TRACERS: Oilers Rookies Vol 2 (85-89)

This is Gord Sherven. By 1984, the Edmonton Oilers were aiming at Stanley from October to May, and counted 5 of them in the seven years between 1984 and 1990. Not much room for rookies.

In our previous look at the Oiler rookies, we had a chance to introduce the Boys on the Bus and what was probably the most amazing 5-year run of new hires in modern NHL history. The second group–rookies from 85 to 89–do not shine as brightly as the previous crew but have their own story just the same.

The five year run that began in 84-85 gave Edmonton some quality additions to the young, emerging Oilers. It also gave the team some trade assets that were cashed in each spring in an effort to go deep into the playoffs. It was the golden era of the Edmonton Oilers.



  • Gord Sherven (37, 9-7-16) traded during season

Gord Sherven is from Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan and was drafted in the Gravelbourg section of the draft (10th round). When he turned pro, Sherven impressed as a member of the Canadian National Team to get a real shot in the Oiler organization at 21. Edmonton was all about pushing for the playoffs during this time, and offloaded young Sherven to Minnesota in a deal for the more experienced Mark Napier. 

It’s another lesson we can learn from the old Oilers: when this team is really in contention for a deep Stanley Cup run, we’ll see solid young prospects dealt for rentals and short term additions. The 2006 trades for Dwayne Roloson, Jaroslav Spacek, Sergei Samsonov and others would be a more recent "Sherven" example.

Sherven was dealt to the North Stars, but in typical Glen Sather fashion re-acquired almost exactly one year later.



  • Raimo Summanen (73, 19-18-37)
  • Steve Smith (55, 4-20-24)
  • Esa Tikkanen (35, 7-6-13)

Two top quality rookies arrived in 85-86, and a third (Summanen) was sent away for veteran help (Moe Lemay) in pursuit of another Stanley.

Raimo Summanen had been on the radar for some time, and in fact Oiler fans were very aware of Summanen because he was touted as a "possible" solution to the Gretzky LW mystery (99 and Kurri went together like PB & J, but finding a third was a process). Summanen was a skilled Finn, and although long forgotten a fun player to watch.

Steve Smith played a tough, rugged game and was a fine addition to a team that had already won a championship (Smith would be around for three rings). In the ’90 run, Smith led all of hockey with a +15 during the playoffs.

In the history of the Edmonton Oilers, Esa Tikkanen is easily the most unique personality and also the most difficult to explain. Tikkanen irritated the opposition but he was no bargain for his own team, either. The legendary stories about the Finnish chatterbox go on forever and most appear true. It’s important to remember that he was also an exceptional 2-way winger, combining skill with the ability to shadow the other team’s best forwards. I can tell you Oiler fans enjoyed Tikkanen when he was here, and no one expected to see another.

We’re still waiting, and not surprised.



  • Craig Muni (79, 7-22-29)
  • Jeff Beukeboom (44, 3-8-11)

The Oilers have had a few former Leafs turn into solid contributors over the years, and Craig Muni is one of them. Cast aside by Toronto and acquired by the Oilers for nothing but dollars, Muni was a solid defender on three SC teams. As an Oiler rookie, he finished +45.

Jeff Beukeboom was 21 when he arrived, 6.05 and 230. He blocked out the sun, intimidated during the anthem and generally made life miserable for the opposition during his time in Edmonton. Beukeboom was part of two SC winners before being part of the tragic Mark Messier trade to the Rangers. 



  • Steve Graves (21, 3-4-7)

The 87-88 season was interesting on all kinds of levels (SC finals were interesting to say the least) and of course in the summer of 1988 the Oilers would be changed forever (99 deal). Graves was the only player who reached rookie status, as one again the club rode the famous veterans to their 4th SC in 5 seasons.



  • Kelly Buchberger (66, 5-9-14)
  • Chris Joseph (44, 4-5-9)

Buchberger took about 10 minutes to become a favorite among the fanbase. "Take it wide, Bucky!" became one of the most famous crowd sayings in hockey (approaching "Potvin sucks" levels in its prime) and Buchberger arrived in time to win a couple of SC’s and played as an Oiler late enough to be a teammate of Ryan Smyth’s. In a very real way, Buchberger is a direct connection from the Glory Oilers to today’s team.

Joseph came over from Pittsburgh in the Coffey-Simpson trade and hung around as an extra D over several seasons, but couldn’t establish himself as a regular.


The previous 5-year run of rookies gave the Oilers a ready made SC contender. I think it was a truly unique run, as most dynasties from that era (Habs, Islanders, Bruins) had outside procurement as major contributors to their success. The 80s Oilers bought Gretzky and then drafted a roster–goalies Fuhr and Moog, defensemen Lowe, Coffey, Huddy (although he was signed undrafted) and the forward group that included Messier, Kurri, Anderson and on it went.

The Oilers would add major items like Craig Simpson, but most often these players were acquired in exchange for stars drafted by Edmonton and then deemed too expensive as the winning kept on unabated through the 80s.

The five year period of rookies 85-89 is certainly inferior to the previous group. However, the roster has some very nice players.

  • GOAL
  • DEFENSE: Steve Smith, Craig Muni, Jeff Beukeboom, Chris Joseph
  • LEFT WING: Esa Tikkanen, Raimo Summanen
  • RIGHT WING: Kelly Bucherger

This group makes complete sense when you factor in the impact of the 79-84 drafts. The Oilers already had two quality goalies and star power galore at center, but needed some help on the blue and some grit and sandpaper on the wings. Those players are the exact group that flourished in this five year period.


Along with the truly fetching Audrey Horne, maybe Steve Graves and all those first round forwards were better men than history suggests. After all, being a forward selected by the 80s Oilers was no blessing. Even quality players like Summanen were sent away because better (drafted) options were available.

Still, this five year run had some very effective players. The current Oilers would probably jump at the chance to add those defenders plus Tikkanen and Buchberger to the mix.

  • D

    I know Tikkanen was officially a rookie in 85-86. But if my memory serves correctly, didn’t Tikkanen make his first appearance in Game 2 of the 85 Stanley Cup Final against Philly? I seem to remember that Sather put him in the lineup to energize the Oil after losing Game 1.

  • Zack

    Another great piece to the series LT. I have a question regarding the up and coming though…

    How do you, personally, rank and decide what a prospect/rookies’ floor and ceiling may be? Personally when I look at an athlete I think they can be evaluated on three domains, physiology, psychology and performance (Skill).

    So I was interested in how you come up with your rankings, evaluations and what not for your blog and here on ON. Do your base your rankings heavily on stats and articles from scouts? Or do you factor in other things such as physiology and psychology too?

    I’m just curious because I’m trying to develop my tool box for accessing athletes.

    • Lowetide

      Okay, since you asked. 🙂

      First, I really respect history and since I’ve seen so much there’s a lot to muddle through. For instance, it’s very rare for a guy like Lander to have a scouting report pre-draft that talks endlessly about his play away from the puck. I mean it’s really rare. So that factors in.

      I also pay close attention to Gabriel Desjardins wonderful NHL equivalencies and how the player projects. For instance, if we’re looking at a high skill guy and his NHLE is 27 points then maybe we’re talking about a tweener.

      I also pay very close attention to how they jump from junior or Euro play to the AHL or NHL. Using Hartikainen as an example, he started slowly in the AHL but had things mastered after Xmas and then looked good in a callup. That’s a pretty big deal.

      I also look for players who advance quickly in TC compared to their own draft. Someone like David Musil, who looked so good in tc that you could actually see him staying longer than some of the really veteran minor leaguers and fringe NHLers.

      Scouting reports are really important because it gives you a guideline about the player. For instance, without a scouting report we wouldn’t have known the biggest difference between Colten Teubert and Alex Plante is footspeed. So that’s vital.

      As for their brains, well again experience tells me that although RNH might not know that Keats can be useful in important situations, he is extremely well wired in the hockey disciplines.

      Is that what you mean?

  • Zack

    Yes, thank you very much. That helps on a few levels. I’ve never really thought of the training camp that way in terms of development (comparing within the same draft year), I’ve always looked at it as absolute competition (“Is he going to make the team this year” vs. “How is his progress amongst draft class”).

    And when I get some time I’m really going to have to look into the Gabriel Desjardins stats. I love my math but I’ve learned not to solely/heavily rely on it all the time. Skill, is the hardest to assess in my eyes, you can’t quite put a finger on it and its so dynamic.

    My biggest interest, currently, involves the interactions between the domains and how they impact a player/athlete. You can be the strongest/biggest/physiologically supreme player on the ice but it doesn’t always mean you are going to have the largest impact (Chopper – Ethan Moreau). On the flip side, you may be supremely talented but your physicality may hold you back (pre-season RNH debate). Can you imagine the player RNH could be with the physical characteristics of Ethan Moreau? I’ve never really gave enough credit to they psychological aspect of the domains until this past semester at school. I never realized how much of what goes on between the ears of the athlete can dramatically impact their potential. What they attribute their success too, how they are motivated, etc. These things can be major factors in determining what kind of overall growth an athlete can have. When it comes to draft day it could be the difference of going fifth overall or tenth. Developing into an impact player vs. pseudo elite.

    I too am starting to appreciate history as well, whether its about a scouting report or a nice into to one of your posts. I recall one of your posts over the last two seasons starting off with talking about Tom Poti (I think you eventually lead it to Tom Gilbert), but it’s things like that which can really put things into perspective, grab your attention and make you appreciate things a little more.

  • Release the Hounds

    Wow, seeing that Sherven name took me back to my hometown of Gravelbourg, Sask. and how proud I was to have a native son playing for my favourite team. Gord’s dad, Doc Sherven, was the only veterinarian in the area and made several trips out to our farm to tend to ailing livestock. “Gravelbourg section of the draft” it 🙂

  • J-Dogg

    I remember going into the dressing room as a kid. They asked me my favorite player; I said Tikkanen. Someone went to get him from the showers to sign an autograph. While I was waiting I was standing right next to Bill Ranford who was sitting on a bench taking his pads off and I was seriously second guessing my choice 😛

  • stevezie

    Let’s have one of those Tikkanen stories! I think it would be cool if there was a new bi-monthly “story section” on ON; LT or Robin or whoever could just tell an old story about an old oiler. I get the impression that Tikkanen and Mironov could probably cover the first year or so, though I don’t know why. If there’s a gem in the vault as good as “Fily don’t do rebounds”, I’d like to hear it.

  • ogorr

    Great write up about tik, the thought of him driving other guys bananas with Tikspeak has always made me laugh.

    I wanna know more about this bet where Bill La Forge ate a lizard.

  • Release the Hounds

    Nice reads, your’s and the link to SI.

    Size, speed, hands and the attitude, anything to win. I sure hope our current Oilers can dig a few of these crucial pieces to the puzzle up to support Hall.

  • stevezie

    “Once a year during a road trip to Los Angeles, Pocklington treats the team to a couple of days of golf in Palm Springs. Several years ago, at an informal ceremony there, the players were introduced one at a time to former President Gerald Ford, a friend of Pocklington’s. Tikkanen, who thought he was being introduced to the top-ranked official of an auto company—”the president of General Ford”—sought to engage the former Chief Executive in a conversation about cars. “Bringing out the nice cars next year? Any should I buy?””

    This exceeds my wildest expectations.