Looking Back at Edmonton’s Original Rebuild and how six years of first round picks will make you shake your head after finding out where they are now.
If you’ve listened to our podcasts, you know I’m an Edmonton Oilers fan for better or for worse. I’ve been ride or die with Oil nation for a long time now and boy has it ever felt like an eternity and whirlwind of emotions. The highs and lows have given me memories I will never forget. But then there are things that I would like to erase from my memory, aka the first wave of the decade long rebuild. Between the years of 2007 and 2012, the first six years of this rebuild looked promising but now just make you bow your head in shame. Within this article, as painful as it will be, we will be looking back at the Edmonton Oilers first round draft picks between 2007 and 2012. I will be analyzing each player based on three levels. Let’s start by going all the way back to 2007:
2007: Sam Gagner (Selected 6th overall)
Sam Gagner started the wave of what was to be the Edmonton Oilers rebuild, the new face of the franchise. Selected from the London Knights of the OHL, Gagner had 35 goals and 83 assists totalling for 118 points in 53 games during his final year of junior. He was second in league scoring only to teammate, let’s see if you know the name, Patrick Kane. Gagner, a 5’11 centre weighing just shy of 200 pounds was not the biggest guy but was seen as a reliable two-way centre with a lot of potential for offensive upside. He was the youngest member of the 2007 Canadian World Junior Championship roster. Being selected 6th overall to start a rebuild is no easy feat. There is a lot of pressure on a player to live up to that hype. Gagner jumped straight from junior to the NHL where in his first season he put up a respectable 49 points in his rookie year. Unfortunately, though, that rookie season would be his best with the Oilers as he never eclipsed more than 49 points again with the club. Each year with a new forward prospect in the system being added to the roster saw Gagner being pushed further down the lineup as time went on. But he bled the orange and blue. He stayed with the organization seven years until he was traded in part of a three-team trade with Arizona & Tampa Bay where he was sent to the Arizona Coyotes. In return Edmonton received Teddy Purcell. After he left, he truly only had one good season with the Columbus Blue Jackets but still struggled to fully find his game. It came full circle with a few trades later where in 2019 the Oilers traded Ryan Spooner (which we will get into a bit later) in exchange for bringing back Gagner himself. Gagner came back to Edmonton again to play in a depth role behind the likes of Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl where he was quite effective in his depth role. Gagner ended up being traded again by the Oilers for cap reasons at the 2020 NHL trade deadline to Detroit. But the ultimate question is didn’t Gagner do exactly what he was supposed to when he came into the NHL. A two-way centre whose offensive upside could have been huge but was consistent instead. Maybe because he was right beside Patty Kane in points in junior there was always the unreasonable comparison. I believe Gagner did exactly what everyone should have expected of him as his consistency and the advocacy for playing within the Oilers organization was without question, which is what made him the best fit to be the first pick of this rebuild. Now you will find Gagner possibly in and out of the Detroit Red Wings lineup starting next season.
2007: Alex Plante (Selected 15th overall)
Alex Plante was an iffy prospect from the beginning. Everyone saw Plante as this big shutdown defenceman who would be able to play in the Oilers top four for a long time. However, his offensive and defensive upside could both be questioned moving forward, but what couldn’t be questioned was his size. At 6’4, 230 pounds Plante was the big steady defenceman that the Oilers could be looking to add to their back end. In his draft year, he set a career high in points playing for the WHL’s Calgary Hitman. Ultimately, he was never a bad looking prospect, but it never hit, injuries derailed his development along the way. While developing and returning to junior hockey followed by moving into playing for the Oilers affiliate AHL team, he was never able to fully finish a season without an injury of some sort. In 2012 after putting up a measly four points in 49 games in the AHL he left and went overseas where he has played ever since. First playing in Denmark & Norway, Plante now finds himself playing in South Korea where he has spent the past five years playing for Anyang Halla in the Asia League. This is what truly was the beginning of the busted picks for the Oilers.
2007: Riley Nash (Selected 21st overall)
Riley Nash was drafted 21st overall out of the British Columbia Hockey League while playing for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. Another centre with a respectable size at 6’1, 190 pounds, Nash tore up the BCHL in his first full season. He posted 84 points in 55 games and ended up being named team MVP & Rookie of the year along with conference rookie of the year. Following a standout season Nash was then drafted by the Oilers, but instead of turning pro, he opted to attend Cornell University. Now when you think of prospects, it’s usually 1-2 years after being drafted until the player turns pro or they sign after their 4 years at school. Edmonton had also drafted Andrew Cogliano a few years prior, so with Gagner and others on the roster, they grew impatient waiting for Nash to turn pro with his 3 years spent at Cornell. Three years after being drafted and the organization being impatient, they decided to trade Nash to Carolina in exchange for a second-round pick which would turn out to be Martin Marincin. Boy oh boy I really wish they never made that trade. Nash spent 7 seasons following the trade within the Carolina Hurricanes system and never eclipsed more than 37 points but was very effective in his bottom 6 role. I mean he was never a stud, but he also wasn’t Martin Marincin… Nash now entering his 10th professional hockey season is playing with the Columbus Blue jackets playing in their bottom six. Again, not ideal stats or efficiency but definitely could have helped the Oilers on the defensive aspect of the ice.
2008: Jordan Eberle (Selected 22nd overall)
Name a more iconic World Juniors hockey moment than in 2009 when Jordan Eberle scored the tying goal against the Russian team with 5 seconds left to play. If you ever want to see an iconic first NHL goal, Jordan Eberle against the Calgary Flames was NASTY. Being drafted in the late first round of the 2008 NHL Draft, Eberle had a respectful season where he put up 74 points in 61 games with the Regina Pats and was seen as an intellectually gifted offensive minded player with a skillset that cannot be taught. His size at 5’11, 165 pounds is what held him back from being a higher ranked prospect. But that did not stop him. The following year he returned to the Pats and absolutely dominated, putting up 106 points in 57 games. When his season ended with the Pats, he played out the remainder of that season with Springfield (Edmonton’s AHL team) and he put up 14 points through 11 games. This was looking promising for the Oilers and promising he was. In his first full year in the NHL he put up 43 points in 69 games. Again, very respectable for a rookie. He followed that up in his second season by putting up his career best 76 points in 78 games. That is an incredible leap. That off season Eberle signed a six year six million dollar contract with the Oilers. However, after that season his game started to flutter, he became more inconsistent with each game. It seemed the offensive weapon the Oilers had each year was beginning to produce at a lower rate. It got to the point where the Oilers were in need of cap space and his production and six million caps hit was not what the team needed anymore. In the 2017 offseason the Oilers traded Eberle to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome. This seemingly would lead to a flurry of useless trades. You’re probably sitting there and thinking what do you mean? Remember how I said we would get into Sam Gagner coming back to Edmonton before. WELL, Jordan Eberle was traded for Ryan Strome. Edmonton then traded Ryan Strome to the New York Rangers for Ryan Spooner. Ryan Spooner was then traded to the Vancouver Canucks for none other than Sam Gagner. So essentially the Oilers traded Jordan Eberle to bring back Sam Gagner which they originally traded for Teddy Purcell. Seems smart, seems fair, seems like good asset management. WRONG. Eberle has found more success on the Islanders top line. Although his game is still inconsistent, he was still rewarded with an extension by the Islanders when his contract was up signing a 27.5-million-dollar deal over 5 years. That is where you will find Jordan Eberle today.
2009: Magnus Paajarvi (Selected 10th overall)
This is just a wow scenario. In his draft year playing professional in Europe, Paajarvi put up 29 points in 49 games. As an 18-year-old that’s not bad for playing pro. But was it really enough? Paajarvi was really only known as a big speedy winger with a capability of getting to the net. He had a very good World Juniors and what isn’t appealing to a team where an 18-year-old has been playing pro hockey for 2 years? I mean he is big and fast so why wouldn't it work out. Well to put it bluntly, he sucked defensively, and you cannot always only rely on size and speed to translate you into the NHL. But Edmonton could not resist and took him 10th overall. When he came over from Europe in his rookie season, he didn’t have an awful first year as he put up 34 points in 80 games. But that’s it chief. That’s the only true good year he’s ever had, oh and remember how I said he was really bad defensively? Yeah, he finished a minus 13 that season. The next couple of seasons he split time between NHL & AHL. He couldn’t truly find his game. After his third season with the Oilers he was traded to the St. Louis Blue for David Perron. He spent the next five seasons also splitting time between the NHL & AHL. Paajarvi now plays in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia playing for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv. Unfortunately, his game never truly translated to reach his full potential at the NHL level.
2010: Taylor Hall (Selected 1st overall)
From rags to riches and well then back to rags. Here we go, back to the Oilers beginning of what would be a huge span of three big years for what they saw to close off their rebuild. Entering the 2010 NHL entry draft Edmonton held the first overall pick for the first time in franchise history. With this pick the Oilers selected Taylor Hall. A two time memorial cup champion, two time memorial cup MVP, two time first OHL all-star team I mean I think it’s just easier if I show you his junior resume:
This kid was insane. 106 points in 57 games in his final year of junior hockey. There was always the Taylor vs. Tyler debate, which looking back now it may seem like Seguin turned out to be the better player, but with this guy’s resume, it is very hard to overlook. Standing at 6’0, 176 pounds Hall was separated by all for his leadership, skill, speed and not shying away from any battles. In 2010 Hall made the jump straight from junior to the NHL. In his first year he put up 42 points in 65 games. That is impressive. Hall would go on to play 5 more seasons with the Oilers where he was able to put up a career high 80 points in 75 games in the 2013-14 season. He then signed a six year six-million-dollar deal, much like Jordan Eberle, and his fate was the same. A year before Eberle was traded in the summer of 2016 the Oilers stood in a very similar position. A lot of money tied up into their offence with a struggling defence which ultimately left them with no cap space. I can tell you exactly where I was when this trade went down and I remember it like it was yesterday. Taylor Hall was traded to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Adam Larsson. One for one… At the time of this trade Larsson had only 2 full NHL seasons under his belt and only had a career high of 24 points. But Edmonton didn’t do it for the points. They did it for the cap and the defensive ability. WELL THAT WAS DUMB because no less than two years later guess who goes out and wins the Hart trophy. Yup. 93 points in 76 games, hall carried the Devils to the playoffs. Hall has been an effective dynamic player in the NHL since day one. Imagine they kept Hall on this roster, and he was playing alongside McDavid or Draisaitl, or both! Oh, this is still painful to relive. You can now find Hall on the Arizona Coyotes and probably entering Free Agency 2020. I guess time will tell if we will get that Hall – Oilers reunion that everyone (meaning me) wants so desperately.
2011: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Selected 1st overall)
ROUND 2! Second straight year of having the first overall pick. Get excited Oilers fans! Ranked as the number one skater coming into the 2011 NHL entry draft Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (RHN) was another great piece that the Oilers were ready to add. 106 points in 69 games for the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL. Leading the WHL in assists, the 6’0-foot, 168-pound centre was seen as one of the best playmakers to enter the draft in a long time. His size came into question but that did not stop the Oilers. They just found their two-way play making centre to slide in right beside that offensive juggernaut in Taylor Hall. His skill and speed and playmaking abilities would be able to keep up and make that newly formed top line something special. Just like many prospects before him, RHN jumped right into the NHL the following season and in his first year with the club posted 52 points in 62 games. In the offseason after his rookie deal expired, following in the footsteps of Eberle & Hall, RHN signed a seven year 42-million-dollar deal with the organization. He currently still has another year on this contract and is the only one on this list that is still a member of the Oilers. There were heavy rumours a while back that RHN could be traded out of Edmonton when they went for their second wave of the rebuild, to once again bring in a defenceman. Though he probably never lived up to the first overall hype, and even though he is not an offensive juggernaut, his two-way play and leadership speaks volumes to his effectiveness. Before the season was shut down RNH was on pace to surpass his career high of 69 points which he had set last season. At the young-ish age of 27 he already has nine years of NHL experience and has become a staple within the Oilers top six.
2012: Nail Yakupov (Selected 1st overall)
Enter Michael Scott.
This is my reaction every time someone brings up the 2012 NHL draft. Coming into the draft Yakupov had been injured at the junior level while playing for the Sarnia Sting of the OHL. He missed some time in his draft season. After coming over from Russia, Yakupov led the OHL in rookie scoring with 49 goals as well as rookie points with 101 in just 65 games for the Sting. He went on to win not only OHL rookie of the year, but also CHL rookie of the year. The next year as I mentioned he got injured and was only able to play in 42 games for the Sting but managed to put up 69 points. His offensive capabilities were there without question and he was dynamic with the puck with incredible vision and speed that was near impossible to defend. To be honest these qualities kind of showed in his first year in the NHL. And so the trend continues. After being selected first overall, he transitioned into the NHL right away. In his first year with the club he only played in 48 games but registered 31 points. OKAY YAK. This is what we like to see.
I can tell you this. This picture of Yak when he scored the tying goal and celebrated sliding on his knees the length of the ice... Yeah this was all Oilers fans looking into the future. That was a moment of happiness. Now refer back to Michael Scott. This offensive core was looking nice! Unfortunately, his defensive abilities (or lack thereof) caught up to him. The following two seasons he finished with a combined minus 68. MINUS 68! How can you trust him on the ice??? You can’t, so he got pushed down the line up until he was virtually on the fourth line which ultimately led to him being shipped out of Edmonton for nothing. He was traded after just four years to the St. Louis Blues for Zach Pochiro, who never played for the Oilers and now plays in Denmark, along with a conditional third round pick. That pick turned into Dimitri Samorukov. Yup, a first overall pick which I would label as beyond bust turned into that. Yakupov only spent parts of two more seasons in the NHL and has since returned to Russia playing in the KHL for Amur Khabarovsk, he was playing for St. Petersburg SKA before being traded to Vityaz Podolsk a few weeks back. Just a few days ago he was traded again to Amur Khabarovsk another KHL team but, was traded and pretty much flipped for cash considerations. Yikes. I truly wonder if he regrets leaving the millions he was originally offered to stay in Russian and play for. Oh, wait I know the answer… YES.
Four separate first overall picks and nine top ten picks in 11 years is an excessive amount. On top of that in the past three years they have also had another two top ten picks where they FINALLY addressed their needs on the blue line. A total of 11 top ten picks in 13 years… Oy. Look at how Buffalo has been saying their glory days are upon them… well Edmonton has been saying that for just as long if not longer and look at them now. Nearly a decade of suffering in the standings, except for a mere few occasions, this rebuild has been agonizingly slow and painful to watch.
BUT, I think Edmonton learned their lesson with these strings of picks.
2013: Darnell Nurse
2014: Leon Draisaitl
2015: Connor McDavid
All the picks were looking great, until…
2016: …. Jesse Puljujarvi
That’s for another article in itself.
Oh, my Oilers.