5 Things the Edmonton Oilers Need to Do to Become Contenders
The Edmonton Oilers are a team on the brink of something special. With names like Jordan Eberle, Ryan-Nugent Hopkins and Justin Schultz, many of the pieces are already in place.
However, with such a young roster the Oilers still need to do a few things in order for them to finally take that next step.
Edmonton is lucky to have established such a good young core of players, but will need to add supplementary pieces as well as correct some other weaknesses in order to really progress and compete game in and game out.
Here are five things the Edmonton Oilers need to do to become true contenders in the NHL.
Increase Faceoff Prowess
Though Sam Gagner has collected points this season, he has been abysmal in the faceoff circle.
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If it wasn't for Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger, the Edmonton Oilers wouldn't have anyone they could truly rely on to take a faceoff.
Both Horcoff and Belanger are 52 percent in the faceoff circle, but serve on the bottom two lines in Edmonton.
For all of his skill and playmaking abilities, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has struggled in the faceoff circle which at times has come back to hurt the Oilers in some crucial in game moments.
RNH currently holds a 41 percent faceoff rating, and while all of this could change as he matures and adds strength and size to his game, the Oilers will need their No.1 center-man to starting winning draws.
Perhaps what's most concerning is that sixth year center Sam Gagner holds a faceoff percentage of 38 percent, not nearly good enough for a second line center.
The Oilers will need to find an offensive centre who is reliable on the draw in order to finally take that next step.
Improve Their Defense
The Oilers have been struggling to find a suitable defenseman to replace Chris Pronger since he left Edmonton in 2006.
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It has been clear that Justin Schultz is as good as the Oilers hoped that he was when they signed the free agent to a two-year deal this past summer.
Schultz has stepped in and has been a catalyst for the Oilers offense so far into the 2013 season, providing the Oilers with a much needed power play quarterback.
Schultz has been a nice compliment to defensive stalwarts Ladislav Smid and Nick Schultz, who have been excellent as shutdown defense this season for the Oilers.
Beyond these three players the Oilers are quite a bit of trouble on the back end.
Jeff Petry has quietly been developing into a nice offensive defenseman, who is capable and responsible in his own zone, but is still not a legitimate top defenseman.
Veteran Ryan Whitney has been disappointing and it appears as if his days in Edmonton are numbered, as Whitney has been a healthy scratch multiple times already this season.
The Oilers need a true No.1 defenseman, someone who can step in much like Chris Pronger did in 2005-06 and lead the Oilers from the back.
Protection for Young Stars
While Taylor Hall likes to play with a physical edge, he lacks the ability to deter players from taking liberties with him or his linemates.
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The Oilers have a talented group of young forwards, but aside from their adept offensive capabilities, names like Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins all have something else in common.
A lack of size.
While the all three of those players are no doubt going to develop some size as they mature physically, the Oilers lack a true presence to provide any kind of protection for their young stars.
Considering the Oilers recently waived Darcy Hordichuck, and Ben Eager is suffering from a concussion, there is no one on the Oilers roster who will prevent opposing players from taking liberties with their talented group of forwards.
The days may be gone of having a player whose sole job is to drop the gloves, but there is still need for teams to have a bit of grit and toughness on their roster.
The current Oilers team is easier to play against due to a lack of physicality and a presence of a player or two who can deter opposing players from aggressive play against the young Oilers stars.
The Oilers need the old guard of Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff to start chipping in offensively.
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Add Ryan Smyth to the list of veteran Edmonton Oilers who have spent time in the press box due to a lack of performance.
The Oilers are in desperate need of some reliable offense that isn't located on their top two lines. While the third and fourth lines are often checking forwards or depth players but are able to contribute at times.
This hasn't been the case for the Oilers as players like Shawn Horcoff and Smyth have yet to contribute to the team.
While both have served as instrumental pieces Edmonton's penalty kill, Edmonton will need the two former first-liners to start chipping in offensively in order for the team to take the next step.
Shed Bad Contracts
The Oilers will need to rid themselves of some albatross contracts in order to secure the correct pieces needed to progress.
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In order for the Edmonton Oilers to take the next step they are going to have to shed themselves of some of the bad contracts that are currently on the books.
Names like Shawn Horcoff and Nikolai Khabibulin come to mind, and while the veteran goaltender Khabibulin will be a free agent at the end of the 2013 season, Horcoff still has another two years on his contract worth $5.5 million per year.
Though he is the current captain, Horcoff seems the most likely candidate on the Oilers roster to receive an amnesty clause buyout.
Ryan Whitney is another veteran contract coming off the books this season, and based on the fact that he has been a healthy scratch in multiple games this year, it's safe to assume that the Oilers will not be attempting to resign the free agent.
The Oilers will need to shed themselves of these bad contracts in order to not only lock up valuable assets of their own for the long term, such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz—both of whom will be restricted free agents after next season, but to bring in complementary pieces to help make the team a contender.