Friday, January 11, 2013

Oilers Player Preview: Khabibulin will still play a major role in shortened season


Heading into his seventeenth season as a National Hockey League netminder, Nikolai Khabibulin will be faced with taking on a role that will seem somewhat foreign to him. After being the number one guy for much of his sixteen year career, the veteran puckstopper will  be playing second fiddle in Edmonton, behind Devan Dubnyk.

While the upcoming season will feature an abbreviated but very compact forty-eight game schedule, Khabibulin will likely still get a chance to start somewhere between ten to fifteen games. Not exactly the workload of a starter but still roughly 20%-30% of the Oilers schedule.

His on ice performance will go a long way in determining where Edmonton ultimately end up in the Western Conference standings but it is off the ice where his presence may be felt most. The former Winnipeg Jets ninth round draft pick, will not only be asked to continue helping Dubnyk with his day-to-day approach in becoming the Oilers undisputed #1 goalie but also embracing the role of a  mentor for fellow Russian and first overall selection Nail Yakupov.

On the ice, if the veteran puckstopper has fully recovered from off season hip surgery, do not be surprised to see him deliver some solid netminding for his new bench boss Ralph Krueger. Many like to rip Khabibulin for his performance during the 2011-2012 campaign but for the year, his stat line was almost identical to the Oilers new starting goalie.

In a limited role, there is no reason to believe that the soon to be forty year old can not still contribute. Let us not forget, that it was not that long ago he carried this team on his back for six straight weeks and played at an unbelievable level. That being said, his days as a starter are over but expecting Nik to give the Oilers, what would amount to one solid start a week, is not exactly a stretch.

To his credit, he has been a big supporter of Dubnyk's game from day one and has apparently played a large part in allowing the former first round pick to grow into his NHL skin. The two seem to have a mutual respect for one another and Dubnyk has had nothing but glowing things to say about the former Stanley Cup champion.

As far as the Yakupov situation goes, Khabby could be exactly what the doctor ordered. The young Russian sniper looked to be awe when asked about the veteran Russian tender at his first official media scrum on Thursday afternoon. In a perfect world, an organization would love to have a vet around to help European players with their transition into the NHL and the Oilers have hit the jackpot with having Khabibulin in place.

Having the classy veteran at Yakupov's disposal will not only help from a language stand point but also give him someone that can relate to what he will go through off the ice. The former Sarina Sting standout may not be new to North America but he is still adjusting to his surroundings and let's not forget, he is all of eighteen years old.

There will undoubtedly be pressure on the youngster to produce, as he adjusts to his environment, and having a player of  Khabibulin's stature to bounce things off, frankly, could be priceless to the Oilers organization.

At the end of the day, the Nikolai Khabibulin experiment will end up being viewed as a failure in the eyes of many. While he has had some highs and more than his share of lows, since joining the Oilers organization back in 2009, the veteran tender was not exactly playing in front of a squad that was ready for prime time.

Having said all that, if he can have himself a solid season, both on and off the ice, it would definitely go a long way in helping this franchise position themselves for what appears to be a very bright future.   


2012-2013 Prediction:  6-5-1,  2.75 GAA , .909 SV%

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