Following two straight 62 point seasons, the Oilers are looking to be a little better when the 2013 season kicks off. Last season there was a feeling possibly that the Oilers could compete again for the top spot of the Northwest Division, unfortunately that wasn’t true.
After a quick start by Edmonton, many thought this was the year they would get back into the playoffs, but just like the Maple Leafs, the team had a free fall faster than you could say Stanley Cup. Only winning five games in the month of December and by time end of January all hopes of a playoff spot were lost. The free fall cost head coach Tom Renney his job and increased the pressure on Steve Tambellini and his staff.
With the increased pressure on Tambellini, his staff had a productive off-season which saw him pick up young phenom Justin Schultz and highly talented Russian Nail Yakupov. Both of these young players should contribute immediately when the season starts and they will fit right in with the rest of the young players on the Oilers roster. The new man behind the bench is Ralph Krueger who brings a great reputation with him to the Oilers organization. He’s a very detail oriented coach and will hold players accountable for anything – particularly defense. Devan Dubnyk will also be the starting goaltender for the Oilers when the season starts and hopefully Dubnyk will show more consistency then he’s had over the past three seasons. If Krueger can get his young squad to commit to defense, something that the Oilers have been lacking the past few seasons, and Dubnyk has a better year, Edmonton has a legitimate chance for a playoff spot this season.
When you look through other NHL rosters, it’s hard to find another team as loaded with young talent like the Oilers. Their recent struggles of the past few years have allowed them to pick up high draft picks in the Draft Lotteries. The top ranked player in the 2012 draft, Yakupov possesses a dynamic, high end skill set. If the Russian is able to improve his play in the defensive side of the game, he’s going to look like a young Pavel Bure and likely win the Calder Trophy.
After failing to come to an agreement with the team that drafted him, the Oilers decided to snatch up Justin Schultz. Schultz is considered to be the top defenseman of the 2012 free agent class and signed a two year entry level deal with Edmonton. Since signing with the club, Schultz has torn up the AHL, topping the league in scoring for a defenseman by a wide margin for much of the season.
Finishing at or near the bottom of the NHL standings the last three years does have a silver lining or whatever you fans want to call it. The Oilers have stocked up on young talent like a squirrel stocks up on nuts for the winter. The goal within the organization is to follow in the footsteps of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who followed up a run to the Eastern Conference Final 2000-01 with four straight seasons of finishing at the bottom of the Atlantic Division. During those four years it allowed the Pens to pick up Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Oilers fans aren’t demanding a turnaround quite like the Penguins which saw them jump 47 points in the standings, but will expect them to challenge for a playoff spot.
So if the Oilers will want to challenge for a playoff spot, they’ll likely want to rely on some defense, something that they haven’t relied on for the past few seasons. The oilers have rebuilt their team through the draft, many fans and critics have wondered if they have been too focused on adding offense instead of defense.
The organization’s decision to lean towards drafting talented forwards at the expense of defencemen was aided when Schultz decided to sign with the Organization.
It’s difficult to expect to any one of their core six defencemen to assume the role of Number 1 or Number 2 shutdown d-men in 2012-13. But if the Oilers do have success in the defensive area, it could be because of one of two things, reliable goaltending, or the defense first approach that is instituted by Coach Krueger.