The Edmonton Oilers are terrible again this season, battling the Toronto Maple Leafs (Marlies?) for the best odds to snag top prospect Auston Matthews in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. The joke is no longer funny for Oilers fans, most of who would be too embarrassed to boast about yet another draft lottery win in 2016.
To be fair to the Oilers, they’ve only finished 30th overall twice, so they’ve really defied the odds by winning four times in the past six seasons. Nonetheless, the NHL is toying with the idea of limiting the number of first overall picks a team can have over a given period of time. Call it the “Oilers” rule.
Funny, in the ‘80s the league made rules to inhibit the Oilers potent offense (the coincidental minor rule, because Edmonton would score on almost every 4-on-4).
As the league’s worst team for the past decade, the Oilers have certainly employed their fair share of bad hockey players. Today’s list will pay homage to the 20 worst players the Oilers have employed since the 2004-05.
I’ll be the first to admit that there are probably worse players who have played for the Oilers than some who appear on this list. There are scores of players who have only had cups of coffee with the club, and therefore I didn’t count them. All of the players on this list either played a somewhat major role with the club for a stretch of time, or they came in with high expectations and failed to deliver.
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20 Robert Nilsson
Robert Nilsson was the key piece in the infamous Ryan Smyth trade back in 2007. His career as an Oiler actually got off to a decent start. He played the latter half of his first year with the club on a line with rookies Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano, and had quite a bit of success (41 poits in 71 games).
However, Nilsson proved that was all smoke and mirrors. After two more seasons with the club that saw his production dip steadily, he finally defected to the KHL and hasn’t returned to North America since.
19 Gilbert Brule
Gilbert Brule had a stellar junior career, but his game never translated well to the NHL. He did have his best season (from a statistical standpoint) with the Oilers in 2009-10, but that was a major outlier.
Brule eventually was relegated to the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons, and was then dealt to Phoenix where he played out the rest of his NHL career (with very little success). Brule was just another Oiler from the past decade who arrived with potential and left a broken man.
18 Robbie Schremp
Speaking of potential, if you spoke to an Oilers fan in 2007 you would have thought that Robbie Schremp was the second coming of Wayne Gretzky. He had an incredible junior career, especially his last two years with the London Knights.
Then he moved to the AHL, where he had a productive season in 2007-08 (23-53-76), so fans got even more excited. It never happened for Schremp in Edmonton, and many fans blamed Craig MacTavish. However, in hindsight, he simply was never good enough for the world’s best league.
17 Ben Eager
Ben Eager came to Edmonton with the expectation that he’d be a much needed agitator and aggressor for the Oilers. While he managed to pull this off on the rare occasion, Eager was mostly a plug during his days in Edmonton, and when he was aggressive he was often taking dumb penalties.
He was eventually relegated to the OKC Barons, and it’s likely that Eager played his last NHL game with the Oilers back in 2013-14.
16 Luke Gazdic
There are good guys who just aren't that great at hockey; Luke Gazdic is one of them. Gazdic was recently assigned to the minors by the Oilers, and it’s more than likely he’s done with the big club.
Gazdic was claimed off waivers in 2013 with the hopes that he could play the Dave Semenko role for the young talent in Edmonton. That role is of course on its way to extinction in the NHL, which means Gazdic is out an NHL job.
15 Darcy Hordichuk
Darcy Hordichuk wasn’t ever a good hockey player, and he played the last of his pro hockey in Edmonton. His role throughout his NHL days never changed, and he did manage to squeeze a respectful NHL career out of it, skating in 542 games.
In his 47 career games with the Oilers over two seasons, Hordichuk scored one goal and registered three points. Obviously, that’s not acceptable production for an NHL forward, even if he’s primarily a scrapper.
14 Zack Stortini
Zack Stortini is the last pure enforcer on this list, and he was probably the worst fighter of the bunch. God bless the guy because he never backed down from a challenge, but Oilers fans didn’t call him “Huggie Bear” for nothing.
Stortini’s NHL career is effectively over, though he’s still duking it out in the AHL, collecting anywhere between 160 and 300 PIMs per season. Impressively, he played 256 games with Edmonton, almost all poorly.
13 Theo Peckham
Theo Peckham, or “Teddy Peckman” as Don Cherry likes to put it, was an off-and-on defenseman for the Oilers from 2008 to 2012. It’s no secret that the Oilers defense continues to be their biggest problem; it has been ever since Pronger ditched town.
Peckham spent several seasons battling for the Oilers, but he was never good enough to play anything more than the role of a 7th defenseman. If the Oilers had any depth on D at the time, he wouldn't have been in the league.
12 Liam Reddox
Liam Reddox played for the Oilers from 2008 to 2011, which is wild because the Edmonton Oilers play in the NHL and Reddox was never a real NHL player. He somehow did reach the 100 game milestone though, but that again speaks volumes of the destitute condition of the organization at the time.
After scoring one goal in the 2010-11 season with the Oilers, Reddox defected to the Swedish league and hasn’t looked back.
11 Marc-Antoine Pouliot
Oh my dear lord, Marc-Antoine Pouliot. He was the Oilers coveted pick from the first round of the deep 2003 draft, and he certainly never panned out. What’s more annoying for Oilers fans here is that Ryan Kesler and Mike Richards were the next two players off the board.
Pouliot had brief stints in Tampa and Phoenix after his time in Edmonton, but today he’s where all players who aren’t good enough for the NHL are; Europe.
10 Jason Strudwick
Jason Strudwick seems like a real solid dude, so it sucks to have to put him on this list. But the fact is, when he came to Edmonton, he was no longer an NHL caliber defenseman. He was 33 years old, and had lost a step, which is problematic when you’re not the strongest skater to begin with.
Struds played one more season of pro hockey in the Swedish league after leaving the Oilers following the 2010-11 season, joining the long list of players whose careers ran out of steam in Edmonton.
9 Justin Schultz
It was difficult to decide where to put Justin Schultz on this list. I settled for somewhere in the middle because he does have more talent than almost anyone else on the list, but he also caused more headaches among fans than almost any of these other players.
Schultz was miscast in a top-pairing role for most of his time in Edmonton, and his time in Pittsburgh so far he has been deployed properly, and has looked much better. But he was a giveaway machine, single-handedly costing the Oilers a goal every other game.
8 Patrick O’Sullivan
Patrick O’Sullivan was acquired in a three-way deal with the Kings and Hurricanes. He was by far the worst player of the three involved (the other two being Justin Williams and Erik Cole), and O’Sullivan’s career as an Oiler was a disaster, from both offensive and defensive standpoints.
He produced 40 points in his 92 games with the club, but perhaps the most shocking stat is his minus-35 rating in 2009-10—good for last in the league.
7 J.F. Jacques
Oh, J.F. Jacques. You’ll always be remembered (by me, anyway) as that guy the Oilers gave 160 NHL games to for no particular reason. He was a big guy, but played more like Teddy Purcell big than Milan Lucic big.
Furthermore, and this is especially true for that tragic season in which Pat Quinn was the Oilers coach (2009-10). He was given a top-line role out of training camp that season. Wowzers.
6 Ryan Stone
Speaking of starting on the first line in 2009-10, meet Ryan Stone. Some of you may be hearing of this player for the first time ever right now, but Oilers fans will remember him being one of coach Quinn’s favorite players, but no one will remember why. Likely because there was no good reason.
Stone didn’t even last half of the season, as he went goalless in his 27 games of action with the Oilers, and those were the last games he played in the NHL.
5 Eric Belanger
Squeaking into the top five we have Eric Belanger. Belanger’s offensive numbers were consistent before coming to Edmonton, and they were at acceptable levels for a third-line winger. When he came to Edmonton, however, that offense completely vanished.
In fact, whichever line he played on, the offense just disappeared into thin air. A member of the Edmonton media coined the term “The Belanger Triangle” to describe the phenomenon. Needless to say, Edmonton was Belanger’s last NHL stop.
4 Cory Cross
Defenseman Cory Cross is the only player on this list who played on the 2005-06 rendition of the club, which is also the only time the Oilers have been good since the lockout. Cross was wisely dealt mid-season that year, but he was so bad for Edmonton in his 34 games that he earns a top five spot.
I do believe that Cross was always trying his best. But he was at the tail end of his career in 2005-06, and after brief stops in Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Germany, he retired.
3 Cam Barker
Another free agent gem signed by GM Steve Tambellini was defenseman Cam Barker. You might remember Barker as that prospect who was supposed to be good, was actually good for one season in Chicago, then turned into a really bad player by NHL standards.
Barker was bought out by the Wild in 2011, and Tambo wasted no time in signing the rearguard to a one-year contract worth $2.25 million. Seemed like a good idea at the time. (Actually, no it didn't).
2 Will Acton
Will freaking Acton, everybody. Acton was only on the team because Dallas Eakins coached him when they were with the Toronto Marlies, and Eakins liked his “grit,” I guess? Although Acton never truly displayed that at the NHL level.
It’s important to note that at the time of Acton’s employment in Edmonton, his father Keith was the team’s assistant coach. It reeked of nepotism.
1 Nikita Nikitin
Who else? Nikita Nikitin is one of the most epic failures in Oilers history. Former GM Craig MacTavish traded a draft pick for his negotiating rights, singed him to a fat two-year deal, limiting their ability to sign other, more useful defensemen (Jeff Petry, specifically).
Nikitin is of course still under contract with the club, bouncing back and forth between the Oilers and the Bakersfield Condors. If you want a good laugh, just tune into one of the odd games the Oilers choose to dress him. You’ll see why he’s no. 1 on this list.
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