Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Where Do We Go From Here?

While the euphoria of the Oilers drafting and signing Nail Yakupov, winning the auction for Justin Schultz, resigning a bunch of RFA's seems like an epic win for most Oilers' fans, I'm here to offer a more sobering view. With the possibility of being called a hater and a pessimist, I'm going to rundown the current strengths and weaknesses of the club going forward.

- The Oilers will have offense to burn in most games. And while it may not translate in some games, it will translate well in others. More importantly, if injuries arise, especially at forward, the Oilers will be able to plug and play many characters into those top 6 scoring spots.
- The power play should be very good once again going into next season. With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins playing the role of point guard and a pleathora of shooters at his disposal, should make for another strong season in that aspect.
- The penalty kill should be able to build off of last season's rise. A lot of it will depend on Ladislav Smid's shot blocking prowess, and Devan Dubnyk continuing his solid play from the last month of last season. Any injuries to some of the vets and this area could take a hit.

- Puck retrieval and puck pursuit will continue to haunt this team. The only way it doesn't is if either Nail Yakupov turns into a man overnight, Taylor Hall decides he is a forecheck demon, which would lead to more injuries for him, or Ben Eager decides he is more than a 4th liner and bring punishing hits every game.
- Defensve depth is lacking, to the point where if the Oilers lose Ladislav Smid, of all players, they could be in a world of hurt as someone like Andy Sutton or Theo Peckham would have to take over some big minutes. Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz kind of counterbalance each other. Ryan Whitney, gimpy ankle or not, 100% or not, is needed as a veteran presence.
- Strength overall is lacking throughout the lineup. It essentially comes in the form of Andy Sutton and Theo Peckham, both not likely to be in the lineup at the same time. Strength isn't apparent in the forwards either unless Ben Eager or Darcy Hordichuk are going to get more minutes than we think.

Question Marks:
- Veteran leadership. The Oilers have it, but it wasn't very good last year. Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger need to be better and buy in is crucial from these two. Strong defensive play is a must from these two in order for the Oilers to get off the canvas. The key is trying to get that without having to overplay them. Ales Hemsky, Ryan Smyth, Ryan Jones, Andy Sutton, Ryan Whitney, Nick Schultz, also fall into this category as well. Hemsky needs to find his offensive groove again, but he's going to need some help some his line mates to make a strong line combo.
- Goaltending. The sun is setting on Nikolai Khabibulin, and the keys are likely to be handed over to Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk had a strong finish to the season, but he is hardly a slam dunk to keep up the pace. How he plays will likely go a long way to telling us how good/bad the Oilers will be.
- Role definition. A new head coach should mean some new wrinkles. How much is hard to say because Ralph Krueger was part of the staff last year that finished 29th in the league. To say the team's system and style are going to be overhauled is a stretch but it does need some fine-tuned tweaks to get the engine running. Shawn Horcoff or Eric Belanger can't see any power play time next year. They need to focus on defensive/penalty kill responsibilities and try to excel to the best of their abilities. Offense = kids, defense = vets, and its about as cut and dry as that.
- Center play. The Oilers could use one more veteran center, but with the resigning of Sam Gagner, it seems a one-two of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins/Sam Gagner is the order of the day. I've voiced my concern of this in the past, and it will continue to concern me until the day it is broken up. For me, its at best a question mark, but I feel like I should have put this under the weakness category. Not enough defensive acumen yet. They become a tough matchup for bigger centers in the Western Conference.

Oilers' fans are looking for goals, and they will get their fair share of them. Wins may not necessarily follow, at least not consistantly for this upcoming season. I'm still trying to figure whats more important in Oilerville, goals or wins? I guess you have to learn to walk before you run, and goals would be a nice step in the right direction, but if the Oilers are drafting in the lottery again next season, despite what the GF total says, can it be considered a success?

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