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Highs and Lowes:
The Edmonton Oilers at the NHL Entry Draft

By Matthew McCallum
(Originally published December 31, 2003; Updated: January 3, 2004)

When it comes to discussing the NHL Entry Draft tendencies and performance of the Edmonton Oilers, conventional wisdom holds that the team was skilled (or very lucky) in the period from 1979 through 1981, and then suddenly got rather dense (or very unlucky) from 1982-onward. And certainly a surface gloss review of those hyper-successful early drafts compared to later efforts draws one initially to that conclusion. The actual truth, however, is a bit more complex and requires thorough investigation.

Obviously, in those early years the Oilers selected much earlier in the draft order compared to later years when the team was among the top clubs in the league. (The exception, of course, was 1979 when the Oilers drafted last overall. That draft, however, is widely acknowledged as the deepest in NHL history as it included 20 year-old juniors and under-aged professionals with experience in the defunct World Hockey Association.) Moreover, thanks in part to the success of those early drafts, there were limited job opportunities on the Oilers active roster for Entry Draft players selected in the post-1982 period. Either they were competing directly for roster spots with the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Kevin Lowe, or later – when those players were shipped off in multi-player monster swaps – competing against the young talent gained in those 3-for-1 trades. Indeed, you could make a convincing argument that during the sell-off years the Oilers were more interested in unearthing the young talent hidden in the farm systems of other NHL organizations than they were in scouting the undrafted talent from junior and European leagues.

The investment of the Oilers in player development is also a key issue. Due to their line-up being ravaged as part of the 1979 NHL expansion, the Oilers key draft picks almost always started directly with the team without a minor league apprenticeship. Indeed, during the Oilers' first three NHL seasons their primary farm teams played in the Midwestern-based Central Hockey League, a relatively short flight to Edmonton if it became necessary to import a warm body for the active roster, but not the best proving ground for developing young talent. As their NHL roster became more established and there were limited opportunities for promising draft picks to claim a spot in the lineup, the Oilers shifted their farm operations to the American Hockey League in 1982-83. However, it took a number of years to establish the Moncton Alpines (1982-84), Nova Scotia Oilers (1984-88), Cape Breton Oilers (1988-96), Hamilton Bulldogs (1996-2003) and Toronto Roadrunners (2003-date) as positive teaching and development environments. The cost-conscious Oilers were also among the first teams to draft heavily among European and US College players, in part to escape the direct costs of player development.

Finally, it should be noted the Edmonton Oilers were extremely successful during the 1980s in signing undrafted free agents to fill various role-player needs. Undrafted – and more often than not college-trained – players such as Charlie Huddy and Randy Gregg were able to step into the lineup with a greater level of experience and maturity than any junior-age draft pick and they were able to anchor the club during their Stanley Cup runs.

While Edmonton’s success in acquiring assets through trades and free agent signings clearly had a demonstrable impact on their draft picks making it to the professional level with the Oilers, that still leaves us to address the perception (real or not) that the Oilers drafted incredible poorly from 1982-onward. To determine the validity of this viewpoint, the first task is to establish non-subjective criteria by which to gauge success from failure. Thankfully, a working model already exists.

In the early 1990s, the Hockey News included as part of their annual Entry Draft coverage an analysis that endevoured to quantify the success (or lack thereof) of NHL teams at selecting NHL-caliber players. The measuring stick was the realization of an average of 80 NHL regular season game appearances – the length of an NHL season at the time – for each player drafted in each draft year. Thus, if a team made five selections at one draft, those five players would need to play a combined total of 400 regular season NHL games for that year to be considered a successful draft.

Given the challenges involved in the selection of still-growing 18-year-old boys and projecting where their maturity and skill development will be three to four years later, a number of NHL scouts believe that if you can find one good player out of any draft class, you’re ahead of the game. For the purposes of this analysis, “good” is defined as playing a lot of NHL games. This is in keeping with the Hockey News’ criteria, which didn’t attempt to quantify particular selections by their talent or skill, but merely gauged a team’s success in finding players who could remain at the NHL level for at least the length of a season on average.

There are some who might argue that an 80 NHL regular games played per draft pick average may be too low a threshold, particular due to NHL expansion in the 1990s creating hundreds of new job opportunities for players to enter the league and to greatly extend their careers once there. During the mid-1980s youth movement, players in their early-30s were considered on their last-legs. In today’s NHL, players in that same age bracket are considered to be in their prime with many NHLers having their careers continue through age 40 and beyond. (It should not be neglected that improved conditioning also plays a significant part in this phenomena of longevity in addition to the tempo of today’s game which is focused more on passive traps and defensive systems.)

The only response to that line of reasoning is through a simple calculation. The active roster for an NHL team is 23 players, including two goaltenders and three reserves. In a 30 team NHL, that’s 600 available on-ice jobs and another 90 as reserves. At each Entry Draft there are approximately 250-280 players selected. For each draft pick to play a season in the NHL, there would need to be a complete turnover of all NHL rosters a little over once every two years (2.1 to 2.4 years depending on the number of players drafted). Given that in 2003 the NHL reported the average career lasts 5.5 years, that means at most only 38 to 43 percent of all draft picks in any given year could be expected to play the equivalent of a full NHL season in their career. And that meager percentage drops even further when you factor in all the players whose careers extend beyond 80 games, as well as teams signing and playing undrafted free agents. In this light, establishing a success threshold for draft picks of 80 NHL regular season game appearances seems reasonable.

So, since entering the league in 1979, the Edmonton Oilers have been through 25 NHL Entry Drafts with three different General Managers (Larry Gordon 1979, Glen Sather 1980-99, and Kevin Lowe 2000-date). Over that time the team has drafted 270 prospects, of whom 98 have played at least one regular season game at the NHL level (although not necessarily for Edmonton) and 46 have played in at least 80 NHL regular season games (again, not necessarily all for the Oilers). These compute to success rates of 36.30 percent and 17.04 percent respectively.

Using the Hockey News criteria discussed in detail above, I’ve analyzed all the Oilers Entry Drafts and determined a pass/fail grading for each draft based on its achieving above or below the baseline average of 80 NHL regular season games per player drafted. The results are illustrative:

  • Eleven Oilers Entry Drafts can be declared successful as they surpass the minimum baseline requirements of an average of 80 NHL regular season games per player drafted.
  • Another three Oilers Entry Drafts are on the cusp of being graded as successful as they are nearing the minimum regular season games played baseline. With active players still performing at the NHL level from these draft classes, these drafts have a more-than-reasonable expectation of surpassing the criteria.
  • Conversely, four Oilers Entry Drafts can be declared failures by their not achieving the minimum NHL regular season games played standard and, as they no longer feature any players who remain active in the NHL, have no expectation of meeting that criteria.
  • The remaining seven Oilers Entry Drafts have been graded as inconclusive given that they are too recent to be determined successful or not.
  • A detailed year-by-year analysis of each Oilers Entry Draft follows:

    1979 Entry Draft
    Grade: Successful
    Average: 683.83 NHL regular season games per selection
    The 1979 Entry Draft is the gold standard to which – rightly or wrongly – all other Edmonton Oilers Entry Drafts are compared. The Oilers only selected six players that year. Their first three picks were Kevin Lowe (21st overall; 1,254 NHL regular season games), Mark Messier (48th overall, 1,716 NHL regular season games and counting) and Glenn Anderson (69th overall, 1,129 NHL regular season games). These three picks are a natural hat trick by any standard, and possibly the best 1-2-3 selections by any team in the history of the NHL Entry Draft. Moreover, with Messier now second only to Wayne Gretzky in career points and nearing Gordie Howe’s career games record, he is arguably the best draft selection ever – and he wasn’t even a first rounder!

    Rounding out Edmonton’s remaining selections that year were Max Kostovich (84th overall, never appeared in the NHL), Mike Toal (105th overall, 3 NHL regular season games) and Blair Barnes (126th overall, 1 NHL regular season game). Barnes’ only NHL appearance was with the Los Angeles Kings.

    1980 Entry Draft
    Grade: Successful
    Average: 480.13 NHL regular season games per selection
    With their eight selections, the Oilers scored another hat trick in that draft, choosing Paul Coffey (6th overall, 1,409 NHL regular season games), Jari Kurri (69th overall, 1,251 NHL regular season games) and Andy Moog (132nd overall, 713 NHL regular season games). In 2001, Kurri became the first Oilers draft choice to be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame and Coffey seems a lock to join him in 2004.

    Also selected that year was Walt Poddubny (90th overall, 468 NHL regular season games) who appeared in only four games for the Oilers but enjoyed a lengthy NHL career with stops in Toronto, New York Rangers, Quebec City and New Jersey.

    The remaining four players taken by Edmonton – Shawn Babcock (48th overall), Mike Winther (111th overall), Rob Polman-Tuin (153rd overall) and Lars-Gunnar Pettersson (174th overall) – never appeared in the NHL.

    1981 Entry Draft
    Grade: Successful
    Average: 246.11 NHL regular season games per selection
    The Oilers selected nine players that year but only claimed two blue-chippers: Grant Fuhr (8th overall, 868 NHL regular season games) and Steve Smith (111th overall, 804 NHL regular season games). Fuhr was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.

    Other notables from that draft included Marc Habscheid (155th overall, 345 NHL regular season games), Miroslav Horava (176th overall, 80 NHL regular season games) and Gord Sherven (197th overall, 97 NHL regular season games). Horava never played for Edmonton, making all his NHL appearances with the New York Rangers over the parts of three seasons.

    Todd Strueby (29th overall, 5 NHL regular season games) and Paul Houck (71st overall, 16 NHL regular season games) saw limited action, with Houck skating only for the Minnesota North Stars. The remaining two selections – Phil Drouillard (92nd overall) and Mike Sturgeon (155th overall) – never appeared in the NHL.

    1982 Entry Draft
    Grade: Failed
    Average: 32.83 NHL regular season games per selection
    Despite claiming twelve players, this year became the first blemish on the Edmonton Oilers draft report card with Jaroslav Pouzar (83rd overall, 186 NHL regular season games) and Raimo Summanen (125th overall, 151 NHL regular season games) the only selections of significance.

    The Oilers first pick – Jim Playfair (20th overall, 21 NHL regular season games) – was a bust and began a broken string of first round selection miscues. Playfair only played two games for Edmonton before closing out his brief career in Chicago. Steve Graves (41st overall, 35 NHL regular season games) and Dean Clark (167th overall, 1 NHL regular season game) also saw limited NHL action.

    The remaining seven selections – Brent Loney (62nd overall), Dwayne Boettger (104th overall), Brain Small (146th overall), Ian Wood (188th overall), Grant Dion (209th overall), Chris Smith (230th overall) and Jeff Crawford (251st overall) – never appeared in the NHL.

    1983 Entry Draft
    Grade: Successful
    Average: 164.55 NHL regular season games per selection
    With eleven selections this time out, the Oilers were able to get things back on a successful track by claiming Jeff Beukeboom (19th overall, 804 NHL regular season games) and Esa Tikkanen (80th overall, 877 NHL regular season games).

    Don Barber (120th overall, 115 NHL regular season games) and John Miner (220th overall, 14 NHL regular season games) also saw NHL action. Barber never appeared in an Oilers sweater, playing all of his major league games with the Minnesota North Stars, Winnipeg Jets, Quebec Nordiques and San Jose Sharks.

    In an echo of their 1982 effort, Edmonton’s remaining seven selections – Mike Golden (40th overall), Mike Flanagan (60th overall), Dale Derkatch (140th overall), Ralph Vos (160th overall), Dave Roach (180th overall), Warren Yadlowski (200th overall) and Steve Woodburn (240th overall) – never appeared in the NHL.

    1984 Entry Draft
    Grade: Failed
    Average: 50.58 NHL regular season games per selection
    The Edmonton Oilers had twelve selections to use and they squandered almost all of them. The team selected only one player of note: Todd Ewen (168th overall, 518 NHL regular season games), a hard-nosed thug who fought his way through the league with the St. Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Mighty Ducks and San Jose Sharks. Ewen does hold the distinction of being the Oilers draft pick to play the most NHL games without ever suiting up in an Edmonton sweater.

    Four other players – Selmar Odelein (21st overall, 18 NHL regular season games), Daryl Reaugh (42nd overall, 27 NHL regular season games), Emmanuel Viveiros (106th overall, 29 NHL regular season games) and Simon Wheeldon (229th overall, 15 NHL regular season games) – had short careers in the NHL. Two of these players never suited up for Edmonton: Viveirios skated only for the Minnesota North Stars, while Wheeldon appeared only with the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets.

    And, for the third year in a row, Edmonton’s remaining seven selections – Todd Norman (63rd overall), Richard Novak (84th overall), Rick Lambert (105th overall), Ivan Dornic (126th overall), Heikki Riihijarvi (146th overall), Joel Curtis (209th overall) and Darren Gani (250th overall) – never appeared in the NHL.

    1985 Entry Draft
    Grade: Successful
    Average: 106.64 NHL regular season games per selection
    The Oilers selected another eleven players that year, but the fact that this draft can be viewed as successful is due almost solely to the performance of just one man: Kelly Buchberger (188th overall, 1,149 NHL regular season games and counting). Buchberger currently ranks fifth on the games played by an Oilers draft pick list, behind only legends Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Kevin Lowe and Jari Kurri.

    Beyond Buchberger, the story of the 1985 Entry Draft is pretty bleak. First round selection Scott Metcalfe (20th overall, 19 NHL regular season games) was in the league for a cup of coffee without cream. Mike Ware (62nd overall, 5 NHL regular season games) wasn't even there long enough to grind the beans.

    The remaining eight players Edmonton selected – Todd Carnelley (41st overall), Tomas Kapusta (104th overall), Brian Tessier (125th overall), Shawn Tyers (146th overall), Tony Fairfield (167th overall), Mario Barbe (209th overall), Peter Headon (230th overall) and John Haley (251st overall) – never appeared in the NHL.

    1986 Entry Draft
    Grade: Failed
    Average: 4.17 NHL regular season games per selection
    The Oilers went back to making sub-par selections this year with no players of any great consequence drafted, although half of the twelve players chosen made short appearances in the NHL.

    Kim Issel (21st overall, 4 NHL regular season games) became another example of first-round futility, while Dan Currie (84th overall, 22 NHL regular season games) proved to be the most prolific of the bunch with less than two-dozen appearances to his credit. Ron Shudra (63rd overall, 10 NHL regular season games), David Haas (105th overall, 7 NHL regular season games), Jim Ennis (126th overall, 5 NHL regular season games) and Mike Greenlay (189th overall, 2 NHL regular season games) round out the lot.

    The remaining six players – Jamie Nichols (42nd overall), Ivan Matulik (147th overall), Nick Beaulieu (168th overall), Matt Lanza (210th overall), Mojmir Bozik (231st overall) and Tony Hand (252nd overall) – never appeared in the NHL.

    1987 Entry Draft
    Grade: Successful
    Average: 120.46 NHL regular season games per selection
    The Oilers chose an unlucky thirteen players, but greatly improved their luck at finding gamers over the previous year, with just under half their selections playing games at the NHL level.

    Most notably the team picked Shaun Van Allen (105th overall, 758 NHL regular season games and counting), whose career benefited greatly from NHL expansion. The other significant players selected were Brad Werenka (42nd overall, 320 NHL regular season games) and Geoff Smith (63rd overall, 462 NHL regular season games).

    Peter Eriksson (64th overall, 20 NHL regular season games), Tomas Srsen (147th overall, 2 NHL regular season games), and Igor Vyazmikin (252nd overall, 4 NHL regular season games) also made brief appearances in the league. Chosen in the twelfth-round, Vyazmikin is the deepest round selection by the Oilers to have made the NHL.

    Peter Soberlak (21st overall) gained infamy becoming the first first-round pick by the Oilers to never appear in the NHL. (Sadly, he would not be the last.) Radek Toupal (126th overall), Age Ellingsen (168th overall), Gavin Armstrong (189th overall), Mike Tinkham (210th overall), Jeff Pauletti (231st overall) and Jesper Duus (241st overall) also never appeared in the NHL.

    1988 Entry Draft
    Grade: Successful
    Average: 87.31 NHL regular season games per selection
    The Oilers selected thirteen players for the second year in a row, but their effort proved to be most under-whelming compared to their previous draft.

    The best of the bunch was a deep pick: Shjon Podein (166th overall, 699 NHL regular season games). The Oilers also had reasonable success in the first round with Francois Leroux (19th overall, 249 NHL regular season games), and a bit later with Len Barrie (124th overall, 184 NHL regular season games). Barrie made his NHL debut with the Philadelphia Flyers, and later played for the Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings.

    The only other play to make the show, albeit for a heartbeat, was Trevor Sim (53rd overall, 3 NHL regular season games).

    The remaining nine players chosen by Edmonton – Petro Koivunen (39th overall), Collin Bauer (61st overall), Cam Brauer (82nd overall), Don Martin (103rd overall), Mike Glover (145th overall), Tom Cole (187th overall), Vladimir Zubkov (208th overall), Darin MacDonald (229th overall) and Tim Tisdale (250th overall) – never appeared in the NHL.

    1989 Entry Draft
    Grade: Successful
    Average: 126.33 NHL regular season games per selection
    The Oilers only picked nine players and, while continuing to squander their early picks, they enjoyed considerable success in the later rounds with the selection of Josef Beranek (78th overall, 531 NHL regular season games), Peter White (92nd overall, 220 NHL regular season games) and Anatoli Semenov (120th overall, 362 NHL regular season games).

    Davis Payne (140th overall, 22 NHL regular season games) and Darcy Martini (162nd overall, 2 NHL regular season games) had short stays in the league. Payne made all his major league appearances with the Boston Bruins.

    First-rounder Jason Soules (15th overall) became the second top Edmonton pick to never appear in an NHL game. Richard Borgo (36th overall), Sergei Yashin (141st overall) and Roman Bozek (225th overall) also never appeared in the NHL.

    1990 Entry Draft
    Grade: Failed
    Average: 0.00 NHL regular season games per selection
    The term “failed” does not adequately describe the 1990 Entry Draft for the Edmonton Oilers. Of the eleven players selected, not one ever appeared in an NHL game. We are not just saying an Oilers game; we’re talking about the entire National Hockey League. This is an accomplishment (if one can use that word in this context) that is surely unique amongst all the teams in the NHL. It is possibly unique in all of professional sport.

    Now, it should be pointed out that the St. Louis Blues didn’t have a player from the 1983 Entry Draft make the NHL. But that’s only because the Blues that year elected not to attend the draft and forfeited all their picks! In 1990, the Oilers were there, at their table, all twelve, long rounds. You would think that based simply on the law of averages there would be at least one guy out of that bunch in the last decade and a half to make the over-expanded NHL.

    Adding insult to injury, the Oilers made an invalid claim with their eleventh-round selection (227th overall) and lost the pick without any compensation. Overall, it was a red-letter day.

    For the record, we list the “Murders Row” of players selected that draft year by the Edmonton Oilers who never appeared in an NHL game: Scott Allison (17th overall), Alexander Legault (38th overall), Joe Crowley (59th overall), Joel Blain (67th overall), Greg Louder (101st overall), Keijo Sailynoja (122nd overall), Mike Power (143rd overall), Roman Mejzlik (164th overall), Richard Zemlicka (185th overall), Petr Korinek (206th overall) and Sami Nuutinen (248th overall).

    And just for interest sake, the Oilers traded their fourth-round pick to Toronto who selected Greg Walters (80th overall). He never appeared in an NHL game either.

    1991 Entry Draft
    Grade: Successful
    Average: 135.82 NHL regular season games per selection
    Edmonton selected eleven players that year with mixed results. Holding an earlier pick in the draft due to the team’s declining on ice performance, the Oilers were able to claim their best first-rounder in almost a decade: Tyler Wright (12th overall, 528 NHL regular season games and counting). The squad then bettered that success by selecting Martin Rucinsky (20th overall, 772 NHL regular season games and counting) using one of the first round picks gained from Los Angeles in the Wayne Gretzky trade. Rucinsky only played a pair of games for Edmonton before being shipped off to the Quebec Nordiques. The Oilers also uncovered David Oliver (144th overall, 194 NHL regular season games).

    The remaining eight players – Andrew Verner (34th overall), George Breen (56th overall), Mario Nobili (78th overall), Ryan Haggerty (93rd overall), Gary Kitching (166th overall), Vegar Barlie (210th overall), Evgeny Belosheiken (232nd overall) and Juha Riihijarvi (254th overall) – never appeared in the NHL.

    1992 Entry Draft
    Grade: Inconclusive / Trending Successful
    Average: 77.91 NHL regular season games per selection
    A year that saw the Edmonton Oilers select eleven players has faint echoes of the 1985 Entry Draft. While five of the players chosen appeared in the NHL, when this draft officially earns a successful grade (likely later in the 2003-04 season) it will be primarily on the shoulders of one player: Kirk Maltby (65th overall, 678 NHL regular season games and counting).

    The next best player, Marko Tuomainen (205th overall, 79 NHL regular season games), is well back both in terms of draft order and games played performance. First-round selection Joe Hulbig (13th overall, 55 NHL regular season games) proved to be a major disappointment for such a high pick. Ralph Intranuovo (96th overall, 22 NHL regular season games) and Jaoquin Gage (109th overall, 23 NHL regular season games) also made brief appearances in the league.

    The remaining six players – Martin Reichel (37th overall), Simon Roy (61st overall), Steve Gibson (157th overall), Kyuin Shim (181st overall), Colin Schmidt (190th overall) and Bryan Rasmussen (253rd overall) – never appeared in the NHL.

    1993 Entry Draft
    Grade: Successful
    Average: 161.27 NHL regular season games per selection
    The 1993 Entry Draft may ultimately rank among the very best in Oilers history, but offers a very mixed bag. Seven of the eleven players picked made it to the NHL. Unfortunately, the majority of their contributions benefited other teams.

    Jason Arnott (7th overall, 704 NHL regular season games and counting) and Miroslav Satan (111th overall, 660 NHL regular season games and counting) started in Edmonton but were run out of town on a rail only to blossom elsewhere. David Vyborny (33rd overall, 270 NHL regular season games and counting) and Brad Norton (215th overall, 76 NHL regular season games and counting) never appeared with the Oilers at all. Vyborny started his career with the Columbus Blue Jackets while Norton broke in with the Florida Panthers before moving along to the Los Angeles Kings.

    Ilya Byakin (267th overall, 57 NHL regular season games) and Alexander Kerch (60th overall, 5 NHL regular season games) also made the grade, albeit in a limited capacity.

    Finally, first rounder Nick Stajduhar (16th overall, 2 NHL regular season games) was in Edmonton for a heartbeat before an eye injury dimmed his NHL dreams. He was the last of three first round draft picks received by the Oilers from Los Angeles in the Gretzky deal, and with Stajduhar’s measly contribution, the Oilers gained a pathetic 4 NHL games of player service from those three picks.

    The remaining four players – Kevin Paden (59th overall), Alex Zhurik (163rd overall), Martin Bakula (189th overall), Oleg Maltsev (241st overall) – never appeared in the NHL.

    1994 Entry Draft
    Grade: Inconclusive / Potentially Successful
    Average: 62.19 NHL regular season games per selection
    Having stocked up on draft picks as part of the exodus from Edmonton, the Oilers selected sixteen players, a team record for selections in one draft. The Oilers feeble on-ice performance gained them the sixth overall pick, and the first round pick from the even more feeble Winnipeg Jets – obtained in an earlier deal – gave them the fourth overall selection. Surely, all Edmonton fans felt in our hearts, this would be a tremendous draft and give the Oilers an unparalleled opportunity to reload for future.

    With their first two picks, the Oilers selected Jason Bonsignore (4th overall, 79 NHL regular season games) and Ryan Smyth (6th overall, 598 NHL regular season games and counting). Billed as a player with all the skills but a questionable heart, Bonsignore was seen as a high-risk, high-reward selection. The Oilers couldn’t resist, although I wished at the time they could have. (I was rooting for Edmonton to take Ryan Smyth and Jeff Friesen.) Bonsignore scored in his first game as an Oiler, but that was his only goal in Edmonton and it proved to be highlight of his career. He was shipped off to the Tampa Bay Lightning, washed out there, and later failed in two preseason comeback attempts with bottom-feeders Atlanta Thrashers and Phoenix Coyotes. Conversely, Ryan Smyth has proven to be everything you could hope for from a high draft pick, climbing into the Top 10 of Edmonton’s all-time scoring list. With his leadership skills, Smyth may ultimately be captain of the Oilers one day.

    The remaining fourteen selections are somewhat disappointing. Only Mike Watt (32nd overall, 157 NHL regular season games) and Ladislav Benysek (266th overall, 161 NHL regular season games) made it to the big time, although for relatively short stints. The other twelve players – Corey Neilson (53rd overall), Brad Symes (60th overall), Adam Copeland (79th overall), Jussi Tarvainen (95th overall), Jon Gaskins (110th overall), Terry Marchant (136th overall), Curtis Sheptak (160th overall), Dimitrius Shulga (162nd overall), Chris Wickenheiser (179th overall), Rob Guinn (185th overall), Jason Reid (188th overall), and Jeremy Jablonski (214th overall) – never appeared in the NHL.

    There is one more burden of responsibility on Ryan Smyth. For this draft year to meet the minimum criteria and be graded a success, assuming there is no more help to be gained from any of the other selections, Smyth needs to play approximately four more full NHL seasons. Barring a career ending injury, the talented winger should be up to the task.

    1995 Entry Draft
    Grade: Inconclusive / Potentially Successful
    Average: 66.13 NHL regular season games per selection
    On the heals of their record-setting sixteen selections from the year before, the Oilers chose only eight players this year, their fewest since 1980.

    The team’s best selection was second-rounder Georges Laraque (31st overall, 381 NHL regular season games and counting). Their first-round choice – Steve Kelly (6th overall, 147 NHL regular season games) – has failed to stick anywhere in the NHL and must be considered a disappointment. The only other player to make the league was Mike Minard (83rd overall, 1 NHL regular season game) who won his only start in net with Edmonton.

    The remaining five players – Lukas Zib (57th overall), Jan Snopek (109th overall), Martin Cerven (161st overall), Stephen Douglas (187th overall) and Jiri Antonin (213th overall) – never appeared in the NHL.

    1996 Entry Draft
    Grade: Successful
    Average: 89.40 NHL regular season games per selection
    The Edmonton Oilers drafted ten players with half of them making it to the NHL for at least one regular season game.

    In the first round, the Oilers selected a winner in center Boyd Devereux (6th overall, 409 NHL regular season games and counting) and a dud in defenseman Matthieu Descoteaux (19th overall, 5 NHL regular season games). In the third round they did a bit better in the blueline department, picking offensively gifted Tom Poti (59th overall, 409 NHL regular season games and counting).

    Late in the day, the Oilers claimed Fernando Pisani (195th overall, 70 NHL regular season games and counting) who began seeing regular action in Edmonton in the 2002-03 season. The Oilers also selected Chris Hajt (32nd overall, 1 NHL regular season game).

    The remaining five players – Brian Urich (114th overall), Bryan Randall (141st overall), David Bernier (168th overall), Brandon Lafrance (170th overall) and John Hultberg (221st overall) – never appeared in the NHL.

    1997 Entry Draft
    Grade: Inconclusive / Likely Fail
    Average: 11.80 NHL regular season games per selection
    The Oilers once again selected ten players, but they enjoyed significantly less success this time out with only three players making it to the NHL.

    The best of the bunch so far – and quite likely the only player who will make a significant contribution at the NHL level – is Jason Chimera (121st overall, 100 NHL regular season games and counting). Peter Sarno (141st overall, 6 NHL regular season games) finally made it to the NHL in 2003-04 and scored in his first major league game, but after a six game audition, he looks to be done in an Oilers uniform.

    The team’s first-round selection was Switzerland’s Michel Riesen (14th overall, 12 NHL regular season games), who is affectionately known to most Edmonton fans as the “Swiss Miss” given that his NHL career appears to be over mere moments after it began.

    The remaining seven selections – Patrick Divogi (41st overall), Sergei Yerkovich (68th overall), Jonas Elofsson (94th overall), Kevin Bolibruck (176th overall), Chad Hinz (187th overall), Chris Kerr (205th overall) and Alexandre Fomitchev (231st overall) – never appeared in the NHL.

    1998 Entry Draft
    Grade: Incomplete
    Average: 32.56 NHL regular season games per selection
    For the third year in a row, the Edmonton Oilers selected ten players in the Entry Draft, and continued the trend of earning diminishing returns with only two of these players making it to the NHL at present.

    Fourth-rounder Shawn Horcoff (99th overall, 225 NHL regular season games and counting) has quickly made an impact at the major league level. Third-round selection Alex Henry (67th overall, 68 NHL regular season games and counting) is the only other selection to have made the grade, appearing in only three games for the Oilers before being shipped off to the Washington Capitals and later the Minnesota Wild.

    The remaining eight selections – Michael Henrich (13th overall), Kristian Antila (113th overall), Paul Elliott (128th overall), Oleg Smirnov (144th overall), Trevor Ettenger (158th overall), Michael Morrison (186th overall), Christian Lefebvre (213th overall) and Maxim Spiridonov (241st overall) – have yet to appear in the NHL.

    1999 Entry Draft
    Grade: Incomplete
    Average: 31.89 NHL regular season games per selection
    In a draft year that shows tremendous promise, the Edmonton Oilers selected nine players with four of them making it to the NHL thus far.

    The best pick to date has been Mike Comrie (91st overall, 195 NHL regular season games). The other players to make it to the major league have been Alexei Semenov (36th overall, 69 NHL regular season games and counting), Jani Rita (13th overall, 13 NHL regular season games) and Tony Salmelainen (41st overall, 10 NHL regular season games).

    The five remaining selections – Adam Hauser (81st overall), Jonathan Fauteux (139th overall), Chris Legg (171st overall), Christian Chartier (199th overall) and Tomas Groschl (256th overall) – have yet to appear in the NHL.

    2000 Entry Draft
    Grade: Incomplete
    Average: 3.50 NHL regular season games per selection
    The Edmonton Oilers selected ten players for the fourth time in a half-decade and to date only one player has appeared at the NHL level, although many of the other players remain active in the Oilers system. And, of course, because fate is unkind, the one player to have made the NHL grade out of this draft is no longer the property of the Oilers.

    In the seventh round, the Oilers selected Matthew Lombardi (215th overall, 35 NHL regular season games and counting), who emerged as a prolific scorer in junior and looked to have tremendous offensive potential. However, Edmonton was unable to come to terms with him and Lombardi re-entered the 2002 Entry Draft. It appeared that the Oilers might be able to re-select him, but he was instead picked by the Calgary Flames (in revenge for the Oilers choosing Calgary’s former 2000 Entry Draft selection Jarret Stoll who’d re-entered the Draft a la Lombardi). So forevermore, Stoll and Lombardi will be joined at the hip in the consciousness of Oilers fans and these two players – fairly or not – will be constantly measured against each other for the rest of their careers.

    The remaining nine players selected – Alexei Mikhnov (17th overall), Brad Winchester (35th overall), Alexander Ljubimov (85th overall), Lou Dickenson (113th overall), Paul Flache (152nd overall), Shaun Norrie (184th overall), Joe Cullen (211th overall), Jason Platt (247th overall), Evgeny Muratov (274th overall) – have yet to appear in the NHL.

    2001 Entry Draft
    Grade: Incomplete
    Average: 19.27 NHL regular season games per selection
    The Edmonton Oilers chose eleven players and the results so far have been a mixed bag. On the downside, of the five players to have made the NHL to date, two have already been shipped off to the New York Rangers in separate trades and one has actually regressed in his development. In the plus column, the Oilers selected a blue-chipper with their first round pick for the first time in ages: Ales Hemsky (13th overall, 96 NHL regular season games and counting).

    Jussi Markkanen (133rd overall, 49 NHL regular season games and counting) and Ales Pisa (272nd overall, 53 NHL regular season games) were both traded to the Rangers weeks apart from each other. Pisa, the deepest selection by the Oilers to make it to the NHL, has since returned to the Czech Republic and his NHL days may be behind him.

    The other players to make the NHL at this point are Kari Haakana (248th overall, 13 NHL regular season games), who still remains in the Oilers farm system but has been downgraded amongst the team’s defense prospects, and Doug Lynch (43rd overall, 1 NHL regular season game) who made his debut midway through the 2003-04 season as an emergency injury call-up and became the 350th player to wear an Oilers sweater.

    The remaining six players – Edward Caron (52nd overall), Kenny Smith (84th overall), Jake Brenk (154th overall), Mikael Svensk (185th overall), Dan Baum (215th overall) and Shay Stephenson (278th overall) – have yet to appear in the NHL.

    2002 Entry Draft
    Grade: Incomplete
    Average: 2.29 NHL regular season games per selection
    The Edmonton Oilers selected fourteen players (not counting a fifteenth invalid selection) of whom two have made it to the NHL: Jarret Stoll (36th overall, 30 NHL regular season games and counting) and Mikko Luoma (181st overall; 2 NHL regular season game and counting). Stoll was previously a selection by the Calgary Flames in 2000 Entry Draft who elected to re-enter the Draft.

    The remaining twelve players – Jesse Ninimakki (15th overall), Jeff Deslauriers (31st overall), Matt Greene (44th overall), Brock Radunske (79th overall), Ivan Koltsov (106th overall), Jonas Almtrop (111th overall), Glenn Fisher (148th overall), Jean-Francois Dufort (205th overall), Patrick Murphy (211th overall), Dwight Helminen (244th overall), Tomas Micka (245th overall) and Fredrik Johansson (274th overall) – have yet to appear in the NHL.

    It should be noted that in the fourth-round, the Oilers attempted to draft Robin Kovar of the Western Hockey League with the 123rd overall selection. It was determined the Kovar had not opted-in for the draft, and the pick was ruled ineligible. As compensation for this error, the Oilers were awarded the 214th overall pick in 2003. Kovar, eligible in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, went undrafted due to sub-par sophomore season in junior.

    2003 Entry Draft
    Grade: Incomplete
    Average: 0.00 NHL regular season games per selection
    The Oilers chose twelve players of whom none have appeared in the NHL at this point.

    The players selected were Marc-Antoine Pouliot (22nd overall), Colin McDonald (51st overall), Jean-Francois Jacques (68th overall), Mishail Joukov (72nd overall), Zachery Stortini (94th overall), Kalle Olsson (147th overall), David Rohlfs (154th overall), Dragan Umicevic (184th overall), Kyle Brodziak (214th overall), Mathieu Roy (215th overall), Josef Hrabal (248th overall) and Troy Bodie (278th overall), none of whom have appeared in the NHL at present.


    FACTOID:
    Through the end of the 2003-04 season, the Edmonton Oilers as a team will have played 1,994 NHL games which when divided by 25 seasons works out to an average of 79.76 games per year. Assuming there are only 19 playing positions – 18 skaters and 1 goaltender – available for each game, that works out to 37,886 man games played over the last quarter century. (Back-up goaltenders replacing starters in the course of a game only adds to this man-game total.) 350 players have suited up for the Oilers in the last 25 years, which works out to each Oiler playing on average 108.25 games with the team.

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