Oilers hoping youngsters learn on job

MATT SHOTT, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 12:18 PM ET

TORONTO -- The Edmonton Oilers accomplished a feat last year that has never been done in their 30 years of existence; they finished dead last in the NHL.

By finishing 30th, the Oilers also accomplished another first and received the top overall draft pick, allowing them the choice of selecting between Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, both of whom shared the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy for top scorer in the Ontario Hockey League in 2010.

In the end, the Oilers selected Hall to lead a youth movement directed at bringing Edmonton back to "The City of Champions" era it once engineered. But the two-time Memorial Cup MVP is not the only player being counted on to boost the Oilers back to respectability, as the team has stockpiled a number of prospects over the years that they are now ready to unleash into the NHL.

The Oilers currently have a crop of fine young talent, most of which spent the last season developing in the junior ranks or in Europe. Names such as Magnus Paajarvi, Linus Omark, and Canada Junior hero Jordan Eberle are just a few of the prospects licking their chops at the chance to prove themselves worthy of a spot on NHL ice.

A youth movement has worked out quite well for a lot of teams, such as the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals who have all either won the Stanley Cup or Presidents' Trophy over the past three years after multiple seasons of finishing at the bottom of the standings, collecting prospects for the future in the process. Now the Oilers are the next squad to attempt the re-building process in hopes of returning the club to playoff contention.

The fans in the icy tundra of Edmonton may not see immediate success with the Oilers, but they can expect a little better than their last-place finish in 2009-10, as long as injuries don't haunt the team again. Edmonton lost over 500 player games due to injuries last year, including Ales Hemsky missing 60 games, and starting goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin played only 18 games before having surgery on his back.

One nightmare Oilers fans hope to avoid is the potential flop of any of their young superstar hopefuls. Eberle showed during the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship this past year that he can compete in the big man's game, but Hall has only shown his skill in the juniors, which has not always proven to be a signal for success in the NHL.

Another first overall pick, John Tavares, had a large amount of hype behind him last year due to his amazing junior numbers and in the end, did not even receive a Rookie of the Year nomination. Hall didn't put up the numbers Tavares did, but he played a much harder game that saw him sacrifice his body in order to get the puck where it needed to be, something Tavares doesn't do. So if/when Hall makes the big club this year, don't be surprised if he is, at least, nominated for the Calder as he will be an immediate impact player.

In fact, we could see a teammate battle for the top rookie this year, since Eberle is almost a shoo-in to make the Oilers out of camp.

The Oilers defence is not necessarily identified by the same youth movement as the forwards, but that doesn't mean they lack skill and youth. Ryan Whitney was acquired late last season in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks that saw Lubomir Visnovsky's time in Edmonton come to an end. Whitney is only 27 and has played in the Stanley Cup Finals, unlike anyone else in the defensive corps, so his leadership will be looked upon.

Whitney can provide a strong defensive game while also being able to chip in some offence and as long as Sheldon Souray can stay healthy, the first line of defence for the Oilers is a nice combination. But that is a big if for Souray, as he missed over 40 games in two of his last three seasons. But when he is healthy, he makes his presence known.

Outside of that, the 'D' looks a little rough. Tom Gilbert showed flashes of offence last season after posting 13 goals two seasons ago, while newcomer Kurtis Foster brings a nice blend of grit and scoring after putting up a career-high 43 points with Tampa Bay last year.

Edmonton's goaltending is also in a youth-centred transition, but it's not by choice. When Khabibulin was injured last season, it became a battle between Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk for the role of starter.

It was an uneasy situation for the Oiler faithful since only Deslauriers had NHL experience, albeit for just 10 games, and he eventually won the starting job. This year, Deslauriers looks to be getting ready to be the No. 1 goalie again, since the 'Bulin Wall' will be stuck at Tent City in Arizona due to his DUI conviction late this summer. And in order to lighten the load of J.D., the Oilers brought in Martin Gerber to serve as the backup, or take over as starter if Deslauriers decides to crumble in his sophomore season.

It would appear that the fans in Edmonton have a lot to look forward to when it comes to the future of the team, especially on the offensive side, it just won't be this season. It may not be next either but after that, the young guns of Edmonton will be leading this team to the promised land, provided management fills out the team on the defensive end.

The Oilers are following a very promising recipe for success and if Eberle, Hall, Paajarvi, Omark, Gagner, and Cogliano can live up to their hype, this team may be able to position itself to relive the glory years of the 80's dynasty in the very near future.


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