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Oilers need fast start, strong second-line center

by Derek Van Diest / NHL.com

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

The Edmonton Oilers have not been to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since losing to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

The organization bottomed out in 2010 as the Oilers finished 30th in the League standings for the first time in franchise history. Rebuilding began with the selection of Taylor Hall with the first pick of the 2010 NHL Draft.

Despite having the No. 1 picks of the 2011 and 2012 drafts, the Oilers have not come much closer to snapping what now is an eight-year playoff drought.

Not wanting to break up his young core, Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish tried to augment his roster by bringing in veterans who he hopes will provide size and secondary scoring while his young stars mature.

In order for the Oilers to challenge for the playoffs, they’ll need things to come together quickly to keep from falling behind early in the season.

Here are three things that need to happen in order for the Oilers to have a successful season:

1. Fill the second-line center role -- In order to add size to their forward group the Oilers traded center Sam Gagner to the Tampa Bay Lightning for left wing Teddy Purcell.

Gagner's departure left a hole in the middle of the Oilers' lineup which MacTavish was unable to fill via a trade or free-agent signing this summer.

The hope is Mark Arcobello, Anton Lander or rookie Leon Draisaitl can step into the spot. If not, MacTavish may have to dip into his young talent pool to acquire another center.

"When you look at our depth chart, I understand and certainly agree with that position having the most question marks," MacTavish said. "But I think that the onus is going to be on this current group of players to show an ability to be competitive for a playoff position. The onus is going to be on Arcobello, Anton Lander and Leon Draisaitl to show that they’re ready to play. If our team is competitive and we still have a hole or a question mark in those positions, then as the season goes on and we get more information there may be potential where we deploy some of our future assets to fill that current need."

2. Pick up where they left off -- The Oilers were out of the playoff race early last season with rookie coach Dallas Eakins at the helm.

To Eakins' credit the team did make some strides as the season went along, solidifying its goaltending and adopting a more conventional defensive system.

In order to keep from falling behind again this season, the Oilers need to get off to a strong start and build on the positives from last season.

Having continuity behind the bench with the return of Eakins should help that process.

"I'm probably one guy that really believes that," Oilers left wing David Perron said. "Not knowing what to expect is something that really doesn't make you secure when you come into camp. It's nice to know what the testing is going to be like, what the systems are going to be."

3. Stay healthy -- Depth has not been one of the Oilers' strengths in recent seasons, and heading into 2014-15 the team will need to avoid the injury bug to stay competitive.

This is particularly important at center, where the Oilers are thin. If Ryan Nugent-Hopkins goes down, the Oilers could be in big trouble.

The team currently has a huge void to fill behind Nugent-Hopkins, with Boyd Gordon the only other experienced center on the roster. They tried Hall in the middle last season but that did not work out, and it's unlikely he'll be used there again.

On defense the Oilers added depth with the acquisitions of Nikita Nikitin, Mark Fayne and Keith Aulie.

However, outside of Nikitin and Justin Schultz, there are not a lot of offensive defensemen on the roster and they can't afford to lose either of them for extended stretches.

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