- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Edmonton Oilers won the Connor McDavid sweepstakes.

The Oilers bucked the odds Saturday night in Toronto by winning the NHL draft lottery for the No. 1 pick.

The former World Hockey Association franchise, which introduced Wayne Gretzky to the NHL in 1979, is in position to draft the Erie Otters center described as a once-in-a-generation talent.

“I can’t tell you how exciting it is for us to win this lottery,” Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish said during a telephone conference call. “Any team would be just over the moon about winning the lottery. We’re the same. It’s a game-changer.”

The Oilers had an 11.5 percent chance of winning based on their 28th-place finish this season. At 20 percent, the Buffalo Sabres had the best odds to win, followed by the Arizona Coyotes at 13.5 percent among the 14 non-playoff teams

The Sabres will pick second and the chance to land a highly touted consolation prize in Boston University freshman center Jack Eichel. Arizona will pick third.

McDavid was first and Eichel second in the final rankings of North American skaters issued by the NHL’s Central Scouting bureau 10 days ago.

Oilers assistant general manager Bill Scott declined several chances to guarantee Edmonton would select McDavid at the NHL draft in Sunrise, Florida, on June 26. He explained he wants the player and his family to have the chance to enjoy the draft process and hear his name called.

MacTavish said there was “zero” chance he’d entertain trading the No. 1 pick.

“It’s an amazing organization and a true honor to be going there,” said McDavid said, who noted he was nervous while NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly was revealing the draft order. “When they were pulling up the cards, I think that was as fast as my heart’s ever beated. It was sure exciting.”

This marked the second straight year Buffalo lost the lottery, after Florida won last year.

The Oilers will pick first for the fourth time in six years.

They drafted Taylor Hall in 2010, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011 and Nail Yakupov in 2012.

Despite all that top-end talent, the Oilers missed the playoffs for a ninth straight season, a drought that dates to 2006, when they lost in the Stanley Cup finals to Carolina.

“It’s been some pretty lean times over the last number of years,” MacTavish said. “But this is going to go a long way of ending those.”

The Oilers have the go-ahead to build a new arena which is scheduled to open in downtown Edmonton for the start of the 2016-17 season.

The last-place-finishing team has won the first pick six times in the 20 years the lottery was held. Edmonton in 2010 was the last to do so, capping a three-year run of 30th-place teams landing the No. 1 pick.

At 6 feet and 195 pounds, McDavid is regarded as a more talented and creative play-maker than Eichel, who brings a more physical element to his game with a 6-2, 200-pound frame.

Central Scouting director Dan Marr called McDavid “a craftsman with the puck.”

“His hockey sense with his vision, his anticipation, his sense of timing and the ability to do those things at top-end speed: You’re looking at the best skilled player in the draft.”

McDavid had 44 goals and 120 points in just 47 games with Erie this season. He still finished third in the Ontario Hockey League scoring race despite missing a few weeks with a hand injury, and another few weeks to help Canada win the world junior tournament in January. He has added 11 goals and 23 points in nine playoff games - including a five-goal outing April 10.

Overall, McDavid has 285 points (97 goals, 188 assists) in 166 career games with Erie.

Erie has advanced to face Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL semifinals, which open Thursday.

Eichel showed no signs of youth playing against older players during his freshman season at Boston University. He led the nation with 71 points (26 goals, 45 assists) in becoming college hockey’s second freshman to win the Hobey Baker award on April 10.

The only other freshman to do it was former NHL star forward Paul Kariya in 1993 with Maine.

“He is proving to be such an amazing game-breaker,” Marr said of Eichel. “He’s relentless and driven on the play and has the smarts, speed and skills to deliver a needed scoring drive to tie up or win a game.”

Eichel missed an opportunity to win an NCAA title last weekend, when Boston University lost 4-3 to Providence.

Eichel intends to wait until after the draft to determine whether he’ll return to school or make the jump to the NHL.

“It’s my dream to play in the NHL, but I don’t think there’s a rush to go anywhere,” he said.

As for the potential of playing in Buffalo: “Nothing’s set in stone right now. But obviously, it would be really nice to play there. There’s so much tradition there.”

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