Revisiting the Edmonton Oilers’ Disastrous 1990 Draft

In June 1990, the Edmonton Oilers were on top of the world. They had just won their fifth Stanley Cup in seven years, after beating the Boston Bruins 4-1 in the best-of-seven championship series. Goaltender Bill Ranford received the Conn Smythe Trophy, and captain Mark Messier was presented with the Hart Memorial Trophy.

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Life was good, maybe a little too good, because in the midst of all their celebrating, the Oilers apparently forgot about the NHL Entry Draft. How else to explain what happened at B.C. Place in Vancouver on June 16, 1990, when Edmonton general manager Glen Sather selected 11 players, from Scott Allison at No. 17 to Sami Nuttinen at No. 248, none of whom played a single NHL game.

Glen Sather
Glen Sather was general manager of the Edmonton Oilers in 1990. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

It’s the worst drafting of all time. Excluding the last four drafts (2017-2020), only three other times did a team not have a single pick reach the NHL, and, in each case, the team made fewer picks than the Oilers in 1990 and did not have a selection as high: 2003 Phoenix Coyotes – eight picks, highest at No. 77; 2007 Vancouver Canucks – six picks, highest at No. 25; 2008 Montreal Canadiens – five picks, highest at No. 56.

To make matters worse, the 1990 Draft is regarded as one of the NHL’s deepest; one in every six players selected (42 out of 252) played at least 400 career games, including 15 who topped 1,000. Seventeen players appeared in an All-Star Game or were named to an All-Star Team at least once.

Edmonton’s Picks

PlayerRound/NumberPositionAmateur Club
Scott Allison1/17CPrince Albert Raiders (WHL)
Alexandre Legault2/38RWBoston University (Hockey East)
Joe Crowley3/59LWLawrence Academy (U.S. high school)
Joel Blain4/67LWHull Olympiques (QMJHL)
Greg Louder5/101GCushing Academy (U.S. high school)
Keijo Sailynoja6/122LWJokerit (Finland)
Mike Power7/143GWestern Michigan (CCHA)
Roman Mejzlik8/164LW/CDukla Jihlava (Czechoslovakia)
Richard Zemlicka9/185LW/RWSparta Praha (Czechoslovakia)
Petr Korinek10/206CSkoda Plzen (Czechoslovakia)
Sami Nuutinen12/248DK-Espoo (Finland)

Coming off a season in which he ranked fifth in points on the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, Scott Allison was deemed worthy of a first-round pick by the Oilers, who were perhaps besotted by the forward’s size (he had just turned 18 and was already six-foot-four and nearly 200 pounds).

Scott Allison Edmonton Oilers
Scott Allison never played in the NHL, but he did get a rookie card. (Brian Swane collection)

Allison had the most successful pro career of Edmonton’s 1990 draft class, but that’s not saying much. He spent four seasons (1992-93 to 1995-96) in the AHL and another in the IHL (1996-97) before heading overseas and sticking it out for several years in the British Ice Hockey Super League. He was even named a BISL Second Team All-Star in 2002. He played one more season in North America, with the Wichita Thunder of the CHL in 2004-05, before calling it a career.

Neither Edmonton’s second nor fourth-round picks, Alexandre Legault and Joel Blain, played at a level higher than the ECHL and were out of pro hockey by 1994 and 1993, respectively. Third-round pick Joe Crowley played 107 games over parts of three seasons in the IHL, but that was after the Oilers had traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks for a forward prospect, Justin Lafayette, in October 1992. Lafayette spent that season in the ECHL and then retired.

With their fifth and seventh-round selections, the Oilers chose goalies Greg Louder and Mike Power. The former played one pro season, making eight appearances between the AHL and ECHL in 1994-95, while the latter suited up for 10 games over two seasons in the Sunshine Hockey League, a “Class A level minor-league loop” in Florida. Louder and Power were both out of hockey by 1996.

Edmonton used their six, eight, nine, 10 and 12-round selections on European players who were still overseas. Crossing the pond wasn’t as common three decades ago as it is now, and sure enough, not one of the five players selected gave it a shot in North America. They did, however, all have lengthy careers on their side of the Atlantic, and Keijo Sailynoja (Finland) and Richard Zemlicka (Czechoslovakia) both competed at the 1992 Winter Olympic Games.

Who Could the Oilers Have Drafted?

With the 17th pick, the Oilers passed over a member of the 500-goal and 1,000-point club in forward Keith Tkachuk (who was picked 19th), and the NHL’s all-time leader among goalies in games, wins and shutouts, Hockey Hall-of-Famer Martin Brodeur (20th). They also could have taken two-time All-Star goaltender Felix Potvin at No. 31, four-time All-Star centre Doug Weight (who later became an Oilers all-time great after Edmonton acquired him from the New York Rangers in 1993) at No. 34, and two-time All-Star winger Geoff Sanderson (who played his last NHL season with the Oilers in 2007-08) at No. 36.

Doug Weight Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton passed over Doug Weight in the 1990 Draft, but eventually traded for him. (Tom Pidgeon/Allsport)

Mikael Renberg (40th), who became a member of the Philadelphia Flyers’ iconic “Legion of Doom” line, was available when Edmonton picked in the second round. So was 11-time 20-goal scorer Slava Kozlov (the 45th overall selection), winner of two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings.

Edmonton had four opportunities to draft nine-time 20-goal scorer Alexei Zhamnov, who was taken at No. 77 and could have used any of their first four picks to snag Hall-of-Fame defenseman Sergei Zubov (81). Zubov came back to haunt the Oilers by helping the Dallas Stars eliminate the team in five consecutive playoff meetings from 1998 to 2001 and in 2003.

Sergei Zubov Dallas Stars
Edmonton had multiple opportunities to draft Sergei Zubov in 1990. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

Goaltender Roman Turek, a Second-Team NHL All-Star in 2000 and two-time William Jennings Trophy recipient, was picked 113th, 12 selections after Edmonton chose fellow netminder Louder. Forward Craig Conroy, who played in over 1,000 games and served as an NHL captain with the Calgary Flames, was taken 123rd, right after the Oilers selected Sailynoja at No. 122.

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Five-time All-Star and 500-goal scorer Peter Bondra went 156th overall after the Oilers had already made seven trips to the podium. They also had several cracks at All-Stars Jaroslav Modry (pick No. 179) and Espen Knutsen (204). The list goes on and on, but I think you get the picture.

Where Are They Now?

None are involved in hockey, although the North Americans who were drafted by the Oilers have found success in business. Allison is a real estate agent in Dartmouth, N.S., Legault is a vice president at Allard, Allard & Associés portfolio managers in Montreal, Louder is a direct sales professional in Maine, and Power is the chief business development officer at Viecure in Denver.

“I ran into Paul Coffey one day and he said ‘Geez, what happened to you?’ I said I never really got an opportunity. I played in three or four exhibition games in six camps. I didn’t have anybody pulling for me.”

– Scott Allison (from ‘Oilers fans still cringe at thought of 1990 draft’, The Edmonton Journal, 6/21/10)

The European draftees stayed in sports. Petr Korinek is a head coach in the Czech U17 league, Roman Mejzlik is a youth coach in the Czech Republic, and Nuutinen is a regional coach with the Finnish Hockey Association, and Zemlicka coaches with storied Czech club Sparta Praha. Sailynoja chaired the Finnish Ice Hockey Players’ Association, served as CEO for the famous Hartwell Arena in Helsinki, and more recently was the CEO of the Finnish Volleyball Association.

The Aftermath

While 1990 is the most egregious example, the Oilers had struck out at the draft for years. Of their eight first-round picks between 1983 and 1990, only one player played more than 19 NHL games. Three of Edmonton’s four first-round picks between 1987 and 1990 never even made it to the NHL.

Even as the pillars of their dynasty left town one by one, the Oilers had a deep playoff run in 1991 and 1992, until the bottom completely fell out. Without the prospect pool to replace their departed stars, the Oilers plummeted to the bottom of the standings in 1993 and did not return to the playoffs until 1997.