After years of futility the Oilers have stockpiled a treasure trove of budding superstars. The task of returning Edmonton to the playoffs falls on new coach Ralph Krueger, and has told his team he wishes to employ an aggressive style of hockey. As with most teams, the Oilers success hinges on good play between the pipes.
Is this the year Taylor Hall puts it all together?
The hard-charging, smooth-handed forward has teased Oilers fans with his abilities, scoring some highlight goals in his first two seasons. But injuries have limited him to no more than 65 games a season. Already, Hall, who is often compared to a young Mark Messier, has had a high ankle sprain and shoulder surgery, even had his face sliced for 30 stitches by an errant skate blade. Oddly enough, he bonked heads with roommate Jordan Eberle and suffered another gash on his noggin just before arriving in Edmonton last week. If he stays healthy, greatness could be just around the corner.
Can Ralph Krueger return Edmonton to the playoffs?
Krueger is well-traveled and considered a good communicator. He has never been an NHL head coach before, but this situation is ideally suited for him. An assistant under former Edmonton head man Tom Renney, Krueger is well-aware of what the Oilers have learned the last two seasons and what they need to improve on. He’s also surrounded by a pair of experienced assistants, former Oilers players Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith. While Krueger won’t be allowed to ease into his new role, his team’s energy – combined with a shortened season – might be enough to return Edmonton to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. “He wants it to be aggressive Oilers’ hockey,” team captain Shawn Horcoff said of Krueger’s philosophy. “Maybe not the last few years, but back 20 years.”
Will Devan Dubnyk stand tall in goal?
At 6 foot 5, Dubnyk will stand tall, all right. But can he be the goaltender the Oilers need in close games? Last season, the Oilers ranked in the bottom third of the league in goals against, 23rd overall (they were 19th in goals for). Dubnyk got a lot of playing time last season, winning and losing 20 games, and will get his chance to be the top man ahead of 40-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin. If any one Oilers player needs a good start to the season, its Dubnyk, who recently helped Canada win the Spengler Cup. His Edmonton teammates are relying on it.
Can Justin Schultz duplicate his AHL showings?
The free-agent signing (via the University of Wisconsin) is cool with the puck. The 22-year-old defenceman showed that in his high-scoring stint with Oklahoma City in the AHL, recording 18 goals and 30 assists in 34 games. Schultz hasn’t been overwhelmed by his rapid ascent, but 48 games of desperate NHL play represents a new stratosphere of stress. His OKC teammates said they were pleasantly surprised by Schultz’s on-ice awareness and sound defensive play. To help him adjust to the NHL, the younger Schultz will be paired with an older Schultz, defensive-minded veteran Nick, who was acquired last season in a trade with the Minnesota Wild.
What to do with Nail Yakupov?
This is a question with no wrong answer. The latest No. 1-pick overall has talent to burn and could be used almost anywhere (not so much in goal). With a top line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Hall and Eberle, Yakupov could end up on the second line with Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner. That would give the Oilers a 1-2 punch of dynamic proportions, with Horcoff, Ryan Smyth and Teemu Hartikainen heading up a third line. What it does is give Krueger more flexibility should the offence flounder or the power play requires a change of spark plugs.