Wayne Gretzky helped, but the Oilers had an extremely strong start to their existence thanks to their first entry draft. They hit the big time with each of their first three choices, avoiding the land mines that would plague them in later years. The year was 1979.
The Oilers made just six selection in 1979, and the latter three were all busts. Max Kostovich, Mike Toal and Blair Barnes - taken 84th, 105th and 126th respectively - combined for just four NHL games. Luckily for the Oilers, they managed to pluck Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson in the first, third and fourth rounds.
The last pick in the first round (21st overall) belonged to Edmonton, and they used it wisely on Kevin Lowe. He would go on to play 1254 NHL games, which was the 6th-most from the entire class, and he also won the Stanley Cup six times. The next two selections were also defensemen. Blake Wesley went 22nd overall to Philadelphia and played 298 games, while Mike Perovich never made it to the NHL.
Third round choice Mark Messier played the most games of any player taken in 1979, at 1756 in total. He racked up an eye-popping 1887 points in that time, also first in the class. 47 names were called before his that year, including eight with less than 100 NHL games played. One spot before Messier went to the Oilers, Vancouver picked goalie Ken Ellacott, who played 12 games in the best league in the world. The three players taken before Messier each played less than 100 games, as did three of the next five.
Continuing to make it look easy, the Oilers plucked Glenn Anderson in the fourth round, 69th overall. Three of the five players taken immediately before Anderson were complete busts, and so were each of the next four after him. Anderson's 1129 games played ranks eighth in the '79 class, and his 1099 points is fifth. His 498 goals was fourth-most. Anderson won the Stanley Cup five times with Edmonton and a sixth in New York.
In later rounds the Oilers missed out on players like Dirk Graham, Alan Haworth, Thomas Steen, Doug Crossman, Mike Krushelnyski (who did play four seasons in Edmonton), and Tim Watters. But to convert 50% of your picks into star players - two of whom are in the Hockey Hall of Fame - is remarkably successful. The seeds of the dynasty were sewn in the 1979 draft, but there was more to come in the following two years.
In 1980 and 1981 the Oilers selected Paul Coffey, Jarri Kurri, Andy Moog, Grant Fuhr and Steve Smith. With drafting like that, it's easy to see why the Oilers were so good for so long.
Wishing my dad a happy Father's Day, and to all the dads out there. Dad will always let you lean on him, and is more appreciated than he knows.