Friday, September 16, 2011

Is There Room For Sam Gagner & Ales Hemsky?

Everyone seems to be in agreement, that the coming year is huge for the future of Sam Gagner as an Edmonton Oiler. When it comes to Ales Hemsky, we all realize that there is no guarantee the talented Czech will be an Oiler by seasons end, which was detailed here in an earlier post.

With the start of the season on the horizon, I am once more mulling over the future of these two in my mind and I am starting to believe that the Oilers may have room for neither player, never mind both. Unless they decide to change their approach, when it comes to using their 22 year old centre. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Young Stars Tournament: Flames 4 Oilers 3

With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the sideline for the Edmonton Oilers final game at the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, the club was unable to make a clean sweep of their three game schedule. The Calgary Flames youngsters were able to outlast the Oilers rookies to earn a 4-3 victory.

Young Stars Tournament: Oilers 2 Jets 0

The Edmonton Oilers rookie prospects continued their winning ways, with a 2-0 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday evening. Almost seemed fitting that the newly formed Jets franchise, lost their first game to the Oilers...which was the case, more often then not, for the first incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets when they played Edmonton.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Young Stars Tournament: Oilers 7 Canucks 2

It was nice to finally get a chance to watch hockey again...that involved the Edmonton Oilers silks. While Edmonton's 7-2 victory over Vancouver did not tells us much, as the Canucks "Young Stars" were awful, I am always up for an Edmonton drubbing of Vancouver.

In what turned out to be a very one sided game, the Oiler youngsters simply imposed their will on the Vancouver prospects. What really stood out from an Oilers perspective, was the shear size of the team and the fact that they dominated the physical side of the game...if not the fisticuffs. It is clear that finishing out of the playoffs the last five seasons, has allowed the organization to fill its cupboards with an abundance of quality prospects and fans are starting to see signs of what the future may hold. While first overall selection Ryan Nugent-Hopkins looked very good at times last night, a trio of players stood out: Anton Lander, Curtis Hamilton and David Musil.

Oilers History: Grant Fuhr (1981-1982 Rookie Season)

When people look back at the 1981-82 Edmonton Oilers, it usually surrounds one of two things. Wayne Gretzky and his staggering  92 goal, 212 point campaign, which included his historical march to 50 goals in 39 games, or the team's poor performance in the playoffs against the Los Angeles Kings...most notably the famous collapse in Game Three, that will forever be known as the "Miracle on Manchester".

While no one would ever debate the magnitude of those two moments and their place in the history of the game, there was another franchise changing moment that occurred during that historic season. In a year that was filled with many highs and one very low moment for the young Oilers, a key ingredient to their future success arrived in town, a young netminder by the name of Grant Fuhr.

In a somewhat surprising move, the Oilers selected Fuhr with the eighth overall pick in the 1981 Entry Draft and just ahead of the New York Rangers, who thought very highly of the Victoria Cougars goaltender. Edmonton was coming off a stunning upset of the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs and were backstopped by young rookie netminder Andy Moog.

With the twenty-one-year-old Moog stealing the show against the Habs, most felt the club had their goalie of the future. Fortunately, head scout Barry Fraser thought otherwise. In the scouting staff's mind, selecting Fuhr was a slam dunk. You will often hear this sort of thing from an organization after the fact but the Oilers did actually have him rated at number one and were thrilled he was still available at the number eight spot.

Grant was coming off a season in which he went 48-9-1 with a 2.78 GAA and won the Del Wilson Trophy as the top netminder in the WHL. Victoria was not only the best team during the regular season but also went on to win the Western Hockey League championship and was their representative at the 1981 Memorial Cup.

Heading into his first NHL training camp, Fuhr would have to battle both Moog and NHL veteran Ron Low, to earn a spot with the big club. Edmonton decided to start the season with all three on their roster but that scenario would not last long. After handing Moog starts in four of their six games, with Fuhr and Low splitting the other two, the organization decided to send last year's playoff hero back to Wichita and run with the kid and the grizzled vet as a tandem.

After losing his NHL debut by a score of 4-2, to the Winnipeg Jets on October 14th, Fuhr would not lose another game until January 16th. The Spruce Grove native went twenty-three straight games without a loss and ended up compiling a stunning 28-5-14 record on the season and an impressive 3.31 GAA, putting him in the top five in the league.

In fact, the New York Islanders Billy Smith was the only goalie who appeared in at least forty games who had a better goals-against average than the Oiler rookie. Pretty impressive for a nineteen-year-old kid and considering he played much of the season with a chronic shoulder dislocation, made it even more remarkable.

Also, one must remember, at that time, Edmonton was about as far away from a defensive juggernaut as you would find in the entire NHL. They were a highly talented group but at that stage in their development, it was firewagon hockey all the time. While no goaltender in their right mind would complain about backstopping a club that would go on to score 417 times, as the Oilers did that season, their netminders were left to fend for himself.

Fuhr was named the starting goaltender for the Campbell Conference at NHL All-Star Game and was selected to the Second Team at seasons end. He finished second in voting for the Vezina Trophy to Smith, as the league's top goaltender, and was also the runner-up to Winnipeg's Dale Hawerchuk for the Calder Trophy, as top rookie. Obviously, voters favoured the impressive 103 point season the Jets centre put together over the Oilers' new No. 1 netminder but in my mind, it was a debatable decision.

Right from the start, Fuhr seemed to have the perfect temperament to be a starting goalie and played a flashy style to boot, which fit in perfectly with the high-flying Oilers image. Be it as a rookie or later on in his Oilers tenure, when he was widely regarded as the best goaltender on the planet, all that mattered was winning hockey games. In his mind, winning by a score of 10-9 or 2-1 mattered little. Either result would get you the same thing...two points. At the end of the day, that is all that mattered.

Fuhr allowed his teammates to not only play but also develop, their wide-open style of play...without fear of what might happen in their own end of the ice. He came up huge time and time again and showed the ability to make the big save when his team needed it most, which was a trait he had throughout his Hall of Fame career. Be it making saves in the first to keep the team in games or late in the third to preserve a victory, Grant always found a way shut the door.

Also, think back to the era and can you think of a single goalie that played the position like Fuhr? He played the game with a style and quickness that no netminder before had shown. He was a hybrid butterfly/stand-up goalie from the start but it was his reflexes that set him apart from any other goalie.

Even at the tender age of nineteen, Fuhr had the best glove hand in the league by a country mile and his ability to quickly recover and be ready to face second and third shot opportunities was unmatched. He would make acrobatic saves look routine that other goalies of that era could only dream of making. From the first moment he hit NHL ice, it was clear that Fuhr was a shot stopper...not a shot blocker.

As an organization, the Oilers not only wanted to win the Stanley Cup within the first five years of their existence but they wanted to do it playing a free-flowing attractive brand of hockey. Yes, they would have to learn to shore up their own end before bringing Edmonton that championship but none of that would have been possible without the right guy in between the pipes.

The year he put together during that 1981-82 season was and still remains one of the greatest rookie performances in the last thirty-five years. The Edmonton Oilers already had the best player in the game in No. 99 and by deciding to select Grant Fuhr with that eighth pick of the 1981 Entry Draft, they would soon be blessed with also having the best netminder in the world.

Taylor Chorney or Jeff Petry

Heading into the 2011-2012 campaign you could pretty much jot down the Edmonton Oilers starting six blueliners. Barring a pre-season trade or injury, it looks like the six will be:
  • Ryan Whitney
  • Cam Barker
  • Tom Gilbert
  • Ladislav Smid
  • Theo Peckham
  • Andy Sutton

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: Should He Stay Or Go?

It is not very difficult to support the point of view that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins should make the Edmonton Oilers roster this season. While others, could make just as strong a case to return this summers first overall pick back to Red Deer for one more year of junior hockey. Would an extra year in junior hockey do the Burnaby native harm? Absolutely not but if the kid displays throughout training camp that he belongs in the NHL, it would be almost impossible for the Oilers brass to not allow Nugent-Hopkins to start his pro career on October 9th against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Is Cam Barker a Top Four Defenceman?

The Edmonton Oilers decided to take a flyer on a former third overall draft pick this summer and signed Cam Barker to a one year contract. The Oilers are hoping they have found that young defenceman who can play top four minutes and quarterback their power play. Barker is hoping he has found a new home where he will be given the opportunity to get his NHL career back on track. I can not see this signing taking place, from either side, unless the mindset is for the 25 year old rearguard to slot in the clubs top two pairings. Barker is coming off an awful season in which he registered only 5 points while playing in 52 games for the Minnesota Wild. To make matters even worse, he missed 25 games due to injury and was a healthy scratch on five occasions. Not exactly a stellar season from the Manitoba native but lets not forget that the Wild bought him out this off season. In their minds, it made more since to cut ties then to try and work with him to find his game.

Nation Radio Appearance

It's been a pretty hectic few weeks, which has cut down my blogging time considerably. Thankfully, the busy time has come to an end and I can now focus on all things Oilers once again.

This past Friday I was fortunate enough to be asked to do a segment on Nation Radio for the following days broadcast. I was headed to Calgary for the long weekend to coach my womens soccer team (Rionero FC ...plug time!!!) at this years provincial championships. The guys over at Nation Radio were great in working with me to secure a time, between games, that allowed me to talk about the 2011-2012 Edmonton Oilers.

Below is the link to the interview that aired on Saturday, September 3rd with Allan Mitchell (aka: Lowetide). 
Just wanted to thank everyone over at Nation Radio again for the opportunity.

Eric Belanger = Perfect Transitional Player

The Edmonton Oilers have been in desperate need of a player to compliment Shawn Horcoff ever since the departures of Jarret Stoll and Marty Reasoner. In their minds, they could part ways with both after the 2007-2008 season because they felt they had players in the system that could help offset their exit from the Alberta capital...they were dead wrong. In hindsight, having the organization over value the potential of certain prospects was a blessing in disguise. It forced them to embrace an all out rebuild because the Edmonton Oilers were a club that not only had a weak top six forward group but they now also had a dysfunctional bottom six. Could they have signed a fourth line centre last year to help? Sure but would that have really helped the team in their rebuild? The obvious answer was no but that is no longer the case.    

Player Profile - Taylor Hall

While there were some Edmonton Oiler fans that wanted the club to draft Tyler Seguin in the 2010 Entry Draft, the masses wanted the club to take Taylor Hall with their first overall selection. A year later, it is clear that the organization made the right choice by taking the former Windsor Spitfire standout with that first overall pick. I have little doubt that Seguin will have a great NHL career but in Hall the Oilers have a player that will become one of the marquee players in the league and one of the faces of the NHL.

Player Profile - Ales Hemsky

Without question, Ales Hemsky is one of the most skilled players the Edmonton Oilers have upfront and arguably the best offensive weapon the on their roster. In recent seasons he has had a number of injury concerns which has limited the points that #83 has been able to put on the board. Heading into his ninth season in the NHL, he finally will have high end skilled players throughout the lineup that will help him carry the Oilers scoring attack. For many a year, the Oilers went as far as Ales could take them and that is no longer the case. With the skill he's been surrounded with, he needs to show he can ramp up his game to the next level.

Player Profile - Ryan Smyth

In re-acquiring Ryan Smyth, the Edmonton Oilers were able to add some much needed veteran scoring depth upfront while bringing back the most popular post dynasty player in team history. There are not many players on the current roster that know what it means to be an Edmonton Oiler. Of all the qualities that Smyth brings to the table as a player and leader, nothing he does in his second go round in Edmonton will be as important as teaching the young core the responsibility that comes with pulling on an Edmonton Oilers jersey. If he is able to instill amongst the core group the honour that comes with wearing that logo on their chests, then he will have done his job...and more.

Player Profile - Sam Gagner

Sam Gagner will be given the reigns to the Edmonton Oilers top line as the clubs number one centre for the coming season. What Gagner is able to get done with this opportunity, will go a long way in determining his role with the club moving forward. No one is expecting him to put up a 70 point season but the young centre needs to prove he is capable of scoring somewhere between 55 - 65 points. If he is able to do that, I have little doubt in my mind that Gagner will be an Edmonton Oiler for some time.

Player Profile - Theo Peckham

There was doubt as to whether or not Theo Peckham was deserving of a full time role with the Edmonton Oilers last season. Heading into last year’s training camp, most people were expecting him to take that next step and earn a shot at becoming a regular. Problem being, Peckham ended up having a very ordinary camp and did himself no favours with his performance on the ice. The club will never admit it but the reason he was allowed to start 2010-2011 in Edmonton was because of his contract status. In order for Theo to be sent down, he would have had to clear waivers and many in the organization feared they could not sneak him by the other 29 teams. That was a sound decision on the Oilers part. I have little doubt that nearly every club would have willingly taken a shot at the 6’3”, 230lb defenceman.

Player Profile - Devan Dubnyk

For one to say Devan Dubnyk looked over matched during his 19 game audition in 2009 - 2010 would be putting it nicely. While his stats weren't great, not surprising playing for a 30th place club, he looked like he had no business being in the NHL. Positionally he was average at best, his rebound control was poor and worst of all, whenever a puck beat him his head would drop instantly. He looked so dejected that you knew another one would get by him in short order. Heading into his final start of that season, I had my doubts if this kid had the game and more importantly the mental makeup to play at this level. After that final start on April 10th against the Los Angeles Kings, my opinion on Devan Dubynk possibly becoming an NHL goalie changed.

Player Profile - Nikolai Khabibulin

Most pundits and fans alike, believe that Nikolai Khabibulin is done. At first glance, his stat line since he left Tampa Bay has been anything but stellar and suggests that those people may be on to something that the "Bulin Wall" is finished. I tend to look at those stats in a slightly different light.

                                               W       L       SV%     GAA

2005-2006 - Chicago          17      26     .886      3.35
2006-2007 - Chicago          25      26     .902      2.86
2007-2008 - Chicago          23      20     .909      2.63
2008-2009 - Chicago          25       8      .919      2.33
2009-2010 - Oilers               7        9      .909      3.03
2010-2011 - Oilers              10      32     .890      3.48

Player Profile - Ladislav Smid

While Ladislav Smid has not lived up to the huge expectations placed upon him after being acquired from the Anaheim Ducks in the Chris Pronger trade, he certainly has started to itch himself out a nice NHL career. Many people forget that Smid is only 25 years old and most NHL defencemen do not start hitting their stride until they reach their mid to late 20’s. Do you think it was just a coincidence that both the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators inquired at the deadline about his availability? Teams see what he brings to the table and realize he is entering that make it or break it time for a defenceman. There is no question that he is an NHL caliber blueliner but he has yet to show if he will end up being a top four guy or bottom pairing material.

Player Profile - Shawn Horcoff

Much has been made of Shawn Horcoff and his contract. While Horcoff has had his struggles over the last few seasons he still remains a very important part of the Edmonton Oilers. He has been miscast as a first line centre for many years but his overall game and experience still remain invaluable to the Oilers young developing roster.

Player Profile - Jordan Eberle

Well before Jordan Eberle scored his highlight reel first NHL goal against the Calgary Flames, he showed that he had the ability to do special things on the big stage. He did nothing but score big goal after big goal for Team Canada over two World Junior Championships and it became almost laughable how clutch he was when he put on the red and white jersey for his country. So should anyone have been surprised that on opening night of the 2010-2011 season, on Hockey Night in Canada no less, that the kid from Regina was able to deliver something special? Looking back at it now, we should have all been stunned if he would have done nothing of note on that night. It doesn't seem to be in Eberle's makeup to let "the moment" go by without leaving a mark and scoring that type of goal in your first NHL game leaves quite the impression.

Team Toughness

The phrase "Team Toughness" is one that has been used by the Edmonton Oilers organization for some time now. Ever since the departure of Georges Larques following the 2005-2006 season, the idea of team toughness by committee has been the clubs mantra. The problem being, that not only did they not have a true enforcer most seasons but they compounded the issue by not having players who were willing to punish opponents night in and night out. Have a look at the 2005-2006 roster and you would see the following names:

Georges Laraque, Todd Harvey, Ethan Moreau, Raffi Torres, Brad Winchester, Chris Pronger, Matt Greene, Jason Smith & Steve Staios

Player Profile - Ryan Jones

It is a pretty safe bet that most Edmonton Oilers fans would be in agreement that the single  biggest surprise of the 2010-2011 campaign were the numbers that Ryan Jones was able to produce in his first full season in an Oilers uniform. Not only did he have a career high 18 goal season but because the roster was torn apart with injuries he played in all situations. At some point during the year, Jones saw ice time on all four lines, he killed penalties and saw significant power play time. This from a guy the Oilers picked up off the waiver wire late in the previous season. In fact, many felt he was very lucky to make the squad out of camp as a regular. While he was banged up during training camp, he showed very little that would guarantee him a spot in the Oilers top 12 forwards.

Should the Edmonton Oilers Be Interested In Colin White?

When the New Jersey Devils decided to place Colin White on waivers Monday afternoon, many Oiler fans were all but ready to have Steve Tambellini’s head if he decided to not put in a claim for the veteran rear guard. Tuesday afternoon’s deadline came and went and no NHL team had put in a claim for White…which came as no surprise. It was common knowledge that New Jersey was offering up White since the midway point of last season but no team was willing to take on his $3 million salary for the 2011-2012 season. Everyone knew that if White wasn’t claimed then the Devils would buy him out. He has been a good solider over the years so there was no need to embarrass the man and bury him in the minors.

Player Profile - Tom Gilbert

When the Edmonton Oilers acquired Tom Gilbert from the Colorado Avalanche in 2004 for a sixth round pick and Tommy Salo, it was thought to perhaps be a steal of a deal. Gilbert was an unknown commodity and still playing university hockey in the USA. He arrived in Edmonton fulltime for the 2007-2008 season and when his successful rookie campaign was followed up with an even better season, that steal of a deal back on March 8th, 2004 was looking like it could turn out to be highway robbery!!!

Player Profile - Magnus Paajarvi

After watching Magnus Paajarvi during last years rookie camp at the Clareview Arena, I had flashes of a young Mike Modano run through my head. When Paajarvi takes flight in the neutral zone with a head of steam, he is an absolute joy to watch. As he becomes more comfortable with the North American game and puts on a little more muscle onto his frame, he may very well end up becoming the best all around player of the Oilers young forward group.

Player Profile - Linus Omark

Long before Linus Omark ever pulled on an Edmonton Oilers sweater, there was a distinct buzz surrounding the highly skilled Swede in the heads of many an Oiler fan. Once Omark’s jaw dropping shootout goal against Switzerland became a YouTube sensation, fans everywhere were letting their imaginations run wild on what type of player they would be watching in the very near future.

Penalty Kill

All successful NHL penalty killing units have the following elements in place:

1. Committed forwards who are active on the kill and willing to block shots
2. Quality faceoff men
3. A goaltender capable of making "the big save" when shorthanded

Below are the clubs numbers and rankings for the past six seasons:

2010 - 2011 : 77.0% (29th)
2009 - 2010 : 78.0% (26th)
2008 - 2009 : 77.5% (27th)
2007 - 2008 : 84.7%  (5th)
2006 - 2007 : 84.6%  (8th)
2005 - 2006 : 84.1%  (8th)

Player Profile - Ryan Whitney

If you were to ask both organizations about the trade made between the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers back on the 3rd of March in 2010, that saw Lubomir Visnovsky and Ryan Whitney switch clubs, you would be hard pressed to find anyone second guessing their decision to go ahead with the blockbuster move. 

In Visnovsky, the Ducks received the power play quarterback they were searching for to replace recently departed Chris Pronger and the soon to be retired Scott Niedermayer. The fact that Visnovsky has scored 81 pts in 97 games since going to Anaheim clearly demonstrates that the Ducks aquired exactly the type of player they were looking for.

The Power Play

The Edmonton Oilers have not had a decent power play for so long that I can’t even remember when this wasn't the case. After some quick stat diving, I found that back in 1997-98 the Oilers ended the season ranked 12th in the league at 15.9%. Doesn’t seem like a lethal PP but when you consider that the Dallas Stars led the league at 20.0%, it shows it wasn't too bad at all and how much the game has changed. Outside of the 1997-98 campaign the only other time they finished in the top 15 was the 2005-06 season at 18.1%. That was good enough for 14th spot and not surprisingly that was the last time the club made the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Below are Edmonton’s power play ranking and success ratio since the 2005-06 season:
2010-201127th (14.5%)
2009-201018th (17.3%)
2008-2009 22nd (17.0%)
2007-200820th (16.6%)
2006-200727th (14.2%)

The Development of Teemu Hartikainen

Teemu Hartikainen made a lasting impression on many Oiler fans and followers during his 12 game stint at the end of last season. He did everything possible to leave his mark and rest assured the coaching staff took notice. The grit and determination the kid showed was very refreshing and his willingness to drive to the net was a sight for sore eyes. His game is similar in aspects to both Ryan Smyth and Tomas Holmstrom but he’s much more physical than either of those players. For years, Smyth and Holmstrom have been a handful for teams to handle down low but Hartikainen relishes the physical aspect of the game on top of the battles down low. He comes across as wanting to engage the opposition into physical contact, if at all possible. The edge that he carries on the ice will serve him well throughout his NHL career.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, Hartikainen will start the season in Oklahoma with the Barons. The re-signing of Ryan Jones and the addition of Ben Eager will make it nearly impossible for him to make the club out of camp. Those two have the fourth line spots sewn up and to have Hartikainen in Edmonton as anything other than a regular makes no sense at all. That being said, I would expect almost any injury upfront would see him returning to Edmonton in a heartbeat. Having him play a ton in Oklahoma and hopefully developing chemistry with Anton Lander, should serve both of the youngsters well in the not too distant future. They will fill out two thirds of the Oilers third line for many years and both seem to have the ability and drive in their games that could allow them to move up a notch and possibly become top six forwards down the line.

What to do with Ales Hemsky?

When the Edmonton Oilers decided to select Ales Hemsky with their first round pick in 2001, they were hoping they had found themselves a special player. From 1995 - 2006, Hemsky was the only good first round selection the organization made and he has done his part in making  the Oilers look very smart for selecting him with that thirteenth overall pick. One could argue that of all the first rounders taking that year, only Ilya Kovalchuk and Jason Spezza have had better careers and they were the top two picks in 2001. I would say the Oilers were fairly successful in finding themselves that "special" player.

Oilers NHL Depth Chart: Goaltender

Playing goal for the Edmonton Oilers isn't exactly the easiest gig in the NHL. That being said, if this team is going to compete on a nightly basis they need more consistent play from the goaltenders. One was clearly better then the other last season but both had a bad habit of giving up goals at the wrong time.

Nikolai Khabibulin - To say the 'Bulin Wall's time in Edmonton has been a disappointment is an understatement. Khabibulin's 1st season was rounding into form after a tough start but his back injury put an end to that. Season 2 was a flat out disaster but the one good thing that came of his poor play was an opportunity for Devan Dubnyk to earn some playing time.

Most people believe the 38 year old Russian netminder is over the hill but I am not so sure. With the improvements the club made this off season, I believe Khabibulin will rebound and have a good season. Make no mistake, his days as an elite goalie are gone but he is not the goalie that Edmonton fans had to witness on a nightly basis last season. He still has the ability to steal games and get hot for a stretch and carry a team.

I see Khabibulin and Dubnyk pretty much playing an even split...unless one of them clearly outshines the other.

2011-2012 Prediction:   17 W - 2.80 GAA - .908 SV%

Devan Dubnyk - After looking completely overwhelmed in his rookie campaign Devan Dubnyk took huge strides in his overall game last season. Dubnyk seemed to not believe in himself as an NHL goalie in season one but he was at the complete opposite end of the spectrum in his sophomore year.

His positional play was night and day between the two seasons. He went from going down in the butterfly and "hoping" that pucks hit him, to being completely square on nearly every shot and always in place for the rebound. Devan is a huge man at 6'6" and he finally started to use his size to his advantage.

He still has the bad habit of letting in goals at the worst possible time but that should change as his development as a goalie continues. Another area of concern is his inability to be consistent in the shootout. He doesn't use his size well at all during the skill competition. Routinely he's beat on dekes high on the blocker side and seems unable to read that it's coming.

Dubnyk showed he has the potential of being an NHL starting goaltender and now it's up to him to claim that role.

2011-2012 Prediction:    20 W - 2.75 GAA - .915 SV%

Oilers NHL Depth Chart: Defence

Heading into the 2011-2012 season the Edmonton Oilers need to start making some strides on the back end. Some of the changes the club have made could see the club heading in that direction. One move in particular could be a steal for the Oilers long term.

Ryan Whitney - Last season it became very evident on how important Ryan Whitney has become to the Oilers. Whitney is the horse that this team can simply not compete without.

Whitney not only eats minutes in all situations for the Oilers but he has shown the ability to raise the overall play of whomever his partner on the backend will be.
For that reason, I see Whitney pairing up with newly acquired Cam Barker. Whitney should be able to let Barker simplify his game and thrive in an Oilers uniform.

Look for Whitney to pick up where he left off last arguably the most important skater on the team.

2011-2012 Prediction:   8 G - 37 A - 45 Pts

Cam Barker - The Oilers made a low risk - high reward move this off season by signing Cam Barker as a UFA. The Minnesota Wild decided to buy Barker out and because of that move, the Oilers may have found their power play quarterback moving forward.

Barker should fit in very nicely with the young core group in Edmonton and playing with Ryan Whitney should allow him to have a bounce back season. Barker will be given every opportunity to be successful in the coming season..unlike Minnesota.

He'll be given the reigns of what has been a very lack luster power play in Edmonton. Barker's big shot and experience of playing with an elite puck moving power play in Chicago should be a big addition to the club.

2011-2012 Prediction:   8 G - 26 A - 34 Pts

Tom Gilbert - While Gilbert struggled at times last season, after Ryan Whitney went down with injury Gilbert did raise his level of play. He is not a top pairing defencmen but he is clearly a second pairing guy. He's a very good puck mover and makes a great outlet pass out of his zone.

Gilbert should be paired up with Ladislav Smid heading into the 2011-12 campaign. The two showed signs at the end of last season of forming chemistry and with Whitney back in the lineup they won't be asked to log way to many minutes.

One area Gilbert needs to improve on is using his shot more often...especially on the power play. Gilbert has a good shot but at times he almost seems unwilling to use it.

2011-2012 Prediction:    5 G - 27 A - 32 Pts

Oilers NHL Depth Chart: Wingers

While the Oilers wingers continue to develop, the coming season will see some of them take a pretty big step forward in their young careers. The group is clearly tougher to play against but there is still room for improvement.

Ales Hemsky - This may very well be the last season that Ales Hemsky plays as an Edmonton Oiler and it could end up being his best season to date.

The obvious issue Hemsky has had in recent seasons are injuries...and there have been many. There is little doubt that he will be a point per game player with the Oilers current's just a matter of will that be 70+ pts or 45 pts.

I see Ales playing with Taylor Hall and Sam Gagner this season and we may just see something special develop with Hall. Hemsky is not the easiest guy to play with but once he and Hall are allowed to develop chemistry, it could be a beautiful thing for Oilers fans to witness on a nightly basis.

An area Hemsky must improve on, is the power play. The play just comes to a stand still on the PP when Hemsky has the puck on his stick and it has to change. He must move the puck quicker coming off the boards or I could see his top unit time going to a certain player that wears #23.

2011-2012 Prediction:  20 G - 52 A - 72 Pts

Taylor Hall - Last season all of us saw glimpses of the type of player Taylor Hall is going to become...and I feel Taylor Hall believes he can start being that player this coming season.

I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see Hall take his first strides towards stardom. Playing with the best playmaker on the team and seeing increased power play time will lead to what I should be an incredible sophomore season.

There is really not much else to say...the kid is going to be a star and it'll be much sooner then later.

2011-2012 Prediction:   38 G - 31A - 69 Pts

Oilers NHL Depth Chart: Centre

Looking at the Oilers roster heading into the 2011-2012 season there seems to be one spot open down the middle...though a certain 1st overall draft pick may have something to say about that.

Sam Gagner - This is a big season for Gagner and it will be a make it or break it year for him as an Oiler. While Gagner has seemed to remain stagnant in his offensive output since his rookie campaign, this should be the first season that he'll be given opportunity as the teams number one man in the middle right out of camp.

Tough to say who he ends up with as wingers but what I'd like to see is Gagner have the chance to play with Ales Hemsky (if he's still an Oiler) & Taylor Hall. By giving Gagner the opportunity to play with the teams two best wingers it does two things. It will create better depth on the top three lines but more importantly, it puts the pressure on Sam to produce. As mentioned previously, it's time for Gagner to sink or swim and giving him the best opportunity possible to be successful seems like the most logical thing to do.

The funny thing with Gagner, is the majority of us seem to forget Sam will be 22 yrs old when the season begins and because of that reason alone, he needs to be given opportunity and not moved to another organization.

2011-2012 Prediction:  18 G - 40 A - 58 Pts