The Edmonton Oilers have a new scouting mind on board, as Tyler Wright is coming over from the Detroit Red Wings – following boss and new Oilers GM Ken Holland. Drafting has been a source of pain for the Oilers in the past decade, notwithstanding some obvious choices like taking Connor McDavid first overall in 2015. Finding value even inside the lottery has been hit and miss however, with Jesse Puljujarvi already looking for a fresh start and Nail Yakupov long gone to Russia (though to be fair, we had Yakupov as the top prospect for the 2012 draft too – most folks did).
Outside of the first round, it’s been treacherous for Edmonton’s scouting department: Tobias Rieder is the only player in the past decade taken outside of the first round to have at least 100 career points. Not only that, but almost all of Rieder’s points were scored while he played for the Arizona Coyotes.
So now Wright comes in with eight years of experience as a director of amateur scouting – two with Columbus, followed by six in Detroit. And I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume Edmonton fans would really like to know if Wright can help turn around their draft woes. The best way to do that? Let’s look at his track record. Here’s how Wright’s teams drafted during his first five years in power (it’s too early to judge the most recent classes):
First-rounders: Ryan Murray (2nd overall), Oscar Dansk (31st). Could have taken Morgan Rielly, Matt Dumba or Jacob Trouba with that first selection, or gone with a forward instead – like Filip Forsberg (who slipped to 11th, despite being ranked second in Draft Preview). Dansk didn’t pan out, but neither did anyone else early in the second round. Later in the draft, Columbus nabbed Josh Anderson and Joonas Korpisalo. Murray would look better had he not been injured so much, but he’s still a good NHLer.
First-rounders: Alex Wennberg (14th), Kerby Rychel (19th), Marko Dano (27th). This was supposed to be a game-changing draft for the Jackets. It wasn’t, though Wennberg was good before the bottom dropped out this past season. Alternative picks include Anthony Mantha and Shea Theodore. Once again, Columbus gets nice value later, this time in third-rounder Oliver Bjorkstrand.
First-rounder: Dylan Larkin (15th). This was a great pick and, with Larkin being a center, precisely what the organization needed at the time. David Pastrnak was still on the board, but it’s hard to quibble with the Larkin pick, historically. Otherwise, Christoffer Ehn is the only kid to play more than nine NHL games from Detroit’s class.
First-rounder: Evgeny Svechnikov (19th). Tough to evaluate the elder ‘Svech’ since he missed all of this past season with knee reconstruction, but the big Russian was progressing a little slower than anticipated before that. Another right winger who was still on the board at the time? Brock Boeser. That’s a bit of an ‘ouch’ if you’re a Wings fan. Otherwise, no later-round picks have blossomed yet. Though like 2014, Wright did not have a second-round selection to make.
First-rounder: Dennis Cholowski (20th). After a quick start to his rookie NHL season, Cholowski faded in 2018-19, ultimately heading down to AHL Grand Rapids in February. The defender probably left college too soon (he ditched St. Cloud State after just one season in 2016-17), so there’s still time for him to fix his development curve. Alternatives still on the board included Henrik Borgstrom (still developing with Florida himself) and Sam Steel (ditto in Anaheim). Second-rounder Filip Hronek has already played for Detroit and looks to be on his way up; only five other players outside the first round have logged more NHL games than him.
So what can we glean from Wright’s time in power? Well, his first-round picks haven’t always worked out, but his teams did land some gems in the middle rounds along the way – though more so in Columbus than Detroit. Do the Detroit kids simply need more time, or were they misfires? I suppose that depends on your level of optimism in life. What is fair to say however, is that the pressure to find help through the draft can’t get much higher in Edmonton, so Wright and his new crew must hit the ground running.