Hockey fans became quite well acquainted with Boston's Brad Marchand over the course of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Marchand is one of a number of players that were drafted by the Boston Bruins who were integral parts of their eventual Championship. Successful teams tend to be built by all three means available - draft, trade and free agency. But in order to build a contending team, one has to make sure to draft a lot of the core in a relatively short span of time. It will take some luck and some very astute scouting, but the Oilers will need to follow the examples of other teams if they are ever going to compete.
2010-11 Boston Bruins:
A very notable core of this year's Bruins came to that team via the draft. Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin were among those who Boston picked up at various drafts. Seguin skews the number, but the average time it took these players from being drafted to being champions was 4 years.
Importantly, these players were all drafted within an 8 year span. If you discount Seguin (who made an impact but only played in 13 of Boston's 24 playoff games), the others were all drafted within a 4 year span of time. Lucic and Marchand were picked up at the same 2006 draft.
Why is that important?
The Bruins were able to obtain a core of quality players that grew together at around the same ages, and none were so much older than the others that it was time for them to move on. It isn't so much about players getting so old that their effectiveness declines, but rather the fact that if a team doesn't improve, the earlier draftees will simply walk away to find greener pastures. If a team doesn't draft a core of solid NHL players at around the same time, they will have little chance of building and keeping a winning squad.
For example, the Atlanta Thrashers selected Dany Heatley in 2000 and Ilya Kovalchuk in 2001. However, the best player aside from them who Atlanta took in those two drafts was Darcy Hordichuk. The Thrashers didn't draft another impact player until Brayden Coburn in 2003, who played just 38 games for that team before being dealt in 2007. After Coburn there wasn't another impact player selected by Atlanta until Zach Bogosian in 2008. By the time Atlanta started to get a few picks right again, their first two stars were gone.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better example of getting it right than the early Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers drafted Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson with their first three picks in 1979. They then proceeded to follow it up by taking Paul Coffee, Jari Kurri and Andy Moog in 1980. Grant Fuhr went in 1981; Jeff Beukeboom and Esa Tikkanen in 1983. Within five years the team drafted 9 players that would play key roles in the Dynasty Years.
The trend of drafting quality players in clumps was also true for the other finalist this year.
The Vacouver Canucks:
Drafted the Sedins, Kesler, Raymond, Edler, Hansen, Bieksa, Schneider and Hodgson. Aside from the twins, all of the other players were drafted in the period from 2001-2008. If one discounts Hodgson (who didn't make an impact in just 12 of Vancouver's 25 playoff games), then all of these notables were picked between 1999 and 2005.
The average time it took these players (excluding Hodgson) to go from the draft to the Final was 8.6 years, which shows that it can be a long process. This is the first Stanley Cup Final for the twins in the 12 years since they went 2nd and 3rd overall. But the fact that many of these other players were added in a relatively short span of time was largely responsible for the fact that the team was able to steadily improve. The Sedins weren't left as the only two weapons that Vancouver had.
Had it not been for these two 30th place finishes, the Oilers would be falling victim to a fate similar to that which crushed Atlanta. Ales Hemsky never really got enough supporting cast drafted around him and he might be nearing the end of his time in Edmonton. Thanks to some recent draft success his loss wouldn't be so devastating, but without Paajarvi, Eberle, Hall and this year's first pick, losing Hemsky could have hurt the team enormously.
It looks like the Oilers will have added some important parts of their core over the last few drafts, and if some of their later-round picks pan out as they are projecting to, the team will be able to duplicate the successful model of winning franchises. That said, even one key miss (like Patrik Stefan to Atlanta first overall in 1999) could hurt the Oilers' chances of bringing it all together.
Stu MacGregor has shown that he's more than capable of getting things right so far. Let's hope that trend continues.