Saturday, October 11, 2008

Edmonton Oilers '08-09 Season Preview

After missing the post season for two consecutive seasons, the Oilers and their fans have playoff aspirations this season. Starting the season healthy certainly raises the expectations. At the start of this season, the excuses need to be checked at the door.

A mix of highly skilled exuberant youth and hard working grizzled veterans, the Oilers may not be primed to be a Cup contender this season, but they could very well make some noise in the regular and post season.

Keys to the season...

1) Making sure that there isn't too much pressure on the youth. While the team's youth have bright futures ahead of them, they are still very inexperienced. Placing lofty expectations on them is the quickest way to take the fun out of the game and get them off of their games.

2) Finding chemistry on the #1 scoring line and the checking line. If neither line meshes, hopefully there will be early shake-ups to the line-up to find better team chemistry.

3) Health, the last 2 seasons have seen a rash of injuries decimate the Oilers line-up and even the Oilers farm team the Springfield Falcons last year. A team has to be relatively healthy to reach their potential.

4) The Power Play, with a number of solid power play contributors, there is absolutely no excuse in the world for the power play to be average, let alone below average.

5) Veterans and the Coaching staff need to lead the team in the right direction. It is time for the Oilers to turn a new leaf. Far too often in the past the Oilers have fallen victim to the same poor habits. Slow starts followed by big winning streaks to squeak in or just miss the postseason. It is time to see a team that has regular season success or else changes are in order.

The Forwards

Rw Ales Hemsky-This will be Hemsky's season to take control of this team. He will be relied upon to take games over as the offensive leader on this team. Unlike in the past, Hemsky has an impressive supporting cast.
Predicted Stats 75gp. 28-49-77

C Shawn Horcoff-After missing most of the teams games after the Allstar break with a shoulder injury, Horcoff will be looking to continue where he left off prior to the injury. After adding a much improved shooting element to his game, expect Horcoff to break his career high in goals if he plays over 70 games this season.
Predicted Stats 77gp. 30-44-74

Lw Erik Cole-The power forward that was acquired in exchange for Joni Pitkanen, Cole brings a nice mix of speed, skill, grit, and leadership to the Oilers. Seemingly an ideal cross ice comrade for Ales Hemsky , there has not been much in terms of chemistry between the 2 players. If this continues, expect Cole to be moved back to the right wing on another line.
Predicted Stats 72gp. 27-32-59

Rw Sam Gagner-This super sophomore looks to improve upon a stellar second half of his rookie campaign. While he may not start the year on the top PP unit, Gagner's mix of incredible passing ability and hockey IQ should keep him producing offensively as a 19 year old.
Predicted Stats 75gp. 16-42-58

C Andrew Cogliano-If a person had to use 1 word to describe Cogliano's play, it would be speed. The 2nd super soph up front, Cogliano's speed, strength, and love to put the puck on net makes him a dangerous player in any situation. If the kid line does get separated, expect Cogliano to take on a 2-way role on the 3rd line.
Predicted Stats 79gp. 23-34-57

Lw Robert Nilsson-The 23 year old Nilsson is geriatric compared to his linemates. However his speed, offensive creativity, and superb passing ability finalizes the kid line. Expect Nilsson to also build on his play from last season. If the top line falters and coach Craig Mactavish decides to continue playing Dustin Penner on the 3rd line, Nilsson could get a bump to the top line at some point this year.
Predicted Stats 74gp. 14-36-50

Rw Dustin Penner-The broad shouldered Penner is seeing a demotion in terms of linemates this season. After playing much of the year with Hemsky and Horcoff, Penner will be starting the year with captain Ethan Moreau, and veteran Fernando Pisani. As the teams checking line, coach Mactavish appears to hope to mold Penner into a 2-way player instead of a high scoring power forward. However with the 1st and 3rd lines preseason struggles, it is uncertain how long this experiment will continue. It's not every season that you see your teams reigning goal scoring and PP goal scoring leader dropped to the 3rd line and take off of the PP. Hopefully it's just a temporary situation.
Predicted Stats 82gp. 20-22-42
If bumped to top 6 82gp. 30-28-58

C Fernando Pisani-In the most bizarre coaching decision early this season, the long time right wing has been asked to center the teams shutdown line. Despite having 2 centers with skill who are also adequate faceoff men, coach Mactavish decided to think outside of the box, and maybe outside of his mind in rolling with this experiment. Time will tell if it was coaching genius by Mactavish, or an embarrassing failure similar to the Ryan Smyth at center experiment years ago.
Predicted Stats 68gp. 18-18-36

Lw Ethan Moreau-The oft injured captain round out the checking line. When healthy, Moreau brings a physical presence whose unpredictability keeps opponents on their toes when he's on the ice. Again, keeping healthy is the question, and with this teams depth he could find himself dropped down a line if the Pisani at center experiment falls flat.
Predicted Stats 53gp. 11-12-23

Rw Zack Stortini-The teams agitator and former resident tough guy, Stortini will have less time to worry about the Derek Boogard's of the world with the recent acquisition of Steve MacIntyre. Expect Stortini and Marc Pouliot to have a platoon situation when MacIntyre suits up.
Predicted Stats 50gp. 6-8-14

C Kyle Brodziak-Entering his 2nd full NHL season, Brodziak's responsibilities are on the rise. Expect the 2 way center to play on the PK as well as centering the 3rd or 4th line. The odds on favorite to replace Pisani if a change is needed, Brodziak's coming into his own last season made long time Oiler Marty Reasoner expendable.
Predicted Stats 80gp. 14-20-34

Lw Marc Pouliot-Making the team out of camp for the 2nd time in 2 seasons, Pouliot will need to bring more consistency to stick with the team this year with a number of hungry players awaiting their chance in Springfield.
Predicted Stats 43gp. 8-10-18

Lw Steve MacIntyre-The Oilers first legitimate heavyweight fighter since Georges Laraque, MacIntyre's presence in the lineup will hopefully serve as a deterrent to opposing players running the Oilers smaller players. Expect MacIntyre to play in a limited amount of games, but when he does play, expect fireworks if liberties are being taken on the ice.
Predicted Stats 25gp. 0-2-2

The Defense

D Sheldon Souray-The big man with a bigger shot, Souray is also looking to forget about an injury plagued season last year. Souray's mix of size, strength, and solid special teams play will fit nicely into the team this year. If he's healthy, expect a big season from #44.
Predicted Stats 65gp. 17-30-47

D Lubomir Visnovsky-New Oiler Lubomir Visnovsky is expected to be a PP performer and a nice compliment to Ales Hemsky and Sheldon Souray. While he's not the biggest defenseman by any means, Visnovsky's speed and puck carrying ability will help to fill the void left by Joni Pitkanen's trade this offseason.
Predicted Stats 73gp. 14-36-50

D Tom Gilbert-After breaking Paul Coffey's team record for most goals by a rookie defenseman and then being rewarded by a large long term contract, Gilbert will have a microscope on him this season. If he can avoid the dreaded Sophomore jinx, Gilbert's mix of size and skill will help to propel the team out of their own zone with effective breakout passes.
Predicted Stats 76gp. 8-24-32

D Denis Grebeshkov-Gilbert's defense partner, Grebeshkov is looking to cash in with a big season this year with Edmonton. However his partners play could greatly affect his earning potential. If this pair can replicate their success from the middle part of last season they will make a push to be the teams top defensive pairing, if not, they could slip to the 3rd pairing.
Predicted Stats 82gp. 7-20-27

D Steve Staios-The assistant captain will once again be expected to be a shutdown defenseman at even strength and a key penalty killer. With the return of Souray and the arrival of Jason Strudwick, Staios' minutes could be lowered which in return could improve his effectiveness.
With so many talented young d-men coming up through the system, Staios cannot afford to regress if he hoped to remain with the Oilers long term.
Predicted Stats 78gp. 4-7-11

D Jason Strudwick-The lone UFA to join the Oilers this offseason, Strudwick will probably bounce back and forth from the #6 to #7 defense position on the Oilers. Not much flash when it comes to the former rangers and Canucks player, but he definitely brings toughness to the blueline.
Predicted Stats 41gp. 2-3-5

D Ladislav Smid-The casualty of the Studwick signing, Smid will likely start the year in the pressbox. At only 22 years of age, Smid is at a crossroads in his young career. With only minimal improvement in his first 2 NHL seasons, Smid must show that he has not plateau'd as a player. He could very well even see some time with Springfield this season, however that window of opportunity is small. Smid only needs to play 18 more NHL games this season before he becomes waiver eligeable.
Predicted Stats 33gp. 1-3-4

The Goaltenders

G Mathieu Garon-Garon started last season as a back-up but made the most of his opportunities when called upon. 1 season later, he appears to be the undisputed #1 goaltender. Barring an epic collapse, it should be his spot to lose all season long.
Predicted Stats 55gp. 0.913%

G Jeff Drouin Deslauriers-The rookie goaltender impressed last season in Springfield and didn't let anyone down this NHL preseason either. Too good of a player to try to pass through waivers, and too inexperienced for the Oilers liking to move Dwayne Roloson. Deslauriers will finally have his chance to play some NHL games this season and try to prove that Roloson is expendable.
Predicted Stats 18gp. 0.904%

G Dwayne Roloson-The oldest player on the team, Roloson will try to prove his worth as an NHL goaltender despite being in the twilight of his career. A great mentor for Deslauriers and an experienced starter, Roloson will have a spot on this team until he is outplayed by Deslauriers. If he isn't, he could stick the entire season.
Predicted Stats 12gp. 0.897%

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