EDMONTON OILERS AND FAILED FIRST OVERALL SELECTIONS | Oilersnetwork.com - Edmonton Oilers News and Rumours


Trying to come up with the most or least successful first overall selection for an NHL team isn't one of those things you can do with just any hockey franchise. There aren't many NHL clubs who ever have an opportunity to draft first overall, none the less four times like the Edmonton Oilers have. In this respect, Edmonton is on an island.

So too, this article is not meant to beat up on the Oilers. God knows, that's happened enough in the last decade. But something is amiss. As a franchise, you can't draft four, first-overall selections and still be as bad as the Oilers have been without some sort of attempt at an explanation. Is it management? Is it coaching? Or, is it the draft selections themselves that keep Edmonton a perennial lottery team.

Photo By Lisa Gansky

NHL History of First Overall Picks

The closest team to draft first as often as Edmonton since 1980 is the Pittsburgh Penguins who have drafted first overall three times. The Penguins selected Mario Lemieux (1984), Sidney Crosby (2005) and Marc-Andre Fleury (2003) and all made major contributions to the Penguins organization. Only Fleury could be looked at as less than an ideal first overall selection, but even then, he was a starting goaltender on a Stanley Cup championship team who stabilized the Penguins netminding position for many years. The Oilers can't say they've been quite so lucky.

With their first overall picks, the Oilers have drafted Taylor Hall, Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and most recently Connor McDavid. Of the four, only McDavid projects to be a generational talent and while his talent is undeniable, his first official season in the NHL wasn't one he'd note in the record books (figuratively and literally).

No doubt, McDavid will be Edmonton's version of Lemieux or Crosby, but what about the others? How can a team with so many first overall selections (Edmonton), be so unlike a team that's drafted high, but already won the Stanley Cup twice in less than ten years (Pittsburgh)?

Taylor Hall

Hall is a dynamic winger — a dynamic winger that was just traded. Yes, he's easily one of the five best left-wing forwards in the NHL, but his career to date is also wrought with injury, controversy and disappointment. It's not to say that the troubles of the Oilers are exclusively the fault of Hall, but a lot of the blame was placed at his feet.

In five full seasons with the Oilers (410 games) Hall has missed 74 games to injury. He's been given what I believe is a bum rap for suggested locker room tension and he's been moved along for what most would politely describe as an underwhelming return. Despite the outrage among fans that came with the trade, the fact is, the Oilers considered Hall expendable. Within 24 hours, they'd made arrangements to replace his position.

Over the last two Oilers' season's, Hall was looked upon as the on-ice leader of the team. Realistically he's been the Oilers leader since the trade of Shawn Horcoff. However, under Hall's watch, the Oilers have been abysmal. Again, not his fault due to a real lack by management to surround him with talent, but one might hope that a first overall selection could at least help stop the passengers from jumping overboard if he couldn't help right the ship. Rumors are Hall was pushing people off the boat and as of the end of June 2016, he isn't going to get the chance to show anyone otherwise.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Another player who hasn't reached his potential due to injury issues, Nugent-Hopkins has been reshaped into more of a two-way, second line center. The points that were expected of him really haven't come and while he was projected to be a first line center from his draft class, he'll likely never be one (at least not in Edmonton).

It's often unfair to blame a player for doing a job and playing a role asked of them by coaching and management, but a first overall draft selection is supposed to be dynamic. To date, the Nuge hasn't lived up to the billing. Nugent-Hopkins has had decent seasons. 56 points in both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, is no small feat; but 60 points should be a baseline for a center who's had Hall and Jordan Eberle as wingers and who was drafted first overall.

For Nugent-Hopkins to be effective he needs to stay healthy and he's had a hard time doing so. Even during some of the 2015-16 season, where Nugent-Hopkins was on the ice, you could tell something wasn't quite right. If he doesn't rebound, Nugent-Hopkins rumors will continue to swirl that another first overall draft choice could be traded and he will have amounted to far less than the expectations. Names like Pavel Datsyuk and Patrice Bergeron have been thrown around when trying to find a player comparison, but the Nuge is far from hitting those marks.

All that said, I like this player. The role he's been placed in and injuries have limited his offensive production. 2016-17 could be a breakout season and those 60 points could be more than attainable if he stays healthy, gets steady offensive zone and powerplay time.

Nail Yakupov

On paper, Yakupov is clearly the goat of the group. Drafted for his dynamic scoring ability, he's brought nothing close to what was expected of him — his highest season being the shortened 2012-13 lockout year where he scored 17 goals in 48 games. His highest goal total since then is 14, which he achieved in a full regular season's worth of playing time. Yakupov's 14 goals can't be considered first overall production for someone who is supposed to be a goal scorer.

Yakupov has had issues with coaches, linemates and management. He's requested a trade (through his agent) at least once that everyone knows about and he's been demoted, made a healthy scratch and struggled to find chemistry with any real linemate of note. In four seasons with the Oilers, none of them can be looked at as pleasant surprises.

There was a time this summer that it appeared the Oilers were attempting to move Yakupov for anything of value, but there were no takers. That Edmonton couldn't get even a decent draft pick as compensation is a testament to just how much the mighty have fallen. With the right center, Yakupov could rebound and 20-25 goals could be a realistic option. That said, it still won't match the draft pedigree that came with the young Russian.

Connor McDavid

Including McDavid in this list feels silly, yet it's required because he fits the criteria of a first overall draft selection that to date, hasn't performed up to expectations. That said, not reaching these goals isn't really McDavid's fault. He missed 37 games last season with an injury that ensured he finish outside the Calder Trophy race and for the games he did play, he was among the best players in the entire NHL.

On almost every list, McDavid is ranked as one of the Top 20 NHL most talented players and if he stays healthy, by the end of this coming season should easily crack the top ten. All that said,
the expectations set on McDavid make it near impossible for him to live up to what fans are waiting for. He's being looked at as the franchise saviour. He's being looked at as the piece that will draw in every major talent from around the NHL player pool and some have him projected to hit 100 points.

To McDavid's credit, the projections don't appear to phase him much and to date, he's done a pretty good job of making the Oilers a projected team on the rise, even though there is no evidence to support such a claim. McDavid looks to be the Oilers first ever first overall selection that not only lives up to the hype; but, potentially surpasses it.

Who is to Blame?

I don't think you can blame any of the players for how lousy a team the Oilers have been. That responsibility should fall squarely on the shoulders of management and bum luck. Yakupov has clearly been a let down in terms of offensive production, A number of players drafted after him in his draft class have gone on to be better players to date.

Hall and Nugent-Hopkins have had injury issues that are unfortunate for any player. Hall, to his credit, has been a tremendously effective left-winger and will continue to do well in New Jersey. Nugent-Hopkins has been a mixed bag of injuries and poor player management. The Oilers should have surrounded these two with more productive line partners to ensure their success. Not doing so wasted precious years of their entry-level contracts and that is time, the Oilers can never get back.

Connor McDavid is the cream of the crop and Edmonton finally has management looking to surround him with players he can utilize. His talent in undeniable, but his timing is also impeccable. It seems to have taken a player of McDavid's ability to make ownership create change and management finally realize that first overall draft picks don't mean much unless you create a team for them to play with.

But, who cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.

Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about Oilersnetwork.com founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.

Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.


  1. It still boggles my mind that Oiler management thought it would be a good idea to give three relative rookie players large matching contracts,first line minutes and no consequences for repeating the same mistakes over and over again.It created the tension in that room that is only now starting to fade,that isn't on the players to fix,but I imagine attitude had something to do with it. Nobody likes a punk.

    1. In the case of Eberle and Hall I think those contracts will prove to be a value over time, but I agree that handing them out when management did allowed the players to rest on their laurels. In the case of Nugent-Hopkins, I get a feeling he's not content with his production and will have something to prove this season. I'm predicting a big year for him.