TORONTO, ON — It’s difficult to think about the Edmonton Oilers without your mind circling around first round draft choices. There has been a long history of failed future superstars coming through the Oilers’ pipeline. In 2015-16, Connor McDavid proved he wasn’t quite ready for the NHL at 18 years of age. He had to take 3 months rest in the middle of the season to recover from the labours of facing real competition. Taylor Hall proved time and time again to be a complete defensive liability and incapable of gelling with his teammates. Nail Yakupov was an obvious bust from Day 1. Jordan Eberle, the most recently departed, couldn’t keep up with the Oilers’ new winning culture, having been so used to playing for an awful team. And now, Leon Draisatl’s greed is going to cripple the franchise, having the gall to demand $19M per year on a 10 year deal. The CBA only allows for $14M per year, and a maximum of 8 years. What kind of rookie would demand an illegal contract? Certainly not one you can win with.
This brings us to the most recent “elite talent” to try to crack the Oilers’ roster: Jesse Puljujarvi. Drafted 4th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, he fell considerably from 2nd overall to 4th. It’s easy to imagine how far he’d have fallen if the Oilers hadn’t taken a flyer on him.
During the 2016-17 season, the Oilers made the questionable decision to test Puljujarvi at the NHL level. It only took the Oilers 4 months to realize he just didn’t have what it takes to make it in the big leagues. Puljujarvi was sentenced to his life in Bakersfield in early January.
It’s no wonder that Oilers fans — quite possibly the smartest fan base in the NHL — have moved to acceptance that Puljujarvi is not a part of their future. I spoke with long time Oilers fan Trent Rigman, an oil rig worker in Edmonton for the last 23 years. He said of Puljujarvi, “who even is that?” His dedication to moving on from the failed prospect is admirable.
At the time of Puljujarvi’s demotion, Oilers’ head coach Todd McLellan said, “The work ethic just isn’t there. There’s a winning culture here in Edmonton now, and Jesse just doesn’t have the dedication to be a part of it. Honestly, he’s not even that good.” It appears as long as the Oilers keep selecting skilled wingers, they’ll keep finding disappointment.
And yet, in the 2017 NHL Draft, the Oilers went down the same path to ruin in drafting Kailer Yamamoto, who is not only the same height as Miniature St. Louis, but also scored almost 100 points in one WHL season. How do the Oilers expect to win if they can’t find stay at home wingers to support Connor McDavid’s offensive superstardom?
With the help of Milan Lucic, Kris Russell, and Adam Larsson, the Oilers are still in good standing. But it’s not too late to start bringing in more of the same hard-working core cast, instead of these skilled winger cast-offs. I’ll be looking forward to seeing the Oilers bring some toughness in at the next NHL draft. Until then, let’s hope Puljujarvi’s Condors can at least vie for the Calder Cup as AHL champions.