The upcoming 2023 NHL Draft isn’t happening until June 28, 2023 in Nashville, but that hasn’t stopped it from being an important topic of conversation in Oil Country in early December. There was sad news on Dec. 4 when the Edmonton Oilers shared that former head of scouting Barry Fraser passed away at the age of 82 years old. Dec. 4 coincidentally was also the day that the projected first-overall pick in the upcoming NHL Draft, Connor Bedard, and his Regina Pats visited Rogers Place where he put up five points in an 8-2 Pats victory over the host Edmonton Oil Kings. Unfortunately, with the Oilers focused on making the playoffs and going far in the postseason in 2022-23, their chances of landing Bedard are nearly impossible.
This past week, Bob Stauffer, host of Oilers Now on 630 CHED, took a deeper look into the Oilers’ draft record the past few seasons on his Dec. 7 show. Stauffer and his guest, Sportsnet’s Mark Spector, shared why it’s important that the Oilers find success beyond the first round in the next few drafts for the team to remain competitive.
Tribute to the Great Barry Fraser
If the current director of amateur scouting and player personnel for the Oilers, Tyler Wright, can achieve even a small portion of the success of Barry Fraser in terms of scouting, the Oilers will be strong for many years to come. Fraser, who will go down as one of the greatest directors of scouting in NHL history, boasts a record that led to the Oilers winning five Stanley Cups in seven years in the 80s and 90s (from ‘Bruce McCurdy: Remembering scouting legend Barry Fraser, co-architect of Edmonton Oilers’ dynasty,’ Edmonton Journal, 12/05/22). Under Fraser’s guidance in 1979, the Oilers drafted Kevin Lowe first overall and remarkably followed it up by drafting Mark Messier in the third round at 48th overall, and Glenn Anderson in the fourth round at 69th overall. All three prospects went on to have Hall of Fame careers.
In 1980, Fraser and his scouting staff selected Paul Coffey in the first round, Jari Kurri in the fourth round, and goaltender Andy Moog in the seventh round. Those two drafts alone were responsible for the Oilers’ dynasty and earned Fraser a reputation as one of the best eyes for talent in NHL history – right up there with Sam Pollock, former general manager of the Montreal Canadiens and architect of nine Stanley Cup championships. Fraser’s record of drafting Hall of Famers cooled off significantly in the 90s but it never tarnished his legacy as one of the best in the business overall.
Current Oilers Brass Hoping to Replicate Fraser’s Success
The current roster of the Oilers boasts nine first-round draft picks, ranging from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011, Leon Draisaitl in 2014, and Connor McDavid in 2015 to Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Evan Bouchard, Philip Broberg, and Dylan Holloway from 2016 to 2020. Not bad. However, when you look at the Oilers’ selections after the first round in those years, you can see why they need to hope for some Barry Fraser magic in the next few drafts. As the roster sits right now, the Oilers can legitimately say they only have three players drafted in the later rounds that have or will impact their success: Markus Niemelainen taken 63rd overall in the third round of the 2016 Draft, Stuart Skinner chosen 78th overall in the 2017 Draft and Ryan McLeod taken 40th overall in the third round of the 2018 Draft.
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That’s it. A pretty small list. When you look at it in closer detail, that list of picks beyond the first round is not quite good enough. Not that the Oilers’ management doesn’t realize that, but the pressure is truly on the scouting staff to succeed in the next NHL Draft in 2023. With the contracts of both Draisaitl and McDavid soon to expire, it’s imperative that the Oilers draft well to at least have bargaining chips in case a valuable asset can be added through a trade.
Smart Drafting is Key to Winning Stanley Cups
The most recent back-to-back Stanley Cup champions this decade have been the Tampa Bay Lightning, who built their legacy from the draft out. It wasn’t just first-round picks such as Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy that helped them achieve success. They were fortunate to draft Nikita Kucherov in the second round (No. 58) of the 2011 NHL Draft, Brayden Point in the third round (No. 79) of the 2014 NHL Draft, and even Ondrej Palat in the seventh round (No. 208) of the 2011 Draft. Hopefully, the Oilers took notes during the Lightning’s recent run to the Stanley Cup Final.
During the decade of darkness in Edmonton between 2007 and 2016, Oilers fans usually gave up on the season at hand and began to focus their hopes on the upcoming drafts. The Oilers were fortunate to win the draft lottery three times and were able to choose first overall four times selecting Taylor Hall, Nail Yakapov, Nugent-Hopkins, and McDavid during those years. Obviously, some drafts were successful (McDavid in 2015) while others (Yakapov in 2012) were not. The discouraging part is how successful they have been recently in drafting quality NHLers past the first round in the last 10 years. Oilers general manager Ken Holland as well as director of scouting Wright know the pressure is on the scouting staff this season to achieve success beyond the first round.
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Even though talk of the draft for the Oilers has come up this early for both good and bad reasons, it’s refreshing that over the past few seasons the conversation has started later and later. You can thank Holland and his staff a bit for that as the Oilers have been in a post-season position the past three seasons, and things are looking promising in 2022-23. However once the current season comes to a close, the focus will turn to the draft and free agents, and the pressure will be on the Oilers’ front office to achieve some big off-ice victories of their own. It’ll definitely be an intriguing story once the cold of winter turns to the warmth of spring.