Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Does he make the team? Does he live up to the expectations if he does stick around? Without a doubt if sent back to juniors, he would dominate – so therefore he is a lock to stick around all year in the pros? Not so fast. Ryan will get his 9 games; he’s good enough to be in the NHL – today.
But it becomes a numbers game, essentially RNH will try to steal minutes from Sam Gagner, but with the emergence of Anton Lander this has created a log jam at center. Now obviously Anton Lander doesn’t have quite the skill set as Nugent-Hopkins, however paired with his Swedish mates – Anton is lights out & depending on the next few games, he could also throw his name in the hat for becoming a full time NHL’er this season.
Health issues surrounding Ryan Whitney & Ales Hemsky. If the Oilers are to compete this year a healthy Whitney & Hemsky will be needed – easier said than done however. Unfortunately Ryan Whitney has started the new hockey season on the wrong foot – literally. Whitney had surgery to repair a dislocated tendon in his right ankle in January. He’s been having mobility issues & as a big minute blueliner, mobility is essential.It is unlikely he will get in on any exhibition action. Something Whitney is having trouble dealing with.
Then there’s Ales Hemsky who’s coming off shoulder surgery, but the good news is better here as he is expected to play in at least one or two preseason games. If these injury ridden issues continue, it could be another long season without these two cornerstones on the ice playing significant minutes.
Will Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi & Linus Omark suffer sophomore slumps? The answer is straight up – no. All four of these players are ready for lift off and are steadily becoming the new, if not already the core players of this team. The Oilers have brought in veteran help in Ryan Smyth & face-off specialist Eric Belanger, and a couple of tough guys in Darcy Hordichuk & Ben Eager to protect these guys. All signs point to rising point totals across the board for the young Oilers.
Goaltending continues to be a sore point, and we shouldn’t expect anything to change this season. As long as Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin remain the two top ‘tenders in town don’t expect any miracles. Even though Dubnyk had a respectable save percentage last season, he doesn’t strike me as a money goaltender, aka a goalie that can stand on his head and steal a game.
Khabibulin used to be that kind of goalie, but those days are long gone. The sooner the Oilers figure out their issues in the crease – the quicker the rebuilding process will conclude with wins.
Will the Oilers be using their first round pick to select a player in the top five? The answer is – yes. An unstable blueline & shakey goaltending tandem make this team liable to let in a lot of goals. But hey, at least the Oilers will be in the top half of goals scored and they will be a lot of fun to watch.
Just imagine this group of players plus a Nail Yakupov, Matthew Dumba, Filip Forsberg or Ryan Murray added to the mix. If the Oilers play their cards right, Stanley Cup talk shouldn’t be too far away for the patient Oiler fan.