If NHL teams could go back in time most of them would love to redo their annual summer drafts. Mistakes are always made and players with great potential often turn out to be busts for one reason or another. In addition, the scouting staffs of NHL teams simply blow it from time to time. It’s always easy to turn back the clock and look over past drafts and re-select the players based on the knowledge that we know now compared to what we knew back then. This exercise consists of re-drafting the last 15 first round picks of the Edmonton Oilers from 2002 to 2016.
The team wasted a few of their top picks, but also hit the jackpot with a few of them such as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and definitely took the best player available. Several of Edmonton’s top picks were shipped out though while others have had good, but not spectacular careers up to now. The Oilers had four number-one overall picks in the last 15 years and are finally looking like a playoff team. However, if they had drafted the players below they could arguably have been a Stanley Cup winner more than once over the past decade and a half.
15 2002: Cam Ward
Original Pick: Jesse Niinimaki
The Oilers wasted their first-round pick in 2002 by choosing 6-foot-2-inch centre Jesse Niinimaki of Finland. Niinimaki headed to North America in 2004-05 and played in Edmonton, but it was for the Roadrunners of the AHL. He contributed a lone goal in 24 games and promptly headed back to Europe where the 33-year-old still plays. The Oilers actually had the 14th pick that year, but traded it to Montreal for the 15th and 245th pick, which wasn’t much of a return. Looking back, Edmonton should have drafted goaltender Cam Ward who went 25th overall to Carolina, especially considering the inadequate netminding Edmonton endured for years. The 32-year-old Ward is still playing in Carolina after about 600 games and led the team to a Stanley Cup 2006 as a rookie, winning the Conn Smythe along the way.
14 2003: Corey Perry
Original Pick: Marc-Antoine Pouliot
It was the second dud in a row in 2003 when Edmonton drafted centre Marc-Antoine Pouliot 22nd overall from Rimouski of the QMJHL. Pouliot played 192 NHL games from 2005-06 to 2011-12 with Edmonton, Tampa and Phoenix, scoring 57 points in 192 games. He also played in the AHL and headed to Switzerland in 2012 where he still plays. Pouliot was a good point producer in junior and the minors and played his last year in Quebec on a line with Sidney Crosby. He couldn’t score consistently in the NHL though and Edmonton didn’t re-sign him after 2009-10. A better pick would have been winger Corey Perry who was drafted 28th by Anaheim. Perry has close to 700 points with the Ducks, won the Stanley Cup in 2006-07 and the Hart and Rocket Richard Trophies in 2010-11.
13 2004: Devan Dubnyk
Original Pick: Devan Dubnyk
Edmonton drafted goalie Devan Dubnyk 14th overall in 2004 and considering the way he’s been playing lately it was the right choice. Of course, they made a mistake by getting rid of him. The 30-year-old from Regina played junior hockey in Kamloops with some pretty good numbers, but didn’t debut with Edmonton until 2009-10. He played 171 games with the team until 2013-14 with decent, but not spectacular stats and a 61-76-21 record. Edmonton traded the 6-foot-6-inch goalie to Nashville for Matt Hendricks in early 2014 and the Predators was him to Montreal two months later. He spent the rest of the season in the AHL before signing with Arizona as a free agent. Dubnyk was traded again, to Minnesota in early 2015, and has simply been one of the best goalies in the league ever since.
12 2005: Jonathan Quick
Original Pick: Andrew Cogliano
Edmonton drafted 25th in 2005 and took speedy forward Andrew Cogliano from the Ontario Provincial Junior League. Cogliano played University hockey for a couple of seasons and cracked the Oilers’ in 2007-08. He scored 146 points in 328 games before being traded to Anaheim for a second-round pick in 2013. Cogliano’s scored over 170 points with Anaheim and continues to play well there. If Edmonton did it again though they could have chosen Paul Stastny, James Neal, Keith Yandle, Kris Letang or Patric Hornqvist. Since we’ve mentioned earlier they struggled in net for several years, Edmonton could have drafted goalies Ben Bishop or Jonathan Quick. Since Quick has won a couple of Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe Trophy with Los Angeles, that’s who they should have taken as he went 72nd overall to the Kings.
11 2006: Brad Marchand
Original Pick: Jeff Petry
There was no first-round pick for Edmonton in 2006, but they took defenceman Jeff Petry with the 45th choice when it was their turn in the second round. Artem Anisimov and Milan Lucic were taken after Petry, but Lucic ended up in Edmonton anyway. However, the Oilers could have taken small, but skilled left-winger Brad Marchand, who was taken by Boston with the 71st pick. Marchand is a pain in the ass to play against as he’s considered quite dirty, but he’s an accomplished scorer and playmaker. He also won the Stanley Cup in 2010-11 with the Bruins. Petry played from 2010-11 to 2014-15 with Edmonton and was then shipped to Montreal for a second-round pick. Petry’s not a bad player, but was -65 in 295 games with Edmonton with 74 points.
10 2007: P.K. Subban
Original Pick: Sam Gagne
The Oilers had the sixth overall pick in 2007 and used it to take centre Sam Gagne, who was a small, but big scorer with the London Knights. Gagner cracked the Edmonton lineup a few months later and spent seven steady seasons with the team averaging just over 40 points a year. He wasn’t the greatest defensively though at -77 and was dealt to Tampa Bay for Teddy Purcell in the summer of 2014. Gagner then bounced from Arizona to Philadelphia and is now enjoying a revival in Columbus. 2007 was a pretty weak draft year, but defenceman P.K. Subban was taken 43rd overall by Montreal and would have definitely been a wiser choice. Subban, who’s now in Nashville can handle 25 minutes a game, has won a Norris Trophy and is a high-scoring all star.
9 2008: Braden Holtby
Original Pick: Jordan Eberle
Edmonton chose another small forward in 2008 with Jordan Eberle 22nd overall from Regina and he’s still with them. Eberle stood out with Canada at a couple of World Junior Championships and has been a consistent NHL scorer with 357 points in his first 465 games. He’s the third-highest scorer from 2008 behind Steven Stamkos and Erik Karlsson. Drew Doughty and Alex Pietrangelo were also taken that summer, but they all went before Eberle. The best players taken after Eberle were Derek Stepan, Adam Henrique, Mikkel Boedker and Roman Josi. It looked like Edmonton took the best player available until we find goaltender Braden Holtby was taken 93rd by Washington. Holtby’s developed into one of the world’s best goalies, won the Vezina for 2015-16 and tied the NHL record with 48 wins in a season.
8 2009: Ryan O’Reilly
Original Pick: Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson
It was another wasted first-rounder in 2009 when Edmonton took Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson of Sweden 10th overall. Paajarvi-Svensson had good size at 6-foot-2, but wasn’t a big scorer. He had a decent rookie season in Edmonton with 34 points in 2010-11, but that was it. The Oilers gave up on him in July, 2014 and traded him along with a second and fourth-round pick to St. Louis for David Perron and a third rounder. Paajarvi-Svensson had 58 points in 163 games with Edmonton and is now a part-time player with the Blues. Meanwhile, there were several good players available such as Ryan O’Reilly, Marcus Johansson, Tyson Barrie and Tomas Tatar, with O’Reilly being the best of the bunch. The 6-foot-1-centre was taken 33rd by Colorado and had 326 points in his first 526 games, making him a much better choice.
7 2010: Vladimir Tarasenko
Original Pick: Taylor Hall
2010 saw Edmonton take their first of three straight number-one draft picks and their first of seven consecutive top-seven picks. Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin were neck and neck heading into the draft, but the Oilers took Hall from the Windsor Spitfires. They’re probably regretting it since they traded the winger to New Jersey last summer for defenceman Adam Larsson after posting 353 points for Edmonton in 410 games. They may also regret trading him for Larsson too though. Since Seguin has been a bit of an off-ice problem, better picks would have been Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jeff Skinner and Mark Stone, but the best would have been winger Vladimir Tarasenko who went 16th to St. Louis. The 25-year-old Russian has averaged closed to a point per game in his career and is having another excellent season in 2016/17 as he gets better year after year.
6 2011: Mark Scheifele
Original Pick: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
The second straight first-overall pick was used to select centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out of Red Deer and it’s been debatable ever since. Some feel he hasn’t lived up to his potential while others point out he’s the second leading scorer from the draft. The only player with more points is winger Gabriel Landeskog who went second overall to Colorado. Other players who turned out well are Johnny Gaudreau, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Huberdeau and Brandon Saad. However, we’re going to go with the seventh pick that year, 6-foot-3 centre Mark Scheifele, who went to Winnipeg. Scheifele appears to be the best overall player of the draft even though he’s a bit of a late bloomer. Nugent Hopkins wasn’t a bad pick, but in the long run I think Scheifele will prove him to be the wrong one.
5 2012: Filip Forsberg
Original Pick: Nail Yakupov
Russian forward Nail Yakupov went first and will go down as one of the worst first-picks ever even though it was a weak year. He’s not bad, but not a worthy number one. Yakupov showed plenty of skill with Sarnia of the OHL, but managed just 111 points in 252 outings with Edmonton and was an incredible -88. Edmonton gave up on him last year and traded him to St. Louis for Zach Pochiro and a conditional draft pick. Yakupov’s just 23 so could be a late bloomer, but is often scratched with the Blues. Alex Galchenyuk and Shayne Gostisbehere would have been better, but 22-year-old centre Filip Forsberg of Nashville, who was drafted 11th by Washington, the best. Forsberg’s last two seasons were 63 and 64 points and he’s on pace for the about the same this year.
4 2013: Max Domi
Original Pick: Darnell Nurse
Defenceman Darnell Nurse was Edmonton’s pick in 2013 and went seventh. He’s a big, rough kid at 6-foot-4 and has some offensive skills too, but had just 15 points in his first 96 NHL games. The best players drafted after Nurse include Alex Wennberg, Bo Horvat and Jonathan Drouin, but the one with the most potential and upside is probably Max Domi, son of notorious tough guy Tie Domi. He was taken 12th overall by Arizona, is small and tough like his dad, but owns an excellent pair of hands to accompany his great hockey sense. Even though he’s a good fighter, he may want to stop dropping the gloves since he’s missed half of the current season after injuring his hand in a scrap. Coincidentally, Nurse is also sidelined long-term with Edmonton due to an injury.
3 2014: Leon Draisaitl
Original Pick: Leon Draisaitl
German centre Leon Draisaitl was a fine pick by Edmonton in 2014 when they chose him third overall from Prince Albert. He had a good scoring touch as a junior in the WHL and it’s more or less followed him to the NHL. The youngster scored 51 points in 72 games as a rookie and had 34 points after 40 contests this season, not bad for a 21-year-old. He’s also currently the top scorer from the 2014 draft. The only two players taken ahead of him were defenceman Aaron Ekblad and centre Sam Reinhart. There were a couple of good players drafted after Draisaitl such as forwards William Nylander and David Pastrnak who could eventually end up being better than him, but at this moment Draisaitl appears to have been the right choice.
2 2015: Connor McDavid
Original Pick: Connor McDavid
The Oilers had yet another first overall pick in 2015 and took forward Connor McDavid. Who can blame them? He was the top-ranked player going into the draft and has lived up to all expectations so far even though he missed a good chunk of his rookie season. The youngest captain in NHL history has scored at over a point-per game pace so far and looks to be a certain Hall of Famer and future Art Ross and Hart Trophy winner. Buffalo took Jack Eichel second as the consolation prize while Toronto took Mitch Marner fourth and Zach Werenski went eighth to Columbus. You’d have to be quite unrealistic and a diehard Sabres, Leafs or Blue Jackets fan to try and argue that either of these players will have a better NHL career than McDavid.
1 2016: Jesse Puljujärvi
Original Pick: Jesse Piljujarvi
The Oilers actually lost a draft lottery and had to settle for the fourth pick. However, they were gifted with Finnish winger Jesse Puljujärvi when Columbus took Pierre-Luc Dubois third. Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine were a coin toss at one and two, but most experts believed Puljujärvi would be next. It wasn’t to be though, and Edmonton lucked out. Matthew Tkachuk, drafted sixth by Calgary, is currently the better player as Puljujärvi is taking his time adapting to the NHL. The Finn had a lone goal and seven assists after his first 28 games while Tkachuk checked in with seven goals and 23 points in 36 games. And with 70 penalty minutes Tkachuk has shown he won’t be pushed around. But over time, Puljujärvi will prove he was the right choice, but just narrowly.