Edmonton Oilers: 5 Oilers Who Need to Step Up in 2013-14
The Edmonton Oilers are on the cusp of returning to contention for the first time in years. New general manager Craig MacTavish has reshaped the roster and made it more competitive. He succeeds former GM Steve Tambellini, who was regarded as too cautious.
MacTavish promised some "bold" moves this offseason. His moves may have not been "bold," but they improved the team.
Even with these moves, the Oilers may not be over the hump yet. Moves would have to be made, but what would those be?
Several Oilers are nearing the end of their contracts, and some need to step up after a disappointing 2012-13 season.
Criteria for inclusion on this list would be players who had disappointing seasons, players whose contracts are expiring and players who MacTavish has put on notice.
Here are the players who need to step it up this upcoming season.
All stats courtesy of rotoworld.com.
All cap information courtesy of capgeek.com
The Oilers gave up Magnus Paajarvi and a second-round pick in 2014 to acquire Perron from the St. Louis Blues. He has a lot of potential, but he has missed many games in the last few seasons because of concussions.
He needs to surpass his career high of 50 points in order to justify what the Oilers gave up to get him.
Normally, a coach wouldn't be on a list like this. Eakins is coming in from the Toronto Marlies of the AHL to coach the Oilers.
The pressure on him is to transition to the NHL immediately. He is seen as an innovative coach, but it may take some time for him to adapt.
GM Craig MacTavish re-signed him after three years away from the team. It is a low cost flier on an inconsistent player. This season is about restoring value to Grebeshkov's career and seeing if he can go back to the form that got him 39 points in the 2008-09 season.
5. Ryan Nugent-Hopins
How could a player like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins be on a list like this? Well, he was a huge disappointment last season when he scored only four goals and 24 points.
His 2012-13 season was cut short because of a shoulder injury.
He has shown his game-breaking ability before in 2011-12 with 52 points in 62 games. However, that season was also ended by injuries.
When he is healthy, he is the most talented center on the Oilers. In fact, he is one of the most talented centers in the NHL. His durability will be the main concern surrounding him.
With a GM who seems to be a little impulsive, could Nugent-Hopkins be traded if he is deemed too much of a risk with his history of injuries?
As unlikely as it is, it is still a possibility. Teams would pay a ransom for a player this talented.
The Oilers could get a center back that is more durable as well as more players to speed up the return to contention. It is still unlikely to happen because of his upside.
Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall are pretty secure for the time being. The other member of their line is a little more expendable than they are.
4. Jordan Eberle
The third member of the "Kid Line," Jordan Eberle, is a very talented right-winger for the Oilers. He had an All-Star year in 2011-12 with 76 points in 78 games.
His 2012-13 year was a disappointment, as he only scored 37 points in 48 games.
When you look at who is the most likely to be traded from the "Kid Line," Eberle is the obvious choice. Not because he isn't good—he is an excellent player—but because the Oilers already have an in-house replacement.
It would be the 2012 No. 1 overall pick, Nail Yakupov. Yakupov plays right wing, and Craig MacTavish could decide that depth is more important than having two talented top-six forwards.
Once again, it is unlikely that MacTavish would try to trade Eberle for the reasons that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins likely won't be traded as well. There is too much upside with Eberle, and he is only 23 years old.
He was an All-Star in only his second season with the team. Why give up on him when he has produced at such a high level?
While anything is possible, MacTavish will likely keep the "Kid Line" intact. When they are together, the chemistry is great, and their potential is substantial.
This is the first line pairing that head coach Dallas Eakins is likely to roll with, and MacTavish will give his new coach every opportunity to succeed.
The second line, however, has one player who just signed a new contract and needs to prove that he is worth what he is being paid.
3. Sam Gagner
Sam Gagner is the second-line center for the Oilers. He had a career year last season, with 38 points in 48 games. Previously, he has never scored higher than 49 points in any given season.
Edmonton needs to know if his future productivity will justify the money that comes with the three-year contract they gave him this summer.
Since Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will miss the start of the season, Gagner will probably shift to the first line to team up with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. This is an opportunity to show that he can be a difference-maker.
Gagner will go back to the second line when Nugent-Hopkins is healthy. Projections have David Perron as his left wing and Nail Yakupov as the right wing.
Gagner should be able to set a career high in points with a group that talented.
Gagner's deal is worth $14.4 million. He is owed $4.4 million this upcoming season. The key for the Oilers is that he can be traded this season without having to absorb his remaining salary.
His contract is secure for this season, but a few of his teammates are fighting to prove their worth.
2. Ales Hemsky
Ales Hemsky is at a pivotal stage in his Oilers tenure. He is in the last year of his current deal and has shown signs of slipping.
He had only 20 points in 38 games last season.
His production has declined steadily in recent years, as he has only 98 points in the last three seasons. Every one of those seasons was cut short by an injury.
Craig MacTavish has talked in the past about both sides needing a fresh start. However, Hemsky is still with the team because his contract is way too much for another team to take on.
It is likely that Hemsky will play out the season with the Oilers.
His best season was in 2005-06, when he scored 77 points in 81 games. The talent is there. If he can stay healthy, his contributions to the team could be significant.
Even if his future is not with the Oilers, he still has a lot riding on the upcoming season. If he can be the Hemsky of old, some team will take a chance on him when he becomes a free agent after the season.
There is one player that has to step up even more than Hemsky does in the upcoming season.
1. Devan Dubnyk
The player under the most pressure is the goalie, Devan Dubnyk.
Craig MacTavish has already tried to trade for a new goalie. Even though Cory Schneider was traded to New Jersey, this shows a distinct lack of faith in Dubnyk.
Dubnyk went 14-16 last season. Not great, but when you look at the team, he was far from the reason that they failed. His statistics were good, with a 2.55 GAA and a .920 SV%.
He is a solid goalie that is young enough to get better.
The reason he struggled so much was lack of depth and talent on defense. There were too many times where Dubnyk was defending against a ton of shots and had minimal support.
The Oilers lacked the ability to get the puck out of their zone, and Dubnyk had to pick up the slack too many times last season.
Fair or not, there is a lot riding on this season for him. This is the last year of his current contract. He is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
There is no guarantee that he will be back with the Oilers next year. His productivity must improve. The team has more talent around him now.
Dubnyk could certainly prove his worth by helping them get into the playoffs.
Dubnyk is the player that must step up the most in 2013-14.