It’s not a stretch to say the Edmonton Oilers are a bad hockey team. The numbers speak for themselves. It’s not an isolated incident either, with the team finishing last in its division four of the last five seasons. In fact, since the Oilers’ surprising Stanley Cup Finals run in the 2006 season, they have not made the playoffs and finished last in their division six times. No team has lost more games since that season than Edmonton and they are the only team in the league that has not earned 700 points in the last nine seasons. They are 53 points behind the next worst team, the Columbus Blue Jackets. They are the only team to not make the playoffs since 2006 (the Atlanta Thrashers made the playoffs in 2007, so the Winnipeg Jets have technically made the playoffs). They are bad and have been for a while.
There are plenty of reason why the team has been bad. One has been coaching. Since Craig MacTavish left the bench in 2009, the Oilers have had five different head coaches in the last six seasons. Pat Quinn and Ralph Kruger both lasted one year, with Kruger getting the axe after one lockout shortened year where the Oilers actually didn’t finish dead last in the division. They have already fired Dallas Eakins this season, less than halfway through his second season. Without stability in leadership, it’s difficult to establish an identity and that has certainly affected Edmonton.
Another problem has been goaltending. The Oilers have struggled to find a true number one netminder since Bill Ranford left town. I have already touched on the dumpster fire that is this season’s Oiler goalies and they went through six goalies last season. The best goalies they have had in the last decade are Dwayne Roloson and Nikolai Khabibulin, but they had both of them after they had reached their prime.
A big problem the team has faced is depth. The Oilers have plenty of talent. Most teams would kill to have one of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Nail Yakupov and Edmonton has them all. But with all the high end players, the Oilers don’t have neough role players to fill in the gap. A big reason for their depth problems is they have failed to find NHL players outside the top picks they have “earned” for being horrible. The Oilers haven’t drafted well and it’s hurt the organization.
What constitutes drafting well? It’s tough to really define, but for the purposes of this article, let’s look at games played by players drafted outside of the first round. Most first round NHL draft picks find their way into the league, but getting value from the lower picks helps teams get talent cheap that they can use to build organizational depth. So how have the Oilers done in finding that value? And how does it compare to their compatriots in the Pacific Division?
Let’s start at the 2004 draft. That is 11 drafts ago, but since most players from the 2014 draft are still a year or two away from the NHL, gives us a legitimate 10 year draft window.
The Oilers actually started off well in that regard. In 2004, they drafted Liam Reddox in the 4th round and Bryan Young in the 5th. In 2005, they drafted Taylor Chorney (2nd), Danny Syvret (3rd), and Chris VandeVelde (4th). In 2006, they didn’t have a 1st rounder but added Jeff Petry and Theo Peckham in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. All of those players played in the NHL and all played parts of their careers with Edmonton. Unfortunately for the Oilers, that doesn’t make them good players, as only Petry and Chorney are still in the league (Chorney has made a couple of cameos with the Penguins this season).
And that is the Oilers main problem. They have drafted plenty of guys who have made it to the NHL after the second round, but few of them have made impacts or been able to last. For every Petry, they also have a Linus Omark and a Teemu Hartikainen. The best player from the last five drafts might not even be on their roster anymore in Tobias Rieder. Currently, they have three young players with promise to keep an eye on: Anton Lander, a center they drafted in the 2009 2nd, Tyler Pitlick, another center taken in the 2nd round in 2010 and Martin Marincin, a blueliner taken in the same 2010 2nd round. All three have played in Edmonton this season and could be players for the team. Or they could flame out like so many others.
Oilers draft breakdown: 1125 games played, 62 goals, 218 points, best player: Jeff Petry
Now for the rest of the division in alphabetical order starting with the Anaheim Ducks.
Anaheim’s blue print for success began in the 2003 draft with the 1st round selections of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. They haven’t been great on the rest of the rounds but have found some gems. Matt Beleskey was a 4th round pick from 2006 who is having a career year in 2015. Sami Vatanen was a 4th rounder from 2009 who should be a fixture on their blueline for years and their current number one goalie, Frederik Andersen, was a 3rd round pick from 2012. Interestingly, one of their top non first round picks from recent years currently finds himself playing in Edmonton. 2008 2nd round pick Justin Schultz didn’t sign with the Ducks after the draft and became a free agent after four years. He signed with the Oilers in 2012.
Ducks draft breakdown: 1585 games played, 50 wins, 159 goals, 417 points, best player: Andersen
Arizona has struggled with the draft in their own right which has led them to be a team lacking in skill. They have found decent depth players in the draft, but not enough high quality talent. That being said, they have unearthed two nice diamonds in the rough in late rounds: 2004 7th rounder Daniel Winnik has played over 500 NHL games and 2005 4th rounder Keith Yandle is one of the leagues elite offensive defensemen. They might have had another one if a heart condition didn’t prematurely end the career of 2007 2nd rounder Brett Maclean.
Coyotes draft breakdown: 1809 games played, 211 goals, 650 points, best player: Yandle
The Flames don’t have a great draft record, but their big problem has been their first round whiffs. They actually have found some value in the later rounds, especially recently. In 2008, they found Lance Bouma in the 3rd and breakout blueliner T.J. Brodie in the 4th. In 2009, they found Joni Ortio in the 6th round. Five games is an extremely small sample size, but Ortio’s five games in this season are especially encouraging for a possible breakthrough. And 2011 4th round pick Johnny Gaudreau is one of the NHL’s most exciting youngsters, heading to Columbus for All Star Weekend.
Flames draft breakdown: 1765 games played, 8 wins, 136 goals, 433 points, best player: Brodie
Here’s a shock: the Kings have drafted really well. They have been able to find depth in all rounds, rounding out their roster with NHL capable players from any spot imaginable. They have nailed the top picks, with Drew Doughty, Anza Kopitar and Dustin Brown all being first rounders. But how about finding Kyle Clifford, Slava Voynov, and Wayne Simmonds in the 2nd, Jonathan Quick in the 3rd, Linden Vey, Alec Martinez and Dwight King in the 4th and Andrei Loktionov in the 5th and Jordan Nolan in the 7th. That’s how you build a two time Stanley Cup Champion.
Kings draft breakdown: 2295 games played, 205 wins, 325 goals, 769 points, best player: Quick
The San Jose Sharks have long been a threat in the west and their impressive draft record is a big reason why. While they have fallen recently, with Matthew Nieto being their only real NHL player from the draft after 2010 (Charlie Coyle and Tomas Hertl being 1st rounders), what they did in the years before that built a contender. The likes of Tommy Wingels and Jason Demers in 2008, Nick Bonino, Justin Braun and Frazer McLaren in 2007 and Jamie McGinn in 2006 all made significant impact for the Sharks. But the best is Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, an underrated blueliner that has been a rock for San Jose since the 2006 season. And this list doesn’t even include 2003 draft pick Joe Pavelski or 2001 picks Christian Ehrhoff and Ryane Clowe.
Sharks draft breakdown: 3069 games played, 49 wins, 277 games, 843 points, best player: Vlasic
The Vancouver Canucks haven’t added too much via the draft recently after dominating it to end the last millennium and start the new one. But 2004 saw them draft Alexander Edler (3rd), Mike Brown (5th) and Jannik Hansen (9th). They then added Mayson Raymond in 2005. But since those drafts, the rest of their non first rounders have totaled 106 games played. Which is why Vancouver’s window is shallow, especially when the twins retire.
Canucks draft breakdown: 1912 games played, 268 goals, 701 points, best player: Edler
The Oilers have drafted the fewest games played, the fewest goals and points and while Jeff Petry is a nice player, he’s not someone you could call a centerpiece. Every other team in the division has found at least one building block player from outside the 1st round, with some like San Jose and Los Angeles doing time and time again. While it’s nice to have can’t miss number one overall prospects, if you can’t find the hidden gems further down the draft board, you are seriously hurting your team’s chances for long term success. The Oilers are living proof.