June 21 2014 11:30PM
The Edmonton Oilers and their fans are used to having a front row seat to every summer's entry draft. The last time the club drafted outside the top 10 was Jordan Eberle in 2008, and even then it wasn't their draft slotting (this was the Dustin Penner offer sheet season—by the way those picks for Penner? Tyler Myers, Justin Schultz and Kirill Petrov). This season, it's No. 3 overall again.
The Oilers have been doing this NHL draft thing since 1979, and there's a lot of trivia over 35 years.
A FEW NOTES
- Kevin Lowe was told the 1979 draft (via telephone) was to start at 10am. He expected a call from agent Alan Eagleson around 10:15 to tell him which team had selected him in the first round. Lowe waited, and waited, and waited. By 10:45am the phone hadn’t rung and Lowe’s mom said “My God, they’re not drafting him.” A mixup in the phone lines caused a one hour delay, but the Lowe household was not aware of it. At 11:10, Eagleson’s secretary called with the news Edmonton had chosen Lowe—21st overall, first round.
- Glen Sather was impressed by Mark Messier as he played AGAINST the Oilers in the 78-79 season (WHA). Dennis Sobchuk was a pretty good player and legend has it he thought he could take the kid in the Cincinnati Stinger uniform. Messier apparently had a slight edge in punches. 12-0. Sather noticed and picked him 48th overall in the deepest draft in history, 1979.
- Barry Fraser was responsible for the Oilers final WHA draft (1978) and 1979-2000 (he made the Mikhnov pick, and minutes later Lowe traded for the pick that became Brad Winchester).
- D Jim Playfair, #20 overall in 1982, and D Selmar Odelein, # 21 in 1984, were both defenders the Oilers chose in the hopes they would develop into rugged blueliners. Injuries sidelined both careers.
BIG CENTERS GET HURT, TOO
- C Jesse Niinimaki, #15 overall in 2002, and C Marc Pouliot,#22 in 2003, were both centers with size the Oilers chose in the hopes they would develop into big centermen who could play on the top 2 lines. Injuries impacted both careers.
- Oilers LOVED their 1988 second rounder Petro Koivunen. He was a center who had a solid first season after his draft year (named to the Finnish team for the Pravda Cup), but he never made it. He did play in Finland, though, and did have some good seasons.
- Jari Kurri very likely would have gone much higher than #69 in the 1980 draft but it was widely thought Kurri would not come over to NA because of military duty. Inside info gave the Oilers an edge and they selected one of the very best to ever play for them.
- Raimo Summanen was a more highly rated player than Esa Tikkanen. Oilers brass were quoted often as saying Summanen might be the LW Edmonton needed to throw onto the Gretzky-Kurri line.
One of the most famous drafts in history was 1979. What an enormous draft for the organization. Jim Matheson and Terry Jones are still local legends, and they made their reputations by finding interesting angles on the story.
- When we discuss a prospect class or drafting period, it’s important to include injury issues. I understand all teams deal with this problem, but there is a randomness to it that is (of course) outside the control of any team or manager. If we discuss players and their lack of success, I’d encourage you to consider injury issues. Bruce McCurdy of the Cult of Hockey wrote an excellent item on Plante here, and concluded the impact on his career at that time was significant.
For modern day Oiler fans, there is absolutely no doubt that the "Oil Change" series provides invaluable draft information for each season (beginning with the Taylor Hall draft). The ongoing story of a rebuild gives us a chance to look back at extremely important moments in draft history, and re-live "Taylor versus Tyler" and other famous draft events.
MODERN DAY OILER DRAFT STORIES
Over the next few days, I'm going to pass along more draft stories, but modern ones, some you may remember and some may be new. Items like this:
- When the 2002 Entry Draft got underway, I sat in my living room with my Hockey News Draft Guide and my computer (with dial-up!) and waited for the magic!!! The Oilers drafted 14th that season, but traded down one so Montreal could take Chris Higgins. No biggie, plenty of photos and bio's in my Hockey News, AND another pick added somewhere in the 200's!
And then it happened...the Edmonton Oilers select.....Jesse Niinimaki!! I looked through my HN and found him at No. 50 Euro, but there was no bio and no help. I raced to the dial up, searching madly for something, anything on the strangely named and incredibly obscure Finn. On Monday, this appeared in USA Today:
Four players taken in Round 1 that season didn't play an NHL game. Niinimaki led the way at No. 15, followed by Jakub Koreis, Martin Vagner and Mike Morris. The funny thing is this: Niinimaki is still playing high level hockey, and has played in over 400 SM-Liiga games over the years. This coming season, he has signed to play for Amur Khabarovsk of the KHL.
Up next: Pierre McGuire, Robert Nilsson and how the Edmonton Oilers got nothing out of the 2003 draft.