Seven points to ponder

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

The Edmonton Oilers answered an entire game show’s worth of questions over the summer, but with the wholesale change in direction and philosophy come a new set of issues.

Hope is one thing, reality is another, and much remains unanswered as the franchise stands on the threshold of a new beginning.

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WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT FROM THE ROOKIES?

What constitutes a successful rookie season for Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi?

Forty-six points each? Doesn’t sound like much, certainly not enough to change the fortunes of a 30th-place team all that dramatically, but that’s all Steve Stamkos had in his first year. John Tavares had 54.

What are reasonable expectations?

WHERE SHOULD EDMONTON FINISH?

Is another lottery pick finish — as long as Hall, Eberle and Paajarvi are significantly better in Game 82 than they were in Game 1 — exactly what the Oilers need to complete their rebuild? Or does the culture of failure need to end now, before the new guys learn to be losers? Is being competitive, finishing ninth and picking 18th next summer more helpful than another lottery player? Can this team be too good for its own good in Year One of the rebuild? What should fans be cheering for?

GOOD TIME? LONG TIME?

Given his back surgery, age, injury history and an appealed DUI sentence that’s hanging over his head like the sword of Damocles, how many games will Nikolai Khabibulin play for the Oilers? Can he stay healthy, and out of jail, all season? And if not, just how solid is the backup position? Even though expectations for the season are low, goaltending is crucial in these formative years; you want the young guys to be creative, not afraid that every mistake they make will end up in the back of their net.

FUTURE OF THE FRANCHISE 1.0

It wasn’t all that long ago that Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Tom Gilbert were being spoken of as the fast, skilled kids who were going to make the Oilers special again. They didn’t. There have been flashes here and there, and they’re trending upward, but none of them has put together a full season of high-end production. The climate for a breakout year has never been better. So what will they make of it? If they don’t do it now, in their fourth year in the league, will they ever?

HOW WILL THE LEADERSHIP VACUUM BE FILLED?

Management couldn’t have been any more obvious in its desire for new leadership. Now, with most of the old-guard veterans gone, who will fill the vacuum and how will they fill it? The rookies are special players, so how should they be led? Where’s the balance between being a rookie paying his dues and the saviours of the franchise being shown their due respect? Is it time for Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky to take more active roles in this department?

PENNER, HEMMER AND HORC?

Sounds like a Sesame Street law firm, but it’s really the key to a successful season. Can Penner duplicate last season? Can Horcoff shake off last season? Can Hemsky locate the top of his game? If so, it’ll make life a lot easier for the rookies. If the veterans struggle, everybody’s going to struggle.

WHO’S KILLING WHAT?

Say Shawn Horcoff takes a penalty late in the third period, who do you send out there to kill the penalty? Who takes the faceoff? What’s the shutdown line when it’s 4-3 Edmonton with a minute to go in the third? Speed and skill are great, but who are this team’s Hunter and Lumley?


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