As the 2011-2012 NHL season opens, fans of the Edmonton Oilers can barely contain their growing excitement and curiosity. After finishing last in the league two years in a row and missing the playoffs for five consecutive years, is this team finally poised, as many hockey insiders predict, for the start of another climb to greatness? For the second straight year, the Oilers have added a first-overall draft pick to their fold. Last season it was dynamic power forward Taylor Hall, who scored 22 goals and was clearly in the hunt for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie before his first NHL fight led to a sprained ankle and ended his season a month prematurely. This year it’s slick and heady centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who some in the know have compared to a young Joe Sakic. The addition of Nugent-Hopkins to a roster already brimming with talents like Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi, alongside established stars like Ales Hemsky, puck-moving defenseman Ryan Whitney, and returning favourite son Ryan Smyth, not to forget a considerably upgraded supporting cast throughout the line-up, has given the team’s fans cause for real optimism. No, they likely won’t challenge for the President’s Trophy as the top regular season team in the league this year, but they’re after respectability at the very least, and making the playoffs is a definite possibility. And as the Oilers proved during their surprising run to game seven of the finals in 2006, once you get in anything can happen.
Oil Change, Aquila Productions’ popular and critically-acclaimed documentary series about the Oilers’ quest to go from bottom feeder to championship contender comes to Rogers Sportsnet this year. With Rogers the principal broadcaster of Oilers games on television, it is the natural home for this series.
Season two promises to bring viewers a multitude of fascinating storylines, most of them driven by big questions.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins impressed in training camp, made the opening night roster and scored the late, game-tying goal against the Pens that set the stage for their shootout win. Is this just the beginning of a stellar rookie campaign for RNH, or will head coach Tom Renney and G.M. Steve Tambellini ultimately elect to send him back to the Red Deer Rebels for one more year of seasoning and filling-out in major junior? The first nine games of the season will tell that tale. If Nugent-Hopkins, or ‘the Nuge’ as his teammates are already calling him, is still here at game ten, he’ll be an Oiler all year.
Will Taylor Hall or either of the other two much-heralded first-round draft picks who cracked the line-up as top six forwards last year, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi, take a step back this season, or can they elude the infamous sophomore slump that has befallen many young stars before them?
And what about the other kids who made a big impression last year – hard-hitting shutdown blueliner Theo Peckham (a.k.a. Teddy Peckman), smooth offensive defenseman Jeff Petry and crafty shoot-out sensation Linus Omark?
Will gritty, heart-and-soul winger Ryan Smyth’s second go-round with the Oilers be a happy and successful one, with #94 once again setting up office in front of opposition nets and leading the Oilers’ kiddie corps by example?
At age 38, can a proud Nikolai Khabibulin bounce back from a season plagued by injuries and legal uncertainty around a DUI charge in Arizona to re-establish himself as the team’s go-to stopper, or has his time passed, placing the number one goalie’s job squarely on the shoulders of 25 year old Devan Dubnyk?
Can the team’s best player of the post-lockout era, high-flying but enigmatic Ales Hemsky, stay healthy this season and make a case for a new contract through point-a-game play and a demonstrated commitment to remaining in Oiler colours long-term?
What can fans expect from captain Shawn Horcoff and the team’s number one defenseman Ryan Whitney, both of whom lost much of last season to serious injuries?
Who will emerge as this season’s surprise overachiever the way that winger Ryan Jones did last year?
Though somewhat overshadowed by the return of Ryan Smyth, how will the team’s other offseason acquisitions – two-way centreman and face-off specialist Eric Belanger, heavyweight enforcer Darcy Hordichcuk, agitator Ben Eger, and former Blackhawks first-round draft pick Cam Barker – carve out important roles for themselves?
The answers to those questions, and many more, will emerge as the six episodes of Oil Change play out over the course of the Oilers’ 2011-2012 season.
In terms of style and approach, season two of Oil Change will continue to provide viewers with the same unparalleled, behind-the-scenes, insider’s access to the Oilers that season one did. Using state-of-the -art, high-definition video cameras and audio-recording equipment, the Aquila crew will follow the team closely on the ice at practice and during the heat of games, in the dressing room, training rooms and coaches’ offices before and after games, away from the rink at home, out in the local community and on the road around the league. We will see and hear the Oilers with their game faces on, with their hearts on their sleeves, and with their guards down during good times and bad alike.
Season one of Oil Change showed viewers across Canada that a fast-skating, rebuilding young NHL team can be fun to watch even when they finish last. Our prediction is that season two promises something even more exciting – on the ice, in the standings and throughout the season on the television screen. Stay tuned to Rogers for Oil Change.