Cruise through the names on the Edmonton Oilers‘ roster and you’ll see the full spectrum of NHL Draft experiences — the generational No. 1 pick coming in as the franchise saviour, the late-round picks who’ve bested their projections, the undrafted underdogs who proved they could cut it in the big leagues.
Four of the Oilers’ best — Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, James Neal and Darnell Nurse — sat down to chat about those draft day memories recently as part of Hockey Night in Canada‘s Oilers roundtable. And it didn’t take long for the chirps to start flowing.
“We all had different experiences,” Oilers defender Nurse said, looking to the veteran, Neal. “Nealer, the only guy who didn’t go in the first-round.”
While linemates McDavid and Draisaitl were tabbed with picks Nos. 1 and 3 in their respective drafts, and Nurse went off the board at No. 7, Neal had his name called 33rd overall back in the second round of the 2005 draft.
“Yeah, surrounded by first-rounders here,” said Neal. “Silver-spooners.”
As it turns out, not making the first-round cut was hardly the most memorable aspect of his draft day.
“Actually, it was weird because it was the lockout, so we didn’t even really have a draft,” Neal said. “It was in Ottawa at a hotel, only the guys that were going top 10 or top 15 went. So I was just sitting at home on the couch in Whitby, Ontario, and got a phone call — Dallas picked me. So it was a little bit different.”
McDavid’s experience in 2015 was an entirely different affair, with the young history-making pivot’s NHL arrival one of the most highly-anticipated in recent memory. Even the Oilers captains’ dad, Brian, wanted to snag something to commemorate the moment.
“We had a little after-draft party and came back to the hotel, and there was a bunch of banners hanging up,” McDavid recalled. “My dad wanted to take one of the banners. So he climbed up, stole one of the banners, and we still have the banner to this day. So, I guess that would be our funny draft story.”
Nurse entered the NHL Draft fray two years prior, his seventh-overall selection sandwiched between Sean Monahan at No. 6 and Rasmus Ristolainen at No. 8. But it was what happened when Nathan MacKinnon got the call at No. 1 that Nurse remembers best.
“My family’s on one side — me and my mom and sisters and dad. Nate MacKinnon was actually sitting by where my grandparents where, and my grandpa looks probably more like Nate’s grandpa than my grandpa,” Nurse joked. “Nate gets drafted and my grandpa stands up and starts clapping for him right by his family — you would’ve thought he was just part of his family.”
“I don’t even think he was that excited when I got drafted.”
The four Oilers stars also reflected on their most memorable goals so far in their NHL careers — here were the tallies that stood out most:
The Oilers’ lead sniper has plenty to choose from having amassed 71 goals already between this season and last. But there’s one clear tally that stands out — “Probably my hat trick goal in the playoffs.”
Draisaitl capped off a five-point night with the hat-trick snipe, clinching Game 6 over the Anaheim Ducks, briefly keeping alive the hopes of the Oilers faithful during the only post-season run for the franchise in the past 13 years.
On to his sixth NHL jersey, with stints on multiple Cup Final teams, Neal’s had a wide array of situations in which to put the puck in the net. Needless to say, it was tough to pick a single marquee moment.
“I think I had two,” he said. “We played on Dec. 23, my first game in Toronto. So, friends and family there, I was playing for Dallas at the time. I got pass coming down the left wing, I had like a half breakaway. I had two goals — I scored the third goal in Toronto in front of my family and friends.”
The other one, though, was of the type of goal few players ever get to experience.
“In Vegas, scoring the first goal for the Golden Knights was pretty cool — in Dallas, against the team I started with.”
No. 97’s options are no less slim, with two scoring titles’ worth of tallies to sift through. While there have been plenty of memorable highlight-reel plays, the captain instead opted for a goal that signified the end of his painful time away from the league.
“Maybe the goal when I came back from my first injury,” McDavid said, “against Columbus.”
Oilers fans will have no trouble recalling the tally — after being knocked out of the lineup one month into this rookie season and spending 37 games on the sidelines, the young phenom returned. It was Feb. 2 — he posted three points and unleashed what still stands as one of the most dazzling runs of his career:
Though he does his work from the back end in Edmonton, Nurse has 26 career goals on his resumé through four-and-a-half seasons in the league. Enough of a crop to potentially cause him some pause.
But picking out the best of the bunch was a breeze.
“OT winner in Vegas,” Nurse said. “That one was fun.”
The big-bodied defender has three career game-winners in the NHL so far. That extra-time clincher against the Golden Knights marked a dominant two-game stretch that saw him post three goals in all, and two straight winners.
Watch the full Oilers Roundtable at the top of this post as McDavid, Draisaitl, Neal and Nurse also discuss their team nicknames, their favourite road cities to visit and their top cheat meals.