There’s a single day in Edmonton Oilers history that remains one of the darkest days in the organization’s history – Aug. 9, 1988. It was the day that fans of the Oilers found out that their hero and NHL great — Wayne Gretzky — had been moved and sold by Peter Pocklington.
The dynasty in Edmonton was over. The king of hockey was now a King in Los Angeles. The remnants of the trade now scattered across the organization. As for the image of Gretzky at the podium, tears in his eyes, it’s one that has become iconic amongst hockey circles.
However, we’re not here to discuss the Gretzky trade as a whole, rather a singular piece that came to the Oilers before his hockey career fizzled out. This is the story of Nick Stajduhar — a junior star. A first-round NHL pick. The forgotten piece of the Gretzky trade.
Stajduhar Was a King Among Knights
Born in Kitchener, Ontario, Stajduhar was drafted by the London Knights in the third round, 47th overall in the 1990 OHL Priority Selection. He joined the Knights the following season and played four seasons with them.
At the time, the Knights weren’t the same juggernaut of junior hockey that they’ve become over the past two decades. Still, their roster held a number of future NHL players who knew how to play offensively and their numbers showed that.
As for Stajduhar, he opened his OHL career with two seasons in which he played 66 regular season games in each. His rookie year he tucked three goals and 15 points along with 39 penalty minutes and then went quiet in their seven playoff games. He followed that up with a season in which he double his goal output with six goals and 21 points with 62 penalty minutes. That year he added a goal and five points in 10 playoff games.
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But it was his third season in junior with the Knights the he really showed his offensive ability. He plays 49 games in 1992-93 and tallied 15 goals and 61 points in just 49 regular season games. He added another 15 points in 12 playoff games before returning the following season for his best year yet.
Before his final OHL season, however, the Edmonton Oilers selected Stajduhar with the 16th overall pick in the 1993 NHL Draft. He was the fourth defenceman off the board behind Chris Pronger, Brendan Witt and Kenny Jonsson.
What’s more is that the 16th overall pick originally belonged to the Los Angeles Kings who traded it to the Oilers as part of the deal that sent Gretzky, Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley to the Kings in exchange for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, $15 million in cash and first-round picks in 1989 (traded to New Jersey), 1991 (Martin Ruchinsky) and 1993 (Stajduhar).
Still, Stajduhar had a big season ahead of him with the Knights. His 1993-94 season was outstanding. He played 52 regular season games. He scored 34 goals and 86 points over that span and while the Knights didn’t go on a long playoff run, as an individual effort, Stajduhar has solidified himself as a solid NHL defensive prospect.
It remains the fourth most offensively productive season by a Knights’ defenceman in franchise history behind Chris McCauley (1981-82), Rick Corriveau (1990-91) and Evan Bouchard (2017-18), while Stajduhar is still the fifth-highest scoring defenceman in franchise history.
But following his junior career, things took a turn in his career.
Stajduhar: The Incident, The Show
Following his final season with the Knights, Stajduhar joined the Cape Breton Oilers of the American Hockey League. HIs development seemingly continued to progress at a steady pace.
He played a big role with the baby Oilers suiting up for 54 games during the 1994-95 regular season putting up 12 goals and 38 points, while continuing to see a decline in his penalty minutes with just 55 PIMs. But that was it. That was the end of his run to the NHL.
While a member of the Cape Breton Oilers, Stajduhar was involved in an altercation at a nightclub. He suffered a concussion and it seemingly derailed his path to the NHL.
Stajduhar would go on to play two games with the Edmonton Oilers in 1995-96 tallying just four penalty minutes and a plus-two rating, but from there he closed out his professional career with stints in the ECHL, the IHL, the AHL, the UHL and the WCHL.
His offence flickered again for him in 1999-00 with the UHL’s Flint Generals, but that was it.
Stajduhar closed out his professional hockey career playing with three teams in 2000-01 — including the CHL’s Memphis RiverKings, the WCHL’s Idaho Steelheads and the IHL’s Houston Aeros — before calling it a career.
While it’s hyperbolic to call Stajduhar the biggest bust in NHL Draft history, the fact that he was taken with a pick that was involved in the Gretzky deal to land The Great One in Los Angeles might magnify the fact that he was a 16th overall pick that never made it.
Whether it was the altercation during his time in Cape Breton or something else that derailed his career, Stajduhar will be remembered for his incredible junior career with the Knights and be forgotten as the pick that got away from the Oilers following the Gretzky trade.