It’s been a lean few years for the Edmonton Oilers and their rabid fans who call Oil Country home. For three straight seasons the club has rummaged in or near the basement of the NHL, helplessly clinging to life and hopes that the first overall draft pick can save this once storied franchise. This shortened season might prove that the young Oilers are in fact a legitimate threat.
Up and coming superstars such as Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will lead this team again this season and they have a distinct advantage over most of the other teams. They’ve been playing together in Oklahoma City for the AHL Barons for three months while most of the other players around the league were going through the motions of scrimmages and workouts.
While one line can’t win you a championship, those three high flying forwards can light up the scoresheet on any given night, making defencmen nervous anytime they’re on the ice.
The Oilers recently added blue liner, Justin Schultz, a highly sought after free-agent who couldn’t come to terms with the Anaheim Ducks. He too spent the lockout playing in OKC and he proved to everyone who was interested in him this summer that his upside is tremendous. Schutlz compiled 18 goals and 30 assists for 48 points in just 34 games for the Barons. Did I mention he’s a defenceman?
Granted this will be his first year in the NHL which will be a step up from the American Hockey League, but the Oilers have something with this kid.
Scoring goals won’t be a problem for the Edmonton Oilers. In fact there may be many nights where it’s reminiscent of the early 80′s when Wayne Gretzky and company would win hockey games by a 7-6 score.
Rather the Oilers Achilles heel this season will be their blueline and keeping pucks out of their net.
Aside from the rookie Schultz, the Oilers have veteran presence on the back end in Ryan Whitney and Andy Sutton, who is currently injured and doubtful to make training camp. Ladislav Smid and Theo Peckham bring some toughness and grit but are a number five and six pairing at best. Youngsters Corey Potter and Jeff Petry have much to learn about the game and how it’s played at the highest level, leaving many question marks surrounding the Oilers defence.
There’s been talk for most of the off-season that the Oilers need to acquire a bonified, shut down defenceman. Schultz does not fit that bill, although he will strengthen an already lethal powerplay.
Like the Wild, the Oilers could be in the market to make a deal around April 5th if they’re in playoff contention.
Questions also linger around the Oilers goaltending situation. Veteran Nikolai Khabibulin is back but appears to have lost the number one starters job to Devan Dubnyk who recently led Canada to victory at the Spengler Cup. Dubnyk has looked promising at times in the past couple of years while other nights he’s looked lost and helpless so it’s hard to say he’s a sure bet to take this Oilers squad on a deep playoff run, similar to the one of 2005-06.
During the lockout we heard about this major deal that the Oilers were set to announce once the lockout lifted that had many speculating it would be Roberto Luongo heading to Edmonton. Alas that has fizzled and the Oilers are left with Dubnyk and Khabibulin, at least for now.
This will be an exciting team to watch, backed by a fan base that is growing restless and want some playoff results. I’m taking the Oilers to make the playoffs this year in either the seven or eight seed but behind the Wild. The Northwest division is becoming similar to the AL East of Major League Baseball; a meat grinder of a division that will soon be up for grabs.