EDMONTON — If there could be one area to blame for the ‘Decade of Darkness’ in Edmonton — is there ever just one? — we would point to the draft. Not enough players after the first round, and a pipeline that flowed with mediocrity, thus 12 playoff misses in 13 years.
The salary cap era has driven the point home: the entry draft is where teams get free players that can be controlled contractually for the next decade. This is where the shelves are stocked; where good organizations get the tide of quality prospects rolling through the organization.
Where, if you draft consistently well, each prospect can spend his two seasons simmering in the AHL — because the players above have done the same. Now you have an NHL roster that can not be made by some hot shot first-rounder walking out of junior hockey, as was the case in Edmonton for so many years.
Look, every team has its misses at the draft table. That is how players like Joe Pavelski, Henrik Lundqvist, Ondrej Plat and Frederik Andersen are all members of the ‘Drafted in the Seventh Round Club.’ The reality is, if a team drafts two players per season that play in the NHL until they are 27, they have defined success at the NHL draft.
So, with time on our hands, we looked back on the Oilers salary cap era drafting. From that first draft of the salary cap era — the 2005 draft, held at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa because of the lost season to a lockout — that preceded the 2005-06 season, when the initial cap was set at $39 million, until now.
Hits, misses, and downright whiffs:
Most 100-Game NHL Players
For me, 100 NHL games is a barometer of if a player “played” or not. Yes, it’s subjective. But if a player gets in 33 games, do we look back and say he “played” in the NHL? Or did he have “a cup of coffee” there? A “few games.”
The Oilers’ 2010 draft produced the most players to play 100 or more NHL games, starting with No. 1 overall Taylor Hall (627 and counting). After that, injury-plagued second-rounder Tyler Pitlick — now on his third organization with Philadelphia — has played 248 games. The eternal sixth or seventh defenceman Martin Marincin comes next with 227 games, and way down in the sixth round, journeyman defenceman Brandon Davidson is plugging away with his sixth organization at 174 NHL games played.
Not coincidentally, that was the only draft in which Edmonton had 11 selections. And we’re still wondering, what ever happened to the Ottawa 67s Ryan Martindale?
Most Games Played from One Draft
This can be a deceiving stat, and in Edmonton’s case it is. The 2005 draft produced the most with 1,515 NHL games, but 1,012 of them belong to first-rounder Andrew Cogliano. And the Oilers had to trade Cogliano to Anaheim back in 2011 before he found his true identity as an NHL player.
Beyond Cogliano, that 2005 draft produced just second-rounder Taylor Chorney (166 games), third-rounder Danny Syvret (59) and fourth round pick Chris VandeVelde, who only played 28 of his 278 NHL games in an Oilers jersey.
So, when you’re talking about a team that has had as many first overall (four) and top 10 picks (11) as the Oilers have, perhaps the best indicator of a good draft is…
Games played by Players Drafted Below Round 1
So let’s eliminate the Halls, the McDavids, the Draisaitls and the Nugent-Hopkins’. Let’s face it: picks that high have to play. (Cough, Nail Yakupov, cough).
The Oilers draft that produced the most games played by players NOT drafted in Round 1 was back in 2006, and you can thank Jeff Petry for that. In a year where Edmonton did not have a first round pick — wisely traded for Dwayne Roloson at the ’06 Deadline — the Oilers selected a right-shot D-man from the Des Moines Buccaneers in the USHL, who would attend Michigan State and not play his first NHL game until 2011.
It would take Petry eight seasons to reach the 30-point plateau, and by then he had been to Montreal for a second round pick (Jonas Siegenthaler) and a fourth (Caleb Jones). Now, he’s a horse who will likely play 1,000 games.
The other D-man who played from that 2006 draft? Theo Peckman, or “Teddy Peckman” as Don Cherry famously called him. He played 160 games.
Edmonton’s Best Draft — No Strings Attached
2015 — Sure, my golden retriever could have spotted McDavid at No. 1, but Edmonton’s next pick did not come until the fourth round. That year, chief scout Stu MacGregor — fired five days before the draft, but he still gets the credit — nailed the 117th pick with Caleb Jones, snared Ethan Bear in the fifth round and chose John Marino in Round 6 at 154th.
This season Bear and Jones both became regulars in Edmonton. Marino, who refused to sign in Edmonton, was dealt to Pittsburgh where he also has a long future ahead of him. Literally, half an NHL defence corps was reaped from the bottom half of the draft.
Edmonton’s Worst Draft — Can We Have A Do-over?
2013 — Getting Darnell Nurse at No. 7? No one is complaining about that selection, a six-foot-four shutdown D-man who skates well, fights better and eats up 23-24 minutes per night. But the rest of that draft? Pee-yew!
The Oilers had nine more picks, a second-rounder (Marco Roy), two thirds (Bogdan Yakimov and Anton Slepyshev) and three picks in the fourth round (Jackson Houck, Kyle Platzer, Aidan Muir). And, they still had three picks after that, spent on Evan Campbell, Ben Betker and Greg Chase.
Take Nurse and Slepyshev — who might possibly return to Edmonton from the KHL next season — out of the mix, and the Oilers got exactly one NHL game played out of eight drafted players.