During the intense draft rebuild of 2010-2013, the Edmonton Oilers spent a tremendous number of draft picks in the Western Hockey League. Most of that home cookin’ has yet to pay off, leaving Oiler fans wondering if the organization should cast a wider net.
RUNNING THE NUMBERS
During the first 6 entry drafts of the Stu MacGregor era, the NHL as a whole selected 1265 total players, 209 (or 16.5%) from the Western Hockey League. That is significantly lower than the OHL total (21.56%) and would seem to confirm the widely held belief that the OHL is the superior development league.
For the first 6 years of the MacGregor era, the Oilers have spent significantly MORE picks in the WHL than the OHL:
- 2008 NHL draft: Oilers select 5 players, 2 from the WHL (211 players selected overall)
- 2009 NHL draft: Oilers select 7 players, 1 from the WHL (211 players selected overall)
- 2010 NHL draft: Oilers select 11 players, 4 from the WHL (210 players selected overall)
- 2011 NHL draft: Oilers select 9 players, 3 from the WHL (211 players selected overall)
- 2012 NHL draft: Oilers select 7 players, 1 from the WHL (211 players selected overall)
- 2013 NHL draft: Oilers select 10 players, 3 from the WHL (211 players selected overall)
The Oilers from 2008-13 (6 drafts) have selected 49 players overall, 14 from the WHL (or 28.6% of their total picks). Comparing that percentage to the league overall (16.5%, as listed above) gives you an idea about just how many picks over average the Oilers have been in the west under MacGregor
This may well be random–players chosen based on merit through the eyes of the scouting staff, and it’s possible all of the players Edmonton chose would have been taken by other teams during this period. However, I think it’s reasonable to wonder about all the attention paid to the Western Hockey League–we’ll see as things roll out–and its unusual prominence in Oilers drafting strategy. Since 2008, the Oilers have drafted 7 OHL players, and 14 from the WHL. The NHL as a group consistently prefers the OHL. Is the Oilers draft strategy wise? Or is this random luck, based on when the Oilers pick their players?
WHO ARE THE FOURTEEN PLAYERS?
The Oilers spent close to 30% of their draft gold in the west, you’d want to see plenty of return on that invesmtent. The good news? Those who have arrived are splendid!
- Jordan Eberle is one of the best draft picks in franchise history. A home run from #22 overall, a very rare item.
- Jordan Bendfeld a late round pick who spent three seasons in pro hockey.
- Cameron Abney, an enforcer chosen in the 3rd round, remains in system.
- Curtis Hamilton, a disappointing 2nd round pick who has not taken one step forward in pro hockey.
- Tyler Bunz, highly touted goalie struggling in pro hockey and encountering concussion problems.
- Brandon Davidson, on track as a prospect, although NHL employment may be out of reach.
- Drew Czerwonka big PF who lost his career to injury before turning pro.
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: Baby Nuge is a sublime talent and plays an extremely important position.
- David Musil: Shut down defensive player in junior begins the minor league road to the NHL. Jury is out.
- Travis Ewanyk: Checking C in junior, questions about offensive ability have expectations low.
- Mitch Moroz: PF taken so high it clouds the view, playing shut down role in junior.
- Jackson Houck: Interesting new pick, appears to be a very good 2-way prospect.
- Ben Betker: Stay at home type, a projection. A lot of unknown here.
- Greg Chase: Brilliant pick if they’d taken him 100 spots earlier! Love the selection at 188th overall.
The WHL has 14 picks since 2008, double the OHL number. One thing the Oilers have done though is spend their first round picks (and two of the #1’s) in the OHL. Whereas Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov and Darnell Nurse all came with high picks from the OHL, the only lottery pick from the WHL is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The WHL has only 5 picks inside the top 50 during this era (Eberle, Hamilton, RNH, Musil, Moroz) compared to the OHL’s 3 (Hall, Yak, Nurse).
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Seriously, the Oilers have invested a tremendous amount of picks in the WHL, I think they clearly prefer the WHL’s tough reputation and size/skill combination. They have taken some long shots and flawed players in relatively high draft slots though (Moroz, Musil, Abney) and that will very likely impact the batting average.
One final thing: the Oilers scored well in a deep draft this season despite not spending any high picks in the WHL. I think you can make a case that Houck and Chase are better actual prospects than any of the WHL kids not named Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
That may be a reflection of the new GM, who put more emphasis on skill at this year’s draft. If this is the result of lessons learned, then the Abney selection and others like it may have been worth it after all.
(photo by Rob Ferguson, all rights reserved)