|Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was selected No. 1 overall this past June; he's now amassed 12 goals & 35 points this season (Getty Images).
The last 365 days have been very memorable for those who love the game of hockey, unfortunately not always for the right reasons. The first day of 2011 took the best player in the world from us for an indefinite period of time.
Tragic deaths marred the spring and summer as Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, Wade Belak and the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team left us. The Stanley Cup Final was a hard fought series that led to the first Bruins championship in 39 years, but also sparked riots that left a black mark on Vancouver.
On the positive side of the ledger, though, we watched with great satisfaction as the city of Winnipeg welcomed home the Jets, as a new season with new highlights kicked off. And, near the end of the year, the NHL approved a realignment plan that will re-light old rivalries and allow fans to see every team and player from around the league at least once a year.
In Oil Country, there was no shortage of our own orange and blue centric stories in 2011, so I present, in order of occurrence, the Top 10 Oilers Stories of 2011:10. Injuries hit hardRyan Whitney
, Ales Hemsky
, Taylor Hall
and Sam Gagner
only begin the list of names whose seasons ended prematurely in 2011. For Whitney and Hall in particular, tremendously productive campaigns were stymied, leaving the Oilers and their fans to wonder what could have been.9. Dustin Penner is traded
After a tumultuous 4 seasons in Edmonton, the Los Angeles Kings saw fit to deliver the Oilers a package that included 2 first round picks (Teubert & Klefbom) for the enigmatic winger.8. 2nd consecutive 30th place finish
An 11 game losing streak through the month of March cemented a 62 point season for the Oilers as they finished last in the NHL for the 2nd consecutive year. In mid-April, the disappointing finish officially yielded them the 1st overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft, also for the 2nd consecutive season.7. Sheldon Souray is bought out
After criticizing management at the end of the 2009-10 season, Souray was banished to the American Hockey League to start 2011. With 1 year remaining on his contract, the Oilers opted to cut him loose following his season in the minors, allowing him to sign with the Dallas Stars.6. Ryan Smyth comes home
After being deal to the New York Islanders midway through the 2006-07 season, Smyth expressed a desire to return to Edmonton following his 2nd year in Los Angeles in 2010-11. While in Minnesota for the Entry Draft, Steve Tambellini and Dean Lombardi struck a deal that sent Colin Fraser and a 7th round pick to the Kings in exchange for Captain Canada, who had one year remaining on his contract. Upon his return, Smyth made it clear that he had never wanted to leave in the first place and that his heart had always remained in Edmonton. He started his return season on a torrid pace and currently sits 2nd on the team in goals with 14.5. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is drafted
Following a stellar 106 point season with the WHL's Red Deer Rebels, the Oilers made the playmaking centerman the 1st overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft, much to the delight of their fan base. Instantly dubbed "The Nuuuuuuge" by Oilers fans, Ryan impressed through every step of rookie camp, main training camp and the pre-season en route to cementing a spot as the team's top line center.4. Team toughness is bolstered
July 1st saw the acquisition of Darcy Hordichuk
, Ben Eager
and Andy Sutton
as the team saw a need to make sure the skilled youth of the team was protected.3. Downtown arena moves forward
In late October, following a lengthy public hearing process, the City of Edmonton approved a deal with Katz Group to move forward on the development of the Downtown Arena Revitilization Project, which includes a new NHL facility. With the land now purchased, design of the project is underway, hopefully with a construction start date sometime in late 2012 or early 2013, with an opening in time for the 2015-16 NHL season.2. Youth is served
In just his 3rd NHL game, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
registered a hat trick after dominating the pre-season to make the team as an 18 year old. His pace hasn't slowed, as he currently sits with 35 points in 36 games and is a serious threat to become the first Oiler to ever win the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year. Jordan Eberle
and Taylor Hall
have also enjoyed fantastic sophomore seasons, Eberle leading the team in scoring with 39 points and Hall registering 24 points in his 28 games played.1. The fight for progress continues
At the time of this writing the team sits in the bottom 5 of the NHL standings and, if they finished there, they'd have a shot at the 1st overall draft choice for the 3rd straight season. But, the signs of improvement are obvious. The goal differential, which finished at -76 last season, is currently at -1. The powerplay and penalty kill, both in the bottom 5 last season, are both in the top 10 right now. Ryan Smyth
, Nikolai Khabibulin
and Ryan Jones
are all having great seasons as veterans, while the contribution of the youth is even more obvious.You can listen to Dan on Inside Sports weeknights from 6 to 9 on 630 CHED.