The Oilers snatched Dustin Penner away from the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks as a restricted free agent. Coming off a 29-goal season and signing for big bucks with Edmonton the 25-year-old winger will be expected to produce at a legitimate first-line clip for the Oilers. Originally signed by Anaheim as an undrafted rookie free agent, the 6-foot-4, 240 pounder brings a strong presence in the corners and near the net.
Penner will likely be centered by Shawn Horcoff. A veritable graybeard on the youthful Oilers, the 29-year-old, Horcoff will fill a key leadership role. His numbers last season (16 goals, 51 points) fell off with everyone else’s, but he’s capable of approaching the form he showed in tallying 22 goals and racking up 51 helpers (not to mention adding 19 postseason points) during the team’s magical 2005-06 campaign.
Shoulder problems limited talented winger Ales Hemsky to 64 games and 13 goals in 2006-07, but he also managed 40 assists and five power-play goals. The 24-year-old has yet to crack to 20-goal mark, but racked up 58 assists in 2005-06. For the Oilers to improve significantly this year, the team will need its 2002 first-round pick to take the next step in his development. In particular, he needs to get a little more involved physically, pass up fewer open shots and continue improving without the puck.
So far there have been no setbacks with Jarret Stoll’s return from post-concussion syndrome. The 26-year-old center missed the last 30 games of the 2005-06 season, after scoring 13 goals and 39 points. The previous season, he scored 22 goals (11 on the powerplay) and 68 points. As long as he remains healthy all season, Stoll has a chance to push for 25 goals and 70 points.
Veteran Ethan Moreau missed virtually the entire 2006-07 season, playing just seven games due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. The 32-year-old’s return should bring some stability to the club’s checking forward corps.
Geoff Sanderson, who came over from Philadelphia with Pitkanen in the trade that sent Joffrey Lupul and Jason Smith to the Flyers, still boasts top notch speed. At this stage of his career, the 35-year-old is probably best suited to the third line. Last season, he played the point on the power play at times and played at various junctures on the Flyers’ second, third and fourth lines.
Sanderson is a streaky goal scorer prone to long droughts. Sanderson struggled with a sports hernia last season. He was a healthy scratch at times for the Flyers last season. After a five-game goal scoring streak, went 14 games without a goal and only scored once in the 22 games following the streak.
Beyond these players, there’s a lot of pre-season competition for ice time and opening night roster spots.
Raffi Torres is looking for a bounce-back season, while free agent tryout Anson Carter will try to return to the form he showed during his first stint with the Oilers and during his time with the Sedin twins in Vancouver. Veteran Marty Reasoner could be on the bubble with several promising young centers in the system nipping at his heels.
Winger Patrick Thoresen will look to improve his rookie output of four goals and 16 points. Meanwhile, center Marc-Antoine Pouliot (four goals, 11 points in 46 games) is among a group of talented youngsters in the mix to compete for jobs. In order to make a significant NHL impact, former Islanders first rounder Robert Nilsson (who came over in the Smyth trade) needs to stay and healthy and accelerate his offensive development.
Rob Schremp, Andrew Cogliano, Ryan O’Marra and 2007 first-round pick Sam Gagner will all get long looks before opening night. Even if they don’t they don’t make the big club this year, the future lies in their hands. Gagner and Cogliano in particular are high-ceiling prospects.
Unfortunately, the Oilers will be without left winger Fernando Pisani indefinitely. The 30-year-old was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. He had 14 goals last season after rising to prominence during the 2006 playoffs.
The loss of Smyth was devastating to the Oilers’ power play. Penner will be counted on to be a force on the power play. He will have talented setup men working with him in Horcoff and Hemsky as well as skilled point men in Souray and Pitkanen.
The team lost one of its better penalty killers in Toby Petersen (now with Dallas). But a healthy Ethan Moreau, who scored four shorthanded goals for the Oilers in 2005-06, should give a lift to a penalty kill that finished eighth in the NHL last season.
Up and Coming
Sam Gagner -- The Oilers selected the son of former NHL standout Dave Gagner in the first round (sixth overall) of the 2007 Entry Draft. … An extremely mature player for his age, Gagner earned a spot on Team Canada’s gold medal winning roster at the 2007 World Junior Championships in Sweden. … Formed a dynamic duo on the OHL’s London Knights with linemate Patrick Kane, the first overall pick in the 2007 draft. … Scored 118 points (35 goals and 83 assists) in just 53 games for London last season. … Missed time with what was initially believed to be a concussion. … Lacks size (5-foot-10, 182 pounds) but makes up for it with savvy, work ethic and skill.
Andrew Cogliano -- The Oilers selected the 5-foot-10, 185-pound center in the first round (25th overall) of the 2005 Entry Draft. … An offensive force for the University of Michigan, Cogliano scored 50 points (24 goals, 26 assists) in 38 games last season. … Boasts top notch speed and skill with the puck. … Set for his first professional season. … Turned 20 in June.
Rob Schremp -- The Oilers selected the 5-foot-11, 200-pound pivot in the first round (24th overall) of the 2004 Entry Draft. … Made his pro debut in 2005-06 after starring for the OHL’s London Knights, for whom he scored 57 goals and 145 points in 57 regular season games (plus 10 goals and 47 points in 19 playoff games) the previous season. … Last season, he scored 17 goals and added 36 assists for 53 points in 69 games with the AHL’s Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Jarret Stoll -- Teams always hold their breath when a player returns from post-concussion syndrome. Once Stoll gets his game legs back and shows he can give and take hits without a problem, the Oilers could be on their way to having two productive scoring lines. Likewise a bounce-back year from Anson Carter (assuming he makes the club) would go a long way toward restoring offensive depth to the club.