SUN Hockey Pool

Additions cause for optimism in Edmonton

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:43 PM ET

EDMONTON -- Their enthusiasm was well-contained as they trickled out of the dressing room.

Perhaps it's difficult to be excited after a long morning of medicals and fitness testing, but heading into training camp there's a definite sense of optimism for the Edmonton Oilers.

"Everybody has been excited for this day for a while now," said head coach Craig MacTavish. "In a lot of previous years I'm up here trying to generate optimism and enthusiasm, but this year I'm probably more interested in quelling it a little bit."

There are a number of reasons for the optimism.

Last season's late surge, the return of key veterans and two high-profile acquisitions have the Oilers talking playoffs and beyond this year. It's similar to the buzz heading into the 2005-2006 season, where the Oilers made it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.

"Being around the game as long as I have, I know enough to know that we have a really good chance to do some great things this year," MacTavish said. "I felt after the lockout we had a good opportunity then when we had Michael Peca and Chris Pronger. I feel that this is the best chance we've had to win a division that I think is wide open. We're going to be right there.

"That's why we're all excited. Everybody is healthy, the young players have developed, we have lots of depth in virtually every position. We're all very curious to see what we've got."

In Erik Cole and Lubomir Visnovsky, the Oilers have brought in players capable of generating the same impact Peca and Pronger had.

Cole, 29, was acquired in the off-season from the Carolina Hurricanes in a trade that sent defenceman Joni Pitkanen the other way.

Last season, the native of Oswego, N.Y., scored 22 goals and added 29 assists in 73 games for the Hurricanes. A former 30-goal scorer, Cole is expected to play on the top line with Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff.

Visnovsky, 32, joins the Oilers from the Los Angeles Kings, having been traded for centre Jarret Stoll and defenceman Matt Greene.

The Slovakian averaged over 55 points in his last three seasons with Los Angles.

The Oilers are also going into the season with a healthy trio of key veterans. Horcoff, defenceman Sheldon Souray and captain Ethan Moreau are all ready to go.

Last year, both Horcoff and Souray had their seasons cut short with shoulder injuries, while Moreau broke the same bone in his leg twice, limiting him to 25 games. The previous season Moreau missed 75 games with a shoulder injury.

"We feel that everybody has been surgically rebuilt," said MacTavish "You never say never in this business, but it's going to be almost impossible to think we're going to have injury problems to the extent we had the last couple of years."


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