Oilers Rebuild Can Still Be Salvaged

The Edmonton Oilers have certainly had their fair share of struggles since selecting Taylor Hall with the first overall pick of the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft. While the vast majority of those struggles were expected, the fact they have shown absolutely no signs of improvement in the standings over the last couple of years says quite a bit about the job this organization has done in trying to rebuild this once storied franchise.

Not surprisingly, with their record being what it has been over the last number of years and their most recent failures arguably being the biggest disappointment of all, Edmonton has become the poster child for how “not” to rebuild a hockey team.While that point of view is all well and good, this notion that this entire exercise has been a complete and utter disaster is not exactly true.

Rushing Players Has Not Been The Problem

Contrary to what many would like to suggest, this organization did not draft the wrong players with their first round picks since 2008 and outside of Magnus Paajarvi, have not rushed any of those picks into regular full-time duty at the pro level. While their trio of first overall picks all made the jump directly to the National Hockey League, you would have been hard-pressed to find another organization who would not have done the exact same thing when it came to Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.

Also let us not forget that despite having a rather difficult 2014-15 campaign, Hall already has two seasons in which he has finished inside the top ten in league scoring and developed into one the most consistent point producing left wingers in the game today. Is he the perfect player? Far from it but if you actually go take a look at the rosters of the other twenty-nine teams, you will find a plethora of talented youngsters you struggle with defensive side of the game and almost none have the same offensive upside.

RNH Is The Real Deal

Nugent-Hopkins has shown massive growth in his overall game in ’14-’15 after battling shoulder wows for most of his first three years in the league. For anyone to suggest the former Red Deer Rebels standout is headed for anything other than lengthy and rather productive career is completely out to lunch. People tend to forget “The Nuge” is still only twenty-one and nowhere near the player he is going to be in two or three years time.

While most Oilers fans have come to realize just how good a player this kid is, that isn’t necessarily the case when it comes to other fan bases and some of the mainstream media. Considering what Nugent-Hopkins has had to endure and work with over his first four seasons in the league, his progression is frankly right on schedule.

Complementary Pieces

The same holds true for Mr. Eberle. While not nearly as a good an all-round player as either Hall or RNH, the twenty-second pick of the 2008 Entry Draft has made himself into one heck of a complementary piece. Yes he has limitations to his game and is one-dimensional but he puts up numbers and at the end of the day, that is what he is paid to do. Unlike Yakupov, the former World Juniors hero has managed to produce on a relatively consistent basis at this level and that is something which cannot be ignored.

As far as the young Russian sharp-shooter goes, he is one player that can be pointed to as a guy the Oilers have mishandled. Funny thing is, Ralph Krueger did one heck of a job with him during his rookie season but that did not continue under Dallas Eakins. By  no means is that all on the organization but when you are not willing to accept both the good and bad that comes with a kid like Yakupov, that is setting up a player for failure and that is exactly how things have played for the former Sarnia Sting standout.

Blueline Help Is Coming

To be fair, the Oilers did keep Leon Draisaitl around a lot longer than some would have liked, myself included, but at least they were smart enough to recognize the situation for what it was and eventually send him back to the Western Hockey League for the remainder of the season. So outside of that and the aforementioned Paajarvi fiasco, what prospect has this organization “rushed”? If anything, they have gone in the complete opposite direction and especially when it comes to their prospects along the blueline.

Oscar Klefbom was selected nineteenth overall in 2011 and spent a year plus in the American Hockey League with the Oklahoma City Barons before grabbing a spot inside the top six. Darnell Nurse was sent back to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in each of the last two years and don’t be surprised to see him start 2015-16 in whatever city the Oilers AHL affiliate ends up playing in.

So where are these so-called pieces the organization have apparently rushed and ruined? That’s right…they simply do not exist. Hence why this idea of them having to “blow this thing up” is absolute lunacy. Again, their inability to draft and develop players outside of the first round is a valid complaint but that is not the main reason this team continues to struggles to win hockey games.

Time For MacT To Be Bold

This mess is not on the kids but rather this organization’s inability to insulate their talented “young core” with veteran pieces who are still capable of playing a prominent role on a National Hockey League roster. It honestly is that simple but unfortunately it is not so simple to fix.

Had Craig MacTavish gone out and found a way to upgrade this team’s lack of depth on the backend, at centre and in goal with players who could actually handle those roles, this team would have likely found themselves in a far different scenario in each of the last two seasons and possibly be on the verge of becoming a playoff team. That has not happened and because of it this group continues to spin their wheels.

Having said all of that, tagging the Edmonton Oilers rebuild as a complete bust would be a tad premature. There is no question this management group has more than a little bit of work ahead of them but there are pieces in place for this turn around to still take place and another will be on the way this summer…be it via the draft or a trade.

So is it really that far-fetched to believe this team could take a real step forward in a couple of years time? Clearly it is going to take longer than anyone had first envisioned but if they eventually get there, something tells me Oiler fans will gladly take it.