SUN Hockey Pool

Kid be the year for rival Oilers

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

As last season wound down and the slim hopes of making the playoffs faded, the Edmonton Oilers youngsters were still having the time of their lives.

And why wouldn't they?

Guys like Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Tom Gilbert, Robert Nilsson and Kyle Brodziak quite literally had nothing to lose.

Everything to gain with a post-season berth on the line, they fell just short in their quest, but far exceeded expectations of themselves and the team. How quickly things change.

This season, they've been pegged as challengers to the Northwest Division crown. As if there isn't enough pressure on a sophomore to begin with, the 19-year-old Gagner and 21-year-old Cogliano are still about as fresh-faced as NHLers get entering their second pro season.

A big reason for that nearly miraculous run last winter, when the Oilers went 14-5-1 down the stretch, was the fact they felt no pressure.

They were just playing a game they loved, and loving every minute of it.

Gagner says nothing has changed this year, despite all that's expected of them.

"I think it's pretty loose," Gagner said of the feeling in the Oilers' locker-room entering this season.

"For us, we're just out there having fun and enjoying the game. Obviously, there's pretty high expectations within the city of Edmonton and everything, but for us, we're playing our best when we're enjoying ourselves and having fun out there.

Because of a slow start last year, the final-quarter heroics didn't get them into the playoffs.

Thanks to some great goaltending by Mathieu Garon, and offensive output from the veterans, they've come out of the gates as hot as they left off, winning their first three games.

The Kid line -- Gagner, Cogliano and Nilsson -- has been quiet so far, but head coach Craig MacTavish has faith they will get things going.

"They can play, that's the main thing. When you have that skill level, you're not vulnerable, really, I don't think, to a second-season drop-off," said MacTavish.

"These kids are all playmakers. That leads me to believe that they're going to get their offence."

Cogliano says he avoids feeling pressure by keeping his mind focused primarily on defence.

"We're not thinking about too much," he said.

"I don't even try to think about offence too much. When you start thinking about that stuff, that's when you start screwing up."

Although not a sophomore, you can lump Nilsson into that group of hungry young players with something to prove.

That drive to succeed is what has MacTavish convinced his second line will do just that.

"They're not satisfied yet. Sam, in particular, you get a sense with him that he's got a destination in mind for himself," said MacTavish.

"And he's going to get there."


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