After looking in depth at the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames over the past two week, today I look at the Edmonton Oilers and their chances this coming season.
Projected 2011-12 Lineup
|Jordan Eberle||Sam Gagner||Taylor Hall|
|Ryan Smyth||Shawn Horcoff||Ales Hemsky|
|Ryan Jones||Eric Belanger||Linus Omark|
|Ben Eager||Gilbert Brule||Darcy Hordichuk|
|BOLD: new to team|
Up the middle the Oilers are not the strongest in the league, but they are deep and talented along the wings. The top 6 is a strong group, and they may be mixed and matched for much of the season to get a proper balance of veterans and youth. A 4th line with Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk will not score a ton, but will be tough to play against. The Oilers can put out three lines with the potential to score, as Eric Belanger replaces Andrew Cogliano, and Linus Omark poised to break out this season. This projection does not include 1st overall selection Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, because there is no decision yet on rushing him to the NHL this season.
|Tom Gilbert||Ryan Whitney|
|Ladislav Smid||Cam Barker|
|Theo Peckham||Taylor Chorney|
This is an underrated group that has potential to be a solid unit. Ryan Whitney is an effective top pairing defenseman, and he needs a solid partner to play with. Cam Barker is approaching “put up or shut up” time in his career and he could be anything from a top pairing player to a spare part. The “expert” in me sees Andy Sutton in a rotation on the third pairing/7th man, and he will bring some defensive presence and toughness to the club from the blue line.
Nikolai Khabibulin has been plagued by injury and off-ice troubles over the past couple of seasons, and you must wonder where his head will be at this season. This Kabibulin is not the same goaltender who won the Stanley Cup with Tampa in 2004. Devan Dubnyk played in 25 games last season and showed pretty well given the mess in front of him. Perhaps it is time to see if he is the future in the Oilers net or if they have to start looking in a different direction for next year.
ROOKIE TO WATCH FOR
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – The first overall pick has about a 50-50 chance of making the NHL team out of camp, but is buoyed by the fact that another season in Junior might not help his development. The Oilers should take care not to ruin him, or slow his development, as they appeared to do by playing Sam Gagner as an 18 year old. Nugent-Hopkins will be an exciting addition to a young team, and it might be as soon as this year.
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS
1. What does the return of Ryan Smyth mean for this season?
Smyth is a veteran who never really wanted to leave Edmonton. After 4 full seasons split between the Avalanche and the Kings, Smyth was dealt back where he belongs, to an Oilers team that is in much the same state as it was when he left. This young team will be able to watch a consummate professional prepare, play and live. It will only serve to help the development of players such as Hall, Gagner, Eberle, Pajaarvi and Omark to watch and play with the wily veteran. Judging by the past 4 seasons, Smyth will not only be like a coach on the ice, he can still be counted on for 20 goals and 50 points.
2. Who will stop the puck?
Nikolai Khabibulin had a horrendous 2010-11, with a 3.40 GAA and .890 save percentage, which is simply not good enough to backstop a young team. Devan Dubnyk basically split time with Khabibulin after October, and he fared pretty well behind the same team. Khabibulin will likely get the starters job out of camp, but if he slips up at all, Dubnyk could assume the role in short order.
3. How long until an Oilers return to playoff hockey?
The Oilers are going about their rebuild the right way – slow and steady. They are putting the long-term pieces in place and trying to put them in situations where they will be successful. However there is still some work to be done (ie Goaltending) so a return to the post-season this year might be too much to expect. Don’t expect another 1st overall pick though.