If you’re searching for compelling reasons why the Edmonton Oilers have been so mediocre over the past decade – the run to the Stanley Cup final in 2006 notwithstanding – look no further than the transaction that saw the New York Islanders pick up Rob Schremp on waivers.
Because to the Oilers, Schremp represents more than just a failed first round pick. In Edmonton lore, he epitomizes how absolutely dismal the Oilers have been at the draft table for most of their NHL history. The organization that won five Stanley Cups in large part because of its uncanny ability to recognize young talent has swung and missed so often at the draft that it’s having trouble meeting the Mendoza Line.
During their Stanley Cup-winning years, the Oilers were quietly spelling doom for the organization with a series of first round picks that would make your stomach turn in retrospect. Sure, the Oilers lost all of their Hall of Fame players because they couldn’t afford to pay them, but the real reason the Oilers went into their tailspin is that they almost never had anyone to replace those players because of dismal drafting.
While they were busy winning Cups, they were also busy picking the likes of Selmar Odelein, Scott Metcalfe, Kim Issel, Francois Leroux, Jason Soules and Scott Allison with their first round selections. The only one who came anywhere near being a legitimate NHL player was Leroux, a journeyman who played only 249 NHL games.
Things improved for the Oilers through the early 1990s, with the Oilers picking up serviceable players, albeit the majority of whom played most of their careers with other organizations. The Oilers got Jason Arnott seventh overall in 1993 and Ryan Smyth sixth in 1994, but also blew it big-time with players such as Joe Hulbig, Nick Stajduhar and Jason Bonsignore.
But since then, the Oilers have been a complete disaster. After picking journeyman Boyd Devereaux sixth overall in 1996, the Oilers had nine first round picks until 2004 and have only Ales Hemsky and Marc-Antoine Pouliot to show for it. Those are the players who should be the core of the Oilers roster right about now. Instead, most of them are playing in Europe or minor league outposts or are entirely out of the game.
Which brings us to Schremp, whom the Oilers selected 25th overall in 2004, 11 picks after they took Kamloops Blazers goalie Devan Dubnyk. Just think where the Oilers would be right now had they instead taken Travis Zajac with the 14th selection and Mike Green with the 25th that year.
Anyone who has seen Schremp with the puck on his stick knows the young man has otherworldly offensive talents. But in order to get the puck in the scoring areas you have to get to the scoring areas first and Schremp can’t move his feet or think the game at a high enough level to get himself there. A lot of scouts recognized that in 2004, but Edmonton’s talent-seekers were not among them.
They certainly redeemed themselves with the first round selections of Andrew Cogliano in 2005 and Sam Gagner two years later, but there have been far too many Michel Riesens, Jani Ritas and Alexei Mikhnovs for the Oilers to cover up the many mistakes they have made on draft day.
With the salary cap now a part of the NHL landscape and the Oilers drawing capacity crowds and having a billionaire owner, they can no longer cry poor when it comes to their shortcomings. For those, they can look directly in the mirror and until they begin to identify decent young talent with some level of consistency, they’ll continue to spin their wheels.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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