Sorry to see yesterday’s news that former Edmonton Oilers chief scout Barry Fraser has died at the age of 82. Condolences to his family. He was a son of Kirkland Lake, Ontario, who truly was one of the key architects of the juggernaut that the Oilers became in the 1980s.
“As Barry Fraser goes, so go the Edmonton Oilers,” Edmonton Journal columnist Terry Jones wrote in 1979, just as Fraser took up with the team (he stayed on until 2000). It was August of that watershed year, and Oilers were crossing over from the newly defunct WHA into the NHL by way of the entry draft. The team already an 18-year-old Wayne Gretzky aboard, but the future, still, was decidedly murky.
“Scouting,” Oilers coach and director of hockey operations Glen Sather was saying, “is going to be as important to this team as coaching in the next few years.”
“We won’t know if Fraser is a blooming genius or a silly fool,” Jones opined on the same Journal page that listed the players Edmonton secured that day:
Round One: defenceman Kevin Lowe of the Quebec Remparts. Round Three: underage forward Mark Messier from the WHA’s Cincinnati Stingers. Round Four: underage forward Glenn Anderson from the University of Denver.
In 1980, the Oilers drafted Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, and Andy Moog. The following year they snagged Grant Fuhr. By 1983, of course, they were playing in their first Stanley Cup final in 1983. “I don’t know how to even describe it,” Fraser said that year. “It’s a great feeling when you start from scratch and all of a sudden you’re on the doorstep.” As director of scouting and player personnel, Fraser would get his name on the Cup five times, in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1990.
Peter Gzowski included a memorable sketch of Fraser in The Game of Our Lives (1981):
Fraser is a deceptively naïve-looking man who, with his pompadour and generous belly, resembles a contented Elvis Presley. His own playing career stopped in B, when he broke a leg while trying to make a team in Cochrane, Ontario. After his injury, he retired to an office job with Ontario Hydro, but he maintained his interest in hockey by coaching young boys, and gradually the canny reports he sent in on prospects from his neck of the woods drew so much attention that he was swept into full-time scouting, ending up as a senior official of the Houston Aeros of the WHA. By the time the WHA folded, he had achieved such a reputation as a bloodhound that Sather snapped him up to head the Oilers’ scouting staff. Kevin Lowe, who had been the first draft he recommended, had worked out well, but the 1980-81 season would be a full test of Fraser’s powers of discrimination; it was on his word that the Oilers had spent their valuable first-round draft choice on Coffey, had courted Anderson, and had gambled yet another draft choice on being able to talk Jari Kurri into coming to North America. It was on his system, which Sather had urged him to perfect, that the future of the team and its young personnel would depend.