Oilers are ready to play

Oilers forward Marc-Antoine Pouliot is part of the youth movement in Edmonton. (Sun Media/Darryl...

Oilers forward Marc-Antoine Pouliot is part of the youth movement in Edmonton. (Sun Media/Darryl Dyck)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

Everyone is expecting them to fall flat on their faces.

The expert panel on TSN thinks they'll miss the playoffs, the tie-less crew on SportsNet predicts they'll finish outside the top 8 and The Hockey News all but called them a laughingstock - picking them to finish a distant 13th in the West.

It's enough to give a hockey team an inferiority complex.

But the Edmonton Oilers, who've decided to show up for tonight's season opener anyway, aren't going to take it personally. How can they?

They finished 25th last season and couldn't have more kids in their room this season if they were coached by Michael Jackson.

REASONS FOR DOUBT

There are plenty of reasons to doubt this team, and nothing the Oilers say is going to change that. All they can do is roll up their sleeves and try proving everyone wrong.

"I think we're going to be all right," said winger Raffi Torres, as eager as anyone to see the new-look Oilers in action tonight against the Stanley Cup contenders from San Jose. "It's going to be exciting.

"We never put our whole team out there in the preseason, but everybody's shown their stuff a little bit."

Craig MacTavish has seen enough to believe they'll surprise people.

"I think we're ready," said the head coach. "Everybody is feeling good about their team right now, but we'll see. I'm really happy with where we are. Yes, there are some questions, but there aren't many teams in the league that don't have any questions going into the first game of the season."

The only question surrounding the Oilers last year was 'When will this season ever end.' Now, with 10 new faces on the opening night roster, they can't wait for the new one to begin.

So they've at least made some emotional progress.

"We're leaving last year behind us," said centre Shawn Horcoff, who thinks Edmonton is better in virtually every department. "I like our team, I like the young guys. There's more skill than in any year since I've been here.

"I like the way our team is shaping up. We have great leadership and a lot of experience. The core group of guys who went to the finals is still here. I'm excited. I think it should be exciting for the fans and for the city. The future looks really bright for Edmonton."

But is the future now? If all those kids who've been tearing up the preseason continue tearing it up when the games are for real, Edmonton will definitely contend for a playoff spot. If they stumble, as most rookies do, then that 13th place prediction might not be that far off.

The Oilers are counting big time on their kids.

"A lot of our success is going to be in their hands," said Horcoff. "They're going to need to play right away, and they're going to need to play well if we're going to go far. It's important that they feel comfortable, have the confidence to go out there and play."

With this many changes and with that many youngsters there will definitely be growing pains. The extent of that pain remains to be seen.

"There's going to be ups and downs like there are every year," said general manager Kevin Lowe.

"But we really feel like we have enough offence and we have lots of pieces to add to the team if we need to.

VETS IN SHAPE

"The vets have come to camp in great shape and we think we're in the cycle within the organization that our young guys are ready to contribute. A lot of changes, a lot of excitement.

"The guys are raring to go. It's been a great camp, everything has sort of fallen into place, now the work begins."


Videos

Photos