On Saturday night, the Edmonton Oilers concluded what ultimately has to be regarded as a disappointing season, dropping a 3-0 decision to the President’s Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks. For the sixth-consecutive spring, fans in Oil Country will not see their beloved Oilers in playoff action.
But, the sophisticated intelligent fan gets that the Oilers, despite an underwhelming 32-40-10 record this season are headed in the right direction.YOUNG GUNS
Simply stated, the Oilers best players were their young players which bodes well for the future.
The Oilers young trio of forwards: Jordan Eberle
, Taylor Hall
and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Eberle, Edmonton’s 1st pick, 22nd overall in the 2008, is in the mix to be a candidate for the Lady Byng Trophy after registering almost a point-per-game (34-42-76 in 78 games) this season.
Hall, the #1 overall pick in 2010 NHL Entry Draft, finished second on the team in scoring with 27 goals and 53 points in 61 games before being shut down late in the season for shoulder surgery.
Nugent-Hopkins, who went #1 overall in 2011, and turns 19 on Thursday, will be a candidate for the Calder Trophy after tying for the NHL Rookie scoring race with Gabriel Landeskog with 52 points, despite playing 20 fewer games then the big Colorado forward.
It was also a positive growth year in the development of a couple of the relative youngsters on the back end as Ladislav Smid
and Jeff Petry
emerged as legitimate top four NHL D-Men.
|Jeff Petry had 18 points in his final 37 games of the season. |
Smid, 26, simplified his game and rounded into a hard-nosed shutdown defenceman in his sixth season with the Oilers. The Oilers were rewarded for the patience with Smid as he ended up leading the Oilers in blocked shots and hits. An understated leader, his passion for the game, like Hall’s, was missed at the end of the season when he was out the final four games with a neck injury.
Petry, 24, went through a very difficult stretch in the New Year going -13 over nine games, but was basically the team’s best defenceman for the final 30 games this season. In his final 37 games Petry had 1-17-18 and was a +3.
He averaged 21:45 in ice time and finished with 25 points in 58 games, and based upon what we saw down the stretch it is not unrealistic to think that Petry could become a 40-point per season player if he got consistent first-unit PP time.
Petry, an Oilers 2nd round pick, 45th overall back in 2006, is scratching the surface. He can skate, can move the puck and added a physical dimension as the season went on as well.
In my opinion, Petry, along with Oilers netminder Devan Dubnyk
, were the two biggest stories of the second half of the season.
Dubnyk, the Oilers 1st pick, 14th overall back in 2004 clearly showed signs in the second half of the season that he had arrived as a #1 NHL goaltender.
At the end of December, Dubnyk had just four wins in 13 decisions and carried a 3.03 goals against average with a subpar .902 save percentage.
Dubnyk, 25, finished the year picking up 16 of the Oilers final 17 wins and ended up with a 20-20-3 record, with a 2.67 GAA and a .914 SVP.
Now the question that needs to be asked is what do Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Smid, Petry and Dubnyk have in common?
Answer, they are all Oilers developed players!
You can maybe take Hall and RNH out of the mix because they were #1 overall picks and players selected there should be your best players; but for Eberle, Smid, Petry and Dubnyk the organization has to get some credit for bringing these guys along and watching them help organically grow the hockey team.
And I got news for you, the Oilers need to continue to grow internally and organically if they ever want to become a truly elite NHL organization.LET IT GROW!
As we have seen with the trials and tribulations with free agent signings Eric Belanger
and Ben Eager
sometimes quick fixes do not work.
Belanger and Eager were brought in last off-season as transitional veterans to help out the Oilers bottom six.
Belanger, who consistently produced 35-40 points in a third line checking role throughout his career, had a dreadful offensive campaign registering just four goals and 16 points. In fairness, he helped the Oilers improve their penalty-killing and in the face-off circle, but the 34 year-old knows he under-performed this season.
The Oilers hoped Eager, 27, would be an energy winger who provided edge. He was inconsistent in this role at best.
Belanger and Eager, combined with past free agent signings who have struggled in Edmonton like a Kurtis Foster and Colin Fraser reinforce in my mind that the Oilers need to develop within, instead of pursuing free agency to improve the hockey club.
Rebuilding organizations often do not attract the top free agents, and hockey-mad markets like Edmonton can be difficult to adjust too especially for veteran players.
Ottawa is a somewhat similar market to Edmonton and the Oilers can learn from what the Senators did last summer.
The Sens had a quiet off-season last year as they elected to transition several players: Colin Greening, Zack Smith, Erik Condra and Bobby Butler to the NHL on a regular basis this year, after all of them saw some time with the Senators in 2010-11 before embarking upon a successful Calder Cup run with Binghamton last spring.
The Oilers would be wise to follow the Senators lead and do the similar thing with Magnus Paajarvi
, Anton Lander
and Teemu Hartikainen
next season; all three of whom will hopefully have an extended Calder Cup run with the Oklahoma City Barons.
It shouldn’t really be that difficult to do. Paajarvi and Lander probably have bigger upside then any of the aforementioned Senators, and based upon the lack of secondary scoring the Oilers received this season, it is hard to fathom that the Oilers don’t have room for both Paajarvi and Hartikainen in their top nine forwards next season.
Lander is obviously behind RNH, Sam Gagner
, team captain Shawn Horcoff
and Belanger down the middle right now, but who is to say that will be the case come next September.
The Oilers first wave of young forwards, Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins have arrived; now the time has come for that second wave to seize the day.
Paajarvi, Hartikainen and Lander will need opportunity as well which means some of the players that finished the season in Edmonton this season may not be back, not a surprise given that the Oilers finished 29th overall.
The Oilers organization has invested heavily in drafting and development over the last few seasons and we are starting to see the genesis of it bearing fruit. The team needs to continue to grow with this model and with “their” players.
It isn’t as sexy as chasing a high-end free agent like a Marian Hossa, but it is more practical.
At the start of the season I predicted the Oilers would finish with 34 wins after 27 and 25 win seasons. The team finished with 32 wins. If the organization sticks with it and the young guns continue to develop and a couple of the Oilers more skilled veterans like a Ryan Whitney
and Ales Hemsky
get healthier, and produce on the level they are capable of, I feel the team should be able to win 40 to 42 games next season.
A 40 to 42 win season does not guarantee a playoff spot but it would be another step to becoming an elite organization.
Regardless if the Oilers make the playoffs or not next season the organization needs to continue to stay the course and grow organically, because that is the key to their long-term success.Bob Stauffer is Radio Analyst of the Oilers Broadcasts on the Oilers Radio Network and Host of “Oilers Now” Monday thru Friday Noon to 2:00PM on 630 CHED.