|Top Edmonton Oilers prospects (left to right) Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson. (File photos)
LOS ANGELES - You used to be able to hear it in their voices when players were traded to Edmonton.
They said all the right things, about being happy to wear the storied crest and ready to help reverse the Oilers’ struggling fortunes, but they didn’t mean it. How could they?
With the Oilers showing no signs of life, their immediate future looked as bleak as their recent past.
Now, when players say they’re exciting about hopping on board, it sounds like they actually mean it.
Colin Fraser is leaving the Stanley Cup champions to join Edmonton and he can’t wait. And junior aged kids at the draft, who’ve got 29 other cities to chose from, most of them warmer, all of them better right now, can’t help thinking they’re getting in on the ground floor of the next Chicago or Pittsburgh.
That’s a pretty grand expectation. Right now, the 30th place Oilers would settle for being the next Buffalo. But the easiest thing to sell in sports is hope, and the Oilers, at long last, have it.
Jordan Eberle is a World Junior gold medalist with a penchant for clutch goals, Taylor Hall is a two-time Memorial Cup MVP, Linus Omark’s goals have become a YouTube sensation, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson is a big dynamic kid who basically grew up in the Swedish Elite League.
It seems all of that sucking is finally coming to fruition.
“Any young player wants to go to a team with young players on it,” said Hall, a day after Edmonton marked the dawn of a new beginning by selecting him first overall. “I’m so excited for next year. I’ve been part of a rebuild before (taking Windsor from the gutter to consecutive Memorial Cup championships), it’s very exciting for the city and the players involved.”
There are plenty of miles to go before Edmonton finds out if Eberle, Omark, Svensson or Hall are anything close to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but if they are, those are going to be some fun miles.
“I’m really looking forward to our development camp,” said GM Steve Tambellini. “The roster that’s coming to that camp is pretty impressive with Taylor alone. But Pjaarvi and Eberle and (Anton Lander) and all the picks from this draft - we’re really looking forward to that.
“We have the potential of having three new 19-year-olds on the hockey club, depending on how people look through camp.”
Word is already out around the hockey world.
“It’s definitely exciting to see what they’re trying to do,” said Curtis Hamilton, Edmonton’s fourth pick, 48th overall. “With all those guys they have now, they just drafted Taylor Hall, I definitely think the winning will come again in the near future.”
The Oilers have been overly optimistic before and it cost them - they signed a win-now veteran goalie to big money, only to discover they won’t be ready to win until his contract is up - so they’re playing it cool.
But they know it’s cooler to be an Oiler now than it was when Chris Pronger and Dany Heatley and Michael Nylander’s pants-wearing wife snubbed the team.
“We want to be careful not to oversell the future,” said president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe. “But it’s clear where we’re going. They all look like they’re going to be good players. We want to do the best we can on the development side and surround them with some players who can help them along the way.”
The rest will be up to them.
“There’s not going to be a Stanley Cup next year, but I want to be part of a team that’s a tough team to play against, a hard working team,” said Hall. “And I want to win a Stanley Cup pretty soon, I think everyone involved wants to do that. We have a really good nucleus of young guys who are really excited to play in the NHL, and I think that’s huge.”