The order has been set for the first 27 picks of the 2021 National Hockey League Draft, and the Edmonton Oilers now know they will be selecting 19th overall on July 23.
This will be the fifth time in franchise history that Edmonton has held the No. 19 pick, and a look back reveals an interesting trend, as well as cause for both excitement and anxiety within Oilers loyalists.
In each of the previous four instances, Edmonton drafted a defenceman at No. 19. And of those four defensemen, two were hits, while two were misses.
Granted, the likelihood is Edmonton will not be drafting a blueliner in the first round next month. While an injury, free-agency, and the expansion draft (which takes place just two days before the entry draft) all create uncertainty, the Oilers have more depth at defence than any other position. But Edmonton’s past demonstrates a wide-ranging calibre of players that the Oilers could take at No. 19. Here’s a look at each of those four picks:
1983 – Jeff Beukeboom
At the time he was drafted, Jeff Beukeboom was coming off his first season in the OHL, in which he totaled 25 assists and 143 penalty minutes in 70 games with the Soo Greyhounds. He played two more years of junior with the Greyhounds and was a member of Canada’s gold-medal winning team at the 1985 World Juniors.
After spending the entire 1985-86 regular season in the AHL, Beukeboom made his NHL debut with the Oilers in the 1986 playoffs. He would go on to play parts of six seasons (1986-87 to 1991-92) with the Oilers, appearing in 284 games while totalling 12 goals, 57 assists, and 733 penalty minutes. He also suited up for 29 playoff games during his Oilers tenure and was part of Edmonton’s Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1987, 1988, and 1990.
On Nov. 12, 1991, Edmonton traded Beukeboom to the New York Rangers for David Shaw, completing a deal made several weeks earlier, when the Oilers exchanged Mark Messier and future considerations (Beukeboom) for Louie DeBrusk, Bernie Nichols, Steven Rice, and future considerations (Shaw).
Beukeboom became a fixture on the Rangers’ blueline, appearing in 584 games over parts of eight seasons (1991-92 to 1998-99) in New York. He led the Rangers in penalty minutes three times (1992-93, 1993-94 and 1995-96) and served as an alternate captain in 1998-99. In 1994, Beukeboom won a fourth Stanley Cup, appearing in 22 of 23 playoff games for the Rangers during their run to the championship. He had 1,157 penalty minutes with New York, second-most on the Rangers’ all-time list.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Beukeboom was forced to retire after being concussed twice in less than three months during the 1998-99 season. He had sustained up to 10 concussions over his career. (From ‘After 13 Seasons, Beuk Bows Out’, The New York Post, 07/16/99).
While it was not in Edmonton where Beukeboom realized his full potential, he was nonetheless a terrific pick. Despite having his career cut short, he played the sixth most regular-season games (804) and third-most postseason games (99) of all defensemen drafted in 1983. Among his draft class, Beukeboom owns the third-highest plus/minus in the regular season (+115) and second-highest in the playoffs (+17).
1988 – Francois Leroux
Francois Leroux was drafted by the Oilers after his first year in the QMJHL, during which he collected three goals, eight assists and 143 penalty minutes in 58 regular-season games with the St. John Castors. He remained in junior for the next two years, while appearing in five regular season games for the Oilers over the 1988-89 and 1989-90 NHL seasons.
From 1990-91 through 1992-93, Leroux continued to make sporadic appearances for the Oilers (six NHL games total over the three seasons) while spending most of his time in the AHL. At the outset of the 1993-94 season, the Oilers placed Leroux on waivers where he was claimed by the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 6, 1993. Over five seasons (1988-89 to 1992-93) Leroux played at least one game but never more than four for the Oilers. His Edmonton tenure amounted to 11 games, with 3 assists and 11 penalty minutes.
After playing 23 games for the Senators in 1993-94, Leroux was claimed on waivers by the Pittsburgh Penguins. He suited up 165 times over three seasons (1994-95 to 1996-97) with the Penguins, leading the team with 114 penalty minutes in 40 games in 1994-95 and 161 penalty minutes in 60 games in 1995-96.
Leroux was traded to the Colorado Avalanche on Sept. 28. 1997 and played 50 games for the Avs in what would prove to be his final NHL season. He spent the next several years in the AHL, including with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and finished his career in 2007-08 with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL.
The 6-foot-6, 247-pound Leroux totalled 3 goals, 20 assists and 577 penalty minutes in 249 NHL regular-season games. Though his career did not live up to what would be hoped of a top-20 pick, he still played the eighth-most games among all defenceman from his draft class, which was not particularly deep. He also racked up nearly twice as many major penalties (51) as any other blueliner drafted in 1988.
1996 – Matthieu Descoteaux
Matthieu Descoteaux had already spent two years in the QMJHL with the Shawinigan Cataractes when he was drafted by the Oilers. The following season, he was traded by Shawinigan to the Hull Olympiques, where he won both the QMJHL Championship and Memorial Cup in 1997.
He moved on to the AHL in 1997-98, but was never called up by the Oilers. On March 9, 2000, after nearly three seasons as a pro, Descoteaux was traded by Edmonton to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Alain Nasreddine and Igor Ulanov.
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Descoteaux made his only NHL appearances in 2000-01, scoring one goal and picking up an assist in five games for the Canadiens. He continued to play in the AHL until 2003, before finishing up his career with stints overseas and in low-level North American leagues. The 6-foot-4, 208-pounder’s final season was 2008-09.
There were 75 players selected after Descoteaux in 1996 who played more games in the NHL, including three drafted by the Oilers. While the pick itself was a misfire for the Oilers, they were able to convert Descoteaux into Ulanov, who was a key contributor for the Edmonton in the early ‘00s.
2011 – Oscar Klefbom
Edmonton drafted Oscar Klefbom following his first season in the Swedish Hockey League, with Färjestad BK. He continued playing in his native country and won gold with Sweden at the 2012 World Junior championships, which was joint-hosted by Calgary and Edmonton, before eventually coming over to North America following the 2012-13 season.
Beginning the 2013-14 campaign in the AHL, Klefbom suited up for 48 games with the Oklahoma City Barons, before being called up by the Oilers and appearing in 17 NHL games. After starting the following season with the Barons, Klefbom was recalled by the Oilers, this time to stay. Klefbom recorded 2 goals and 18 assists over 60 outings with Edmonton in 2014-15, and was so impressive that the Oilers signed the Swede to a seven-year contract extension on Sept. 20, 2015.
Within two years, Klefbom had emerged as Edmonton’s best all-around defenceman, shutting down the opposition and contributing on offence. Playing on Edmonton’s top pairing, first power-play unit, and first penalty-kill unit, Klefbom would lead the Oilers in average time on ice every season from 2015-16 to 2019-20.
Unfortunately, Klefbom has been sidelined often, only once playing more than 66 games in a season. After missing all of 2020-21 with a shoulder injury, his future is uncertain and looms over Edmonton’s off-season plans. While the hope is he can return the same player he was before, there are some questions as to whether he can ever play again, and the Oilers may yet opt to leave him unprotected in the expansion draft.
Health notwithstanding, the 6-foot-3, 216-pound Klefbom is one of the steals of his draft year, and one of Edmonton’s best draft finds. Over 378 regular-season NHL games, he has amassed 34 goals and 122 assists to rank third amongst defenceman drafted in 2011 with 156 points. Klefbom’s career average ice time of 22:49 is tops amongst all skaters in his draft class.
Regardless of his position, if the player the Oilers choose at No. 19 turns out to be at the level of a Klefbom or Beukeboom, fans in Oil Country should be very happy. If the draft selection has a career that is more like Leroux, or especially Descoteaux, that would be a disappointment.
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.