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Young Oilers expect improvement under Renney

by Brian Compton
The Edmonton Oilers' youth movement took a giant step forward this summer -- and it went beyond their roster.

Not only did the Oilers add arguably their biggest piece when they selected Taylor Hall with the first pick of the 2010 Entry Draft, but they also promoted 55-year-old Tom Renney to coach. Renney is replacing Pat Quinn, 67, who was reassigned to the role of senior hockey adviser after Edmonton won only 27 games in 2009-10.

Renney is excited about the opportunity to lead the Oilers, but also knows things won't change overnight. However, that doesn't mean Edmonton can't be competitive and vie for a playoff spot.

  "Turnarounds take time," Renney told "They take a large degree of patience. If you try to miss steps along the way or force it, it could certainly become detrimental. Having said that, you'd be amazed at how fast it can happen if everybody's on the same page and you are paying attention to the detail and what's required. In our situation, it's not about tweaking something. We're involved with some fundamental changes this year, and that's going to take some time."

It's also going to be fun to watch Hall develop in Edmonton, where he'll be bringing fans out of their seats at Rexall Place. The 18-year-old had 40 goals and 66 assists in 57 games for the OHL's Windsor Spitfires last season.

"He's a guy that's got a ton of speed," center Shawn Horcoff said. "With that speed, you're going to want to give him the puck."

Hall isn't the only talented young player on the Oilers' roster. At the start of training camp, the Calgary native found himself skating on the same line as Jordan Eberle, who was Edmonton's first-round (No. 22) choice in 2008. After racking up 106 points in 57 games for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, Eberle finished last season with the AHL's Springfield Falcons and put up 6 goals and 8 assists in just 11 games. Hall and Eberle are being centered by 32-year-old Shawn Horcoff, who went 13-23-36 in 77 contests last season.

Not lost in the shuffle is Magnus Paajarvi, yet another first-round pick (No. 10, 2009) who had 12 goals and 17 assists in 49 games for Timra in the Swedish Elite League last season. The 6-foot-1, 201-pound winger is skating in camp with Andrew Cogliano and Gilbert Brule, who had 37 points (17 goals, 20 assists) for the Oilers last season. Brule is just 23 years old.

Dustin Penner, who led the team in goals (32) and assists (31) last season, returns for a fourth campaign in Edmonton. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder will likely skate with Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky, who is returning from a shoulder injury that limited him to just 22 games last season. Hemsky was coming off back-to-back 20-goal seasons.

Edmonton's fourth line could consist of Colin Fraser centering for Ryan Jones and Zack Stortini. Fraser appeared in 70 games for the Chicago Blackhawks last season, while Jones split last season between Nashville and AHL Milwaukee before the Oilers claimed him off waivers on March 3. Jones scored once in eight games for Edmonton. Stortini, 25, had 13 points and 155 penalty minutes in 77 games last season.

Also in the mix are J.F. Jacques, who could miss the start of the season with as he recovers from back surgery, and Ben Ondrus, who had 14 points in 56 games for the AHL's Toronto Marlies last season.

Although he is still recovering from foot surgery, Ryan Whitney is atop Edmonton's depth chart. The 6-foot-4, 219-pounder had 7 goals, 32 assists and a plus-1 rating -- and was 3-8-11 and plus-7 in 19 games with the Oilers after coming over from Anaheim at the trade deadline. He's likely to be paired with Tom Gilbert, who hasn’t missed a game for Edmonton in three years.

Ladislav Smid returns to the Oilers for a fifth season and is bound to receive major minutes. Just 24 years of age, Smid had a goal and 8 assists in 51 games for Edmonton in 2009-10. He could be paired with Taylor Chorney, a second-round pick from 2005 who split last season between the Oilers and AHL Springfield.

Kurtis Foster arrived via free agency this summer from Tampa Bay and also figures to play a big role on Edmonton's blue line. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder went 8-34-42 in 71 games for the Lightning last season. Foster has been skating in camp alongside Jim Vandermeer, who was acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for Patrick O'Sullivan.

Jason Strudwick, who has appeared in 143 games over the last two seasons for the Oilers, will also compete for playing time. He had six assists and 50 penalty minutes last season.

One defenseman who won't be back is Sheldon Souray. The 33-year-old has been asked to stay home while GM Steve Tambellini attempts to trade him. The oft-injured Souray has two years remaining on his contract with a salary cap hit of $5.4 million.

As long as he's available to play, Nikolai Khabibulin has to be considered the No. 1 goalie in Edmonton. But on Aug. 27, Khabibulin received a 30-day jail sentence in an Arizona courtroom for extreme DUI from an incident on Feb. 8. An appeal has been filed, but no date for that hearing has been set. In 18 games before going down with a back injury, the 37-year-old went 7-9-2 with a 3.03 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.

Should Khabibulin be unavailable, the duties will be split between Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk. Deslauriers, 26, won 16 games for the Oilers last season, while the 24-year-old Dubnyk split time between Edmonton and AHL Springfield.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

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