No, this isn’t about Nail Yakupov. Enough has been written about the Oilers’ decision to use their third straight first overall pick on that guy.
This is about the drafting that took place early on in Edmonton’s playoff drought, which started all the way back in 2006-07, the season after they lost the Stanley Cup Final to Carolina, and continues to this day.
In 2007, the Oilers had three first-round picks. They chose forward Sam Gagner (6th), d-man Alex Plante (15th), and forward Riley Nash (21st). All three are no longer with the club.
Imagine, if you will, that Plante had turned into an impact defensemen, as opposed to playing just 10 NHL games before leaving for Austria. At 25 years old, he’d be the same age as P.K. Subban, who, by the way, was drafted 43rd overall in 2007.
Heck, imagine if any of the many defenseman the Oilers drafted from, say, 2007 to 2010 had panned out. Alas, Johan Motin, Troy Hesketh, Kyle Bigos, Ryan Martindale, Jeremie Blain — all taken in the fourth round or before — have not. Maybe Martin Marincin (46th overall in 2010) will. Then again, given the trade rumors, he might soon be gone from the club, too.
Is it fair to criticize a team for failing to draft diamonds in the rough? Not on a case-by-case basis maybe. There’s a whole lot of luck involved when it comes to drafting 18-year-olds. But when taken as a whole? Absolutely it’s fair. Otherwise, what’s the point of having scouts? Just let a monkey make the picks.
Consider Duncan Keith’s importance to the Blackhawks. He was taken 54th overall in 2002. With time to develop in the AHL, he was able to enter his prime just as forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, selected in 2006 and 2007, respectively, were entering theirs. Everyone knows defensemen take longer to develop than forwards. Shea Weber is another Norris Trophy candidate who wasn’t drafted in the first round. He was taken 49th overall in 2003 and needed two more seasons of junior, plus some time in the AHL, before he was ready for the show.
Drafting beyond the first round, then properly developing those players, is of paramount importance in the NHL.
From 2007 to 2010, the Oilers made 23 draft picks that weren’t in the first round.
What have they got to show for it in 2014?
An extremely frustrated fan base, that’s what.