No excuses for Oilers this year: GM

ROBERT TYCHKOWKSI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:37 PM ET

PENTICTON, B.C. - The Hockey News is picking them to finish last for a third-straight season, a rather sobering analysis for an organization and a fan base that believes the Oilers elevator might finally be moving up.

But with major question marks in goal (is Devan Dubnyk too young and Nikolai Khabibulin too old?), on defence (will Cam Barker be any better than the guy Minnesota paid to go away?) and at forward (they were the lowest scoring team in the West last year), there is reason enough to fear that the struggles in Oil Town are far from over.

Dead last, though?

Steve Tambellini says fans and media can think what they want, but he plans on telling his players that the Oilers have done enough in the 18 months since hauling their sorry carcass back to Square One that “rebuilding” can no longer be an excuse for losing.

With last year’s rookies another year older and a cast of solid, veteran reinforcements added on July 1, the Oilers GM has absolutely no doubt they’ll be better than last season. He believes the players will see it, too, when they look around the room in training camp Saturday.

“Players get a sense of what’s coming,” he said, adding a team with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Ryan Whitney, Ryan Smyth, Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, a new faceoff guy and a couple of tough guys who can play might actually be pretty good.

“Competing for a playoff spot has to happen. Building on the momentum that the young people left with Taylor and Jordan needs to continue.

“Last year was last year, that’s fine. Now it’s a step up. A step up meaning that you’re not good once every six games, it’s every night.

“That’s how you have to be in the NHL. We expect the team to compete every night for a playoff spot, no question about that.”

While it’s still early enough in the process that they’re not fully expecting to make the playoffs, he says they’re not fully expecting to miss them, either.

“We’ve brought in some leadership people to help, we’ve tried to fill in some significant pieces with a Ryan Smyth and Eric Belanger, guys who have experience and some poise under pressure and in big moments,” he said. “I think that’s going to be important.”

It’s definitely made it harder to make the team. Rookies like Anton Lander, and maybe even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, are about to find out that jobs are much tougher to come by in Year 2 of a rebuild than they were in Year 1.

“We are all nervous, they have really good players there,” said Lander, who scored three goals in two games in the Penticton tournament. “We’ve only seen them on TV, so of course we’re a little bit nervous.”

They should be, said Oklahoma Barons coach Todd Nelson.

“With any training camp, guys who aren’t established have to make an impression, you have to take somebody’s job, basically,” he said, adding it’s not going to be easy, given who’s in the spots right now. “I know how they feel. The hardest thing for a person coming to an NHL camp the first time is trying not to get too overwhelmed.

“I’m sure the guys will be a bit awestruck, but they have to learn to channel that nervous energy into something more productive.”

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

@SUN_TYCHKOWSKI


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