The Hockey Hall of Fame named their 2020 inductees on Wednesday afternoon. Among the names, two names stood out for Oilers fans, Ken Holland and Kevin Lowe. Holland, who was a lock to be in the Hall at some point, wasn’t much of a surprise, but not many people expected Lowe’s name to be called. Lowe spent the majority of his playing career with the Oilers, playing in 1,037 games with the team over the course of 15 seasons.
Although unexpected, it wasn’t completely out of left field. Talk of Lowe’s induction picked up in recent weeks, with multiple Edmonton media outlets building a case for it in the days leading up to the announcement (see ‘Six-Time Stanley Cup champion Kevin Lowe still waiting on call from Hall of Fame,’ Edmonton Sun, 06/23/2020). Entering the Hall alongside Lowe and Holland are Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, Doug Wilson, and Kim St. Pierre.
What does this mean for Lowe and the Edmonton Oilers franchise? Well, it seems like the obvious next step is to raise yet another banner to the rafters of Rogers Place. The team has retired the numbers of the six other Hall of Fame members of the ’80s dynasty, and this development shouldn’t be too much different from each of those. So, in honor of Lowe’s induction, I thought it would be fitting to go through his illustrious Oilers career and how we ended up where we are today.
Lowe entered the Oilers organization in what was a historic benchmark for the franchise. Fresh into the NHL after spending six seasons in the World Hockey Association (WHA) the Oilers took part in their first professional draft on Aug. 9, 1979. The team held the 21st-overall pick and selected Kevin Lowe, a defender that racked up 86 points with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) the season prior. It was the beginning of a draft that saw the Oilers select three consecutive Hall of Famers, choosing Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson with their next two picks.
It was a pick that wasn’t always seen as a slam-dunk. The Oilers were actually hoping to pick up Duane Sutter, but he was taken by the Islanders a few spots before the Oilers’ selection. With their first choice off the board, the team opted for Lowe, who they deemed the best player available (From ‘The Draft — lose some, win some,’ Edmonton Journal, 08/10/1979).
There was a degree of surprise from Lowe’s camp after the selection. Heading into the draft, there was an expectation that Lowe would go much higher in the draft than where he landed (From ‘The Draft — lose some, win some,’ Edmonton Journal, 08/10/1979). In the end, it was a match made in heaven, as Lowe was able to beat out a crowded Oilers’ defensive group and made the jump to the NHL the following season.
Apart from being the first official NHL draft pick of the Oilers, Lowe also got in the record books for scoring the first NHL goal in team history in the team’s first NHL game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
When it came to scoring, Lowe wasn’t the straw that turned the drink for the Oilers, but he didn’t need to be. The team was stacked with offensive talent and it was Lowe’s job to keep things steady in the defensive end. He would only eclipse the 40-point mark three times, but his value came from his defensive play.
The 1980s Oilers pioneered a new brand of hockey during their glory years. They put an emphasis on offensive creativity and treated defense as a secondary concern. This led to a lot of high-scoring games for them and the teams they played against. More often than not the Oilers would be able to out-score their problems, but if it wasn’t for the stabilizing presence of guys like Lowe and legendary goaltender, Grant Fuhr, the path to their Stanley Cups would have been infinitely harder.
He stuck around for each of the team’s five Stanley Cups and served as the captain for the 1991-92 season after Messier was shipped to New York. Lowe would eventually follow Messier to the Rangers in December of 1992, ending a 13-year tenure.
He returned to Alberta’s capital in the summer of 1996 and would retire an Oiler at the end of the 1997-98 season. Overall, Lowe would rank as first in games played as an Oiler with 1,037, ninth in assists with 309 and second in points by a defenceman with 383. Truly, he was one of the greatest defenders in franchise history and deserving of his induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame.