Oilers look to strike it rich with top pick in draft

ST. PAUL, Minnesota (Reuters) - With the top pick in the NHL draft for the second consecutive year the Edmonton Oilers have plenty of choice, but their decision will come down to a playmaking Canadian center or a Swedish defenceman.

With the Stanley Cup and NHL Awards already handed out, the spotlight swings to Minnesota for Friday's annual draft, which scouts have described as deep with as many as four players worthy of number one consideration.

While no players with the caliber of Sidney Crosby or Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky are expected to surface from this year's talent pool, the quality on offer has all 30 teams believing they will leave the Twin Cities with bright future prospects.

The Oilers, who used the number one pick last year to grab Taylor Hall, are expected to pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, an 18-year-old center from Red Deer of the Western Hockey League.

Nugent-Hopkins, who led the WHL with 75 assists last season, has been described in Gretzky-like terms for his on-ice vision and creativity but is more often compared to Detroit Red Wings flashy Russian Pavel Datsyuk.

While Nugent-Hopkins would give Hall a skilled setup man for seasons to come, Adam Larsson could prove a tempting target for an Oilers team whose most glaring need is on the blueline.

The 18-year-old, physical, puck moving defenceman has spent the last two years playing in the Swedish Elite league logging plenty of ice time while helping Skelleftea to the championship final this season.

If Larsson is selected by the Oilers he would become the first Swedish player to be taken number one since the Quebec Nordiques used the top pick in 1989 on Mats Sundin.

The Colorado Avalanche hold the second pick while the Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders round out the top five selections.

Gabriel Landeskog, the Swedish captain of the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers, is widely considered the most physically NHL-ready player in the draft and will most likely find a home among that top group of teams.

The same can be said for Saint John Sea Dog forward Jonathan Huberdeau, who was named most valuable player in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs and Memorial Cup.

The Ottawa Senators will make the sixth pick, followed by Winnipeg, the NHL's newest team still without a name or a jersey, who will make their first selection at number seven.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have the eighth pick while the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins will get the ninth selection having obtained the first round pick in an earlier trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It will be busy weekend for NHL scouts and general managers with teams back at work on Saturday for rounds two through seven.

(Writing by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)