Ryan Nugent-Hopkins bangs home his 1st career NHL goal on Sunday night vs. Pittsburgh (Photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC).
It was quite the start to the 2011-12 season that Edmonton put on display against Pittsburgh on Sunday night. The new look Oilers beat a perennial powerhouse. I won't pretend that the Penguins were without the services of Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin, but the Pens would still be considered a good team without 1 and 1A in the lineup -- a team that the Oilers will be modeled after and eventually compared to. The reason is the way one team was built is the same way the other is rebuilding.
You see the Penguins at one time were bad. Like, downright stinking bad. So much so they were the laughingstock of the league by becoming a basement dweller year after year after year. Money was tight and the ownership situation was in flux. The Penguins didn't try and sign high profile players because they couldn't or wouldn't so instead they sucked it up and built through the draft. The decision was made to restock the shelves in order to try and return to the Cup winning team of the early 90's.
Here's what the Penguins did in the draft: Ryan Whitney fifth overall in 2002, Marc Andre Fleury first in 2003, Evgeny Malkin second in 2004, Sidney Crosby first overall in 2005 and then Jordan Staal second overall in 2006. Wow, how about that being the reasons the rebuild has gone so well for Pittsburgh?
But to get those great players they had to have some awful teams. Ironically now they are awfully good having been a Cup finalist and Cup winner and a perennial player in deciding who the best team in the NHL is.
Now you see where I'm going with Edmonton and the way they are trying to get back to the glory last felt in 1990 which was the end of five Cups in seven years. 2007 Sam Gagner sixth overall, Jordan Eberle 22nd in 2008, Magnus Paajarvi 10th in 2009 and then Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first in 2010 and 2011. The blueprint is the same. In fact, Edmonton wasn't quite as bad as Pittsburgh until the previous two seasons where they finished last.
That's what made it so exciting to see that opening night win by Edmonton. Hall setting up Nugent-Hopkins for his first goal. Eberle scoring in the shootout. Young players making a difference. They are Edmonton's future. Everything else the Oilers do will be to compliment what they have done in the draft. The nucleus is in place and now the other parts are being moved in to try and find the right match for winning.
Now the questions in no particular order would be how good will the Oilers eventually be and when? In 2005-06 Pittsburgh had 58 points. The year after there fifth and final lottery pick in 2006-07 they made the playoffs with 105 points. A year later they were in the Cup final and a year after that they won it.
I'm not saying RNH is Sid the Kid or that Hall is Malkin but what I am saying is that building through the draft worked for Pittsburgh now we're waiting to see if it will work the same for Edmonton.