For the past three seasons, the Edmonton Oilers have been a bad team. Like, really bad. Three straight first overall picks bad. A combined minus-173 goal differential bad. Theo Peckham playing top-four minutes on defense bad. But having accrued a stable of talented young players by virtue of their futility, could the 2013 Oilers actually be, I don't know, good? Isn't the strategy of consistently icing fundamentally flawed rosters in an effort to collect elite talent through the draft while barely tinkering with the rest of the lineup bound to work out?
|1-0-0, 2 points
||1-0-0, 2 points|
|6th in Western Conference||7th in Western Conference|
Projected Sharks Lineup
Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat
T.J. Galiardi - Michal Handzus - Tommy Wingels
Frazer McLaren - Andrew Desjardins - Adam Burish
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Brad Stuart
Matt Irwin - Dan Boyle
Douglas Murray - Justin Braun
Scratches: James Sheppard, Nick Petrecki, Brent Burns
Projected Oilers Lineup
Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
Ales Hemsky - Sam Gagner - Nail Yakupov
Ryan Smyth - Shawn Horcoff - Teemu Hartikainen
Magnus Paajarvi - Eric Belanger - Lennart Petrell
Ladislav Smid - Jeff Petry
Nick Schultz - Justin Schultz
Ryan Whitney - Corey Potter
Scratches: Ben Eager, Darcy Hordichuk, Mark Fistric
Somewhat hilariously, this is the second rebuild the Oilers franchise has managed to sell its fanbase on since Chris Pronger skipped town in 2006. First there was the promise of what would soon be the halcyon days of Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson, Patrick O'Sullivan, Andrew Cogliano and Tom Gilbert leading the Oil back to championship glory. Gagner is the only one of those players who still calls Edmonton home (two of them are out of the league).
Decidedly, this new group of players led by Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and 2012 first overall selection Yakupov, is a lot better. When he's healthy, Hall might be the most enjoyable player in the league to watch barrel down the ice while Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins' puck skills in the offensive zone are jaw-dropping at times. Edmonton's top six compares favorably to any team in the league while their tough-minutes line featuring Smyth and Horcoff is also enviable, if expensive. It has reached the point where even the most curmudgeonly of Oilers bloggers is optimistic about the team's playoff chances.
Shockingly, the problem this team will face won't be with putting pucks in the net but rather keeping pucks out of their own. And that issue isn't solely one of goaltending, or even their defensemen. Nugent-Hopkins is a supremely talented young player who can create offense at the drop of a hat but his slight frame and ineptitude in the faceoff circle make him sub-par on the other side of the puck, at least at this stage of his career. That top line will be leaned on heavily for offense but there's a good chance they end up giving just as much back at one end of the ice as they create at the other. Look for them to endure growing pains, especially on the road where head coach Ralph Krueger can't protect them with soft competition.
As for Edmonton's actual defense, this isn't a formidable group by any stretch. Justin Schultz could be an elite offensive talent from the blueline someday but he has zero NHL experience and is already slotted into their top four. Whitney has been playing on one good leg for the better part of two seasons and has been largely awful over that span. Potter probably belongs in the AHL, or Hogwarts. One of GM Steve Tambellini's greater failings (and there have been a lot of those) was his inability to turn their first overall pick last June into a top-four NHL defenseman like, say, one Pernell Karl Subban. Until Edmonton adds at least one more top-four blueliner, I don't think they're a playoff team. But they're moving in the right direction, even if that's in spite of the work of their incompetent management staff than because of it.
Line matching should prove interesting tonight. Despite not having last change, look for Todd McLellan to get the Thornton line on the ice against Nugent-Hopkins whenever possible; that's a matchup the Sharks' top line should win territorially and on the scoreboard. Krueger, on the other hand, will likely look to sneak RNH and co. onto the ice against Michal Handzus, which could be disastrous for San Jose. I think the Couture line will be key tonight. One of Edmonton's biggest holes is that they really only have one reliable defense pairing in Smid and Petry, and those two should spend most of their time against Thornton. That leaves Clowe, Couture and Havlat either the rookie Schultz or the terrible Whitney/Potter pairing to exploit. On the flipside, the Sharks' biggest hole is that they only have two good lines; as mentioned, if RNH or even Gagner gets minutes against Handzus, that's a big advantage for Edmonton.
It feels pretty awesome to be talking hockey again instead of labor negotiations. Go Sharks.