The Edmonton Oilers have amassed the prized young talent a full-fledged rebuild is expected to yield, but they haven't converted it into a winning team to this point.
It's taking a little longer than other franchises who committed to such a path; the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Year 3 of their Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin eras, and the Chicago Blackhawks were Stanley Cup champions in the final year of the entry-level contracts for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle finished their ELCs without a playoff appearance, but the fourth time could be the charm for the prized duo.
2013-14 FANTASY PREVIEW: OILERS
Under-valued: Devan Dubnyk --
His goals-against average has improved in each of his four NHL seasons and his save percentage was a career-best .920 last season. Expected to take the bulk of starts again for the Oilers, Dubnyk could easily be a top-15 goalie as Edmonton continues to get better and better each season.
Over-valued: Jordan Eberle --
After an unbelievable 2011-12 (34 goals, 76 points), the forward finished with 16 goals and 37 points last season. The point production is excellent, but PIMs, plus/minus and shots on goal will be disappointing, making him more of a third-round pick -- not second or earlier.
Sleeper: David Perron -
- The forward didn't live up to expectations last season (10 goals, 25 points), but changing to a more offensive environment in Edmonton could do wonders for this talented 25-year-old, especially if he's paired with Nail Yakupov
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Edmonton traded its captain this summer, but Shawn Horcoff had been pushed into a reduced role. The Oilers added a potential top-six forward in another deal, acquiring left wing David Perron from the St. Louis Blues. They also obtained some needed experience on the blue line and a bottom-six center to win faceoffs and help the penalty kill with the free-agent signings of defenseman Andrew Ference and center Boyd Gordon.
Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin is gone, but the Oilers added a pair of options to back up Devan Dubnyk: Jason LaBarbera and Richard Bachman.
The key for the Oilers remains the continued development of their young stars. They need better health for Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and to find some long-term solutions on defense. If that happens, the Oilers might be the contender for which everyone has been waiting.
Here is the projected 2013-14 lineup for the Oilers:
Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
David Perron - Sam Gagner - Nail Yakupov
Ryan Jones - Boyd Gordon - Ales Hemsky
Ryan Smyth - Anton Lander - Jesse Joensuu
Ladislav Smid - Jeff Petry
Andrew Ference - Justin Schultz
Nick Schultz - Denis Grebeshkov
Philip Larsen - Corey Potter
NOTES: The Oilers basically have seven top-six forwards, so in this scenario Hemsky is the odd-man out. There also is the possibility Nugent-Hopkins will not be ready for the start of the season because of the shoulder surgery that prematurely ended his 2012-13 season. Someone -- Gordon? Lander? Mark Arcobello? One of the wings? -- would need to fill the No. 2 center spot behind Gagner in that scenario.
Edmonton's biggest weakness has been on the blue line. Depth certainly is not a problem with the additions of Ference, Larsen (through the Horcoff trade), and the signings of Grebeshkov and Anton Belov. The Oilers have nine players for seven or eight spots, and that doesn't include top prospect Oskar Klefbom.
If someone isn't moved, Belov could be the odd-man out at the start because he's on an entry-level contract. Figuring out which players get to skate every night on defense and the pairings will be interesting to monitor early in the season.
With Khabibulin back in Chicago, Dubnyk easily should surpass his career high of 47 games. LaBarbera and Bachman will battle for the backup spot during training camp.
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