How the Edmonton Oilers Can Be Legitimate West Contenders After the NHL Lockout

Stephen KaczmarContributor IINovember 2, 2012

How the Edmonton Oilers Can Be Legitimate West Contenders After the NHL Lockout

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    The owners and the players are at a standstill. Neither side is budging. It looks as though the 2012/2013 version of the lockout is here to stay.

    When the NHL eventually returns, whether it's this season or next, some teams will improve in the blink of an eye.

    In 2003/2004, the last season before the 2004/2005 lockout, the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks had 40, 47, 46 and 43 losses respectively.

    Bottom of the standings.

    Since the lockout, those four teams have either won the cup or have made significant strides to get real close.

    Can the Edmonton Oilers, who have been at the bottom of the barrel for the past few years, even think about challenging for a divisional crown immediately?

    Certainly.

     

Swagger

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    They've got it.

    A team needs confidence, and these kids don't lack it. They've won on multiple levels leading up to the NHL and are already making their mark on professional score sheets.

    They are growing up together and are pushing each other to be better everyday.

    Both Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins went to the NHL Awards, as they were both nominated for an individual trophy. They came home empty-handed, and that's alright. It'll only add more fuel to a fire burning deep inside of Oil Country.

    The Oilers may some issues off the ice with the arena proposal, but management has it right by giving former impending restricted free agents Taylor Hall, and the aforementioned Jordan Eberle, long-term contracts.

Say Hello to Justin Schultz

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    He was a top-10 finalist in Hobey Baker nominations for the past two years, an All-American and a twice-named Defensive Player of the Year in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. He scored 44 points with the Wisconsin Badgers in 37 games last year.

    This year he has 12 points in seven games with the Oklahoma City Barons.

    Impressive.

    The Oilers have had trouble finding a true No. 1 defenceman since Chris Pronger left, ironically after the last lockout. He helped Edmonton get to within one win of the Stanley Cup.

    Justin Schultz may be the answer.

    He's not that intimidating physically, but given the space, he'll burn you. He is just what the hockey doctors ordered, a play-making, defensively responsible d-man that can get all those stars the puck.

Nail Yakupov Is the Alexander Ovechkin North

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    He's 19-years-old and playing against big boys. He hasn't lost a step.

    He piles up the goals, whether he's playing with the Sarnia Sting or the Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik. Ten goals in 13 games in the best hockey league (currently), isn't a bad start to his professional career.

    Eberle, Hall and RNH are all scary good, but what is scarier is that Nail has the potential to trump them all.

    Did the Oilers need another weapon in their already loaded offensive arsenal?

    No.

    But he'll all but shore up the best forward corps in the league at some point in the near future.

They Need a Goalie

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    They're the backbone of the team. On some nights they'll be called upon to steal the game.

    Is Devan Dubnyk the answer? Unlikely. He has shown flashes of what could be, but it hasn't materialized into trust.

    Unless management makes a significant deal and adds a better goalie, Dubnyk will be given the reigns to prove his worth for at least one more season.

    A .500 record and a .914 save percentage last season are positive signs, but that won't be good enough once the NHL returns.

Everything Else

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    There is a lot more to this team than just a few young studs and a goaltending issue.

    The Oilers will have a new bench boss when the NHL returns, former Oilers assistant turned head coach Ralph Krueger. He's written books about success; now is his time to lead the Oilers to success.

    Edmonton needs to re-sign impending 2013/2014 unrestricted free agents Ladislav Smid and fan-favourite Ryan Jones.

    They need to drop veterans Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Whitney, and Nikolai Khabibulin.

    They need to name Taylor Hall captain.

    Let the kids run the show all the way to the top.