2011-12 NHL Season Preview: Edmonton Oilers

Alex Hemsky is part of the supporting cast of Oilers behind sophomores Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi.

Offseason Losses: Kurtis Foster, Andrew Cogliano, Sheldon Souray, Jim Vandermeer

Offseason Additions: Ryan Smyth, Eric Belanger, Andy Sutton, Cam Barker, Ben Eager

Last Season Ranking: 15th in the West

Offense: For as bad as they may be as a team, they will have an exciting offense. They have an ensemble of young players due to having high draft picks over the last several years. They are led by franchise players Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. They also have the grizzled vet (Shawn Horcoff) and young veteran (Alex Hemsky) that should be able to create and generate goals. Should Hemsky stay healthy and play 76+ games, a 65-point season isn’t too much of a stretch. That number can also depend on the play of Hall who plays on the other wing.

Just like Taylor Hall, No. 1 overall draft pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins looks like he is NHL ready at the ripe age of 18. Early preview guides have him centering the second like with Smyth and Eberle, but depending how he performs in the first 10 games of the season, he could find himself back at the junior level should he struggle to find the net. NHL teams have until the 10th game of the season to send junior-eligible players back down before they are stuck in the NHL for the season.

The team is still young and rebuilding, and they have to find a way to increase goal production. They finished 27th in the league with an average of 2.33 goals per game, and they made an “addition by subtraction” move then they traded Dustin Penner to Los Angles at the deadline and brought back Ryan Smyth. Third liner Magnus Paajarvi could be one of the best young third-line players in the league, as the right winger is behind Hemsky and Eberle in the RW depth chart. The Oilers might be pressured to win soon while they are well under the salary cap and the young talent is playing on their first contact. Should they fail to win once Hall, Eberle and others reach time to negotiate their second contract, they might hit the highway for greener pastures.

Defense: The Oilers have youth and depth at the forward position, but the cupboard is just about bare on the blue line. Besides Ryan Whitney, there isn’t much to get excited about with the defensive unit. They lacked a shutdown defensive pair as well as a puck moving defenseman who could help get the forwards going. They tried to plug those holes with Barker and Sutton, but the impact they will have is still yet to be seen.

If Whitney suffers an injury, the team might be doomed. Before he got hurt last season, they started playing solid hockey around the .500 mark. He was leading the team in minutes, points, and plus-minus. The Oilers went into a tail spin by losing 14 of their next 17 games after he got hurt.

Goaltending: This could be the biggest question mark. They have an aging vet in Nikolai Khabibulin and a young keeper in Devan Dubnyk as the 1-2 combo. Khabibulin is coming off the worse season of his career with a back injury and a 10-32-4 record. Not to mention the distraction he had off the ice last season. With that hopefully behind him, he could focus on the task at hand on the ice. Dubnyk, 25, looked good at times last season. But just like Detroit’s Jimmy Howard during his rookie season, didn’t look like he was ready to be the main man in goal.

Penciled in the third position is 31-year-oldYann Danis, who carried a 8-17-3 record with Khabarovsk of the KHL. He will likely see more time with Oklahoma of the AHL (pending the health of Khabibulin) along with 20-year-old draftee from 2009 Roy Olivier.

Playoff Prediction: Not playoff bound. They will be exciting for your fantasy team and to watch in person, but I believe they need to go the route of the Detroit Red Wings and have two young goalies who can grow and develop with the rest of the team. They have one piece of the puzzle with Dubnyk but they could use a high-pick on a goalie or defenseman in 2012. What could work in their favor is they picked No. 1 the last two seasons. The last team to do that was Ottawa in 1995 and 1996. The season after that, they began a streak of 11 straight playoff appearances.

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