One of the true joys of living in Alberta is that glorious blue sky. Anyone who has spent a week on the coast during rainy season knows what a lack of sunshine can do to the soul. This week, blue skies across Alberta meant something special for Edmonton Oilers: defensive help is on the way, and blue, blue skies are on the horizon.
The Edmonton Oilers have drafted some of the truly phenomenal offensive players in the game’s history. However, they’ve wasted a lot of draft picks on defensemen who never developed. Between Kevin Lowe (1979) and Oscar Klefbom (2011), Edmonton hasn’t devoted a lot of picks to first round defensemen:
BARRY FRASER ERA
- 1979 Kevin Lowe (1254 NHL games)
- 1980 Paul Coffey (1409 NHL games)
- 1982 Jim Playfair (21 NHL games)
- 1983: Jeff Beukeboom (804 NHL games)
- 1984: Selmar Odelein (18 NHL games)
- 1988: Francois Leroux (249 NHL games)
- 1989: Jason Soules (DNP in NHL)
- 1993: Nick Stadjuhar (2 NHL games)
- 1996: Mathieu Descoteaux (5 NHL games)
KEVIN PRENDERGAST ERA
- 2007: Alex Plante (10 NHL games)
STU MACGREGOR ERA
- 2011: Oscar Klefbom
Incredible, isn’t it? The Oilers have used fewer than a dozen first round selections in their entire history on defensemen. Their success rate early was splendid, Lowe and Coffey with Beukeboom is just a really nice cluster. And you can’t get upset at some of the failures, because kids like Odelein were injured and lost along the way. It’s a tough damn position to play with everything in place, and some of these guys had severe injuries over the years.
Alex Plante’s story has yet to be written, and the Klefbom just started dropping around New Year’s.
WHAT’S THE TIMELINE FOR THE BLUELINE?
It depends on the player. Lowe looked like a veteran as a rookie, Coffey drove Slats around the bend and back again. You kind of knew footspeed would be an issue for Francois Leroux but I’m not going to pick on him because he’s played 249 NHL games than me.
A good rule of thumb is at least two year’s after draft day for defensemen to make their first NHL appearance, and then another one to three (entry level deal) in order to prove they’re worth keeping on the everyday roster. College kids trigger later because NHL teams often bring them out only when ready (some college players sign at 22 or later).
There is so much luck–good and bad–involved. Injuries, opportunity, events like this WJ championship that no doubt lend themselves to gaining experience. They all contribute.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
We have ways to measure these kids (boxcars) but the advanced stats aren’t really available. We don’t have time on ice, and in many cases the coach doesn’t say much about specific players in the media we read thousands of miles away. There are things we can track, I call them "arrows" both good and bad. Oscar Klefbom had some injury issues early in the season, that’s a down arrow. He was named to the WJ All-Star team today. That’s a good arrow.
Godspeed, Oscar Klefbom.