SUN Hockey Pool

The tough questions

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

FORWARDS

Alexei Mikhnov, Rob Schremp or Marc-Antoine Pouliot?

With so much depth up front, it's unlikely there's going to be more than two roster spots, at best, for this trio of rookies.

Mikhnov, 24, has the inside track, but for all the glowing reviews about his development with Yaroslavl in 2005-06, the hulking winger is a completely unproven commodity at the NHL level.

Schremp's calling card is his ability to work the power play, but that need has been addressed with the signing of Petr Sykora. Schremp won't be able to stick based solely on his power play prowess.

Pouliot is the most well-rounded and versatile of the threesome, and he impressed during a stint late last season. Pouliot's got the advantage over Schremp because he's got a year in the minors on his resume.

DEFENCE

Who'll make that slick first pass?

Much of the Oilers offence last season started on the stick of Chris Pronger, who always seemed to make the right play at the right time. Going into camp, coach Craig MacTavish doesn't have a rearguard with Pronger's patience, poise or potential for point production.

GOAL

Will Dwayne Roloson's right knee hold up?

The Oilers have a lot riding on a 36-year-old puck-stopper coming off a significant knee injury. Until Roloson's knee is game tested, there's a trace of doubt.

---

FORWARDS

INSIDE STUFF: Ready or not, blue chip rookies Schremp and Pouliot are in tough at centre with the clear-cut top four being Horcoff, Stoll, Sykora and Reasoner ... Sykora can play any forward position but MacTavish intends to have him at pivot to open the season ... Petersen is the dark horse at centre after catching MacTavish's eye late last season ... Pisani will get a look on right wing on the first line alongside Smyth and Horcoff, while Sykora could start the pre-season flanked by Torres and Hemsky or Lupul ... Winchester is listed as a left winger, but with the depth on the left side he'll likely end up on right wing.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Pisani. If the pride of Little Italy can follow up on his playoff goal-scoring binge - he's looked very sharp in workouts leading up to camp - the Oilers will be loaded on the right side.

JUST ASKING: We know now Mikhnov isn't a figment of our imagination or a ghost from Barry Fraser's past, but, six years after being drafted in 2000, is the towering winger ready for the NHL?

BOTTOM LINE: MacTavish will be able to roll three offensive lines on any given night, and that's without factoring rookies Schremp and Pouliot into the mix. The challenge will be getting everybody enough ice time. That's a nice problem to have.

DEFENCE

INSIDE STUFF: After Staios, Smith, Bergeron and Tjarnqvist, the defence is woefully shy on experience with Greene, Syvret, Roy, Smid, Hejda and Gilbert combining for just 38 NHL games.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Roy. The hard-nosed banger from Quebec goes into camp a longshot, but Craig MacTavish likes his physicality and competitiveness. He'll be in the mix for the seventh spot on defence.

JUST ASKING: How long until GM Kevin Lowe dips into some of that depth up front and puts together a package with draft picks that lands a proven No. 1 or No. 2?

BOTTOM LINE: The party line is defence-by-committee in the absence of Pronger, but it's optimistic in the extreme to think that Lowe will be able to stand pat with this group.

GOALTENDING

INSIDE STUFF: Knocked out of the Stanley Cup final with a third-degree sprain of the MCL in his right knee, Roloson showed no ill-effects of the injury during on-ice sessions leading into camp.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Roloson. He made 19 consecutive starts after being acquired at the trade deadline and he's looking to jump right back into a steady workload.

JUST ASKING: Can Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers establish himself as the Next One on the minors after a difficult 2005-06 campaign?

BOTTOM LINE: Will the Oilers miss Pronger? Yes. But not as much as you might expect - if Roloson holds up.


Photos