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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers and Late-Round Draft Picks

There are a lot of reasons the Oilers struggled for so long. Their inability to pull NHL players from later rounds in the draft is certainly one of them.

Back in February, Stephen Burtch wrote about draft pick value for Sportsnet. According to his estimations, the big value lies within the top three picks, then there’s a drop off from three to four, with four-to-15 as the next important range. Later first-round picks have another drop off. “The value of a late first-round pick from a contending team is actually closer in value to any third-round selection than it is to a top-five pick,” Burtch says.

Oct 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) controls the puck against the Winnipeg Jets during the second period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers have been fortunate to pick in the top ten nine times since 2007, including four first-overall picks, but that’s where you’d expect to get a surefire NHL player. It’s the later rounds where Edmonton’s struggled to pull useful players to supplement their top talent.

In the five years prior to 2007, their first top-ten pick in over a decade, they picked and developed Jeff Petry, Kyle Brodziak, Jarret Stoll, and Matt Greene in the second round or later. Those were successful picks. Stoll and Greene were traded for the very effective Lubomir Visnovsky, but Petry and Brodziak weren’t in Edmonton long enough.

2007 on brought similar results. 2009 second-rounder Anton Lander showed flashes of success but couldn’t maintain it. The Oilers had three picks in the second round in 2010. Only Tyler Pitlick is in the NHL, and he has significant injury concerns. The Stars invested three years in Pitlick, which is a pretty big risk.

The Oilers had a very good 2011 draft. They picked Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall, Oscar Klefbom 19th, and Tobias Rieder 114th. Nugent-Hopkins might not be a typical first-overall pick, but he’s a good-to-great player. Klefbom’s been playing 22 minutes a night since 2014-15. Rieder is a consistent 30-point guy who can penalty kill, but, for some reason, he was traded as a prospect for Kale Kessy. Edmonton could use a speedy right-wing who penalty kills and scores 15 goals pretty badly. Rieder only makes $2.25 million a season, too.

Dec 2, 2017; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goalie Laurent Brossoit (1) stops a shot from the Calgary Flames in the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Oilers won 7-5. Mandatory Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

This season features both Jujhar Khaira and Brandon Davidson as two of Edmonton’s later-round picks in support roles. Anton Slepyshev is another, although he hasn’t solidified his spot in the Oilers’ lineup.

Khaira’s big, quick and recently on the third line with Leon Draisaitl. The Oilers’ third-round pick in 2012 has nine points in 18 games, including five goals. Khaira makes close to league minimum, so he provides real value if he can score in a support role. He was exposed in the Vegas expansion draft, but the Golden Knights opted for Griffin Reinhart. Reinhart was waived and currently plays for Vegas’ AHL affiliate in Chicago.

Davidson’s previously played a depth role in Edmonton, but was sent out for David Desharnais near the trade deadline last season. Montreal placed him on waivers, and the Oilers have a homegrown talent that can play up and down the lineup again. Davidson doesn’t have big counting stats, but he skates well and moves the puck in the right direction. He’s much quicker than Eric Gryba and less frenetic than Yohann Auvitu.

Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear are recent Oilers draft picks taken in the later rounds that are tracking well. Maybe there’s a player there. Same with Tyler Benson, Ostap Safin, and Kirill Maksimov in the CHL, who were all picked in rounds two or later.

These types of players are essential for contending teams. The Oilers will need them even more when Connor McDavid’s big contract kicks in next year. The salary cap is going up, but a cheap, 20-30 point forward, or third-pairing defenceman who can move up a pairing is always helpful.

  • lee

    Reider asked for a trade because at the time there were too many players in front of him and he felt in the Oilers system he would not make the NHL.
    You could say the same about the Left D, I think the Oilers have drafted or traded for too many similar players at this position. You have Simpson, Betker, Lowe, Jones, Stanton who are left d on the farm team with more coming next year. It can be argued that all of these player are pretty even. They do have Bear on the right side but he has suffered a serious injury and has missed most of the season. The farm team is also paper thin when it comes to Center.
    After the top 7-10 picks when I hear teams say they are taking the next best player, its almost comic. When you get to the second round every pick after your 1st pick should be for need.
    The Oilers really need Right D, Centers and Goalies that have a chance of making the NHL.
    If they don’t make the playoffs this season their 1st pick should be a right D unless they pick 1st overall. This draft is loaded with D men, traditionally when this happens there will be 3-4 stud d men coming out of a draft like this.
    Buffalo almost never drafts d men and look at their roster, it makes the Oilers defense look like all stars.
    Buffalo is obviously a pick the next best player team.

    • ed from edmonton

      The philosophical question of next best player bs need is always an interesting one. I think that PC has shown he more in the “need” camp than the “NBP”. Hard to say which is the right way given that a later round pick will likely take 4 to 5 years to compete at the NHL level and the team can change dramatically. Case in point is the Oil 2015 draft day. After McD they picked only Dmen and one goalie, plus trading 2 high picks for another D prospect. Less than 3 season later the biggest hole in the Oil system is forwards depth in the AHL. As you said there are a lot of Dmen around at the moment but forwards depth is not good.

      • Leaking5w-30

        When drafting so young I can’t imagine there is really a clear understanding of “Best available” when comparing d to f options. That’s why drafting on need makes sense in the nhl. Different story in say the NFL where players are drafted in their twenties

  • Spydyr

    The Oilers scouting at both the amateur and professional level has been abysmal since the day Katz purchased the team. Fill the ranks with your buddies and that is what you get.

    • ed from edmonton

      I agree the Oil professional scouting was the biggest fail of the organization during the decade of darkness. FAs like Khabibulin, Fayne and Ferrence all disasters. I get the the Oil were likely not at the top of many FA’s lists, but being that wrong is inexcusable. I’m not so convinced the Oil amateur scouting was that bad. It would be interesting is someone could actually compare the Oil amateur draft record vs the NHL as a whole.

      • Leaking5w-30

        I wonder about Amature scouting too… could be bad scouting, but it’s hard to know how much has to do with poor player development. Probably a bit of both. I’d like to see some detailed comparisons that try to isolate drafting from development. Hopefully someone in oil leadership is working on it

  • “He was exposed in the Vegas expansion draft, but the Golden Knights opted for Griffin Reinhart.”
    This statement sounds like they opted for Reinhart over Davidson. As you article mentioned, Davidson was exposed in the expansion draft but not by the Oilers. The Oilers had already traded him to Montreal for David Desharnais therefore Vegas did not take Reinhart over Davidson. They could have taken both players.

  • JimmyV1965

    The awful drafting of the previous regimes has utterly handicapped this team. The best teams in the league all hit the occasional home run in the late round with a top six forward or top four dman. We can barely even get grinders. Shameful record. Look at the best teams in the league and they all have late round picks playing huge roles. Hopefully it changes with Chia.

  • JimmyV1965

    I would argue that Pitkick is the exact opposite of a risk. His salary is low enough that if he’s sent to the minors or hurt, his absence has zero impact on the cap. It’s like the Gryba contract. If you send him down virtually all of his salary comes off the cap. That’s the benefit of a $1 mill contract.

  • OilersBro

    I’ve been saying this for a year now, we honestly should have evened out the Strome and Larsson deals with some 2nd or 3rd round picks. I think the deals would have gone through even if we asked for a bit more. Would have helped since we lost a 2nd for Chia
    But I guess we can’t do anything about it now.

    • nqmt

      I think in this day and age of salary caps, 1 mil cap relief is worth a 4th, 2 mil is a 3rd, 3 mil is a 2nd and 4 million and up is 1st. That just seems to be the trend where cap space is in itself a commodity

  • OilersBro

    Fun piece of info: I was talking with a data consulting company here in Edmonton. Apparently they figured out in the mid 2000’s that there is the same probability of a 4th round pick turning into an NHL caliber player as a 5th round pick. They sold this information to the Oilers and the Oil were able to make a bunch of trades during that time trading down their picks for increases in assets. Since then other teams have caught on.