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Scouting Can Be Thankless… Oilers Edition

Being an NHL amateur scout can be a thankless job. You spend countless hours in arenas, eating less-than-stellar food, driving even more hours, often in treacherous conditions, and your main task is to project which 17 or 18 year olds will be good NHL players in a few years.

It is a challenge, but scouts wouldn’t do it if they didn’t love it. Yet after all the hours scouting and writing reports, even if the general manager heeds your advice and picks the player you want on draft day, the scouts have very little say on the next phase, which is just as important as drafting: development and evaluation.

I strongly believe successful organizations put as much focus into development as they do drafting, and we can argue development might be even more important since you often scout a player for two, maybe three years, but their development from draft day to becoming an NHL player is often four or five years.

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Today, let’s look at some of the best draft picks who didn’t remain property of the Edmonton Oilers very long.

It is rare for a drafted player to play his entire career in one organization, so I won’t be including players like Mark Messier, Paul Coffey and other Oilers draft picks who played many years before being traded.

I’m more focused on players who were good draft picks, but didn’t spend much time with the Oilers.

1. Martin Rucinsky: Drafted 20th overall in 1991.

He played two games for the Oilers, before being traded on March 12th, 1992, to the Quebec Nordiques for Ron Tugnutt and Brad Zavisha. This was one of Glen Sather’s worst trades. Bill Ranford was the Oilers starting goalie, so Tugnutt was only acquired to be a backup, essentially insurance for the 1992 playoff run. He started two games with the Oilers in 1992, and then 22 the following season. Then he was selected by the Anaheim Ducks in the 1993 expansion draft.

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Meanwhile, Rucinsky would play 961 NHL games, scoring 241 goals and 612 points. What made the trade even worse was how poorly the Oilers had drafted in the first round leading up to selecting Rucinsky in 1991. The previous seven seasons will rival the seven worst consecutive first-round picks in NHL history. (I have to research this, but it would be hard to find an organization who had a less productive seven-year run from their first round selections.)

1984— Defenceman Selmar Odelein was the 21st pick. He played 18 NHL games.
1985— Centre Scott Metcalfe was chosen 20th overall. He played 19 NHL games.
1986— Winger Kim Issel was chosen 21st overall. He played four NHL games.
1987— Winger Peter Soberlak was chosen 21st overall. He never played an NHL game.
1988— D-man Francois Leroux was chosen 19th overall. He played 249 games. He produced 3-20-23 points.
1989— D-man Jason Soules was chosen 15th overall. He never played an NHL game. Only played 52 AHL games before quitting hockey.
1990— Winger Scott Allison was chosen 17th overall. He never played an NHL game.

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The Oilers selected Tyler Wright 12th overall in 1991. He would play over 600 NHL games, and they took Rucinsky 20th. But they traded him less than a month after selecting him. They had no young, skilled forwards in the system at the time, but dealt him for a backup goalie.

2. Miroslav Satan: Drafted in the fifth round, 111th, in 1993.

Satan was 19 when he was drafted, spent another season in Slovakia and then spent the 1994/1995 season in the minors. He scored 24-16-40 in 25 AHL games. He was almost a goal-a-game player in the AHL, which is very impressive for any rookie.

In his rookie season with the Oilers he scored 18-17-35 in 62 games. He then scored 17-11-28 in 64 games the following season before he was traded to Buffalo on March 18th for Craig Millar and Barrie Moore. The Oilers were in a playoff push, yet they dealt Satan for Millar, who as a young AHL D-man at the time and Moore, who was a checking forward, with only 30 NHL games. What were the Oilers thinking?

Satan scored eight goals in 12 games for the Sabres down the stretch and the next seven seasons with Buffalo he had goal totals of 22, 40, 33, 29, 37, 26 and 29. Then his first two years with the Islanders he scored 35 and 27 goals. Moore played four games for the Oilers and didn’t register a point, while Millar played 36 games over three seasons. How many goals could Satan have scored playing regularly with Doug Weight or Jason Arnott in the late 1990s?

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3. Jason Arnott: Drafted seventh overall in 1993.

Arnott had an incredible rookie season as an 18-year-old, scoring 33 goals and 68 points. He was injured his second season but then had 59 and 57 point seasons. He struggled during the 1997/1998 season with only five goals in 35 games and was traded to New Jersey for Bill Guerin. Guerin finished that season with the Oilers, then played two more before being traded early in the 2000/2001 season to Boston.

Guerin for Arnott was a solid hockey trade. Both produced well for their new teams, and Arnott won a Cup with the Devils in 2000 (he should have won the Conn Smythe, but I digress).

You can defend this trade, because the Oilers got a solid player in return, but after dealing Arnott the Oilers never found another big, strong, skilled centre until they drafted Leon Draisaitl. After the trade Arnott had 10 consecutive 20-goal seasons, until the streak ended in 2010 when he scored 19 with the Predators.

Arnott played 958 NHL games after the Oilers traded him.

4. Jason Chimera: Drafted fifth round, 121st, in 1997.

Chimera was drafted at 18, spent two more seasons in the WHL, then three seasons in the AHL. His development path was quite good for a mid-round pick. He needed time to mature and develop. He became a regular for the Oilers in 2002/2003 and scored 14-9-23 in a bottom-six role. The next season he struggled producing 4-12-16 in 60 games. Then the lockout hit, and he played in Italy.

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He was traded, along with a third round pick (Billy Ryan) to Arizona at the 2004 NHL draft for a second rounder selection (Geoff Paukovich) and a fourth rounder (Liam Reddox). Paukovich never played in the NHL, while Reddox played 100 games over three seasons.

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Chimera would play 977 games after the Oilers traded him, finishing with 1,107 total. He had three 20-goal seasons and five more seasons of 14+ goals. Could he have helped the Oilers bottom six in 2006? We will never know.

5. Kyle Brodziak: Drafted seventh round, 214th overall, in 2003.

Like Chimera, the Oilers did a good job not rushing Brodziak. He spent one more season in junior and then three in the AHL post-draft. He became a regular with the Oilers in 2007/2008, producing 14-17-31 in a bottom six role and followed it up with 11-16-27 the next season. However, the Oilers opted to keep Marc-Antoine Pouliot over Brodziak, and at the 2009 NHL draft they traded Brodziak to Minnesota for a fourth rounder (Kyle Bigos) and a fifth rounder (Olivier Roy). Neither pick played a game for the Oilers. Roy played 44 AHL games while Bigos played eight.

Brodziak played 742 NHL games after the trade and became a solid bottom-six centre in Minnesota and St.Louis, before ending his career back in Edmonton.

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PARTING SHOTS…

The Oilers have drafted 13 players who played 1,000+ NHL games and two more who played 900+. Five of them are listed above. Kirk Maltby played 1,000 games, and he was traded for Dan McGillis after 164 Oiler games.

Despite some horrendous years of drafting the Oilers overall track record of drafting good players is solid. However, they traded some of them too early in their careers.

Here is the list of teams who drafted players who went on to play 1,000 NHL games. This includes the NHL amateur draft which began in 1963 for a total of 53 drafts for the Original Six teams.

23: Montreal
18: New Jersey (17)/Colorado (1)/Kansas City (0)
15: Los Angeles
14: Detroit
13: Boston, Buffalo, Edmonton
12: New York Islanders
11: Arizona (0)/Winnipeg (11), Calgary (10)/Atlanta (1), Chicago, Toronto, Colorado (3)/Quebec (8)
10: New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Washington, Hartford (9)/Carolina (1).
9: St. Louis, Dallas (3)/Minnesota (6) and Vancouver
7: Ottawa
6: San Jose
5: Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay
4: Florida, Minnesota and Nashville
3: Anaheim
1: Columbus
0: Winnipeg/Atlanta and Vegas

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR