The Oilers took a big step in shaping their future in late June with the selection of Taylor Hall.
Simply put: You don't get the first overall draft pick by being really, really good.
So Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Pjaarvi have a fair bit of work ahead of them.
The year wasn't a total loss though. The Oilers had the 18th overall powerplay last year, and their 17.8% success rate was the second best out of the past five last-place finishers (2007-08 Tampa converted at a top-five 19.3%). They also had the 26th ranked penalty kill, which was better than one playoff team (Nashville) and, to really stretch for a bright spot, wasn't last.
They also scored more goals-per-game than Boston (playoff team), Calgary (near-playoff team), and Florida (um...).
After that though, it's kind of bleak. So maybe some bold (or not so bold) predictions could give a bit of hope for the future.
1) Ales Hemsky is the surprise of the season
With all of the commotion regarding the three big rookies in town, it seems that everyone around the league has forgotten about Ales Hemsky. With seven goals and 15 assists (22 points) in his first 22 games last year, Hemskey was eying up a career year. Unfortunately it didn't end up that way, and while his recovered shoulder may slow his production early on, he should be in line for a fine season and possible Masterton consideration.
2) The Oilers are free of 30-year olds by the end of the season
The following players qualify for this: Nik Khabibulin, Jason Strudwick, Sheldon Souray, Jim Vandermeer, Shawn Horcoff, and Steve MacIntyre. Souray has been told to stay home from camp, so he won't be in Edmonton for much longer.
MacIntyre should be AHL-bound based on the numbers game while Strudwick may lose out in favor of younger legs, or get the benefit of being shipped to a Cup contender come the deadline (A fate which Vandermeer shares).
So that leaves the ridiculous contracts of Khabibulin and Horcoff. There are teams that could use a veteran presence in net (*cough* Washington, although there's a cap-crunch), and a few teams with big cap room that could be threatening for playoff spots and need a little extra scoring punch and make a play for Horcoff.
Or, everyone except the latter two are gone.
3) Devan Dubnyk starts the most games out of the three goalies
Poor Martin Gerber barely has any chance with Dubnyk, Khabibulin, and Jeff Deslauriers ahead of him, but Dubnyk surprises the other two and takes the lead this year.
While Deslauriers started the most games last year (48), he's consistently sat at around the same level, never really dipping too low or too high, while Khabibulin's health poses a question mark, not to mention the issues that marred the later stages of 2009-10 and the off-season. That leaves an opening for Dubnyk if he can trump his rookie season and get hot for a stretch or two.
4) Dustin Penner scores at least 27
Last year was no one-hit wonder for the former-Duck. Penner has been ridiculed since he started in Edmonton, as big expectations came with that big contract he signed, but he finally figured it out last year and will continue to do so this season. Especially if he's allowed to settle in on one line, which wasn't the case last year.
5) Ryan Whitney nails 40-points
When he was a featured offensive player in a two-way game, Whitney was putting up big numbers from the back end. When he went from Pittsburgh to Anaheim though, he struggled with second-power play ice time. Now, with a firm hold on the number one offensive slot, Whitney will be able to put his skills on display and bolster the Edmonton power play for a full season.
6) Debuts Galore
Along with Hall, Eberle, and Paajarvi, the Oilers have a few other young stars to debut this year. While not their first games, Alex Plante and Johan Motin could see some good looks at the major-league level if injuries strike, and Linus Omark and Chris Vande Velde are two other names to keep in the back of your head when thinking Oilers.
7) Jordan Eberle outperforms Hall and Paajarvi
Taylor Hall has plenty of talent and experience in big game situations to know how to live on the ice at the NHL level, while Paajarvi has been playing in the Swedish Elite league the past three seasons, and put up pretty good numbers last year (12 goals, 17 assists in 49 games).
There's just something about Eberle though. Maybe it's the pension for scoring big goals, maybe it's that he's got a few years on his competitors, and maybe it's that tiny bit of AHL experience he got last year, but he'll have the best season out of the three.
8) The Oilers don't get much better on faceoffs
Last year they were a league-worst 46.4%, and with a younger lineup this year, they'll be outmatched by the older, more skilled centermen around the league. Remember, this is one of the finer learning points of making it to the NHL.
9) Edmonton has five 40 point scorers
If you look at the bottom dwellers over the past few seasons, the fact that they don't have many 40-point scorers really stands out. Some teams have as few as two, while others can go as high as seven and still struggle to find a playoff-worthy home in the standings.
If we're already giving 40 points to Penner, Whitney, and Hemsky, that leaves two other spots: Sam Gagner (who scored 41 last year), and Jordan Eberle. Outside candidates include Horcoff and Tom Gilbert, along with Hall, Paajarvi, and Gilbert Brule, but with the strength of the West, scoring might be tough for the Oil.
10) Edmonton has 30 wins
It doesn't seem like a lot, but it is an improvement over the 27 from last year, and with the added production from a healthy Hemsky and anything else they get from their rookies and young guns, the Oilers may creep over this total even more.
The Stretch: After drafting himself first overall in his Fantasy Hockey league, Shawn Horcoff realizes "hey, I could use a few more points." He promptly goes on to record his first 35-goal, 90-point season leading Edmonton to the sixth spot in the West. Magnus Paajarvi gets so excited over going to the playoffs he adds another 'a' to his last name.
Bryan Thiel is a senior writer and a columnist for Hockey54.com—The Face of the Game! If you want to get in contact with Bryan, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter at BryanThiel_88.