Thursday, September 8, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Edmonton Oilers

5 years ago, the Oilers were one win away from skating off of the RBC Center ice with Lord Stanley's Cup. History reminds us that they didn't win that night, and it also reminds us that the Oilers have failed to make the playoffs since. It's been a long, tough rebuilding process for Steve Tambellini and Tom Renney, but they are making significant progress (that's what being the worst team in the NHL will do for you). How much closer are they to a return to their former glory?

Strengths: The youth of this team is innumerable, and the team is constantly getting younger. Of course, all of the focus is on the two #1 overall picks in the draft, Taylor Hall from a year ago, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from this year, but there are other young players who have made impacts. Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, and Sam Gagner are just some of the players in this youth movement that have made impacts up front. But there are new additions that will help this team too, and most of them are good veteran presences. The big one though is Captain Canada, Ryan Smyth. He played for the Oilers from 1994-2007, and should end up being a great coach for the young players while trying to continue his streak of scoring 20 goals or more. Other newcomers include D Cam Barker, C Eric Belanger, and D Andy Sutton, and they should provide the veteran stabilizing force that this team needs.

Weaknesses: As with any team that is very young and inexperienced, there are problems. The major issue is between the pipes. Nikolai Khabibulin has been a good goaltender in the past, but he's 38 now, and injuries are going to mount. The backup is Devan Dubnyk, who is still raw, and hasn't shown the flashes of the franchise goaltender that Edmonton wants him to become. There are concerns with injuries, especially Taylor Hall, who needs to prove he can recover from his season ending injury from a season ago. They need a turn around at almost every position on the ice to be competitive, and it's very hard to get a marked improvement at every position from a team that was last in almost every category last year.

Any Help Coming? Of course, C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will have the spotlight on him all season, if he makes the big club or not. He can make plays like few others can, and get into open ice quickly. Other key Oilers prospects include offensive RW Linus Omark, who dazzled many with his shootout moves last season, D Oscar Klefbom, and D Jeff Petry, who is a great two-way defenseman who will likely see more action this year on the big club.

Outlook: Well, rebuilding a team like the Oilers have to requires patience, and even though Oilers fans have it, time is still needed to get this team back to postseason contention. The team is too raw now to compete and drastically improve in every department in order to contend for a playoff spot, but they will be improving. Last in the West is not unlikely, but it may be the most helpful thing for a team that needs time to restore its former luster.

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