Oilers’ 10 Best First Round Picks All-Time

With the 2022 NHL Entry Draft upon us and the Edmonton Oilers selecting 29th overall, here’s a look at the history of the best picks the organization has made throughout the years since entering the league in 1979-80.

10. Devan Dubnyk (2004)

The Oilers chose Devan Dubnyk as their first of two picks in the 2004 Draft as they were hoping to find an internal answer for the future. It took about as long as you could have expected for him to develop and help the Oilers, as his debut was in the 2009-10 season. He struggled but then put up three very solid seasons before they parted ways with the would-be Vezina Trophy finalist.

Devan Dubynk Minnesota Wild
Minnesota Wild goalie Former (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Dubnyk bounced around before landing in Minnesota, where he finished third in Vezina Trophy voting and fourth in Hart Trophy voting in 2014-15, posting 36 wins and a .929 save percentage with six shutouts for the Wild. He followed that up with four more stellar seasons and almost earned his second nomination in three seasons for the Vezina. His presence in Edmonton was missed for many years as the Oilers searched to find a goaltender and are still searching. His 253 wins rank 61st all-time in the NHL.

9. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011)

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins may not be what everyone expects from a first-overall pick, but he has still put together a very consistent and good career as a long-time Oiler. He was drafted in 2011 and immediately made the jump to the NHL, finishing second in Calder Trophy voting with 18 goals and 52 points in 62 games.

Related: Ranking the Oilers’ First-Round Picks of the Past 10 Years

Since then, he’s rounded out his game and become a very strong, two-way player who can be effective at center or on the wing while being a major factor in the Oilers’ penalty kill and power play. Nugent-Hopkins has played 11 seasons and is consistently overlooked for his defensive play. He has 196 goals and 528 points in 719 regular-season career games while scoring 192 power-play points and 12 shorthanded. His career year came in the 2018-19 season when he scored career highs in goals (28) and points (69). He has minimal playoff experience, all coming in the past six seasons, but has 28 points in 37 playoff games. He still has a lot of hockey left to play in his career on a strong Oilers team.

8. Ryan Smyth (1994)

Ryan Smyth is one of the most beloved Oilers in history as he worked hard and produced. He may not have been recognized with trophies, but he consistently put up 50-70 points and was one of the best players at working the front of the net. He has the second-most games played as a member of the Oilers in their history and scored 296 goals and 6631 points in 971 games with the organization.

Ryan Smyth Edmonton Oilers McFarlane Jersey
Ryan Smyth wearing the Edmonton Oilers’ McFarlane Jersey (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

He was eventually traded in his 12th season. But the sixth-overall pick returned home to finish off his career in 2013-14.

7. Jason Arnott (1993)

Jason Arnott had a long and successful career, which started by finishing second in Calder Trophy voting with 33 goals and 68 points in 78 games. He wouldn’t match that production again until 12 years later as a member of the Dallas Stars where he scored a career-high 76 points.

Like Smyth, Arnott was a good player that was never recognized with trophies or awards, but he did win a Stanley Cup in 2000 with the New Jersey Devils. He recorded 100 goals and 239 points in 286 games with the Oilers and finished his impressive career with 417 goals and 938 points in 1244 games. His time in Edmonton may have been on the shorter side, but he was consistent and scored 20-plus goals 12 times.

6. Kevin Lowe (1979)

Kevin Lowe, an inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF) class of 2020 had a great career that started and ended in Edmonton. He was the very first Oilers draft pick in 1979 at 21st overall and part of the dynasty the organization built in the 1980s, winning all of their Stanley Cups. He is that rare defensive defenceman who reached the HHOF and a winner of six Cups including all five of the Oilers.

Lowe is the Oilers’ all-time games played leader and finished in the top-10 in Norris Trophy voting on four occasions despite being a defensive defenceman. He had an amazing work ethic and was a very strong shutdown defender who had the offensive skills, but chose to focus on defending (from ‘Hall of Famer Kevin Lowe developed work ethic from days as youngster at family dairy,’ Edmonton Sun, Nov. 13, 2021). He played over 1000 games with the Oilers and over 1250 games in his career while playing in 214 playoff games. Though he always flew under the radar because of the talent around him, he finally got his due.

5. Taylor Hall (2010)

The second of three first-overall picks that appear on this list is Taylor Hall who is still a dynamic player with speed. He may not be at the same level he was in 2017-18 when he won the Hart Trophy, setting career highs with 39 goals and 93 points in 76 games, but he has now found a home with the Boston Bruins and had another strong season.

Taylor Hall
Former Edmonton Oilers left wing Taylor Hall (Photo By: Andy Martin Jr)

Hall spent just six seasons in Edmonton before one of the worst trades in history. He was traded to the Devils for defensive defenceman Adam Larsson. It was in his second season that he was named league MVP. Hall has finished four of his 12 seasons with over a point per game and was slowed down in his career by injuries. He lived up to being selected first overall in 2010 and has 248 goals and 657 points in 761 games.

4. Grant Fuhr (1981)

Grant Fuhr helped lead the Oilers to four Cups and is one of the greatest goaltenders of all time. He is ranked 12th in NHL history in wins with 403 and has a nice trophy case that includes the four Stanley Cups I mentioned, a Vezina Trophy when he recorded 40 wins, and a William M. Jennings Trophy for the tandem that allowed the fewest goals against in the league. He is also a Hall-of-Famer and a two-time All-Star.

In seven of his first eight seasons, Fuhr finished in the top-six for Vezina Trophy voting, including a second place finish in his rookie season (also ranked third for rookie of the year). A .887 save percentage and 3.38 goals-against average may not seem impressive, but he played during the time of Wayne Gretzky and in the highest goal-scoring era. It was fortunate that the Oilers selected him eighth overall right before they became the dynasty.

3. Leon Draisaitl (2014)

One of the more recent draft picks that made this list is assistant captain of the Oilers today, Leon Draisaitl. He may not get the spotlight and the recognition he deserves, but his stats don’t lie. He is a three-time 100-plus-point scorer and has done so in three of the past four seasons. He is also a two-time 50-goal scorer and already set the Oilers’ power-play goals record in a single season with 24.

Leon Draisaitl Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

He doesn’t get recognition for his defensive game because of his immense impact offensively, but he is the man the Oilers turn to when they’re down two men and he uses his stick to perfection. He is one of the best passers in the NHL and is known for his stellar backhand passing ability. Drafted fourth overall in 2014, the three teams that were ahead of the Oilers are wishing they had a redo, as Draisaitl has also won the Hart Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, and the Art Ross Trophy in 2019-20 when he dominated the league with 110 points in 71 games. He also set some records this past postseason, ranking third all-time in playoff points per game (1.59) among players who played at least 35 games. He finished the 2022 NHL Playoffs with seven goals and 32 points in 16 games and his playmaking was elite.

2. Paul Coffey (1980)

Paul Coffey is one of the top-three defencemen to play in the NHL and was incredible throughout his career, especially at the start with the Oilers. He won three Stanley Cups with the Oilers and four in all, while adding three Norris Trophies to his trophy case. In 15 of his first 16 seasons, he was top-10 in Norris Trophy voting, and he finished in the top-five 11 times.

Coffey is also an eight-time All-Star and in the Hall of Fame. He is second all-time in goals, points, and points per game among defencemen who have played at least 200 games. He scored 396 career goals and 1531 points in 1409 games while topping 100 points in a season five times and nearly scored 50 goals in 1985-86.

1. Connor McDavid (2015)

Though Coffey may be one of the best defencemen to ever play the game, Connor McDavid is on his way to being one of the best players ever. Considering the era, McDavid is as good as Gretzky comparatively. At age 25, McDavid has already scored 239 goals and 697 points in 487 games. He has hit 100 points in five of his seven seasons and only didn’t do it in every season due to injuries or shortened seasons.

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers Nathan MacKinnon Colorado Avalanche
Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon skates against Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

McDavid has won four Art Ross Trophies, three Ted Lindsay Awards, and two Hart Trophies. He is a four-time Hart Trophy finalist and has finished in the top five in six seasons. He just set career-highs in goals (44) and points (123) in a season and took his game to a new level in the playoffs. He finished the 2022 Playoffs with the most points (33) in 16 games and completely took over games (from “Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s playoffs for the ages: What’s the legacy?”, The Athletic, June 15, 2022). He is the best player in the world right now and there’s no doubt he should have been taken at first-overall.

Honourable mentions go to Darnell Nurse (2013), Jordan Eberle (2008), Sam Gagner (2007), Ales Hemsky (2001), and Martin Rucinsky (1991). Do you agree with the order? If not, or if you have anything else to discuss, head down to the comments to let me know.

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