Tuesday, June 29, 2004


Oil Spill - The Exxon Oilers' Drafting Disasters - PART ONE

For most teams, NHL first round picks are like blue chip stocks: You do your homework, read the prospectus, analyze some ratios, get some insider info, read the market trends, and make an investment based on your projection for that stock. Not all blue-chip stocks pan out, but the chances are good that it will at least bring in some mild return on your investment.

The Edmonton Oilers, of course, prefer to invest their big draft money in 6/49 Lottery tickets. Forget the work, just have a monkey pick numbers out of a hat and pray for the best.

Why am I talking about the Oilers? Well, their pick of Devan Dubnyk at #14 this past Saturday just reeks of past draft failures. Call me skeptical, but I have serious doubts as to whether Dubnyk can ever learn to not have the coordination of a newborn horse trying to walk for the first time.

The monkey picking lottery numbers, in the case of the Oilers, was generally head scout Barry Fraser, the man who was responsible for drafting such great players as Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Andy Moog, and Grant Fuhr..

As great as Fraser was in the early 80s, he was just as bad in the late 80s and most of the 90s, when he got a fat head and bought a house in Mexico. Fraser seemed more interested in sipping margueritas than scouting talent.

If Oilers ex-GM Glen Sather, the most overrated GM in hockey until recently, had one failing (and he does have more) it was that he was far too loyal to his 'boys'.

While Fraser was flushing first round picks down the toilet, Sather was far too loyal to do the right thing and replace him with somebody better. Sather also held the same loyalty to ex-coach Ron Low, a deer in headlights who was kept around way past his expiry date.

Although the Oilers have always played the 'small-market' card, the simple fact is that the Oilers have done a poor job in utilizing their best draft picks, hindering their ability to develop players from within, and make trades to acquire assets from other organizations. If not for Sather's uncanny ability to absolute swindle some fellow GM's ("Why, thank you, Mr. Esposito"), and the lasting legacy of the stars acquire early in the Oilers' NHL history, the Oilers would have been bottom feeders for most of the 90s and into today.

It's safe to say that no other NHL team has done as poorly as the Oilers when it comes to their first rounders...so let's analyze the results. We'll start with 1984, when things started to go sour for the Oilers. In 1983, the Oilers selected Jeff Beukeboom, and it was the last of the 'golden era' for Fraser and his staff.

(Career totals in parenthesis)

1984 (21st) - Selmar Odelein, D (18 0-2-2 35PIM)

Certainly nothing like Lyle, his younger brother, Selmar was a flashy and exciting offensive defenseman drafted out of the WHL. Odelein helped Canada win the 1985 WJC20 gold, but his career tanked after that. Odelein missed almost the entire 86-87 season, and after just 3 years in the AHL and NHL (18 games), Odelein went to play in Austria and England before retiring in 1994. The Oilers thought they had the next Paul Coffey, but they ended up just a cup of coffee instead.

1985 (20th) - Scott Metcalfe, C (19 1-2-3 18PIM)

A tough and decently productive center from Kingston of the OHL, he couldn't crack the powerful Oilers' lineup, and was traded to Buffalo, along with a 9th round pick, for Steve Dykstra (Yeah, he didn't do anything, either). The rub? That 9th round pick turned out to be Donald Audette. Double ouch! Metcalfe racked up heavy PIM and decent point totals in the AHL, but could never crack the NHL for an extended period of time. Both Fraser and Sather have egg on their face on this one.

1986 (21st) - Kim Issel, RW (4 0-0-0 0PIM)

Issel was a 6'4" power forward that was drafted to add some size to the Oilers forward corps. At a time when size wasn't a common feature among NHL forwards, the Oilers hoped that Issel would give them an advantage (Big strong powerful winger) that other teams couldn't develop.

Issel never got a real shot with the Oilers, despite putting up some fairly good numbers in the AHL. Issel was more of a raw 'project', and other teams really didn't want that kind of player. So, Issel went to Austria, where he had 4 spectacular years. He also had stints in Slovenia, Italy, Germany, and Britain. At least Issel got to travel the world, instead of being cooped up in cold Edmonton :)

1987 (21st) - Peter Soberlak, LW (0 0-0-0 0PIM)

Soberlak is the type of draft pick that would draft any fan to drink. Soberlak was another tall (6'3") 'project', and after some 'decent' numbers in the WHL, thanks to linemates Joe Sakic and Sheldon Kennedy, he had 3 pretty craptacular seasons in the AHL. Soberlak was kidnapped by aliens, but nobody cared.

1988 (19th) - Francois Leroux, D (249 3-20-23 577PIM)

Well, Francois was a 6'6" slab of beef that could fight and drink beer. He did just that, and he gave the Oilers and Penguins a servicable goon. Voila! The Oilers struck fools gold!

1989 (15th) - Jason Soules, D (0 0-0-0 0PIM)

Umm...this guy was a pretty crappy junior player, and he played a whopping 52 AHL games before being kidnapped by the same aliens that took Soberlak.

1990 (17th) - Scott Allison, LW (0 0-0-0 0PIM)

The 1990 1st round was a powerful haul, netting such names as Keith Tkachuk, Owen Nolan, Jaromir Jagr, Petr Nedved, Keith Primeau, Darryl Sydor, Derian Hatcher, Martin Brodeur, and Bryan Smolinski. Who did the Oilers get? One of only 2 players in that first round that didn't play one NHL game.

1991 (12th) - Tyler Wright, C (570 77-64 141 803PIM) and
(20th) - Martin Rucinsky, LW (817 208-300-508 677PIM)

SCORE!!! Too bad Rucinsky only played 2 games for the Oilers before they traded him for Ron Tugnutt. Wright never played much for the Oilers, but at least the Oilers got 2 solid picks in 1991. 1 for 8.

1992 (13th) - Joe Hulbig, LW (55 4-4-8 16PIM)

Another 6'3" 'project', Hulbig was picked out of the US High School system, and was the Oilers version of Michael Rupp, a raw kid that hadn't played against high competition. Hulbig isn't all that physical, and he's still kicking around the AHL these days.

The pick taken right after Hulbig? Sergei Gonchar


1993 (7th) - Jason Arnott, C (743 244-324-568 897PIM) and...
(20th) - Nick Stajduhar, D (2 0-0-0 4PIM)

Well the top end of the 93 draft was very very good, indeed...
Daigle(cough), Pronger, Gratton, Kariya, R.Niedermayer, Vik Kozlov, Arnott, Sundstrom, Harvey, Thibault, Witt...so the Oilers really couldn't screw up the Arnott pick. I'll give them credit, regardless.

As for Stajduhar, a classic 'junior star' who was overmatched at the pro level. Stajduhar couldn't really rise above the ECHL and UHL ranks, and proved to be a complete bust in every sense. Players taken after him in the first round include Jason Allison, Todd Bertuzzi, and Saku Koivu.

So far, 2 for 11...

We'll look at 1994 and beyond tomorrow.

What you didn't take into account with your comments regarding Selmar Odelein was that his NHL career was cut short by a knee injury. Without that his career would no doubt have been as long as his brothers.

Unfortunately Selmar seemed to be injury prone as his British career was ended by a severe back injury.

Now I don't know enough about Barry Fraser to leap to his defence but surely he can't forsee injury problems.

Just as a matter of interest of those players you mention, Odelein, Scott Metcalfe & Scott Alison all ended up playing for the Sheffield Sheelers in England. Along with them we have also had ex-Oilers Ron Shudra & Ivan Matulik play for us. Kim Issel also ended up in England too.

Alison for me was the big puzzle. Why didn't he, as a first round pick get at least one game for the Oilers? Haveing watched him over here for a few years I would guess at temperament! He just can't control his temper.

Don't mean to post as anonymous but I don't have time to register at present and will check back when I have more time.

Hi - just stumbled across your unfair comments re: Selmar Odelein, and I'm glad Stewart already replied (pointing out his knee injury). I guess it's pretty easy to take potshots at somebody from the safety of your keyboard, safe in the knowledge you'd never have to face Selmar in person ...
Mark "Pork Pie"
(met Selmar when he played for the Panthers 92-93)
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