LOS ANGELES – The Edmonton Oilers selected forward Taylor Hall with the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft on Friday, finally ending a yearlong debate about the two best 18-year-old prospects in hockey.
The league-worst Oilers chose Hall over fellow OHL forward Tyler Seguin on Friday, making the toughest call at the top of a draft in several years. Edmonton general manager Steve Tambellini said the club didn’t make its final decision until earlier in the day.
“They’re such a great franchise with so much history behind them,” Hall said after pulling on his blue-and-orange jersey. “With the five (Stanley) Cups they won, it will mean a lot to me to join their organization and hopefully bring another one up there.”
While Hall will go to a rebuilding club, the playoff-tested Boston Bruins eagerly grabbed Seguin moments later with the No. 2 pick.
Edmonton believes Hall has the physical gifts and work ethic to be a mainstay in the middle for a club that has lacked an elite front-line talent since trading Ryan Smyth three years ago.
“He’s such an imposing young man,” Tambellini said. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a more focused, competitive athlete. He was the best player on a good team for a long time.”
Many NHL scouts and executives couldn’t choose a favorite between Hall, a physical left wing who scored 106 points in 57 games for the Windsor Spitfires, and Seguin, a smooth-skating center from the Plymouth Whalers. Seguin was the league MVP last season, and Hall was the playoff MVP while leading the Spitfires to their second straight Memorial Cup title.
“I think everyone has their own opinion,” Seguin said. “We’ve seen it all year with whatever scouting service there may be. Edmonton decided to select Hall first overall, and good for him. He deserves it. And I’m happy to be a Bruin.”
Hall and Seguin both intend to be on NHL rosters this fall, and they realize their careers are likely to run on parallel tracks for many years.
“I don’t think it matters who goes first overall,” Seguin said. “I’m just excited to be here and to be going to Boston. I’m sure the rivalry will continue if we’re both in the NHL next year, but we both respect each other. We’re good buddies, and that isn’t going to change.”
Hall and Seguin spent much of the past three days hanging out together at various tours and events – everything from batting practice at Angel Stadium to a red-carpet Hollywood movie premiere – in the NHL draft’s first trip to Los Angeles.
Hall is the fourth straight OHL player chosen No. 1, following Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, and John Tavares. Those three picks are working out quite well. Just the first round of the draft was completed at Staples Center on Friday. The final six rounds are today.
The first day featured only one significant trade involving current players. Florida shipped defenseman Keith Ballard to Vancouver in a four-player deal involving Steve Bernier and former Spokane Chief Michael Grabner.
While the Los Angeles Kings hosted the draft, the Anaheim Ducks made bigger splashes. Anaheim picked defenseman Cam Fowler with the 12th pick, grabbing a top prospect expected to go much higher, and then drew a huge cheer from the crowd when they picked Long Beach native Emerson Etem with the 29th overall pick. Etem played for the Western Hockey League’s Medicine Hat Tigers this past season.
Florida selected Kingston defenseman Erik Gudbranson with the third pick.
Columbus grabbed WHL center Ryan Johansen with the fourth pick. Forward Nino Niederreiter, Johansen’s teammate in Portland, became the highest-drafted Swiss player in NHL history when he went to the Islanders with the fifth pick. The Islanders already have defenseman Mark Streit, the only NHL All-Star from Switzerland, as a club cornerstone.Prince George forward Brett Connolly went sixth to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who weren’t worried by his recent injury problems. The New York Rangers used the 10th pick on tough Moose Jaw defenseman Dylan McIlrath, who was rated much lower than still-available defensemen Fowler and Brandon Gormley by most scouting services.
The Pittsburgh Penguins made local history with the 20th pick when they chose right wing Beau Bennett. The native of nearby Gardena is the highest-drafted California born-and-trained player in NHL history.
The Ducks then chose Etem, a speedy forward from Long Beach, Calif.
In all, seven Western Hockey League players were drafted in the first round: Johansen, Niederreiter, Connolly, McIlrath, Etem, the Edmonton Oil Kings’ Mark Pysyk (by Buffalo, 23rd) and Medicine Hat’s Quinton Howden (Florida, 25th pick).