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. 


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?


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). 

My look at the OHL is available here


What? What? 

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)

  • The big disappointment for me has been seeing Bunz go off the rails. A lot of the WHL names above (not counting Eberle, Nuge, and Musil) were the type of pick where an NHL career was far from certain.

    I also know that projecting goaltenders is like alchemy (to steal a turn of phrase from LT). But Bunz just looked like such a good pick as his WHL career was winding up. It’s a shame to see him struggling so badly in the ECHL.

  • DSF

    General Manager Craig MacTavish announced today the Edmonton Oilers have named Bob Green Director of Amateur and Free Agent Scouting.

    Green, who was honoured as the WHL’s Executive of the Year in 2011-12 and 2012-13, will work closely with the Oilers Hockey Operations department and Amateur Scouting staff, assisting with identifying and recruiting NCAA, CHL and select European free agents, as well as develop a free agent priority list.

    Green, 52, joins the Edmonton Oilers after serving as the General Manager of the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League for the past six seasons. In 2012-13, Green led the Oil Kings to first place in the Eastern Conference and to the WHL league final for the second consecutive year.

  • Lowetide

    That’s a huge addition to the Oilers imo. Bob Green has been very successful in junior procurement and knows the WHL backwards.

    I’m not SURE this means fewer WHL kids drafted, though.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    It is really interesting that you posted this the same day as the new hire.

    What are the lottery numbers LT?

    I think this doesn’t however mean that the W is going to stay so strongly in the sights of the Oil.

    Firstly, Green’s job isn’t going to be scouting draft eligible players. Though, no doubt, he will be asked to advise on players he’s seen.

    Secondly, a lot of the extra (beyond league average that is) W picks followed the Tambo model of chasing “face-punchers” and their little brother “enforcers.” That era is over.

    Finally, this move is just part of the package of MacT making the team smarter. Smarter teams work hard to weed out bias: ie., love for the W.

  • RexLibris

    With regards to the WHL and the Bob Green hiring (as director of amateur free agent scouting or something of the sort) – the previous regime invested heavily in the WHL and yet the scouts that were routinely delivering were the ones overseas led by Mr. Musil the Elder.

    I think MacTavish may have recognized this and has shifted focus. I get that MacGregor has a good eye for talent (good, not great) but the WHL is his backyard and sometimes it pays to look elsewhere for perspective. Shifting some focus away from the WHL is a good idea, and hiring another set of eyes to do so is a smart move.

    Besides, with the way the NHL wind is blowing right now it isn’t as though there are 29 other teams knocking the doors down to get some of these Eastern European kids, so why not take a page from history and select them in the draft?

    Also, how is it one can watch a girl take a shower and suddenly feel dirty?


  • OHL and WHL, may have similar number of teams in the league, but the fact is that Ontario has a
    population of something like 13, million people, where as the West is more 8 million.

    The point is that there a larger population in general to create your talent.

  • G Money

    The flip side question to ask (and I am not making this assertion, just raising the point) is whether or not the OHL selection bias – along the lines of all-star team voting bias – simply reflects the fact that there are a lot more NHL teams in and around the OHL than the WHL or the Q.

    If that’s the case, then the WHL ‘market’ would be less ‘efficient’ (in finance geek terms), and you are more likely to be able to beat the market performance by picking from the WHL than from the OHL.

    Of course, excepting the Baby Nuge at #1, the Oilers are batting one for thirteen (oh but what a one!) in WHL picks, so its safe to say that our scouting so far is not Warren Buffett class.

  • Wax Man Riley

    If you want us to read your articles Allan……….stop with the pretty girls. Might I suggest a shower scene with Rosanne Barr……..on second thought, forget that.

    I’m good with the pretty girls until hockey season starts.