Class of 1980: Best Oilers draft ever?

The Oilers had a tad more success in the first three years of drafting than in the three decades since.

Thought folks might enjoy another one of my way-cool high-tech graphs. This one, uh, graphically displays the Oilers' success in drafting Hall of Famers in their early years in the NHL, and their rather extended lack of success since.

Many still consider the Oilers' drafts in Years 1, 2, and 3 (which would say "1979-80-81" if I could remember how to format the axis) to be the three best in the history of the franchise. Barry Fraser and crew made an incredible start in '79 when they selected Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson with the first three picks in the NHL history of the franchise. All three went on to win six Stanley Cups, which to the best of my recollection makes them still the last three draft choices to have won a sixpack of Stanley silver.

But the 1980 draft, held 30 years ago this month, also warrants consideration as the best Oilers class ever. The Oilers had a much higher selection, 6th overall, which they put to good use, and also plucked a few gems as the day went along. Let's have a look at that group on a round by round basis:

1st round, 6th overall: The 1980 draft was rich with defencemen, with 6 blueliners going among the top 8 overall. As I recall, Oilers' interest in Paul Coffey was an open secret, but by no means did the Oilers have such a reputation, yet, that others particularly cared what rumours were emanating from the River City. Opinions on Coffey were on either side of the Great Divide. The Kitchener Ranger prospect was seen as a classic Boom/Bust selection, which was probably pretty fair given the guy's obvious strengths and painfully apparent weaknesses. Some saw the incredible skating stride, others, the Bonsignore of the Blue. Needless to say he became an important part of the Oil Boom. Coffey played just the first third of his 21-year career as an Oiler, but racked up impressive numbers: 532 GP, 209-460-669, +271, 2 Norris Trophies, 3 Stanley Cups. Coffey would win one more of each over the rest of his career, and wound up his career trailing just Ray Bourque as the highest scoring blueliner in NHL history with an amazing 1531 points. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame as soon as he became eligible in 2004. Great pick.

2nd round, 27th overall: This pick was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in the deal that landed Dave Lumley and Dan Newman the previous year. Lumley went on to a significant career as an Oiler grinder, winning two Stanley Cups and contributing key empty-net goals along the way. Montreal used the pick to select Ric Nattress, a very serviceable NHLer.  Not a bad trade from both sides. But an Oiler draft pick, it actually wasn't, so: No score.

3rd round, 48th overall: The First Coming of Cam Abney came in the form of one Shawn Babcock of Windsor Spitfires, who in parts of four junior seasons scored just 88 points in 169 games (in the high-scoring 80s, mind), but a staggering 838 PiM. Babcock would play just 95 AHL games (18 points, 312 PiM). To make matters worse, the guy was an un-Abney-like 5'10, 180, and reportedly fought like Kelly Buchberger. All heart, Zero skill. Eventually quit his career as a fighter to become a firefighter. Bad pick.

4th round, 69th overall: Oilers pulled a fast one by picking talented young Finn Jari Kurri. He was off the radar of many teams because Finland was still off the beaten path, and others were fooled that Kurri was due to serve his compulsory military duty, a requirement that mysteriously disappeared after Kurri became Finland's most famous hockeyist. The Oil picked the Jokerit Helsinki prospect with that sweet, sweet 69 pick (the exact same draft number they had used to pick Glenn Anderson the previous draft). The rest is the stuff of history, yea legend. Kurri was one of the most productive players in all of hockey the ten years he was an Oiler, posting staggering numbers of 754 GP, 474-569-1043, +367 wearing the blue and orange, and another 92-110-202 in 146 playoff games. One of the Magnificent Seven who played for all five Oiler Stanley Cup teams, Kurri retired in 1998 as the highest-scoring European ever, and was elected to the HHoF in his first year of eligibility. Great pick.

5th round, 90th overall: The Oilers picked yet another skilled forward in Kingston's Walt Poddubny. Although he played just 4 games as an Oiler, Poddubny was a fine talent who delivered solid seasons with the Leafs, Rangers and Nordiques, in which he scored 250 points over three seasons including 40, 38, and 38 goals. Oilers traded him to Toronto at the deadline in his second pro season for Laurie Boschman, a solid pro. A year later Oilers swapped Boschman to Winnipeg for Willy Lindstrom, a hard-working two-way Swedish winger who played in three Stanley Cup Finals for the Oil, winning two. Sometimes the payoff for a good draft pick is in the trickle-down. Very good pick.

6th round, 111th overall: The Oilers dipped into the WHL to select Mike Winther, a scoring centre from Brandon. Winther scored 85 points with 3 teams his last year of junior, then went on to a pro career that according to the record lasted just 4 games with the Kalamazoo Wings of the IHL. Can't for the life of me remember what happened, whether he got hurt or just quit. I know there's another Mike Winther selected by the Prince Albert Raiders 6th overall in the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft, but can't say for sure if he goes by "Junior". Not that common a name though. Wasted pick.

7th round, 132nd overall: The Oil looked for help between the pipes, and nabbed another winner with Andy Moog. The BC native was playing for the Billings Bighorns of the WHL and wasn't particularly touted as anything special. Boy, did that change: by the end of his first pro season Moog had earned the call to the Oil, and was given the surprise start in the playoffs against the mighty Montrewal Canadiens. Moog responded by playing brilliantly in a three-game Oiler sweep. He played six more years with the Oil, recording the first 143 of his 372 regular season wins, largely sharing time with Grant Fuhr. Besides the upset of the Habs, Moog's greatest moment came in the 1984 SCF when he replaced an injured Fuhr midway through the Finals and backstopped the Oil to their last two wins over the Islanders and their first Stanley Cup. Moog was a true #1A goalie, a very solid 'tender who was solid on a solid team, in the manner of a Tom Barrasso, Mike Vernon or Chris Osgood. Excellent pick.

8th round, 153rd overall: A second bingo ball in the goalie lottery was expended on one Rob Polman Tuin. Not a household name for a very good reason, Polman-Tuin (with or without the hyphen) played just 26 games in US college hockey, and only 14 in the IHL. He eventually played for several years in the Netherlands, and led that country to first place in Pool C of the 1989 Worlds. Wasted pick.

9th pick, 174th overall: The Oil rolled the dice across the pond again with the selection of Swede Lars-Gunnar Pettersson. This was actually a real solid pick, unfortunately Pettersson never did cross the pond. But he was a helluva player, playing 14 years in the Elitserien for Björklöven and Luleå. When he retired his 271 goals was  the Swedish Elite League's all-time leading scorer, a record later broken by Hakan Loob. Pettersson also represented his country very well indeed, winning medals at the u-18, U-20, World Championships, Olympic Games, and Canada Cup. Oilers didn't wait around for him, trading his rights along with B.J. MacDonald to the Canucks for Gary Lariviere and Ken Berry, two guys who made relatively little impact with the Oil drop. As an asset Pettersson didn't really pay off, but as a draft choice he was a: Solid long-shot pick.

10th pick, 195th overall: This choice was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers as a throw-in in the big Ron Areshenkoff-Barry Dean trade. The less said about those guys the better. Philly used the pick to select one Bob O'Brien, about whom I can say even less than that. No score.

* * *

The 1980-81 Edmonton Oilers emerged from this draft and its predecessor with perhaps the greatest crop of rookies ever seen on one team. Coffey, Kurri and Moog all began to make their mark that season, as did Anderson, a 1979 draft who spent the previous season with the Canadian Olympic team. All four rooks played brilliantly in the upset of the Canadiens, with Coffey, Kurri and Anderson filling one net and Moog plugging the other. A fifth rookie who got a dozen cups of coffee in '80-81 was the undrafted junior free agent Charlie Huddy. The five of them ultimately won 23 Stanley Cup rings, all but two of them together with the club that drafted them, the Edmonton Oilers.

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