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Oilers' young trio try to block hype and make team

by Staff / Edmonton Oilers
Oilers rookies Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, & Magnus Paajarvi share a laugh at the NHLPA Rookie Showcase
TORONTO -- Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle are well aware of the expectations swirling around them. They are being touted as the saviors who will return the downtrodden Edmonton Oilers to their 1980s glory -- but that's not something they're concerned with right now.

It's not that they aren't aware of all that hype, but the only thing Hall, 18; Paajarvi, 19; and Eberle, 20, are focused on right now is simply making the team out of training camp.  

"With the history they have with their team, and the passion they have in that city as far as hockey, it's an exciting town to go into and hopefully I get an opportunity to play there," said Eberle, who will be attending his third training camp with the club. "I'm just going to focus on making the team first. That's my main goal, to secure a spot on that team. From then, it's obviously turning it into winning."

"The first day I walked into the locker room this summer, you can just feel the atmosphere," said Paajarvi, who went by Paajarvi-Svensson in Sweden but has shortened his last name with the Oilers. "They have these pictures with the Cups in the '80s with the pictures of (Mark) Messier, (Wayne) Gretzky, (Jari) Kurri and (Paul) Coffey. They have some unbelievable history, and I'm just super excited to hopefully make the team."

"I'm tremendously excited," said Hall, the first pick in the 2010 Entry Draft. "I've been to the city a couple times, and the feeling in the city is they're really excited for this team. There's myself and a couple other young guys that could make the team this year and make an impact. I think things are looking up for this city."

Hall, Paajarvi, and Eberle were in Toronto this week along with 20 other prospects as part of the 2010 NHLPA Rookie Showcase. All three were bubbling with excitement over the prospect of wearing an Oilers jersey, but they were sure to temper that youthful enthusiasm by reminding themselves there's a lot of work to be done in Edmonton.

If the Oilers were drilling for playoff appearances, the 2009-10 season would've been when they came up as dry as ever.

Four seasons of postseason-free hockey were capped when the Oilers finished with the worst record in the NHL. The Oilers, a franchise steeped in tradition and rich with history, won just 27 games and were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention before the trade deadline. They scored the second-fewest goals in the Western Conference -- and allowed the most goals in the entire League.

If it's always darkest before the dawn, then the sun should eventually rise in Edmonton thanks to three players who haven't played a single NHL game. All three likely will be on the roster when the Oilers open the season at home against the Calgary Flames on Oct. 7 -- but that's just going to be the first step in a long process designed to once again transform the Oilers into an NHL power.

"We're looking at this as Year 1, and we've had to change a lot of things on the ice and off the ice in one season," GM Steve Tambellini said. "I know when we are a good team these three young men will be a big part of it. Will they make mistakes? Absolutely. But we also have good, solid veterans coming back, so it's not just going to be these kids on their own. It's just that if they're going to play, we recognize where we're at in regard to our cycle of development, and we're just beginning."

Tambellini said nothing has been promised to Hall, Paajarvi and Eberle heading into camp, but the opportunity is there for them to become major contributors this season. "What we've tried to do is make sure that we don't just give these young players a chance for ice time, but we want to see if we can give them priority ice time," he said.

Not only will Hall, Paajarvi and Eberle be able to lean on each other for support as they try to win roster spots, they will be surrounded with young talent that's already in place. Sam Gagner is just 21, but he's entering his fourth NHL season. Forwards Andrew Cogliano and Gilbert Brule, both just 23, already are on the roster.

That's a lot of young, potentially explosive talent surrounding the even younger trio that could grow into something special over the next few years. That fact isn't lost on Hall.

"It's us three, but there's a lot of other good, young players on this team that are 22, 23, and their careers are going in the right direction," Hall said. "If we can turn this ship around in the next few years, and the coaches and management make all the right decisions, things are looking up."

That optimism breeds expectations, and those expectations can lead to pressure. But no one seems worried about any of that.

"We know there will be some situations we know they're not fully ready for," Tambellini said. "I know expectations will be high for these three kids. They kind of joke about it and say it's a good thing it's not just one and they can all kind of do it together."
"I'm tremendously excited. I've been to the city a couple times, and the feeling in the city is they're really excited for this team. There's myself and a couple other young guys that could make the team this year and make an impact. I think things are looking up for this city." -- Taylor Hall

"I don't really feel it just because I don't live there, but I'm sure once hockey season comes around and you go to the city, it's going to be there and it's going to be alive and well," Hall said. "I know I've done well handling pressure. You just have to go out and play your game."

The resumes of Hall, Paajarvi and Eberle indicate pressure won't be a problem for any of them.

Hall was the top pick this past June after posting 40 goals and 66 assists in 57 games for the OHL's Windsor Spitfires, whom he guided to a second straight Memorial Cup. The 18-year-old left wing from Kingston, Ont., had been hyped as the draft's No. 1 pick even before the New York Islanders took John Tavares with the first pick in 2009, so the pressure he will face this season won't be anything new to him.

The Oilers took Paajarvi with the 10th pick in 2009 after he posted 7 goals and 10 assists in 50 games while playing as a 17-year-old in the Swedish Elite League. He followed that with 12 goals and 17 assists in 49 games last season as a teen in a men's league.

Eberle was the 22nd pick in the 2008 Draft and widely has been considered the top prospect in the Oilers' system. He dominated the WHL last season, with 50 goals and 56 assists in 57 games with the Regina Pats. The Regina, Sask., native also has shown flashes of brilliance in brief AHL stints. Eberle had 3 goals and 6 assists in nine games with the Springfield Falcons as a 19-year-old in 2009, and then posted 6 goals and 8 assists in 11 games with Springfield last season.

Of course, all those wonderful numbers they've compiled in junior and European leagues along with a couple Canadian loonies will get them a small cup of coffee at Tim Horton's. For now, it's all about making the Edmonton Oilers. Everything else will come after that.

"For me, it's always been baby steps, one step at a time," Eberle said. "It's going to be a learning process at the start of the year. Hopefully everything goes well and we can build on it."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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