they do), then position and size are fair ball as tie-breakers, just as interviews at the NHL combine can be IF they add insight or reveal character traits – for better or worse.

Outside the rare circumstance of too-close-to-call, however, weighting organizational need when selecting teenaged prospects who are years away from being a finished product and making an impact on a roster that will likely look drastically different is a sucker’s game.

If Yakupov has graded out No. 1, take him. If Murray tops the chart, take him. Same for Galchenyuk or whoever sits in the top slot. Tambellini has to be able to trust his scouting staff and go with the consensus. If he can’t, he needs different scouts. If he won’t, he has to answer for the pick.

Take the best player available.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.