Rookies, Revamped Power Play: 5 Things To Watch In Edmonton Oilers Training Camp
It's that time of year again.
The players have arrived, the rookies have picked their numbers, whistles have been polished and the puck is about to drop on another Edmonton Oilers training camp.
This is arguably the most significant training camp in the team's history. After hitting rock bottom last year, the Oilers are back. Armed with a clear direction for the first time in many years and a prospect pool that is the envy of the league, there is real hope in Oil Country this fall.
With that in mind, here are five things us Oilers fan should keep an eye on throughout training camp and the preseason.
How Will The Rookies Perform?
This is what everyone will be watching.
Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Paajarvi are the reason for the optimism that surrounds this years team. Jordan Eberle is already a Canadian legend thanks to his World Junior exploits. Taylor Hall has nothing left to prove in the OHL. Magnus Paajarvi led Sweden in scoring at the World Championships.
The only question that remains is are they ready for the NHL?
All signs point to the answer being "Yes." Hall is a lock to follow in the footsteps of previous first overall picks John Tavares and Steven Stamkos in making the jump to the NHL right away. If their rookie seasons are an indicator of what to expect, then 20-25 goals and 50-60 points is not only possible, but probable for Hall.
Jordan Eberle is easily the most famous hockey player not playing in the NHL. Expect that to change this season, because at 20 years old Eberle is ready to make the big squad. Eberle's World Junior heroics are legendary, but what many may not know is that Eberle has scored at a PPG clip in two partial seasons in the AHL. It is because of this that THN has predicted him to lead all rookies in scoring and to win the Calder.
Magnus Paajarvi recently led team Sweden in scoring at the World Championships. Not the World Junior Championship, but the World Championship, playing against NHL calibre opponents.
As great as I think Hall and Eberle will be, it is Paajarvi that makes me most excited. Granted, I've only seen him play a few times, but when I have, I can't help but be utterly impressed. The way he uses his speed on the wing to drive the puck to then net can't help but remind one of Glenn Anderson.
I'm trying to keep expectations realistic and contain my excitement about these three, seeing as how none of them have ever played in the NHL, but excitement like this is hard to contain.
How Will Penner React To The Coaching Change?
As part of the sweeping changes that Tambellini made in the offseason, Pat Quinn was moved upstairs to become a "Senior Advisor" and associate coach Tom Renney took over as head coach.
It was no secret that Penner and former coach Craig MacTavish did not like each other. MacT was hard on Penner for what he perceived as laziness, and even made Penner a healthy scratch on several occasions. When MacTavish was mercifully fired two years ago and Quinn named his replacement, something changed in Penner.
He came to camp in shape for the first time in his career and proceeded to have the best season of his career. It was as if Quinn had performed a Jedi mind trick on Penner. He became the player Lowe believed he was getting when he signed him to that offer sheet.
I've written on B/R before about how last season barely scratched the surface of what Penner is capable of, and that if he had a full season of Hemsky feeding him the puck (or Gagner playing up to his potential), he could easily score 40 goals.
This is only possible, however, if he continues to work as hard as he did last season and doesn't revert back to the bad habits he showed under Mactavish. Most analysts believe he will be just fine and I agree with them.
It is something to keep an eye on though.
Will The Rookies Revamp The Power Play?
The Oilers Power Play was not very good last year.
Of course, when both Souray and Hemsky miss most of the season, it would be ridiculous to expect a good PP. This year looks to be a different story.
Hemsky will (hopefully) be back for a full season, and adding the offensive talents of Hall, Eberle and Paajarvi can only help the man advantage. It remains to be seen how long the disgruntled defenceman Sheldon Souray will remain with the team, but the additions of Ryan Whitney and Kurtis Foster should help replace him if/when he is traded.
The Oilers should have two dangerous units this year: Lines of Hall-Gagner-Penner-Whitney-Gilbert, Eberle-Brule-Hemsky-Foster-Smid, or Eberle-Gagner-Paajarvi-Foster-Gilbert all look a hell of a lot better than anything thrown over the boards last year.
What Kind Of Mood Will Sheldon Souray Be In?
Sheldon Souray wants out of Edmonton.
Tambellini has been unsuccessfully trying to trade him all summer, and it looks like Souray will remain an Oiler for the time being. The fact of the matter is, nobody wants Souray right now. Teams had the opportunity to claim him off waivers and they all passed. Sheldon's stock was already low at seasons end due to his age, cap hit and injuries, but he didn't help by making some childish comments about management in the offseason.
Right now, the ball is in Souray's court.
If he shuts up, stays healthy and plays like he can, then Tambellini should have no problem finding a trade partner mid-season. If Souray continues to pout and act like a child, then he may find himself buried in the minors before long.
Update: Souray is now no longer welcome at Oilers training camp and has been told by the team not to report.
Will Ales Hemsky Finally Have an Allstar Season?
Ales Hemsky is an incredibly talented hockey player, possibly the most talented player they have had since the glory days.
The problem is, he can never fulfill his immense potential. Whether he is injured or simply not playing like he should be, Hemsky has failed to have a PPG season and cement his status as one of the games premier players.
The fact is, Hemsky is 27. He is in his prime and the days of "he just needs one more year to develop" are over. It looked like he was finally going to have an All-Star season last year, but then he got injured. Again.
The problem with Hemsky's game is that he holds onto the puck too long. Fans often scream "shooottt" at him, but the problem is not that he refuses to shoot. To often we've seen Hemsky beat one player, then another, then another. By the time he has slipped past that third defender, the opposing team had recovered and got in position to cover all of his teammates, or line him up for a devastating hit.
If Hemsky could learn to make one quick move and then move the puck, he would find a lot of ice opening up for him.
He showed flashes of it last year, but now is the time for Hemsky to shine.