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Super 16: Draft picks paying dividends for Oilers

by Dave Lozo
Is it time to start taking the Edmonton Oilers seriously?

Since reaching the Stanley Cup Final as a No. 8 seed in 2006, it's been season after season of futility. The Oilers have yet to get back to the postseason since that magical run, which came up one game short against the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Oilers hit rock-bottom by finishing 30th in the League standings the past two seasons.

In two of three seasons before that trip to the Final, the Oilers failed to reach the playoffs. But they now are reaping the benefits of the high draft picks that came with those poor finishes.

Co-leading scorer Jordan Eberle (3 goals, 7 assists) was a first-round pick in 2008, while Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers' second- and third-leading scorers, were taken with the first pick of the 2010 and 2011 draft, respectively. The return of Ryan Smyth, who the Oilers took with the sixth pick of the 1994 draft, has had a steadying effect on the young corps of the Oilers. His 5 goals and 5 assists simply are gravy.

Goaltending, however, is the big reason for the Oilers' rise in the standings over the past week.

Through 11 games, the Oilers are allowing a League-low 1.46 goals per game. They've given up an average of 29.8 shots per game, which is right around the League average, but a revitalized Nikolai Khabibulin has been playing Vezina-worthy hockey in the early going.

The 38-year-old leads the League in goals-against average (1.12) and save percentage (.960), and when Devan Dubnyk -- the 14th pick in 2004 after the Oilers missed the playoffs the previous season -- makes a start, there's been almost no drop-off. He is 2-2-0 with a 1.98 GAA and .938 save percentage.

The Oilers had the most impressive week of any team in the NHL last week, going 4-0-0 with wins against the Canucks, Capitals, Avalanche and Blues. They won the last three without defenseman Ryan Whitney, who hurt his knee against the Canucks.

The talent is there for the Oilers. Perhaps this is the season they put it altogether?

What spot does that earn them in this week's Super 16? Take a look:

1 Washington (7-2-0) 1 Well, they weren't going undefeated. Road losses in Vancouver and Edmonton are nothing to be embarrassed about. The schedule softens a bit this week.
2 San Jose (6-3-0) 13 If they can beat the Rangers on Monday, they'll end their road trip 6-0-0. Martin Havlat has 5 assists in 5 games since missing the start of the season rehabbing his shoulder.
3 Pittsburgh (8-3-2) 4 They're currently on pace to finish their regular-season schedule in early December. Can we get this team a break?  Matt Cooke has more points (8) than PIMs (4).
4 Chicago (6-2-2) 7 They've picked up at least a point in eight of nine. Patrick Kane is 59-for-103 (52.2 percent) on draws this year. In his first four seasons, he was 40-for-93 (43 percent).
5 Los Angeles (6-3-2) 2 The bad news is Jonathan Quick allowed some goals and lost last week. The good news is Drew Doughty is back. The good far outweighs the bad.
6 Dallas (8-3-0) 6 If anything short-circuits this hot start, it may be defense. The Stars are allowing 32.6 shots per game, fourth-most in the League. Goalie Kari Lehtonen will need help.
7 Edmonton (7-2-2) 16 Lost in the hot start is the poor start by Magnus Paajarvi, who has 0 points in 11 games. The Oilers won't play another home game until Nov. 17.
8 Toronto (7-3-1) 10 Jonas Gustavsson has filled in admirably in goal for James Reimer, who could be back this week. Dion Phaneuf is a plus-7.
9 Philadelphia (6-4-1) 9 What a week. Chris Pronger and Brayden Schenn seriously hurt, horrible loss at home to Winnipeg, but good wins against Toronto and Carolina. Can't figure them out.
10 Colorado (7-4-0) 5 They finally got their first home win of the season Sunday. They lead the NHL in faceoff win percentage. But can the success last?
11 Buffalo (6-4-0) 8 Their only win in the last nine days was against Columbus. Going back to last season, Tyler Myers hasn't scored a goal in 30 regular-season games.
12 Detroit (5-4-0) 3 Sinking like a stone since their 7-1 loss to the Caps. Pavel Datsyuk, never worse than minus-2 in a season, is minus-5 in seven games this season.
13 Tampa Bay (5-4-2) NR Dwayne Roloson returns for a 28-save shutout against the Jets, but tons of credit should go to Mathieu Garon for holding the fort. Bolts have won four of five.
14 Florida (6-4-0) NR GM Dale Tallon will have an interesting decision when Scott Clemmensen is ready to return in a few weeks. Jacob Markstrom, only 21, has been sensational in four starts in goal.
15 Vancouver (5-5-1) 11 David Booth has 1 assist in three games and is minus-3. Roberto Luongo has a GAA closer to 4.00 than 3.00. The Canucks need to find consistency.
16 Ottawa (7-5-0) NR Six wins in a row. It defies logic. The Sens are giving up 3.75 goals a game. Three. Point. Seven. Five. The 1980s called, and they think that's high.
Dropped out: Boston, Anaheim, St. Louis

If you have any problems, questions, anger or praise for this list, you can let me know on Twitter: @davelozo
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