There is a long list of players who became NHL stars playing for the Edmonton Oilers. From Hall-of-Famers Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier from the Dynasty Years to Hart Trophy winners Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid of the modern-day Oilers.
Then there is the list of Oilers who became stars elsewhere. Some, like goaltender Devan Dubnyk, spent several years with the club. Others’ time in Edmonton was so short that they have long since been forgotten; if they were noticed in the first place.
Here’s a look at three such players. Not one of them suited up for 10 games with the club yet all kept company with the NHL’s best.
Let’s kick things off with a bit of trivia: Who were the four future All-Stars selected by Edmonton at the 1980 NHL Draft?
Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, and Andy Moog roll pretty easily off the tongue. But even the most diehard fan might not guess the fourth name, Walt Poddubny.
The 90th overall pick in 1980, Poddubny spent most of his time in the Oilers organization with their Central Hockey League affiliate, the Wichita Wind. He was pointless in four games with the Oilers in the 1981-82 season before being dealt at the trade deadline to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Laurie Boschman.
Poddubny blossomed into a top-shelf scorer with the New York Rangers in 1986-87 and 1987-88, with seasons of 40 and 38 goals, respectively, before being traded to the Quebec Nordiques.
In 1988-89, Poddubny led the Nordiques with 38 goals and was selected to the All-Star Game, which fittingly took place at Northlands Coliseum, where he had skated his first NHL shift as a member of the Oilers more than seven years earlier. That night, a packed house in Edmonton saw Poddubny notch a game-high two goals for the Wales Conference.
The Thunder Bay, Ont. product closed out his NHL career playing three seasons with the New Jersey Devils. He retired with 184 goals and 422 points in 468 NHL games.
Tragically, Poddubny passed away in 2009 at age 49.
Martin Rucinsky’s Edmonton roots trace back to Gretzky’s 1988 trade to the Los Angeles Kings. As part of the deal, the Oilers received the rights to L.A.’s first-round pick in 1991, which Edmonton used to select Rucinsky 20th overall.
The Czech winger’s time in Edmonton lasted less than nine months, much of it in the American Hockey League with Cape Breton. He played just two NHL games with the Oilers, going pointless in a brief call-up in January 1992. On Mar. 10 of that season, general manager Glen Sather traded Rucinsky to the Nordiques for goalie Ron Tugnutt and forward prospect Brad Zavisha.
On Dec. 6, 1995, in arguably the most earth-shattering move since the Gretzky trade, the Colorado Avalanche (the former Nordiques, who had relocated to Denver after the 1994-95 season) included Rucinsky in a package deal sent to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for three-time Vezina Trophy winner Patrick Roy and right-winger Mike Keane.
Rucinsky reached his peak with the Habs, scoring 20-plus goals four times, including in the 1999-2000 season when he made his only All-Star Game appearance and picked up a pair of assists for Team World in a 9-4 victory over Team North America at the brand new Air Canada Centre in Toronto. He was also won gold with the Czech Republic at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, the first time NHL players competed in the Olympics.
Rucinsky later had stints with the New York Rangers, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, and Vancouver Canucks. After 16 seasons in the NHL, amassing 241 goals and 612 points in 961 games, he spent the final seven seasons of his professional career playing in his native Czech Republic. Before his retirement in 2015, he was the last active player to suit up the Nordiques.
The Czech Ice Hockey Hall of Fame inducted Rucinsky as part of its 2019 Class.
Ray Whitney was raised in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., less than 30 minutes from Northlands Coliseum, in the 1980s when the Oilers were raising banners every year. His father was the Oilers’ practise goalie, and Whitney became a stick boy for the club. The aspiring young player got to know the locker room and experience those championships firsthand.
“When I was 14, I partied with them after winning the Cup. It was pretty cool. I got into the bars with them, I’m dancing with some of the players’ wives. It made me love the game even more watching grown men enjoying themselves as much as they did. It made me want to go out and do it for myself,”(from ‘To Relish in Ray Whitney’s Ability is to Know More Than Just the 32 Goals and 61 Points Last Season. You Have to Know He Has a . . . Score to Settle’, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 10/9/98).
The five-foot-ten winger played junior for the Spokane Chiefs, and on the heels of winning the 1991 Memorial Cup, he was drafted 23rd overall by the San Jose Sharks. He spent the first six years of his pro career in black and teal.
At age 25, Whitney hit free agency with a chance to join the team he grew up with. But his time back in Edmonton lasted all of five weeks.
He signed with the Oilers on Oct. 1, 1997, and had two assists that night in Edmonton’s 5-3 season-opening win against his former team at the Shark Tank. He had one goal and three assists through nine games with the Oilers before being placed on waivers and was snatched up by the Florida Panthers on Nov. 6. He erupted for 32 goals and 29 assists in 68 games with the Panthers and finished the 1997-98 season with 33 goals and 65 points.
Whitney was selected to his first All-Star Game in 2000. He was traded from Florida to the Columbus Blue Jackets in March 2001 and made his second All-Star appearance in 2003.
Whitney’s departure haunted the Oilers, especially in 2006, when he won a Stanley Cup as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, beating Edmonton in seven games of the Final. The following season he scored 32 goals and picked up 51 assists to lead the ‘Canes with a career-high 83 points.
On Jan. 21, 2015, after 22 seasons, 1,330 games, 385 goals, and 1,064 points with eight different teams, Whitney announced his retirement. He is 55th all-time in NHL games played.
Inevitably, there will be the ones that got away. The Oilers should hope it’s a long time before another name joins this list.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.