The other day a friend of mine (not an Oilers fan) told me he was predicting that the Oilers would finish fourth in the Western Conference. I said, “You’re crazy!” (Truth be told, I also mocked him last year when he picked the Rangers to finish first in the East, which turned out to be correct.)
Then the next day, I was shocked when I discovered that Adrian Dater of Sports Illustrated ranked the Oilers third (THIRD!!!) in his NHL Preseason Power Rankings. (Keep in mind that a power ranking is not a prediction of the final standings.) When told of this, Ryan Whitney responded, “Third? Not third in the West, either? Overall? I think that… well, marijuana’s legal in some areas.” Here’s what Dater has to say:
Check with me in a month or two, but it says here that they will get off to a great start–which really ups the odds of getting into the playoffs. Why the reason for Oil optimism? Because Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and newcomer D-man Justin Schultz all played regularly during the lockout in the AHL and will be that much further along than the players who were limited to informal skates or shinny matches for charity. Eberle had 51 points in 34 games for Oklahoma City, while Schultz had 48 in 34. Granted, big questions remain in goal and defense, but what an offense this should be.
TSN’s Scott Cullen was more reasonable in his power rankings, putting the Oilers in the sixteenth position, ahead of Northwest rivals Minnesota, Calgary, and Colorado. Cullen writes,
All the young talent is falling into place and could really be kickstarted with the addition of D Justin Schultz, the dynamic offensive defenceman who scored 48 points in 34 AHL games and will upgrade the Edmonton power play immediately. If G Devan Dubnyk is up to the task as the No. 1 ‘tender, Edmonton may finally be ready to leave the lottery behind.
The Hockey News is not as optimistic about the Oilers. They predict that Edmonton will finish thirteenth in the West. BOOOOO!!! Here’s their reasoning:
There were a couple of voices in the THN office making a case for the Oilers to be a playoff team, but in the end, the majority decided it was still too soon. We do believe the Oilers will improve from recent showings and maybe even move out of the draft lottery. Nail Yakupov is dynamic, but first-year expectations should be tempered. Defense and goaltending is still a big question mark and in a loaded Western Conference those are debilitating shortfalls. Sure, Justin Schultz was added to the blueline, but he’s far from a difference-maker at this point. Can Ryan Whitney stay healthy? Can Devan Dubnyk be a legit No. 1? Until these questions become solid answers, Edmonton is still on the outside looking in.
What do I think? I’d be ecstatic if my friend is right and the Oilers finish fourth in the West. But I don’t think they’re positioned for that kind of leap in the standings just yet. I’ll say that the Oilers will finish eighth. (If I wasn’t an Oilers fan, I might pick them ninth or tenth.) But, honestly, I’ll be satisfied if the Oilers are battling for a playoff spot during the last week of the season.
What do you expect of the Oilers this season?