The countdown is on to the 2023 NHL Draft, which takes place June 28 and 29 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, home of the Predators. After trading away multiple picks, the Edmonton Oilers hold just four selections in this year’s draft, and none in the first round. They won’t even pick until Day 2 when they choose 56th, 152nd, 184th, and 216th overall.
This would be the second consecutive draft that the Oilers make only four picks. Until last year, they never had less than five selections in a single draft.
So before talk about who the Oilers could select this year really starts to heat up, it warrants a glance back at the 2022 Draft to see what they were able to accomplish with such a limited number of picks. Here’s a look at how their 2022 Draft Class has performed over the past 12 months and what those players’ futures may hold.
Selected 32nd overall
The Oilers don’t have a first-round pick in 2023, and they don’t have one from 2022 either, having traded away Reid Schaefer as part of a deal on Feb. 28 with the Predators that brought defenseman Mattias Ekholm to Edmonton.
It’s been a pretty good year for Schaefer, who won gold with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship and captured the Western Hockey League (WHL) championship with the Seattle Thunderbirds to advance to the Memorial Cup, which is ongoing now. He recorded 28 goals and 33 assists in 55 games with the Thunderbirds during the regular season.
As a commodity that was used to help acquire Ekholm, the selection of Schaefer would have to be considered a success. The veteran blueliner had a massive impact on the Oilers, who went 18-2-1 in the final 21 games of the regular season following the trade. Ekholm had four goals and 10 assists while posting an incredible plus/minus of plus-28 in those games.
Selected 158th overall
Samuel Jonsson backstopped Rogle BK to a gold medal in Sweden’s top junior hockey league, the J20 Nationell, this season. The 6-foot-2 netminder stopped 31 of 33 shots in Rogle’s 6-2 championship-clinching victory over Leksand on April 10.
The 2022-23 season saw Jonsson go 13-14 while posting a 2.65 goals-against average (GAA) and .902 save percentage (SV%), big improvements from his 9-20 record, 3.25 GAA and .883 SV% in 2021-22. He then stepped it up another notch in the playoffs, going 6-0 with a 2.09 GAA and .927 SV%.
Selected 190th overall
After spending 2021-22 between major junior and minor pro in his native Russia, Nikita Yevseyev made the jump to the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) where he had a strong rookie campaign with Ak Bars Kazan.
In 48 regular season games, the blueliner recorded seven points from five goals and two assists and registered a plus/minus of plus-7. At Halloween, he was named Rookie of the Week for Week 9 of the KHL season.
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Yevseyev was a big part of Ak Bars Kazan’s run to the Gagarin Cup Final, where they came up just short, losing the KHL championship series in seven games to CSKA Moscow. In 22 playoff appearances, he totaled four points and had a plus/minus of plus-8, which was the second-highest rating on AK Bars Kazan in the postseason.
Selected 222nd overall
Only a month after being drafted by the Oilers, Joel Maatta helped Team Finland win silver at the 2022 World Junior Championship in Edmonton last August. The Finish forward had one goal and three assists in seven tournament games at Rogers Place.
Maatta then returned to the University of Vermont for his second season of NCAA Division 1 hockey with the Catamounts. In 36 games, he scored seven goals, second most on the team, and added seven assists, more than doubling his offensive output of three goals and three assists as a freshman in 2021-22. He also served as an alternate captain for the Catamounts in 2022-23.
As the Oilers look to reach levels still unseen in the Connor McDavid era and win their first Stanley Cup since 1990, it’s interesting to note that at the 2022 NHL Draft, they picked a bunch of players that have since gained big-game experience. Jonsson (J20 Nationell), Maatta (World Juniors), Yevseyev (Gagarin Cup), and – even though he is no longer an Oiler – Schaefer (World Juniors and WHL) all played with a championship on the line over the last year.
A championship at the highest level is the product of an organization-wide winning culture, so in the case of the Oilers, it can’t hurt to bring in players that have this type of experience. Whether any of last year’s draft picks ever actually suit up for Edmonton in an NHL game, they can still prove valuable components of the larger Oilers ecosystem over the years to come.