The Starting Six series comes to you to dive into the best player at each position all-time for every organization. The biggest and best at each position, with the most memorable moments in franchise history. Here is the Edmonton Oilers all-time lineup.
Starting Six: Edmonton Oilers All-Time Lineup
The Edmonton Oilers All-Time Lineup is an easy one to put together. They had a dynasty team in the mid 1980s, and had numerous legends come from that team.
The Oilers are one of the NHL’s most notorious teams. They’re one of the most well known teams, but weren’t one of the original six. In fact, they didn’t join until WHA/NHL merger in 1979. They joined the NHL along with the Hartford Whalers, the Quebec Nordiques and the Winnipeg Jets. Out of these teams, Edmonton is the only team to not relocate.
The Oilers were succesful from the start. With Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier leading their force, they made it into the playoffs in each of their first 13 seasons. They weren’t succesful until six years after they joined the league. Riding on the back of a star-studded top six, top defender, and tp goalie; the team won their first Stanley Cup in 1984. They were one of the first, and best, dynasties. They’ve had four more cups, including a back-to-back win in 1985. They’ve seen their fair share of legends in their dynasty days, and this list is compiled with the best of those dynasty days.
Center: Wayne Gretzky (1979-1988)
The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, is the only player to have his number retired by every team in the league. He has an endless number of records that are still in place today. He’s easily the best player in NHL history, and it all started with the Edmonton Oilers. He was originally a member of the WHA’s Indianapolis Racers. He moved on to the Oilers for the 1978-79 season. There was a bit of drama when he tried to stay with the Oilers in the NHL, but he was able to through a technicality.
Gretzky went on to captain the Oilers during five of his seasons with the team. Serving as the team’s top line center, he amazed four 200 point seasons. He had 13 straight seasons of over 100 points, including every season with Edmonton. Gretzky carried the Oilers to four of their five Stanley Cups, and set a handful of records in the process. He also won the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy in each of his nine years with Edmonton.
Gretzky was credited with changing the way the game was played. He was said to be the first Canadian to play a team game, and was the first big star to focus more on getting the puck to his teammates rather than scoring himself. Even without documenting any of Gretzky’s goals, he’d still have the most points of all time with 1,963. Over 1,000 of these assists came with the Oilers in just nine seasons.
Left Wing: Mark Messier (1979-1991)
When most people think of Mark Messier, they think of a centerman who went on to captain the New York Rangers for ten seasons. Messier actually started his career on the wing though. While he did have ties with the WHA, Messier wasn’t apart of the 1979 Expansion Draft like Gretzky was. Instead, Messier was chosen in the third round of that year’s NHL entry draft.
Messier was known as a leader and strong player on and off the ice going into the draft. These were the two traits he carried throughout his entire career, though he did start becoming a scorer as well. After Gretzky left for the Rangers in 1988, Messier got the captain role for the next three seasons.
Before he was captain or top line center, though, Messier played left wing. While he didn’t see much ice time alongside Gretzky or Jari Kurri; he was still a crucial part of the Oilers offense early on. He played wing until the 1984 playoffs, where he was swapped to the second line center role instead. Before the swap, Messier had a total of 391 points in only five seasons. This included his first two 100 point seasons. He also earned his first all-star game nod, in 1982-83, as a left winger.
While Messier is easily the second best center in Oilers history, it’s easy to argue his contributions on wing. On a team with a dominate first line, Messier was a silent hero. In the Stanley Cup winning 1983-84 season, Messier’s last on wing, he placed fourth in points behind Gretzky, Kurri, and Paul Coffey. For a player who only received second line minutes, and a mix of first line appearances, he was a big support. He also had a handful of exciting moments in that year’s postseason, as a mix of wing and center. Without his powerful presence, both on the scoreboard and on the ice, the Oilers would’ve faced a bit more challenge when it came to winning that year’s cup.
Messier was shadowed by a star-studded 1983-84 roster. He was an extremely strong presence in the locker room and on the ice during his entire duration with the Oilers. His power on the wing and on center were too great to be ignored, and that’s why he tops the list as the Oilers best left winger.
Right Wing: Jari Kurri (1980-1990)
Jari Kurri was signed by the Oilers in 1980, coming out of Finland. He was a smaller forward, but was speedy and had great goal scoring abilities. While he wasn’t as prolific as Gretzky, Kurri managed to set a handfull of records even after Gretzky left the team. In the 1985 postseason Kurri set a record of 19 goals in 18 games, including four hat tricks. Three hat tricks came in a single series against the Chicago Blackhawks. All three of these stats are still in place today.
The Finnish Flash, Kurri was Gretzky’s partner in crime. Playing with the Oilers for an entire decade, he racked up over 1,000 points with the Oilers alone. All six of his 100 point seasons came with Edmonton, and the years he didn’t register 100 he never dipped below 75.
Kurri assisted on 196 of Gretzky’s goals, and Gretzky assisted on over half of Kurri’s. The two were the bread and butter of the Oilers until Gretzky left in 88. ‘Even after the ‘Great One’ moved onto the beaches of Los Angeles, Kurri stayed a dominant force on offense. During the Cup run of 1990, Messier and Kurri joined forces and led the team. Kurri had 93 points that season.
Kurri fell off after that season. He moved from Edmonton to L.A. to rejoin Gretzky until 1996. He was never as prolific though. The peak of his career came in Edmonton, where his speed and ability to score led the team to a slew of victories. Just under half of his points in Edmonton were goals. Gretzky changed the game with his playmaking abilities, and Kurri was the player Gretzky passed the puck to. Together, the two were unstoppable.
Defenseman: Paul Coffey (1980-1987)
There’s no arguing who the best defenseman in Edmonton history is. While he only spent seven years in Edmonton, the lowest of anyone on this list, he made a big boom during his time. Coffey joined the team after the 1980 NHL draft, where he was drafted sixth overall. He was arguably the best player to come out of that draft though, registering a crazy 1531 career points in only 1409 career games.
Coffey’s ability to put up points from the blue line is something only Bobby Orr has matched. In fact, Orr’ 139 point season in 1970-71 is the highest in NHL history from a defenseman. The second place spot is held by Coffey, who had 138 in 1985-86. Coffey had a handful of high scoring seasons though, and sits at fourth, sixth, ninth, and tenth on the list as well.
He was another key part to the Oilers dynasty. While the team had plenty of prolific forwards their defensive depth wasn’t as legendary. Coffey made up for the lost stars though. After a rough rookie season, where he only had 32 points, Coffey blossomed. He had 89 points the next season, 96 points following that, then exploded with three consecutive seasons of at least 120 points. This was the peak of his career, although he did have two other 100 point years with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Coffey, like Gretzky, was one of the best players in his position. His play-making abilities from the blue line were uncanny. He only recorded 396 goals in his 25 year career. The rest of his 1500 points came from his ability to be apart of almost every goal. He added strength in every zone, and was a crucial part of every iteration of the Oilers he played for.
Defenseman: Charlie Huddy (1980-1991)
While it’s hard to follow in Paul Coffey’s footsteps, Charlie Huddy was a skilled defenseman nonetheless. He signed with Edmonton, after going undrafted. He had a decent career in juniors, but was still a risk for the new team.
The risk paid off though. Huddy was a strong defenseman in the defensive zone, and was the second highest scoring defenseman in the prolific 1984-85 season. While his career high was less than half of Coffey’s career points, at 57, he boosted the team quite a bit. Like Messier, his contributions flew under the radar; he was another player who was shadowed by his star teammates. Huddy did win the NHL’s first ever Plus Minus award, and was with Edmonton for all five of their Stanley Cups.
He wasn’t lighting up the scoreboard like anyone else on the list, but Huddy was a key player regardless. He had every trait you could want in a defenseman. Strength in all three zones, with little to complain about. The icing on the cake was his six seasons of over 40 points while in Edmonton.
Goalie: Grant Fuhr (1981-1991)
Grant Fuhr is one of the league’s best goalies. Going eighth overall in 1981, Fuhr came into the league off of two all star appearances in the WHL. Right out of the gate, Fuhr’s rookie season was strong. He finished 28-5-14 in 48 games played. To add to his great rookie year, Fuhr also set the record for longest undefeated streak by a goaltender. This record still stands today.
Good scoring is a key component to a team’s success, but it only gets the team so far. That’s where a star goalie comes into play. Fuhr was the final pillar on a team of legends. He had two very impressive seasons between 1983 and 1985, the peak of the Oilers. In the 83-84 season, Fuhr finished 30-10-4 in 45 games played. While his stats seem less than ideal, they don’t do justice to a goalie who faced his fair share of challenges. During that season, Fuhr even joined in on the prolific offense. He set the single season record for most assists by a goalie that year, with 14. He had three more in the playoffs.
Fuhr’s strengths as a goalie were shadowed by the fact that his offense was one of the best in history. Still, his career record of 403-295-114 in 867 games played is nothing to throw stones at. He added an immense amount of support to what was already an amazing roster. Working alongside Andy Moog, the two were a threat in net; matching the threat the offense posed.
Left Wing: Ryan Smyth (1994-2007, 2011-2014)
Ryan Smyth was a staple of the Oilers during the turn of the century. Originially acquired in the 1994 NHL Draft, going sixth overall, Smyth would end up as a consistent top player for the team.
Though he never amazed as many points as any other players on this list, he still doesn’t deserve to be overlooked. Eight of his first 11 seasons in Edmonton ended with him recording at least 50 points. His career high of 70 came in the 00-01 season, when Smyth and Doug Weight were the leaders of the team. In an era of less scoring, and a progressing game, Smyth was an influential player.
He returned to Edmonton in 2011, and retired three years later. His retirement was hard for the organization and him, and his final game was one of the most emotional for many fans. It was capped of by a teary eyed Smyth waving to a roaring crowd. While Smyth doesn’t hold a candle to Mark Messier, his 842 career points in 1270 games was very impressive.