Northwest Division Preview: Edmonton Oilers

Faiz-Ali VirjiCorrespondent IAugust 30, 2008

Continuing my preview of of the Northwest divison with the Edmonton Oilers. (My preview of the Colorado Avalanche can be found here, my preview of the Vancouver Canucks can be found here, my preview of the Calgary Flames can be found here and my preview of the Minnesota Wild can found here)

Edmonton was one of the busiest teams in the league this off-season, swinging two major trades, first trading defence man Matt Greene and centre Jarret Stoll to Los Angeles for defence man Lubomir Visnovsky, then sending Joni Pitkanen to Carolina in exchange for forward Erik Cole.

They also made a few other minor moves, such as trading Danny Syvret to Philadelphia for Ryan Potulny, Raffi Torres to Columbus for Gilbert Brule, and signing Jason Strudwick.

Mathieu Garon will get the chance to prove he is a legitimate number one this year, and that last year was not a huge fluke. If he plays to the level that he did last year, for 60+ games, Edmonton will be in good shape, as Dwayne Roloson is a proven, capable backup, who can take on the remaining 20 or so games.

Add in the fact that Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers is on a one-way contract, and will be pushing for the backup position could mean that Roloson and Garon both play their best hockey.

On defence, the Oilers seem to be quite solid. Newcomer Visnovsky should provide the offense from the back end that the departed Pitkanen could not. Last year, he scored 41 points, more than any Oiler defence man, and that was considered an off year for him. 

If he gets back to form, with the help of the Oilers new offensive philosophy, he should have no problem breaking 50 points, and could push the 60 point mark.

The rest of the d-corps also looks good, as Tom Gilbert and Denis Grebeshkov are just coming off a great season, and look to be big contributors this year. If Sheldon Souray can stay healthy, the Oilers top four will be one of the best in the Northwest.

Steve Staios will be Edmonton's shutdown defence man this year, and will be called upon to lead this young team. Ladislav Smid will be challenged by Strudwick, Theo Peckham, and Mathieu Roy for the last defensive spot, and will have to prove he belongs in the NHL, and begin to show he can reach his potential.

While still young at 22, Smid risks getting lost in the shuffle, as the Oilers have some good prospects at defence coming up, so it is time for Smid to shine and be the player he was projected to be.

Unlike a couple of years ago, Edmonton's offence is not a concern, and in fact looks to be one of its strengths. Ales Hemsky looks ready to breakout and score 80 points for the first time in his career, as his almost point per game numbers in the last two injury shortened seasons seem to show. 

Sam Gagner ended last season at a torrid pace, notching 27 points in the last 28 games. With the return of Shawn Horcoff from injury, Gagner won't be able to maintain a pace like that next year, but 60 points is not out of the question. If Horcoff can continue his all star play, the Oilers will have two very good centres.

Dustin Penner, Erik Cole, Robert Nilsson and Andrew Cogliano are all top six players, but the Oilers only have three spots left. Whichever one is moved down to the third line should help the Oilers have three scoring lines, and may help Fernando Pisani finally hit 20 goals.

The Oilers also have many youngsters coming up on offence, with Rob Schremp, Robert Potulny, Marc Pouliot, and Gilbert Brule all NHL ready. Brule and Potulny will probably be in Springfield for the year however, so that they can get ice time and help their development.

Brule, a former first round pick, seemed to have his development derailed in Columbus, so the Oilers will probably take it slowly with him, hoping he can reach his potential. Pouliot seems to have a spot locked up for him on the fourth line, as does Kyle Brodziak. That leaves one spot for either the skilled Schremp or the pugnacious Zack Stortini.

This season the Oilers should definitely challenge for the division crown, and are probably the favorites to win. The reason for this is their depth at both forward and defence. If the players play up to expectations, especially their goal tending, the Oilers could be playing deep into April, and possibly May.