The NHL Draft & Why It Matters In OKC

It’s the middle of June. The hockey world is celebrating with the LA Kings as they have won their first ever Stanley Cup. In a few weeks the season-long NHL awards will be handed out (in a two hour show that shouldn’t even be), and then the 2012-2013 season begins all over again. Indeed, the next season of pro hockey begins well before October arrives.

The NHL Draft is a time where young kids earn their colors. Colors that they may or may not wear in the immediate future. However, for a moment they don a pro sweater, smile, exchange hand shakes and pleasantries as only they have dreamed of doing since they slipped into their first pair of Bauers. It’s also an important time for middle-aged men to argue over which teenager has better heart, determination, grit, natural skill and promise — and thus whom deserves a spot on a future NHL roster or at least a trial run.

For the Edmonton Oilers, it’s now three consecutive years with the number one draft pick. The first two picks have proved valuable in the present, and it’s highly likely that the 3rd will do the same. But for us devotees of the Oilers farm club in Oklahoma City, the draft has an equally important role when it comes to the make up of our team, albeit it slightly slower and a tad more demure.

In two years of existence as the AHL farm team for the Edmonton Oilers, the Oklahoma City Barons have seen 64 players earn at least a one game paycheck. Of those 64 players, 26 were direct NHL draft picks by the Edmonton Oilers. That’s about 35.5% of the OKC rosters over a two year period. To say that the draft isn’t important for the farm club is clearly a ruse.

Below you’ll find the players directly drafted by the Oilers, and whom then played for the Oklahoma City Barons for at least a game. For some, it was their last gasp before heading to greener pastures (Deslauriers, Jacques, Stortini). For others it was about remaining unproven, but possibly important elsewhere (Belle, O’Marra). But for others, it’s about continuing to solider on (Hartikainen, MPS, Lander). Here’s that list organized by draft year and pick ranking.

2002

Jeff Deslauriers – 2nd #31

2003

Shawn Belle – 1st #30

JF Jacques – 2nd #68

Zack Stortini – 3rd #94

2004

Liam Reddox – 4th #112

2005

Gilbert Brule – 1st #6

Taylor Chorney – 2nd #36

Chris VandeVelde – 4th #97

2006

Jeff Petry – 2nd #45

Bryan Pitton 5th #133

2007

Alex Plante – 1st #15

Linus Omark – 4th #97

Milan Kytnar – 5th #127

2008

Johan Motin – 4th #103

Philippe Cornet – 5th #133

Jordan Bendfeld – 7th #193

Teemu Hartikainen – 6th #123

2009

Magnus Paajarvi – 1st #10

Anton Lander – 2nd #40

Cam Abney – 3rd #82

2010

Martin Marincin – 2nd #46

Curtis Hamilton – 2nd #48

Tyler Pitlick – 2nd #31

Ryan Martindale 3rd #61

Brandon Davidson – 6th #162

The first thing that one will try to decipher from this list specifically is the extreme prospect ends. Draft classes 2002-2004 are all completely absent from the Oilers farming system now. They belong to other teams. We likely will see the remaining two from 2005 disappear this summer. That leaves Jeff Petry, from the 2006 class, as the earliest draftee still in the Oilers system that also played in Oklahoma City. That’s a mouthful for sure, but it’s also very interesting to see how quickly prospects sent to the farm dissipate following their initial entry contracts.

What’s also amusing is noting that Magnus Paajarvi is the highest drafted player to ever play in Oklahoma City. His draft year, 2009, was just prior to the now three consecutive #1 years, and so his stock was a tad lower than the eventual Hall, Hopkins, 2012 #1 picks were (will be).

You also will notice the crap shoot that is involved with drafting young players. This is no surprise to anyone who follows pro sports. As the draft board goes round after round the margin for success gets infinitely erratic. Case in point, Teemu Hartikainen went after Johan Motin and Philippe Cornet? Indeed he did. Or how about Cam Abney going only 40 picks after Anton Lander? It definitely is a roll-the-dice moment for GM’s the longer the draft soldiers on.

In addition to Magnus Paajarvi, Gilbert Brule, Alex Plante and Shawn Belle are the other first rounders who played on the farm.

The gamely point here is two fold. First, the draft matters even in the minors. It’s why the minor development leagues exist – to give draftees a chance to iron out the wrinkles and adjust to pro hockey. Second, the rubix cube nature of trying to put together a solid NHL club is fraught with decisions on draft day. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

There is a sort of wait-and-see approach to watching the draft for most fans. With the structuring of the collegiate/junior hockey rules, many draftees will wait years before turning pro. And this causes some weird frustration for those unfamiliar with the hockey drafts. Especially those anxious to see prospects on their farm team. It’s a necessary evil as well as an important aspect to the development curve of young players.

When June 22-23 rolls around, keep your eyes on the big board in CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh because you’ll most certainly see future Oilers, and probably even more Oklahoma City Barons.