SUN Hockey Pool

Live or die with youth parade

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

The luxuries have become necessities.

It's no longer a case of 'wouldn't it be nice if one or two of Edmonton's prospects cracked the lineup and made an impact in the NHL?'

Now, the Oilers need it to happen.

For all the free agents they added, for all the trades they made and for all the injured players who are healthy again, it remains a sobering truth:unless two or three of these blue chippers are for real, the Oilers are in trouble.

"When you don't make the playoffs, you have to get better in a lot of areas," said vice president of hockey operations Kevin Prendergast, the man behind what's believed to be Edmonton's brightest young crop in a long, long time. "The free agents and the trades have improved us in a lot of areas but the other holes have to be filled by the kids."

Here and now.

"You need that in your organization," said head coach Craig MacTavish. "For our long-term success, it's important that one of those guys does it, almost immediately."

Some of them have stepped up, with Sam Gagner, Kyle Brodziak and Robert Nilsson leading an impressive class, but scrimmages and pre-season tilts against watered-down opponents don't always translate into season success.

Patrick Thoresen, for instance, looked brilliant early on last year but faded big time as the season wore on.

SAME THING EVERY YEAR

"You see it every year, players play well in camp and excel in the preseason and it remains to be seen how they play in the regular season, and further down the road, how they play 20 games into the regular season," said Ethan Moreau. "It's not to be negative ... but you don't know, you can't tell until you have stiffer competition."

That said, he thinks this crop has as good a chance as any to make a difference.

"It's probably the best that I've seen," he said. "There's reason to be optimistic. In the past we didn't really have a lot of great young players.

"It's exciting as an older guy because you look at teams around the league, they've really built their championship teams through the draft and through young players. It's a must now, especially with the (CBA) we have in place. You need young players to develop and develop quickly."

The veterans are counting on these kids to be ready.

"Teams that are going to win have their younger guys come up and play well," said Jarret Stoll. "We're going to need that if we're going to be a great team. The older guys welcome it and the younger guys should savour it - there's a lot more skill out of our young guys now than there ever has been in the past."

GROWING PAINS

There are going to be growing pains, absolutely, just how painful they'll be is the big question.

"They have to be given the opportunity," said MacTavish, who doesn't have many other options. "The balancing act is what are you going to have to pay for the offence (the young guns bring) in terms of what you're going to give up defensively?

"It's up to the players who are trying to get in here to become more dependable, then it's a no-brainer.

"If we're giving up lots, then we have to defer to possibly taking a guy who's not going to give you as much offence but isn't going to give up as much."


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