I love old time photos. This one features the great Gordie Howe in the middle, a young Bryan "Bugsy" Watson (who would one day coach our beloved Oilers) on the right and young Ray Cullen on the left. This photo is from 1966-68. One of the best things about following a team is watching the young players develop; Cullen had the better pedigree and was a better offensive prospect but it was Watson who had the longer NHL career. On the current Oilers roster, who are the keepers? The throwaways? The career minor leaguers? It’s always been tough to say.
According to hockey-reference, 103 young men have made their NHL debuts this season. Last year it was 137, so there are more kids to come as the season rolls along. In terms of playing their first NHL games, here are the Oilers on that list of 103:
- Taylor Hall 49gp, 16-15-31
- Magnus Pääjärvi 46gp, 6-13-19
- Jordan Eberle 37gp, 9-14-23
- Linus Omark 20gp, 3-6-9
- Jeff Petry 14gp, 1-2-3
That’s a helluva list, it really is. Five kids making their debuts in the same season, 4 of them with enough potential to be at least considered for the top 6 on a contending team and the other looking like a lock for top 4D duty for years to come. Things don’t always work out as planned, but you’d have to give this group a solid chance at making it five for five when it comes to establishing themselves as NHL players.
There are no seasons that really compare to this group in recent Oiler history. In the last decade, the best season for the Oilers in terms of NHL debuts were:
- 02-03 (Ales Hemsky, Jarret Stoll, Fernando Pisani, MA Bergeron, Alexei Semenov all played 200 or more NHL games and Alex Henry got close).
- 06-07 (Jan Hejda, Tom Gilbert, Ladislav Smid, Zack Stortini and some kids who may make that marker like Rob Schremp).
- 07-08 (Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano plus guys like Theo Peckham and Liam Reddox who may make the 200 game marker in the future).
I think the current group will trump the three seasons mentioned here. The 02-03 group had a very nice variety of skill, grit and checking ability, the 06-07 group had three NHL defensemen and the 07-08 group brought the club two everyday forwards.
The strength of this season’s group–and what puts them over the top compared to the three seasons we’re discussing currently–is that they all appear to have a wider range of skills than the average rookie. Hall has balls, speed, shooting ability and a brain; Pääjärvi has much the same in lesser doses but also brings a strong defensive aptitude and is a little bigger; Eberle is so smart he could have played for the 70s Habs, plus he has this ridiculous ability to slightly change his shooting angle in close that should garner him buckets of NHL goals; Omark is a buzzsaw, strong on the puck and has sick puck skills and Petry is everything you look for in a defenseman save for the killer instinct physically.
We have to go back into the 1990’s for an Oiler debut that rivals the current group.
- 93-94 (Jason Arnott, Kirk Maltby, Peter White, Boris Mironov, Todd Marchant, Fred Brathwaite)
This was a tremendous group of NHL debuts. Arnott and Marchant are both past 1,100 NHL games now, Mironov was a quality player over an extended period and Maltby found a role and filled it forever. That’s 4 very useful NHL players plus a couple of other guys who played over 200 games. Oilers traded for Marchant and Mironov during their debut seasons, something Steve Tambellini might want to explore (picking up a Michael Grabner mid-season could help this team).
I think the 2010-11 group may one day be stronger than the 1993-94 group, but that’s a strong list. Any other candidates?