Since we’re getting closer to draft day, I’ve decided to focus on some home truths about the Oilers on draft day and fan bias that shall never change. Among the subjects we’ll talk about in the next few weeks are injuries and their impact on the draft, fans and their almost universal belief that the Oilers organization is a disaster at the draft, Barry Fraser and how much he delivered and then taxed the organization, Kevin Prendergast and his terribly misunderstood draft record, the enormous difference between draft day facts and what we remember, and a few other items about this years draft.
We begin with some interesting tidbits from the past:
- Kevin Lowe was told the 1979 draft (via telephone) was to start at 10am. He expected a call from Alan Eagleson around 10:15 to tell him which team had selected him in the first round. Lowe waited, and waited, and waited. By 10:45am the phone hadn’t rung and Lowe’s mom said “My God, they’re not drafting him.” A mixup in the phone lines caused a one hour delay, but the Lowe household was not aware of it. At 11:10, Eagleson’s secretary called with the news Edmonton had chosen Lowe—21st overall
- Glen Sather was impressed by Mark Messier as he played AGAINST the Oilers in the 78-79 season (WHA). Dennis Sobchuk was a pretty good player and legend has it he thought he could take the kid in the Cincinnati Stinger uniform. Messier apparently had a slight edge in punches. 12-0. Sather noticed and picked him 48th overall in the deepest draft in history, 1979.
- Barry Fraser was responsible for the Oilers final WHA draft (1978) and 1979-2000 (he made the Mikhnov pick, and minutes later Lowe traded for the pick that became Brad Winchester).
- Jari Kurri very likely would have gone much higher than #69 in the 1980 draft but it was widely thought Kurri would not come over to NA. Inside info gave the Oilers an edge and they selected one of the very best to ever play for them.
- D Jim Playfair, #20 overall in 1982, and D Selmar Odelein, # 21 in 1984, were both defenders the Oilers chose in the hopes they would develop into rugged blueliners. Injuries sidelined both careers.
- C Jesse Niinimaki, #15 overall in 2002, and C Marc Pouliot,#22 in 2003, were both centers with size the Oilers chose in the hopes they would develop into big centermen who could play on the top 2 lines. Injuries impacted both careers.
- Oilers LOVED their 1988 second rounder Petro Koivunen. He was a center who had a solid first season after his draft year (named to the Finnish team for the Pravda Cup), but he never made it. He did play in Finland, though, and did have some good seasons.
- Raimo Summanen was a more highly rated player than Esa Tikkanen. Oilers brass were quoted often as saying Summanen might be the LW Edmonton needed to throw onto the Gretzky-Kurri line.
- Michel Riesen, first round pick in 1997, had a terrific camp in the fall of 2000 as part of the Bulldog line (so named for their successful 99-00 season in Hamilton) with Brian Swanson and Daniel Cleary. He played 12 games with the Oilers and was traded to St. Louis
- G Alexandre Fomitchev (#231 in 1997) was easy to scout. He played for the St. Albert Saints, as did Fernando Pisani and Mike Comrie.