10 Mistakes of the Edmonton Oilers Rebuild
The Edmonton Oilers have been rebuilding for what feels like forever. They haven’t made the playoffs in over a decade and have had the first overall pick four times during that span. When I team fails to succeed as the Oilers have, it becomes clear to everyone that mistakes have been made. So with that in mind, we’ve created our list of the 10 biggest mistakes of the Oilers rebuild. And believe me, there were plenty to choose from.
FIRING RALPH KRUGER
Since 2009, the Oilers best finish came in the 2012-13 lockout shortened season. That was the one and only season Ralph Kruger had behind the Oilers bench. Following the conclusion of the season, Kruger was replaced by sought-after Toronto Marlies Coach, Dallas Eakins. Since then the Oilers have spiralled downwards, instead of ascending up the standings.
Kruger has been the best coach the Oilers have had during there rebuild (except for McLellan), and owns the highest win percentage with a 0.395. Sure that might seem unspectacular by other teams standards, but in the world of Oilers coaches, it’s exceptional. He has also been the only Oilers coach to date, to fully utilize Nail Yakupov’s potential, who was on pace for a 30 goal season under Kruger’s reign.
Since leaving the Oilers, Kruger has gone on to work for Southampton in the Enlinsh Premier League, before returning to coach team Europe in the World Cup. At the World Cup he was able to lead an underdog European squad to upset victories over the United States and Sweden, to earn a spot in the final. It became very clear to anyone who watched the World Cup, that Kruger is an excellent coach, and the fact that the Oilers only gave him 48 behind the bench is a shame which is only emphasized by the atrocity that was the ‘Dallas Eakins era’.
2. RUSHING LEON DRAISATL
Leon Draisatl was rushed to the NHL. I don’t there is anyone who could argue this fact. In his rookie year he only mustered 9 points in 37 games before he was finally returned to junior. Rushing a prospect is never a good idea, but it’s understandable if that player fills an immediate need for the team. For example, Noah Hannifin probably could have benefited from another season of college hockey, but the Hurricanes lacked Top-4 defenseman and opted to keep him instead. However when It comes to Leon Draisatl, the Oilers already had Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Ganger as their Top-2 centers and could have sent Draisatl back to junior for one more season. However management was so convinced Draisatl could have an immediate impact that they traded Sam Ganger to open up a spot for Leon. The results were predictably disastrous.
Leon rebounded from his subpar rookie year with an impressive rookie season with a 51 point campaign last season, which shows that maybe his development wasn’t stunted by rushing him. However, what makes this mistake costly, is that the Oilers burned a year of Draisatl’s ELC by playing him for those 37 games. On a team like the Oilers with plenty of young, talented players, that extra year is extremely valuable, and could now cause major problems for the Oilers, when McDavid and Puljujarvi’s contracts are up. It also makes things more challenging, as the Oilers now have to protect Draisatl in the upcoming expansion draft, leaving another key player exposed.
3. DRAFTING DARNELL NURSE
Don’t get me wrong, I by no means think that Nurse is a bad prospect. He's mean, and has terrific size in mobility. He is also young and will have plenty of time to continue to grow and develop. He projects to be a physically imposing Top-4 blue liner at the NHL level, but as of right now he just isn’t there. So I really do think Nurse will be a solid NHLer, but the reason he makes this list is purely because of who the Oilers could have taken.
Ask yourself what the Oilers a missing right now to become a playoff contender? I’m guessing all of you probably said a puck-moving, right handed defensemen. Those would be the exact words you could use to describe Rasmus Ristolainen, the player taken one pick after Nurse. Last season Ristolainen had somewhat of a breakout year, recording 41 points in 82 games. That was also on a Buffalo Sabres team that didn’t make the playoffs either. Just imagine having a player like that who was able to move the puck up to guys like Eberle and McDavid. Imagine having a Top-4 of Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Andrej Sekera and Ristolainen. All of sudden the Oilers are a playoff team.
Howver the real question is if the Oilers had a player like Ristolainen, do they trade Taylor Hall? Hmmmm….
4. NAIL YAKUPOV
To be clear I am a huge Nail Yakupov believer, and I really do think he has the ability to be a 20-30 goal scorer, and this isn’t really so much a criticism of him as it is of the way the team has handled him. Yakupov showed flashes of being an elite goal scorer in his lockout shortened rookie year with 17 goals, but has since regressed to the point where he only managed 8 last season. So what went wrong?
For starters the Oilers brought Dallas Eakins, whose coaching style clashed with the way Yakupov played. He tried to get Yakupov to be more responsible in his own zone, and as a result his offense disappeared. There was a clear lack of trust between Eakins and Yakupov which led to a decrease in his ice-time and even being a healthy scratch at times. His numbers did improve once Todd Nelson took over, but Yakupov’s confidence had taken a serious hit.
Then Todd McLellan stepped in last season and things should have turned around for Yakupov. However he failed to earn his new coaches trust and found himself playing on the third line with Mark Letestu. Away from Letestu, Yakupov’s number’s were actually quite respectable, especially alongside McDavid, but he still spent the majority of the time being dragged down by Letestu. This all led to Yakupov requesting a trade. However, with his value at an all-time low, the Oilers opted to keep him and he’ll now have to battle for a roster spot with Kris Versteeg, Drake Caggiula, and Jesse Puljujarvi.
So to conclude, Yakupov had tons of potential when he broke into the league after being the first overall pick in 2012, but has since played just under 15 minutes, under 4 different coaches, playing primarily with third line centers, who drag him down. No wonder he wants a trade.
The Edmonton Oilers are notorious team for having an extremely poor drafting history. In fact the only full-time player on their roster who they have drafted outside the first round, has been Brandon Davidson. Things are slowly starting to look better with players like Ethan Bear, Markus Niemelainen, and Tyler Benson being taken outside of round one, but there have been plenty of mistakes made in the past. Here is just a small fraction of the players the Oilers could have picked since 2010:
Justin Faulk, D, 2010, 37th Overall by CAR
Who the Oilers took: Tyler Pitlick, C, 31st Overall
Tyler Toffoli, C, 2010, 47th Overall by LA
Who the Oilers took: Martin Marincin, 46th Overall
John Klingberg, D, 2010, 131st Overall by DAL
Who the Oilers took: Tyler Bunz, G, 121st Overall
John Gibson, G, 2011, 39th Overall by ANH
Brandon Saad, LW, 2011, 43rd Overall by CHI
Who the Oilers took: David Musil, D, 31st Overall
Vincent Trochek, C, 2011, 64th Overall by FLA
Who the Oilers took: Samu Perhonen, G, 62nd Overall
Connor Brown, RW, 2012, 156th Overall by TOR
Who the Oilers took: John McCarron, C, 153rd Overall
Jordan Subban, D, 2013, 115th Overall by VAN
Who the Oilers took: Aidan Muir, LW, 113th Overall
The fact that the Oilers have failed to draft even one full time NHLer outside the first round (aside from Davidson) since 2010, is truly astonishing/embarrassing.
6. ACQUIRING GRIFFIN REINHART
One of the first moves Peter Chiarelli made as GM of the Edmonton Oilers, was acquiring Griffin Reinhart from the New York Islanders for a first and second round draft pick. Immediately the trade was panned by critics around the hockey world as a gross overpayment for an unproven player. The trade has only come to look worse as time goes on. Reinhart has yet to establish himself as an NHL regular and has been passed by Brandon Davidson and Jordan Oesterle on the Oilers depth chart.
What makes this trade especially perplexing is the fact that Reinhart didn’t address the Oilers needs on defense. He shoots left and projects to be a shutdown type defender instead of the right shot, puck mover that they need. His skating needs improvement as does his decision making with the puck, and until then he will continue to slide down the depth chart.
While all of that might sound negative towards Reinhart, It’s fairly normal for prospects to have holes in their game and need time to improve. The real criticism here is of what Edmonton paid to acquire him. Those 2 picks were incredibly valuable assets that could have been used to either draft or trade for a player that better suits Edmonton’s needs.
Before Cam Talbot took the reigns towards the end of last season, goaltending was a major issue for the Oilers. They struggled to find a goaltender capable of giving them even league average goaltending, and as a result stayed at the bottom of the standings. The reason for this is the way the Oilers approched acquiring a goalie. Instead of paying a sizeable price to acquire a big name goalie, they tried acquiring mediocre goaltenders like Ben Scrivens, Viktor Fasth, and Ilya Bryzgalov for next to nothing. Note to the Oilers: Mediocre goaltending + bad defense, is a recipe for disaster.
Now that the Oilers have Talbot, it appears as though they have there crease covered for the near future, and have Laurent Brossoit waiting in the wings. However, anything can happen. The Oilers thought they were set with Devan Dubnyk as their starter and we all know what happened there. Which brings me to another issue when it comes to the Oilers and goaltending which is drafting them. Of the top five goaltenders in Edmonton’s Organization (Talbot, Gustavsson, Brossoit, Ellis, Laurikainen), not a single one was drafted by the Oilers. Sure they have drafted goalies, but all of them are long shots to ever see any action in the NHL. During there rebuild they have never drafted a highly touted goaltending prospect and that needs to change. Even they believe that Talbot and Brossoit are capable of manning the crease for the next five or so years, if never hurts to add some insurance. Just look at Montreal who drafted Zach Fucale in 2013 even though they already had Carey Price. Or Washington drafting Ilya Samson even though they have Braden Holtby. Goalies take a long time to develop. If Edmonton were to draft a highly touted goalie in 2017, he might not see NHL action until he’s 25. So why not draft your goalie of the future today, instead of having to trade for him down the road?
8. TRADING TOBIAS RIEDER
When I said earlier that the Oilers haven’t drafted an NHL player outside the first round, it wasn’t entirely true. The Oilers did draft Tobias Rieder in the 4th round back in 2011. After his draft year Rieder exploded with 84 points in 60 games for the Kitchner Rangers, and become one of the Oilers more notable prospects. Last year Rieder had an excellent season in the NHL putting up nearly 40 points in 82 games while displaying his blazing speed. The only issue is that it was with the Coyotes.
Way back in 2013, as one of his last moves as Oilers GM, Steve Tambellini traded Rieder to Arizona for prospect Kale Kessy. Kessy has good size and plays a physical game, but has never been much of an offensive force. Even in junior the most points he ever had was 29. At best he was only ever going to be a fourth line checking forward in the NHL. However, the way his development has gone it is unlikely he will ever play a game at the NHL level.
Rieder may not ever win you a scoring title or win a Hart Trophy, but he will bring serviceable production in a middle-6 role. I would liken him to a young Andrew Cogliano, but with a bit more offensive potential. The reason this trade makes this list is because it represents the mentality of the Oilers rebuild. They traded away a prospect with offensive potential for someone who was bigger, could hit people, and would probably never play in the NHL. It is that thinking, and lack of reasoning, that has caused the Oilers to miss the playoffs for 10 straight seasons. It has to change.
9. JUSTIN SCHULTZ
Justin Schultz is another player I am a huge supporter of. Sure he has some flaws to his game, including he lack of physical play, but I do believe he can be an effective NHL defensemen. and when I say effective I’m not suggesting he is going to go out and win a Norris Trophy any time soon, but in a sheltered role playing bottom pairing minutes, I do believe he can be successful.
After choosing Edmonton over every other team in the league Schultz got off to a promising start. However as the years passed Schultz regressed, and was eventually traded to the Penguins where he won the Cup.
Schultz is another one of those players who found success playing under Ralph Kruger. He put up 27 points over 48 games and looked like an excellent offensive defensemen. However there were some red-flags in Schultz’s game. He was a liability in his own zone, looking lost at times, and wasn’t aggressive enough on opposing attackers. The Oilers ignored these red-flags and came to conclusion that Schultz was the number one defensemen they had been searching for since the days of Chris Pronger. This led to Schultz getting overwhelmed, and playing a ridiculous amount of minutes. Dallas Eakins tried to teach him to play good defence but it only led to a decrease in his offensive production. After Struggling under coach Todd McLellan, Schultz was moved at the trade deadline.
However It didn’t have to be this way. Here’s what should have happened:
- After 1 season the Oilers realize Schultz is good offensively, but a defensive liability
Instead of trying to teach Schultz defense, they let him play his game and thrive offensively
The Oilers don’t trade Jeff Petry
The Oilers acquire another right handed defensemen so that Schultz can play sheltered minutes
Justin Schultz averages 40 points a season
It’s not all that complicated. Just look at Tyson Barrie in Colorado, being sheltered by guys like Beauchemin and Johnson. Or Ryan Ellis being sheltered in Nashville, or Kevin Shattenkirk in St.Louis. Oh well.
10. TRADING TAYLOR HALL
This was a bad trade for the Edmonton Oilers. Taylor Hall is one of, if not the best wingers in the NHL, and trading him away for someone like Adam Larsson is absolutely devastating. Sure Larsson’s a good defensemen, who no doubt fills need for the Oilers, but losing Taylor Hall is a steep price to pay. But everyone in the hockey world knew that the Oilers needed a defenseman, and that meant they could name there price. So is this deal bad paper? Yes 100%. But it’s also important to understand that Peter Chiarelli had absolutely no leverage when it came to trying to acquire help for his blue line.
However one thing that really stuck with me from that trade were the words of Peter Chiarelli after the fact when he said, “this is a trade we felt we had to make”. And as sad as it is, he was absolutely right.
The Oilers had to make that trade. They needed to fix their blue line and making a trade like that was the only way to do it. However what’s really important to remember is why they had to make that trade. They had to do it it because they had failed to properly draft and develop a right shot defensemen. They had to it because they had spent other valuable assets acquiring players that didn’t fill their needs. They had to make that trade because they mishandled Justin Schultz. So yes, they did have to make that trade, but only because of their mistakes in the past.