Much has been made over the summer of the painfully obvious lack of “size” the Edmonton Oilers possess. Ask any hockey mind and they will tell you the Oilers need a top 2 defenceman and a strong center, along with a gritty winger for the bottom six. And they would be right. But is it too late to address the teams’ needs from that angle? Oilers’ General Manager Craig Mactavish stated over the summer that the team was “too far down the road of playing a skilled game”. That may explain why the team opted not to sign the likes of David Steckel, etc. However, if the Oilers’ are able to implement an effective, well rounded system for their players, they may be able to make it work.
Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. Four unbelievably talented young men. Despite the explosive potential, they are yet raw talents. For a few years now, they have languished in a shifting offensive system with each coaching change bringing with it a new concept, a way of approaching the game. Never mind chemistry, they’re just trying to get a new system down pat. It would appear the arrival of Dallas Eakins marks the beginning of an era of coaching stability. With fitness being his number one defining quality, his emphasis on that element indicates a tipping of the hat, perhaps, that his skilled players need to buy in. Buy in to being made of rock, but move as light as air. And make the right decisions.
Until now, the Oilers have been unable to attract players with size. They are a hot commodity in the NHL right now and often hoarded by their respective teams. Just try to pry a big winger or center away to the coldest dang place in Hockeydom. However, if Eakins successfully imparts an effective system that compliments the skill sets of his players, the Oilers could find a measure of growth that could dislodge a player from another team. A lot has to go right for that to happen.
Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins all need to take a step forward offensively. Yakupov, Gagner and Perron need to develop a solid two way game with offensive explosiveness. Gordon has to be fast, gritty and effective with the puck so that Hemsky and one of Jones, Jesse Joensuu, or Ryan Smyth on the wings can add a line of scoring punch with a mix of flash and toughness that needs to surprise opponents.
At training camp, we will find out who populates our fourth line. Will Acton, Andrew Miller, Mark Arcobello, Ryan Hamilton, Anton Lander, Mike Brown and Ben Eager will be gutting it out for another chance at the bigs. And who knows, maybe the Oilers will invite someone on a PTO. The Florida Panthers asked Brad Boyes on one. Amazing isn’t it. Boyes was on pace for 60 points over 82 games last year on the Islanders and now he can’t get a job. Hey, MacT? How about calling up Brendan Morrow for a little tryout?
And then there’s defence and goaltending. The Oilers are better at D this year and will find strength in that depth. Ference, Grebeshkov, Belov are all locks in my mind and improvements over Sutton, Potter, Whitney and Fistric. Should these fellows protect the net, Dubnyk ought to let in less goals.
So, yeah, the Oilers are small and the plum free agents and trade partners have yet to emerge. But if they can show they have a plan, a system for utilizing the immense talent before them, they may sniff at the post-season and in so doing open the floodgates to a brighter future in our new downtown arena.