Unless you have been living under a rock somewhere, you would be well aware that the Oilers have chosen first overall four out of the last six seasons. Two of those times, they “deserved” the first pick by finishing in 30th place, and the other two times, they found favor with the luck of the lottery balls. Despite all that “good” fortune, they are still pretty terrible. In fact, they could potentially have the first overall pick again this summer. (Imagine that? Hockey Twitter would set itself on fire). Auston Matthews is the top rated prospect, and he looks like a dandy. It would be crazy to suggest the Oilers should trade that pick, and even crazier to say that don’t “need” him, but they may be better off not choosing first anymore.
There are many reasons why all of these picks have yet to come to fruition for Edmonton. First of all, with the exception of Connor McDavid, the Oilers picked a lot of complementary players. They won’t alter the course of a franchise on their own. They’re good players, but you could argue the Oilers fell into some weaker draft years, and the first overall status doesn’t guarantee superstars. Secondly, the previous management regime failed miserably at properly surrounding these young players. There was no veteran presence to show them the ropes. They were thrust into the spotlight with no insulation, and no safety net. They were handed the keys to the team, a job they were ill-equipped for.
And lastly, the personal decisions, whether it be trades or drafting in the later rounds, have been poor at best. The Oilers were built in the worst possible way, but it was veiled by the illusion of being so lucky to get all the top picks. Choosing high in the draft has only placed more pressure and more expectations on this organization and its players and they have crumbled as a result. I truly believe they are in much better hands now, but there are a lot of mistakes to fix. And the environment is so toxic that it might come to the point where there’s no choice but to make some big changes.
Having a first overall pick can certainly change the course of your franchise, there’s no doubt. But it’s so much more than just that. Winning is a combination of so many things, and where the lottery balls land is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s time for the Oilers to start building their team, and if that means a big trade then so be it. Let’s say they do get the first overall pick again. Well then in my mind there are two options: take Matthews and then trade Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or another core player (or more than one). Or, you trade that pick for a true blue top defenceman.
The most successful teams in the league have proven that building a winner goes far beyond the first round of the draft. The Chicago Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup three times in the past six years, and their roster has been constructed through good drafting, key free agent signings, and shrewd trading.
- Patrick Kane (1st overall, 2007)
- Jonathan Toews (3rd overall, 2006)
- Duncan Keith (54th overall, 2002)
- Brent Seabrook (14th overall, 2003)
- Marian Hossa (Free agent signing, 2009)
- Corey Crawford (52nd overall, 2003)
The Los Angeles Kings are probably considered the next best team in the league, winning the Cup twice in the past four years.
- Anze Kopitar (11th overall, 2005)
- Jonathan Quick (72nd overall, 2005)
- Drew Doughty (2nd overall, 2008)
- Jeff Carter (Acquired through trade, 2012)
- Dustin Brown (13th overall, 2003)
The best team statistically in the league right now are the Washington Capitals. They have one first overall pick on their team in Alex Ovechkin. The Anaheim Ducks have none. The San Jose Sharks have one in Joe Thornton, whom they didn’t draft themselves but acquired through trade. The Tampa Bay lightning have one first overall pick in Steven Stamkos. The Boston Bruins have none. The St. Louis Blues used to have one but they traded him (Erik Johnson). The New York Rangers have Rick Nash, but he was originally a Columbus Blue Jacket first overall pick. And we can’t leave out the Detroit Red Wings, who are gunning to make the playoffs for the 25th consecutive year. They don’t have any first overalls on their squad.
Here is an interesting tidbit of trivia for you. Since the lockout, only two teams (the Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins), have had a first overall pick on their Cup winning roster. (Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury). What does that tell you? Obviously it’s great to have high picks, but choosing first guarantees nothing. At the end of the day, building through the draft is necessary, but your scouting department plays such a huge role. (Look at last season’s Art Ross Trophy winner. Jamie Benn was selected 129th overall in 2007).
There is a notion that when you have the first overall pick, your job is done for you. There’s no other work required, like it’s a magic serum that solves all problems. You just bask in the joy of that player and you’ll eventually be good. It’s proven to be the exact opposite in Edmonton. A top prospect is only the beginning, and sometimes he won’t even be the type of player you build around, which was the case for the Oilers. The next steps are crucial. How is your goaltending? What does your blueline look like? How is the leadership core? Is there enough size, speed, grit, and veteran presence? Does your system fit your personnel? Do you have the right coach behind the bench who can get the most out of his players?
April 30th, 2016 may end up being the most exciting day on this years hockey calendar, when we find out who will win the draft lottery. If it’s the Oilers, grab your popcorn.
Marcy, a former hockey player, is a hockey correspondent on CTV News and TSN radio. She began her career as a Sports Journalist in 2009 and has been part of The Hockey Writers since 2010, where she is currently a senior writer and editor.