Welcome back to Puck Drop: NHL Preview 2013-14, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season. Check back often as new teams are added to our Puck Drop page. Today we take a look at the 2013-14 Edmonton Oilers.
With the large majority of Edmonton’s dynamic young core playing with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL during the lockout, hopes were high that the team would get off to a flying start to the shortened 2013 NHL season.
For a while, the theory seemed to work, as the club entered Februrary with a 4-2-1 record before slowing fading down the standings. They were still in the playoff discussion entering the final month of the season, especially after a convincing 8-2 win over Calgary. Unfortunately, an awful 1-9-0 stretch immediately after that victory ultimately spelled their demise.
Despite missing the playoffs with a sub .500 record for the seventh year in a row, the season was not without it’s highlights. Franchise winger Taylor Hall had an exceptional year, finishing ninth in league scoring with a 16-34-50 stat line in 45 games. Jordan Eberle also showed flashed of brilliance, finishing third in team scoring with 37 points, behind a rejuvenated Sam Gagner, who scored 38.
The trio of Hall, Eberle and Gagner weren’t the only young guns to perform well, as rookies Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz had excellent first campaigns.
2012 first overall pick Yakupov made an immediate impact, finishing first in rookie goal scoring with 17 and while Schultz led the league in rookie scoring from the blueline with 27 points. Both were a big part of the Oilers on offense last year, and should be again in the future.
Unfortunately, it was on the other side of the puck that let them down. Far too often Edmonton’s goalies Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin were hung out to dry, as the Oiler’s defense allowed the second most shots against in the NHL. Consistency between the pipes made matters worse, as both were subject to the occasional shaky goal at inopportune times.
Finally, when it appeared that the Oilers were destined to miss the post-season yet again, GM Steve Tambellini was relieved of his duty and long-time organizational fixture Craig MacTavish was appointed to GM, with former Columbus GM Scott Howson brought in to replace MacTavish as Vice-President of Hockey Operations.
The biggest move of the offseason for the Oilers was undoubtedly the firing of Ralph Krueger as head coach, with the appointment of the much sought after Dallas Eakins as his replacement. Eakins had great success as coach of the Toronto Marlies in the AHL, but this will be his first NHL head coaching gig and results are to be determined, though hopes in Edmonton are high.
With the core of the team essentially in place, MacTavish chose not to make any big moves to the roster over the summer, instead just adding some small bits and pieces.
The largest move was probably the trading of former captain Shawn Horcoff to Dallas. It wasn’t an altogether surprising deal, as Horcoff had seen declining numbers in recent years and wasn’t playing anywhere near the value of his $5.5 million salary.
They also traded the unrealized potential of Magnus Paajarvi to St. Louis in exchange for young winger David Perron, who should provide solid secondary scoring for the club.
Though the signings they made in free agency may not have the same name power to them, they may have a larger impact on the success of the team. The Oilers picked up defenseman Andrew Ference from Boston to give some toughness and veteran leadership to a young defense group sorely in need of it.
They also signed Boyd Gordon from Pheonix. Gordon is the prototypical third line center who can win faceoffs and kill penalties, another type of player the Oilers desperately need.
Edmonton also picked up goaltender Jason Lababerra, a quality, career-long backup that should be able to spell Dubnyk for a time should the latter run into trouble during the season.
Story Lines To Watch:
- Is Dubnyk a 1A starting goalie in the NHL? The Oilers have studs at every other position, but Dubnyk’s celing remains a question mark. While the 27-year-old has improved marginally each year, he’s yet to prove that he can lead a team with dreams of being a perennial Cup contender. He’s battled inconsistency his whole career, looking like a world-beater on some nights, and completely lost on others. With his contract running out at the end of the season, it’s put up or shut up time for Dubnyk to prove that he’s capable.
- Will Ryan Nugent-Hopkins rebound? There’s a reason why I haven’t mentioned “The Nuge” to this point in the article; his 2013 season was largely forgettable. The 2011-12 rookie sensation managed only four goals in 40 games last year before undergoing surgery to repair a shoulder that has apparently been bothering him for some time. The latest word is that Nugent-Hopkins will be out until at least November as he recovers. How well the 2011 first overall pick is able to rebound from the last twelve frustrating months could go a long way towards the Oiler’s playoff hopes.
- Speaking of which, can the Oilers (finally) make the playoffs? This is a team that has been in rebuild mode seemingly forever, and it’s time for them to collectively make the next step. Everything is set up for them now, but can they finally put it all together, or must Edmonton fans continue to suffer without playoff hockey yet again?
Players To Watch:
Obviously you need to keep an eye on the aforementioned Dubnyk. No one player on the roster will be more essential to the ultimate success of the team than their starting goaltender.
The duo of Eberle and Hall should be a thing of beauty this year. Both players are so skilled, so fast, that every moment with these two in the offensive zone should be a joy. Expecting one or both of them in the top ten NHL scorers next year is not unrealistic.
On the back end, definitely watch Schultz every time he’s on the ice. He’s a wizard offensively and will likely be among the top scoring defensemen in the league for a long time to come. Just don’t make the mistake of choosing him if your fantasy pool includes plus minus, as he still has lots to learn in his own end.
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Main photo credit: sarah_connors via photopin cc