It’s tough to find middle ground in the NHL draft


After losing a league-worst 55 games the Edmonton Oilers will be in a win-win situation when they lead off the first round of the NHL draft Friday at Staples Center.

Whether they choose top-ranked center Tyler Seguin or second-ranked left wing Taylor Hall they’ll get an exceptional forward to build around. General Manager Steve Tambellini hasn’t dropped any hints, enhancing the suspense.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” said Hall, who shared the Ontario Hockey League scoring title with Seguin last season with 106 points each.

Boston picks second and is sure to take the Taylor/Tyler that Edmonton doesn’t. The talent level then drops, but a cluster of defensemen led by 6-foot-4 Erik Gudbranson, smooth-skating American Cam Fowler and all-around standout Brandon Gormley are likely to go fast to fill immediate needs for some of the next teams — Florida, Columbus, the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Atlanta.

“I think as many as 11 next year will be in NHL uniforms,” said E.J. McGuire, director of the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau.

And who has the 12th pick? The Ducks. They also have No. 29 and five picks to use Saturday in the last six rounds.

“We’ve got four guys identified that could be there at 12, three forwards and one defenseman,” General Manager Bob Murray said. “I’d really like to move up. It’s getting harder and harder as the years go on.”

There’s no consensus on who will be available at 12, but some candidates are right wing Emerson Etem of Long Beach, whose speed and 37 goals earned him raves in the Western Hockey League last season, defenseman Derek Forbort of the U.S. Under-18 team, right wing Nino Niederreiter of Portland of the WHL and Minnesota high school center Nick Bjugstad, nephew of former Kings forward Scott Bjugstad.

“This picking 10 to 14 is not good,” Murray said. “If you want to get a hot young player you don’t get into the 10 to 14. You get a good player that’s a couple of years away.”

The Kings pick 19th, the latest since they chose 20th in 2000. Making the playoffs for the first time since 2002 bumped their scouts out of the front-row spots reserved for lottery teams.

“These guys are going to need a GPS to find their seat,” said General Manager Dean Lombardi, who owns nine picks.

“The problem is now you don’t want to get caught in that middle. It was hard to reach. But it’s going to be just as difficult to get out of that middle and get to the back row as it was to get out of that front row.”

Lombardi said he will pick the best player available instead of targeting a position. The Kings’ depth on defense means he might choose a forward over a defenseman if the two are equal.

Some players possibly available at 19th are center Quinton Howden and defenseman Dylan McIlrath of Moose Jaw of the WHL, right wing Vladimir Tarasenko of Novosibirsk, Russia, and left wing Austin Watson of Peterborough of the OHL.

“It’s about getting the most asset value, particularly when you’re dealing with 18-year-olds,” Lombardi said. “In the NFL, there’s more emphasis on drafting by position. Those guys are ready to play. They’re expected to, a lot of them. But that’s certainly not the case in the NHL. Only the exceptional ones can play right away.”