The Edmonton Oilers have drafted a number of exceptional hockey players since the franchise entered the National Hockey League in 1979.
In total, the Oilers have selected a massive 401 players in their 42-draft history. Of those 401 draftees, five have gone on to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. These men are Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson, all terrific players who have long been widely recognized throughout the NHL.
But did you realize that the Oilers drafted all five of those Hall of Fame players within a mere three years of one another?
Anderson and Messier were selected in 1979, Kurri and Coffey were chosen in 1980, and the Oilers took Fuhr in 1981. These selections set the stage for the unparalleled Oilers dynasty of the 1980s, and with Wayne Gretzky, a player the Oilers held onto during the transition from the WHL, they brought four Stanley Cups to Edmonton in five years and five in seven years.
Yet this begs the question: which NHL Entry Draft was the greatest in Oilers history?
To attempt to settle this debate, let’s take a look at the 1979 and 1980 drafts to determine how significantly the selected players were able to influence the success of the Oilers throughout their careers.
1979 NHL Entry Draft
Round One, 21st Overall: Kevin Lowe
A strong defensive defenseman, Kevin Lowe was a staple on the Oilers’ blueline for 15 years in his NHL career. A veteran of 1,254 career games as well as 214 playoff contests, Lowe helped lead the Oilers to an incredible five Stanley Cup Championships from 1983-1990. Lowe was the Oilers’ first-ever draft pick and scored the team’s first goal in the NHL.
Over his career, Lowe won six Stanley Cups and made seven All-Star Games. After retiring in 1997, he joined the Oilers’ front office and continues to serve in Oilers Entertainment Group as the vice-chairman.
Round Three, 48th Overall: Mark Messier
Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007, Messier also won five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers in a seven-year time span. In all, Messier played 12 seasons with the Oilers, recording an impressive 392 goals and 1,034 points, while he led the NHL in playoff points on the road to an Edmonton Stanley Cup victory in 1990.
A two-time winner of both the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Lester B. Pearson Award, Messier is an all-time Oilers great. More than that, he is one of the greatest players in the history of the NHL. He remains third on the all-time NHL point list with 1,887.
Round Four, 69th Overall: Glenn Anderson
A 16 year NHL veteran, Glenn Anderson played for the Edmonton Oilers from 1980 until 1990, a period in which he, like Messier and Lowe, won a whopping five Stanley Cup Championships. Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008, Anderson scored 498 goals and 1099 points in his 1129 game NHL career, with 417 of his goals scored while with the Oilers.
Anderson developed the reputation through his career as a “clutch” player, and his five postseason overtime goals are tied with Patrick Kane for third in NHL history. The pair trails only Maurice “Rocket” Richard’s six and Joe Sakic’s incredible eight. Anderson also has the Oilers’ franchise record for regular-season game-winning goals with 72, 11 more than Gretzky’s 61. Though he may not receive the same attention as Messier or “the Great One,” Anderson was every bit as important a part of the dynasty in Edmonton.
Round Four, 84th Overall: Max Kostovich
Max Kostovich never played an NHL game. In fact, his hockey career lasted only one season after this draft, where he played in multiple stops across the International Hockey League and the Central Hockey League.
Round Five, 105th Overall: Mike Toal
Mike Toal played a total of three NHL games, all with the Oilers. He would move on to play for the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League and the Wichita Wind of the Central Hockey League.
Round Six, 126th Overall: Blair Barnes
Blair Barnes played one NHL game which came with the Los Angeles Kings in the 1982-83 season.
1980 NHL Entry Draft
Round One, 6th Overall: Paul Coffey
One of the greatest defensemen in the history of the NHL, 2004 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Paul Coffey spent seven seasons in Edmonton with the Oilers, where he won three Stanley Cup Championships. Known for his amazing offensive abilities alongside solid defensive play, Coffey scored a mind-blowing 1,531 points in his 1,409 game NHL career, 396 of which were goals.
A 14 time All-Star and three-time recipient of the James Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman, Coffey was essential to the enormous success of the great Oilers dynasty of the 1980s. The speedy defenseman posted an incredible 37 points in the playoffs in 1985 along with a league-leading four game-winning goals but still couldn’t steal the Conn Smythe Trophy away from Gretzky, who collected an absurd 47 points in 18 games.
Round Three, 48th Overall: Shawn Babcock
An enforcer with an offensive edge, Shawn Babcock was never able to crack an NHL roster. As a third-rounder, he was arguably the biggest bust of either of these drafts.
Round Four, 69th Overall: Jari Kurri
Similar to Glenn Anderson, Jari Kurri spent ten seasons of his 17 year NHL career with the Edmonton Oilers, winning five Stanley Cups. Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001, Kurri was a goal-scoring machine, netting 71 goals in 1984-85, a season in which he won the Lady Byng. He also scored 68 the following season.
In total, Kurri scored 601 goals and 1,398 points in his illustrious career. An all-time Oilers great, Kurri also went on to play for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, the Los Angeles Kings, and briefly for the New York Rangers. He was vital to the Oilers, and without question was one of the greatest Finnish players of all time.
Round Five, 90th Overall: Walt Poddubny
Walt Poddubny only played four games with the Oilers; however, he went on to have a solid NHL career. In total, Poddubny appeared in 468 games, recording 184 goals and 422 points, including one 40 and two 30 goal seasons.
When the Oilers traded Poddubny to Toronto, part of the return was Laurie Boschman, who played in 1,009 NHL games, though only 73 of them for the Oilers. He went on to have a brief, headline-grabbing, but ultimately tragic career with the New York Rangers.
Round Six, 111th Overall: Mike Winther
A centerman, Mike Winther never played in the NHL.
Round Seven, 132nd Overall: Andy Moog
Despite being a seventh-round draft pick, goaltender Andy Moog had a solid NHL career, playing in 713 games. A winner of the William Jennings Trophy in 1989-90 with the Boston Bruins, Moog finished his career with an impressive 372-209-88 record, while he won three Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers in the early 1980s.
Moog is unquestionably one of the greatest goalies of the 1980s. In that group, he trails only Mike Liut in wins, with 279. His 17 shutouts also rank fifth in the group. Since retiring, Moog has tried his hand both at coaching and at broadcasting. He may not have had a Hall of Fame career, but it’s nothing to sneeze at for a seventh-round pick.
Round Eight, 153rd Overall: Rob Polman-Tuin
A goaltender, Rob Polman-Tuin never played in the NHL.
Round Nine, 174th Overall: Lars-Gunnar Pettersson
Lars-Gunnar Pettersson never played an NHL game. But he enjoyed a successful career internationally, playing 14 seasons in the Swedish Hockey League. He collected 453 points in 495 games. He also took home a lot of international hardware, including a World Championship gold medal in 1986-87 and an Olympic bronze medal the following season.
The Great Debate
So, what do you think? Which of these two draft classes is the greatest in Edmonton Oilers history? Is it the class of 1979 led by Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier, and Glenn Anderson, or is it the class of 1980, led by Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, and Andy Moog?
Both classes contained two future Hockey Hall of Fame Inductees, while all of those who played for the Oilers helped fuel the teams’ incredible success of the 1980s. Few hockey dynasties can rival the Oilers of the 80s, and that team was built through these two drafts.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.