Over the course of their nearly 43-year history, the Edmonton Oilers have been blessed with some of the most talented forwards in the game. In this article, I will rank the top 10 most outstanding forwards in franchise history. The ranking will be based on how well they performed as members of the Oilers and their overall impact on the team over the course of their time in Edmonton. Their accomplishments with other teams will not be considered.
10. Ales Hemsky
To start this list, we have the skilled Czech winger Ales Hemsky. In 2006, a young Hemsky came into his own and put up 77 points in the regular season and 17 in the playoffs. After that year, the Oilers missed the playoffs for ten consecutive seasons, and Hemsky was one of the only Oilers who delivered consistent offense year in and year out. He dazzled the fans with his slick stick handles and passes. If there was any knock on Ales, it was that he couldn’t seem to stay healthy. He didn’t play a single 82 game season in his Oilers career, which didn’t bode well for the struggling Oilers, who desperately needed his offense.
9. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Edmonton isn’t exactly the number one city most NHL players would choose to play in. Still, despite struggling through numerous tough years, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins insisted on staying in Edmonton for his entire career. Many fans would be happier for Nugent-Hopkins than anyone else if the Oilers won the Stanley Cup, considering all of the ups and downs he has been through in Edmonton. With 522 points, he is tenth on the all-time Oilers scoring leaderboard and has another seven years for that number to climb. If he plays for the entire contract he is currently signed to, he has a legitimate chance of becoming the all-time leader in games played for the Oilers as well. RNH is a “swiss army knife” type player that helps the team in all situations. He’s a brilliant playmaker, plays on the top powerplay unit, kills penalties, and can switch between the center and left-wing. Every team would love to have a player as versatile as Nugent-Hopkins.
8. Doug Weight
After the Oilers dynasty fell apart in 1991, a tough stretch of seasons began for the franchise throughout the early 90s. Doug Weight was one of the few bright spots on those Oiler teams. He was a fantastic playmaker who steadily improved until his best season in 1995-96, scoring 104 points. He then led the Oilers to five consecutive playoff appearances from 1997 to 2001. While the Oilers never had a good enough squad to do any damage in the postseason during the Weight era, he still etched his name in the Oilers’ record books as a productive forward with 577 points in 588 games; good for eighth-most in team history. In 2006, now a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, Weight reached his ultimate goal by defeating his former team in the Stanley Cup Finals. Despite contributing to a heartbreaking Stanley Cup loss for the Oilers, Weight will be remembered as a pivotal player in keeping the Edmonton Oilers relevant in the late 90s.
7. Ryan Smyth
Ryan Smyth is quite possibly the most beloved player in Oilers history. He was a gritty, hardworking player that parked himself in front of the net and drew the ire of goalies everywhere. He scored the vast majority of his goals from about five feet from the front of the net, and his blue-collar style of hockey resonated with the city of Edmonton. Smyth is second only to Kevin Lowe in games played with the Oilers, and he managed 631 points despite playing in a mostly forgettable era for the franchise. The highlight of Smyth’s career was scoring the game-winning goal off of his pants in game three of the 2006 Stanley Cup against Carolina.
6. Glenn Anderson
Anderson was a major part of the supporting cast around Gretzky and Messier that contributed to every single Stanley Cup title for the Oilers. With three 100 point seasons and two 50 goal seasons, Anderson earned every right to have his number 9 hanging in the rafters of Rogers Place. Anderson would crash the net any chance he got and excelled at playing playoff hockey most of all. He is currently 5th all-time in playoff scoring, and he did the vast majority of that damage with the Oilers.
5. Jari Kurri
Jari Kurri rode shotgun with Gretzky for most of his Oilers tenure, and he did an excellent job finishing the plays that Wayne set up, as he scored 474 goals with Edmonton. While Kurri was an integral part of the Oilers’ five Stanley Cup titles, he was surrounded by so much greatness that he never had to be the leader or the best player on the team. Still, Kurri is one of the best Finnish players in hockey history, and he had a massive impact in Edmonton.
4. Leon Draisaitl
Another Offensive dynamo on this list, Leon may not have gotten off to the fastest start as a rookie, but he has quickly turned into a top-five player in the NHL, if not top two. When Draisaitl first entered the league, he lacked speed and didn’t have too much success on the powerplay. But he has since improved his speed immensely, and most importantly, he has found a home on the right side of the powerplay as one of the best triggermen in the NHL. For the past few seasons, his Ovechkin-like one-timer has been the bread and butter of the best powerplay unit in hockey. Leon utilizes his size and big frame to box out defenders while cycling the puck. Draisaitl is a lock for over 100 points when healthy at this point in his career, which is much more impressive in this era than it was in the 80s. Like McDavid, Draisaitl’s lack of Stanley Cups doesn’t reflect on him. You can’t win a championship in this sport with two great players and a sub-par supporting cast.
3. Mark Messier
The Moose is one of the best power forwards ever to play the game. His combination of toughness, grit, and skill led him to 1034 points and 5 Stanley Cups as a member of the Oilers. The true test of Messier’s leadership was the 1990 Cup victory. Despite losing the greatest player of all time in 1988, Messier managed to lead Edmonton to one last championship to keep the dynasty going.
2. Connor McDavid
Some may have McDavid at number 3 on their list, but I think I have a good argument for putting him at number 2. First off, McDavid has 680 points in 477 games with the Oilers. Since he entered the league, he has led the NHL in points, and the gap is growing every year. This gives him a career 1.42 P/GP, which is much more productive than Messier’s 1.22 P/GP with the Oilers back in the 80s – the highest scoring era in modern history. McDavid is easily the second-best player offensively in Oilers history, and I would argue that he is the most skilled player ever to play the game. When you consider his skating, speed, agility, hands, and quickness, What other player in hockey has been able to bring so many skills together at such an elite level? The answer is nobody. While he hasn’t won a Stanley Cup yet, I believe that McDavid is a fantastic leader. He is often one of the hardest-working players in practice, he trains hard in the off-season, and he never gave up when it looked like he had a career-threatening knee injury. Instead, he dedicated an entire off-season to one of the most intense rehab programs we have ever seen in this sport. If that doesn’t show his dedication as a leader of this hockey team, I don’t know what does. Not winning a Stanley Cup to this point reflects the lack of competent management the Oilers have had at the helm during this first portion of McDavid’s career. Please make no mistake; he is one of the greatest ever to play the game.
1. Wayne Gretzky
This was a given. He’s “The Great One” for a reason. In his nine seasons with the Oilers, Gretzky won the Hart Trophy for league MVP a total of seven times. The lowest point total he ever had as a member of the Oilers was 137 in his first season in the NHL, and the highest point total he had was 215 during the 1985-86 season, which is practically an unbreakable NHL record. He also holds the record for the most points in a single postseason, with 47 points en route to a Stanley Cup in 1984-85. In 696 regular-season games with Edmonton, Gretzky scored 583 times and ended up with a mind-boggling 1669 points. He captained the Oilers to 4 Stanley Cups and with over 60 NHL records, including most goals, assists, and points. He is one of the greatest Canadian athletes of all time. His impact on the city of Edmonton and the game of hockey speaks for itself.
My honorable mentions for forwards that almost made the list include Craig Simpson, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Craig MacTavish, Shawn Horcoff, and Kelly Buchberger. These players made a significant impact with the franchise but ultimately fell short of the top 10, thanks to Edmonton’s storied hockey history.