When you hear the names: Ryan, Jordan and Taylor, you are probably wondering which boy band they belong to. Unless you live in Canada, that is. The "Kid Line," as they have been affectionately deemed, are part of the Edmonton Oilers rebuilding process.
Far, far away in the great white north of Alberta, Canada, there is something very special starting. While the perennial powers of Detroit, Vancouver, Pittsburgh and Boston continue their dominance in the standings and the headlines, Edmonton is building something good. Something really good actually.
If you have NHL Center Ice, or some other fancy way of watching the Edmonton Oilers play, I highly recommend it.
While the 1980s saw the rise of Edmonton as Canada's hockey epicenter, success has been scarce lately. The Oilers have been one of Canada's stepsisters to the Cinderella of Montreal and Toronto. The "Original Six" snobbery has left Edmonton out in the cold despite their Stanley Cup wranglings from 1984-1990.
The past 20-plus years have resulted in a collection of mediocrity and bad alternate jerseys. With a return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006, the Oilers looked to repeat their success from the 1980s. However, after the Cup loss to Carolina, there was a free agent exodus.
2010 was seen as the "Oil Change." New coach Tom Renney and No. 1 picks Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi embarked on a rebuilding campaign that focused on developing youth, and supporting them with veteran free agents.
Growing pains and injury pains wrecked a promising season, as the Oilers again won the first overall pick with another last-place finish.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was the Oilers choice as the first overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. RNH scored in his first NHL game and had a hat trick in his third game.
Before getting injured in December, Nugent-Hopkins was a leading candidate for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the league's top rookie.
While the Oilers have barely improved their position in the standings this year, there are several positives to build on this season. They have already surpassed their win total from last year, with 12 games to play.
RNH has bounced back from injuries and has shown a deft scoring touch. Eberle and Hall are fast becoming stars, with all three producing at a near point-per-game clip.
In today's sports world with a "must win now" philosophy, it's crucial the Oilers show some patience with the talented trio. Renney deserves a full season with all three speeding towards their prime, while the dead weight on the roster has shown itself night after unproductive night.
While the Oilers' building philosophy is the right one for cultivating youth and talent, they still have areas that need to be addressed in the offseason.
Defensemen Corey Potter and Jeff Petry have been revelations on the blue line, while Devan Dubnyk has shown flashes of brilliance in goal. With experience comes consistency.
The 2012 offseason will be a critical step for these Oilers if they wish to get back to the playoffs. Some money will need to be spent on a goalie to either push Dubny or keep him in a secondary role. Then the tough decisions need to be made regarding veterans with expiring contracts.
The Edmonton front office must realize that this talented core needs some confidence building in the form of a winning season. While winning can be contagious and breed success, too many losing years can shatter confidence and destroy the word every team builds it's hope on: potential.