Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The worst first-round picks in Oilers history

Here’s a shocker — The Edmonton Oilers, like every professional sports franchise on the planet, have really screwed up some draft picks.

The 1990’s and early 2000’s really was the heyday of incompetent drafting in Edmonton with several first-round selections playing just a handful of games for the Oilers, while some didn’t even dress for a single NHL contest. Looking back with the full benefit of 20/20 hindsight, the list of Hall of Fame and All-Star names the club passed up on over the years is a long and painful one.

And the collection of names they chose ahead of some of those perennial superstars is even worse.

Jason Bonsignore (1994)

Bonsignore was the No. 4 pick in the 1994 draft and the highest selection the Oilers ever made until Taylor Hall was chosen first overall in 2010. Blessed with exceptional talent but cursed with an inability to hone it, the Rochester, New York native played only 21 games with Edmonton and his entire NHL career lasted less than 80 contests over four seasons with the Oilers and Lightning. He’s one of the biggest draft-day busts in NHL history.

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Tyler Wright (1991)

The No. 12 overall selection in 1991 had a respectable 600-plus game NHL career, but only 41 of those contests and three of his 79 career goals came while wearing an Oilers uniform. Edmonton passed on several future All-Stars and Hall of Famers to select Wright, including Alexei Kovalev, Marcus Naslund and Glen Murray, who were all chosen in the first round at Nos 15, 16 and 18 respectively.

Michael Henrich (1998)

You can’t find this dude on Hockey Reference or NHL.com because, well, he never played a single NHL game after being selected 13th overall in 1998. Henrich carved out a solid career for himself in Europe, but that was not what the Oilers had in mind when they burned a first-round pick on the former OHL phenom. though it wasn’t the strongest draft class, to say the least, some notable names that were selected after Henrich include Simon Gagne, Scott Gomez, Jonathan Cheechoo, Brad Richards and Brian Gionta.

Jesse Niinimaki (2002)

Also, a Top 15 pick who never suited up for a single NHL game, the Oilers selection of Niinimaki in 2002 was another wasted one. This draft class was absolute trash, but still, many selected after him carved out solid NHL careers and didn’t boast a 24-game stint with the AHL’s Edmonton Road Runners as the highlight of their North American professional hockey careers.

Steve Kelly (1995)

Selected at No. 6 overall, one pick ahead of now-former Coyotes captain and All-Star Shane Doan, Kelly managed to dress in 23 games for the Oilers before being shipped out of town during the 1997-98 season. Aside from Doan, Jarome Iginla, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Jay McKee and Petr Sykora were all still on the board when the club decided to select Kelly.

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Marc-Antoine Pouliot (2003)

Widely regarded as the most stacked and fruitful draft of all time, the Oilers snagged Marc-Antoine at No. 22 following a 73-point rookie campaign in the QMJHL. The skilled centre was only able to muster 53 points in 176 career games in Edmonton, and bounced around a few different organizations before heading to Europe to start the 2012-13 season. The long list of star-studded selections after Pouliot include Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron, Shea Weber and David Backes, just to name a few.

Does this list suck, or is it right on par with yours? Let me know how bad I am, and also feel free to include your own draft-day busts to this depressing group of names.


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  • Oiler GM

    Was surprised to see that Henderson was not the author of such a negative article (Not meant as an insult, stay true to yourself Hendo, I enjoy reading your work). Yaks’ gotta be somewhere close to that list? I guess it was not a strong draft year, however. The Oilers also used 2 first round picks to take Alex Plante and Riley Nash in 2007, the pick after Nash was Pacioretty, and Subban and Wayne Simmonds were taken fairly shortly after.

  • TKB2677

    How does Yakupov not make this list? Did Matt Henderson, the biggest Yak fan edit him out? He was drafted #1 overall. Was the consensus #1 and he’s a borderline NHLer who might be going to the KHL this season. Yak lovers will immediately blame Eakins. Well Nelson, McLellan, Hitchcock, Yeo and Bednar all had a crack at him and none of them could unlock him. That’s 3 organizations, 5 head coaches plus what, 10 assistant coaches.

      • TKB2677

        I am not here to make the case that Eakins was a good coach because he wasn’t. He sucked. But all Eakins did was try to make Yak play some freaking defense and didn’t gift him anything. He wanted Yak to EARN some things. OH the HORROR!!! An NHL coach actually expecting a young player to EARN playing time and expecting him to improve. Yak had Eakins for 1.5 yrs and that’s it, he’s done as an NHLer because of it. Pathetic.

    • Spaceman Spiff

      Yak doesn’t make the list simply because he was the consensus No. 1. If the Oilers weren’t picking first, whatever team that was picking first would have taken him. That’s part of the curse of picking No. 1 overall. A bust, yes, but he wasn’t the “wrong” pick. This list, IMO anyway, is all about “wrong” picks.

        • Spaceman Spiff

          No, not really. And that’s because they didn’t require much scouting or skill or deliberation. McDavid certainly didn’t. RNH and Hall … maybe a bit… but again, because they were “consensus” picks at or near the top of the draft, they’re essentially picks that are made for you. Teams can go through the motions with the top-3 guys – test them, interview them, poke them, prod them – but the agents know that if one team passes on their top-rated kid, he’s not likely to fall much. The real skill shows itself a little bit deeper in the draft, when the consensus starts to break away and scouts have make educated decisions (and/or guesses) based on their observation, their testing, their interviews, etc.

          In that regard, I’d argue that a guy like Jordan Eberle was a far better “draft pick” than McDavid or Hall. You and I could have picked Hall first. Eberle was drafted in the bottom 10 of the first round and had flaws (at the time) that put him there. The late scout Lorne Davis went to bat for him on draft day and the Oilers took a chance and picked him. That’s skilled drafting at its finest. And, of course, if your scouts can find guys in the later rounds, then they deserve even more regard.

  • ubermiguel

    No Alexei Mikhnov, Nick Stajduhar or Alex Plante? Funny thing about Wright, Martin Rucinsky was selected by the Oilers 8 picks later and did just fine. If the thesis is Oilers-futility then Yakupov being the consensus #1 somewhat excuses them.

  • JimT

    I remember well the year the Oil chose Steve Kelly instead of Shane Doan. The draft was held in Edmonton and all of the fans were shouting Doan, Doan, Doan and Glen Sather goes to the podium and takes Steve Kelly.

  • CMG30

    Because Yak is a full time NHL player. He could only be considered a bust in regard to his draft position. Besides we cannot fault the oilers for taking first overall since there were 29 other teams who would have jumped at the chance to do the same.

    • Randaman

      Stupid is as Stupid does? That is supposed to be a viable excuse. Katz stuck his nose where it didn’t belong. Yak should not only be on the list but is top three! BUST!

    • TKB2677

      Yak isn’t a full time NHLer. He played in St. Louis and Colorado the last 2 seasons. In St. Louis, he got into 40 games. If you go look at his bio, he didn’t miss a lot of time because he was injured you sick, he was healthy scratched. In Colorado, he played 58 games. He only missed a couple because he was sick. That means again, he was healthy scratched a lot. Full time NHLers don’t get scratched for significant amounts of time.

    • Spaceman Spiff

      Exactly. Yak is proof of the curse of drafting first overall. When you’re picking first, the pick is pretty much made for you. You don’t wander off the board. You don’t take risks. There’s no surprise. And yeah, if 29 other teams had a chance to pick first that year, they would have taken Yak No. 1, too.

  • corky

    Attn Game day Crew for Oilers: take a look at the pregame in Vegas and take notes. Vegas brings it every game and the Oil could learn alot. Nothing wrong with having fun at a hockey game. Cc: Daryl Katz

  • corky

    When youre head scout, Barry Fraser lives in New Mexico, theres a problem from the get go. But hindsight is 20/20 for every team. Its also the follow through the Oil have failed with many draft picks. Thankfully a pick like RNH wasnt ruined forever.

  • Heschultzhescores

    Yak actually looked pretty decent the first while, scored that big celebration goal and took flack for it, then sorta never rebounded from that. It’s almost like They crushed the man’s spirits.

    • Big Nuggets

      9 goals in 58 games this season playing low minutes. pro rate that over 82 games and double it due to the McNuge effect. Not sure if you guys like 30 goals scorers or not. But this one would come cheap.

      • Serious Gord

        The topic is worst first rounders.

        Last year he had a good first few games and then did almost nothing – benched for thirty. Not worth league minimum and the wasting of a roster spot.

  • Bmutha

    It’s always pretty easy to cherry pick drafts after the fact, but the 2003 draft is the biggest misfire, imo. A historically great draft, and the Oilers trade down(!) from 17 to 22 for Pouliot? I mean, they only missed out on Parise, Burns, Getzlaf(!), Kesler, Richards, Boyle, and Perry…I was mad the day of, and I’m still mad about that draft.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    I think that, of all these picks, the one that was the “most wrong,” by a country mile, was Jesse Niinimaki in 2002. I remember watching the draft live that day and, after the Oilers made their selection, I flipped through my trusty copy of The Hockey News Draft Preview (then, as now, the go-to for the draft) and Niinimaki wasn’t among the 60 (or whatever) players profiled. Nor was he in the additional list of 50 or so “other prospects” THN puts near the end of the edition. That’s how far off the radar screen he was.

    My theory about the Oilers picking him was they’d obviously “saw him good,” but I think they were also pretending to be the New Jersey Devils. At that time, the Devils were a great team, so they were often picking late in the first round. They often took kids who were not necessarily ranked as first-rounders (or even second-rounders) because they played a certain style or they could turn them into players. And, because they were winning (with a lot of talent they drafted and developed in the minors), their way of going-walkabout in the first round was seen as somewhat revolutionary. I’m convinced that’s what the Oilers got caught up in there.

    Bonsignore? Fantastic junior player. Decent prospect. Immature kid. Bad pro. But if the Oilers don’t take him at four, he’s gone before #10. Henrich? Big rangy winger who was picked right where he should have been? Wright? Feisty little player who was a decent pro (and hardly a bad pick). Pouliot’s claim-to-fame was an excellent year on a bad team … one year before Sidney Crosby ended up on the team and his line. And Kelly? Well, we all remember that draft because it was in Edmonton and everyone was chanting Shane Doan’s name, but Kelly was a lot like Magnus Paajarvi – great wheels and bad hands. Not a horrible pick – just one that didn’t turn out.

    But make no mistake – Niinimaki was a longshot gamble in a part of the first round where you shouldn’t be making those gambles. He was the worse one.

  • Green Bastard

    1987 draft, 1st round oil selection, Peter Soberlak. Watching him play in Swift Current, we called him Pete “Superslack”. Mega floater. I’m guessing no one from the oil FO bothered to watch him play. He never played a minute in the NHL. The oil passed on John Leclair, Eric Desjardins, Mathieu Schneider, a couple of goalies, Mark Fitzpatrick, Itchy Scratchy Tabaracci and others. But then so did a lot of other teams.