The Edmonton Oilers have been one of the most successful NHL franchises yet one of the most underachieving and disappointing, depending on how you look at it.
You see, I wasn’t born until 1995 — the year Braveheart came out. So I was years too late to see the glorious Oiler days where they won five Stanley Cups between 1984 and 1990. Though it would have been cool to see the GOAT in Wayne Gretzky bring championship after championship to Canada, I’ve instead (for the most part), been watching a team that’s loaded up on top-five draft picks.
It took a little bit of researching to see which Oilers were the most disappointing in the ’90s, but I’ve also been able to recall some of the more frustrating players to wear the jersey since the lockout. Here is a look at the 15 worst Oiler players between the Gretzky and McDavid eras.
*Stats courtesy of Hockey Reference and QuantHockey.com*
15. Nail Yakupov
Statistically, Nail Yakupov was far from being a terrible player on the Oilers, but the fact he failed to live up to all of this incredible talent is enough to be on the list. He was drafted first overall in 2012 and was supposed to help the likes of Taylor Hall and Ryan-Nugent Hopkins turned Edmonton around.
Yakupov showed plenty of potential in his first season with Edmonton in 2012-13, scoring 17 goals and 31 points in a lockout-shortened 48-game campaign. But Yakupov feuded with the coaches and management and put his attitude before the team. After his solid rookie campaign, Yakupov didn’t score more than 33 points in a season with the Oilers.
He was traded to the St. Louis Blues, but played in just 40 games and finished with a mere three goals and nine points. It’s unlikely the talented Russian will ever reach his full potential in the NHL.
14. Brad Isbister
Brad Isbister was a third-round draft choice of the Winnipeg Jets in 1995 — so expectations were never high for him to begin with. After spending three and a half seasons with the New York Islanders, Isbister joined the Edmonton Oilers during the 2002-03 season. He scored three goals and two points in 13 games and managed to rack up nine penalty minutes.
The next season, Isbister played in 51 games and managed 10 goals and 18 points with a minus-two rating. Isbister was nothing more than a bottom-six forward during his time in Edmonton and was out of the NHL after the 2007-08 season.
13. Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson
Like Yakupov, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson only makes the list because of how much he failed to live up to what was supposed to be a promising NHL career. The Oilers drafted the talented left winger 10th overall in 2009, and the 6-foot-2, 202-pounder was supposed to emerge as a top-flight power forward.
Paajarvi-Svenson had a solid rookie season in 2010-11, scoring 15 goals and 34 points in 80 games. But that was as far as Paajarvi-Svenson would get to. He scored just two goals and eight points in 41 games during 2011-12 and nine goals and 16 points in 2012-13. Paajarvi-Svensson had plenty of young talent around him, but it wasn’t enough to turn into a reliable top-six forward.
12. Bob Essensa
Bob Essensa played in the NHL as a backup goalie from 1988 to 2002, but he struggled anywhere he went. He spent three seasons with the Oilers (mainly as Curtis Joseph’s backup), but didn’t do his part in helping the team win on most nights.
In his first season with the Oilers (in 1996-97), Essensa went 4-8-0 with a woeful .899 save percentage and 2.83 goals against average. The next season, he went 6-6-1 with a .913 save percentage and 2.55 goals against average. And finally, he went just 12-14-6 with a .901 save percentage and 2.75 goals against average.
11. Alexei Semenov
The Oilers drafted Alexei Semenov in the second round back in 1999 — so expectations weren’t all that high. But he only played parts of three seasons with the Oilers; and never more than 46 games in a season with them.
Semenov first played with the Oilers in 2002-03, appearing in 46 games and registered just one goal and six assists to go along with a minus-seven rating. The next season, Semenov appeared in 46 games and finished with just two points and somehow managed 32 penalty minutes.
Semenov spent just 11 games with the Oilers in 2005-06 and managed 17 penalty minutes in that frame. He was traded to the Florida Panthers during the season and eventually went to the KHL for the 2009-10 campaign. Not exactly what the Oilers hoped for after spending a second round pick on him.
10. Louie DeBrusk
The 49th overall draft choice of the New York Rangers in the 1989 NHL Draft, but never played a game for them. He joined the Edmonton Oilers in the 1991-92 season and would spend his first six seasons with the franchise, but DeBrusk never got it done as a scorer despite playing on a team that featured the likes of Vincent Damphousse, Joe Murphy and Craig Simpson.
Louie DeBrusk never played more than 51 games in a season with Edmonton. His best season there was 1992-93, when he scored eight goals and 10 points. DeBrusk also reached the 100 penalty minute mark three times in Edmonton, including an astonishing 205 in 92-93.
9. Cam Barker
The hype around Cam Barker was real back in the day. The Chicago Blackhawks drafted him third overall in 2004 and he helped Canada win gold at the 2005 and 2006 World Junior Championships. But Barker was never given the chance to shine in Chicago and was traded to the Minnesota Wild before joining the Edmonton Oilers during the 2011 offseason.
But Barker didn’t do much of anything during his one season with Edmonton. He suited up for just 25 games and scored two goals while posting a remarkable 23 penalty minutes (remarkable, in a sad way).
8. Sheldon Souray
Sheldon Souray may have signed the worst contract in Oilers history, but the fact he had one good season there protected him from being in the top-five. But still, the $27 million deal over five years he signed with Edmonton back in 2007 turned out to be one of the absolute worst in the post salary cap era.
Souray signed that contract after scoring 26 goals and 64 points with the Montreal Canadiens, seemingly on his way to being one of the NHL’s top defencemen. But his first year with the Oilers was limited to 26 games, and Souray finished with just three goals and 10 points.
He bounced back with 23 goals and 53 points in 2008-09, but then managed just four tallies and 13 points in 2009-10. Souray clashed with management and was eventually bought out by the Oilers, ending one of the most disastrous tenures in franchise history.
7. Andy Sutton
The Oilers traded hard-shooting defenceman Kurtis Foster to the Anaheim Ducks for Sutton in the 2011 offseason. Sutton — who’s listed at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds — was to bring plenty of size and muscle to a fairly small Oilers team. Instead, he turned out to be a flop in Alberta.
Andy Sutton played in just 52 games, scoring three goals and 10 points while posting a ridiculous 80 penalty minutes. Sutton had been bouncing around from team-to-team for many years, and the Oilers turned out to be his final destination in the NHL.
6. Kelly Buchberger
Kelly Buchberger had one of the most epic debuts in NHL history, and that was for the Oilers in the 1987 Stanley Cup Final against the Philadelphia Flyers. The speedy and skilled Oilers needed some fists in the lineup to protect their stars and the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Buchberger was up for the challenge.
And though he did win Stanley Cups with Edmonton in 1987 and 1988, Buchberger was lucky to be in an era where jobs were available for guys who could skate around and throw around their fists while also wearing hockey skatess.
Translation: He wasn’t very good as a hockey player. But he did get to know the penalty box keepers pretty well! He’s the franchise’s all-time penalty minutes leader with 1,747. Oh, and he only racked up 82 goals and 240 points in 795 games with the franchise. So…not really that good.
5. Cory Cross
Cory Cross had all the makings to be a true stay-at-home/shutdown defenceman, listed at 6-foot-5 and 219 pounds. The Tampa Bay Lightning selected him in the 1992 Supplemental Draft, but he struggled to stand his own ground in the pros. From 1997-98 to 1998-99, he racked up a woeful minus-49 rating. That just wasn’t acceptable — mind you the Lightning were a pretty miserable team in the ’90s.
Cross moved to Edmonton during the 2002-03 season, appearing in just 11 games. He then played 68 games for them in 2003-04, but finished with just seven goals and 21 points. Cross would wind up playing in 659 NHL games but managed a mere 34 goals and 131 points.
4. Ben Eager
Ben Eager put his name on the NHL map pretty quickly by racking up an astonishing 233 penalty minutes in just 63 games back in 2006-07. Eager became a mainstay on the Chicago Blackhawks and helped them win the 2010 Stanley Cup; he also showed a bit of offence by scoring 11 goals in 75 points which is pretty good for a tough guy.
Eager then found himself with the Oilers during the 2011-12 season, but struggled to earn a roster spot. In 63 games, he finished with just 13 points and racked up 107 penalty minutes — further evidence he did more harm than good for his team.
3. Jeff Deslauriers
The Oilers thought the big 6-foot-4, 203-pound goalie would be able to emerge as a reliable starter, selecting him 31st overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. But Jeff Deslauriers played in just two seasons with the team that drafted him, and was far from what they had hoped for.
Deslauriers appeared in 10 games during the 2008-09 season, posting a 7-4-3 record with a woeful .901 save percentage and even worse 3.33 goals against average. Deslauriers was handed the keys as the starter in 2009-10, but went just 16-28-4 with a .901 save percentage and 3.26 goals against average.
2. Scott Ferguson
It was a dream come true for the Camrose, Alberta native — who got to play for his home province Oilers team. But Scott Ferguson (who joined the NHL as an undrafted free agent signing), wasn’t able to leave much of a legacy nor impact with Edmonton. He played one game for them in 1997-98 then spent time with Anaheim’s organization. Ferguson returned to the Oilers in 2000-01, registering just one assist in 20 games.
Ferguson would play parts of the next three seasons with Edmonton, but never put up more than eight points in a season with them. Ferguson didn’t do much to help his teams on the ice, racking up 310 penalty minutes in just 218 NHL games. Not exactly what you want from one of your bottom-pairing defenders.
1. Nikolai Khabibulin
Nikolai Khabibulin was a huge part of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2004 Stanley Cup victory and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks after the lockout. He struggled in his first three years there then posted 25 wins in 2008-09, leading them to the Western Conference Final and set himself up nicely for a big payday in free agency.
The Oilers really needed a new goalie and signed Khabibulin to a four-year deal worth $15 million, but he turned out to be a major disappointment in Edmonton. Khabibulin posted a woeful 33-67-5 record with the Oilers along with a .903 save percentage and 3.00 goals against average.
Instead of shoring up their problems in goal, Khabibulin only added to them. Given the contract and inability to meet expectations, Khabibulin was an easy choice at number one.
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