SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers bench boss has eyes on future

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:27 AM ET

Tom Renney is in a unique situation.

As head coach of a young, talented team, put together with a focus on the future, the Edmonton Oilers bench boss is not under the traditional pressures usually associated with his profession.

Renney doesn't have to win this year. He probably won't have to win next year either.

Yet, by being entrusted with moulding the future and helping the likes of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi navigate their way through the NHL, Renney has to deal with a different burden. Perhaps even greater than those mandated with winning.

"The bottom line is, that my job is to play (the kids), give them opportunity and put them in situations where they can have success and situations that stretches them a little bit and forces them to reach," said Renney following the Oilers 7-4 win in Chicago on Friday. "So far, they're doing that and kudos to that."

For the Oilers coaching staff, it's not as simple as opening the gate and letting the rookies go.

Expectations have to be managed and the youngsters have to be protected, albeit at times, from themselves.

These are lesson the Oilers should have learned with the last batch of talented rookies in Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson.

Early success does not necessarily translate into lasting success.

At one time, Gagner, Cogliano and Nilsson too took the league by storm. They, too, rose above expectations. And they, too, were being heralded as the trio that would return the club to its winning ways.

However, some would argue they were mismanaged, and after surprisingly strong rookie seasons, the trio struggled to progress.

Gagner, 21, seems to be back on track this season after failing to improve on his offensive output in the previous two years. He has six points in nine games and netted his first two goals of the season in the win over the Blackhawks.

Cogliano, 23, is still battling to get back to his rookie form, although he also scored for the first time this season against the Blackhawks.

Nilsson, 25, is no longer around, getting his contract bought out by the club this summer and now playing in Russia.

For this year's rookie crop, it's all about learning and it's up to Renney to try and manage the lessons as best he can.

Earlier this season the San Jose Sharks exposed the Oilers as the young, fragile team they can be.

Friday, going up against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the potential was there for another painful reminder of how far the Oilers need to go.

"We knew what we were up against and we need to get educated to a certain degree of this league," Renney said. "Certainly San Jose helped us understand what the upper echelon looks like and we knew that we were taking on one of the better teams again (Friday). We played as hard as we possibly could."

The win was nice, but more importantly for the Oilers should be the lessons taken from the contest. Namely, bad goaltending at one end and solid goaltending at the other has a way of the levelling the ice.

The Oilers were out-shot 41-22 in the contest and found themselves pinned in their own end on numerous occasions.

Had either Marty Turco or Corey Crawford been able to stop a shot for the Blackhawks, the outcome could have been much different.

"We knew who our opponent was obviously," Renney said. "They're a proud group over there, they're well coached and they know what it takes to win.

"I think slowly but surely, we're becoming less spectators in our games and more participants from top to bottom in our lineup. That's critical and I think that our guys are proud kids. They want to win badly, they want to get the respect of the rest of this league and I think opportunities like (Friday) are a good way to do that in a hurry."


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