Oilers: Five Things You Need To Know
By Pierre LeBrun
Is there a market in the NHL that's more excited than Edmonton?
Six years out of the playoffs -- their last taste of the postseason was Game 7 of the Cup finals in Carolina seven years ago -- the young Oilers are on the rise and coming at you, baby.
Long term? The sky's the limit.
1. Game Shape
The Oilers have 11 players that have been playing pro hockey during the lockout, four in the AHL and seven overseas. That's a real edge over teams that have had very few active players. You can work out every day, but real-time game shape is a different animal. The Oilers should soar out of the gates over the first 2-3 weeks.
2. OK-C Power Play
Fans in AHL Oklahoma City will recognize most of Edmonton's NHL power play this season. That's because the four AHLers -- Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, Eberle (on the point) and Schultz -- are expected to be on the Oilers' first PP unit, which should be dangerous. They'll be just as dangerous in their top six forward group at five on five. Nugent-Hopkins is expected to open the season between Hall and Eberle, of course, while Sam Gagner should center Yakupov and Hemsky on the second line. Dangerous!
3. Blue Line Might Need Help
The defense has long been Edmonton's Achilles' heel, and while it's not terrible anymore, it's still not the team's area of strength, that's for sure. Justin Schultz's arrival -- he was dynamite in the AHL this season -- cannot be understated. You can see why half the teams in the NHL bid on the college UFA last summer. He should play on the top pair with the veteran Whitney. Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid are a decent shutdown pair on the second duo. Nick Schultz is the No. 5 man, while Corey Potter and Theo Peckham round out the blueliners. They also acquired Mark Fistric after the start of training camp. While this trade lessens the head on the Oilers to make a move on defense, I still think GM Steve Tambellini looks to add a body if the Oilers are threatening for a playoff spot or better come the trade deadline.
4. Doubting Dubnyk?
Time for Devan Dubnyk to answer his critics. Is he a real NHL starter or a glorified NHL backup? At 26, this is a make-or-break season for him. Dubnyk, albeit on a bad team, was 31st in GAA at 2.67 last season and 24th in save percentage at .914. If the Oilers are playoff-bound but Dubnyk is still raising doubt in the front office, look for Tambellini to try to address this. Dubnyk might very well make it a simple decision by erasing all doubts over the next few months.
5. New Coach
Ralph Krueger got a well-deserved promotion from associate coach to the head man in the offseason. I like this move. Krueger has a wealth of hockey experience (the Winnipeg native is a former Swiss national team head coach), and the Oilers players have really liked him since he arrived on the scene in Edmonton. As head coach there's going to have to be a bit more bad cop in him, but I believe his technical acumen is top notch and he's going to succeed with this young team.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Experience: Entering first NHL season
Stanley Cup titles:N/A
Moving Up: Justin Schultz
After tearing it up in the AHL with the Oklahoma City Barons, Schultz is in position to make a big splash with the Oilers right out of the gate. There's even (realistic) talk of the unproven rookie bumping Ryan Whitney off the club's top power-play unit. Projected even-strength partner to a physically dominating Nick Schultz, the former University of Wisconsin star should have plenty of time and space to contribute in all situations. -- Victoria Matiash
Who's On The Move
The offseason signings/acquisitions and departures for the Oilers:
• June 19: Re-signed RW Lennart Pettrell.
• June 27: Named Ralph Krueger head coach.
• June 30: Signed D Justin Schultz.
• July 1: Re-signed LW Ryan Smyth and LW Darcy Hordichuk.
• July 5: Signed LW Dane Byers.
• July 5: Re-signed G Devan Dubnyk and D Jeff Petry.
• July 16: Re-signed D Theo Peckham.
• July 20: Re-signed C Sam Gagner.
• July 23: Signed 2012 1st overall draft pick RW Nail Yakupov.
• Aug. 22: Re-signed LW Taylor Hall.
• Aug. 30: Re-signed RW Jordan Eberle.
• Jan. 14: Acquired Mark Fistric.
• D Cam Barker (unrestricted free agent)
• C Josh Green (unrestricted free agent)