The Edmonton Oilers may have been the biggest disappointment of the 2009-10 season. Itís not that they were expected to be a Stanley Cup contender, but no one thought the bottom would drop out and they would finish dead last in the NHL. Injuries certainly took their toll on the Oilers as they lost their top offensive player, top defender and top goaltender in Ales Hemsky, Sheldon Souray, and Nikolai Khabibulin, to season ending injuries. In order for this season to be any different, Edmonton will need to have their best players on the ice rather than in the training room.
However, help is on the way for the Oilers as Jordan Eberle, who has been a star in the Junior league and the AHL, will look to make the team in training camp. Finishing last overall also has its benefits as Taylor Hall, the first overall pick, also could start for the big club. Souray is most likely headed elsewhere, and the goaltending situation could be their undoing if Khabibulin doesnít return to form, but the Oilers certainly canít be as bad as they were last season.
THE BIG GUNS
Ales Hemsky (RW): Hemsky only played in 22 games last season before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. He will be completely healthy for the 2010-11 season and is someone you shouldn't forget about come draft day. Hemsky seemed to be a player who was going to have the kind of season many pundits had predicted of him before the injury. His name has also come up in more than one trade rumor, but the Oilers have never admitted if they would be willing to trade what might be their most exciting player. Part of the problem with Hemsky is that the Oilers have been unable to find linemates that can keep up with him, often shuffling players in and out. Could No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall be the solution to that problem?
Dustin Penner (LW): Penner had a career season in 2009-10 with 32 goals and 63 points, becoming one of the few bright spots in what was a dismal Edmonton campaign, as the team finished with the worst record in the NHL. Penner took up the offensive slack that the Oilers were missing once Ales Hemsky went down for the season with a shoulder injury. With Hemsky coming back to play this season and No. 1 overall draft pick Taylor Hall also likely to make the team, Penner may find it easier going this season as opposing teams will have more weapons to worry about.
Ryan Whitney (D): Whitney keeps getting shipped around the NHL as Edmonton is his third stop in the past three seasons. He seemed destined to be an offensive force on the blue line for the Penguins before foot surgery seemed to take away that burst he once had. The Oilers obtained Whitney at the trade deadline last season in a deal involving Lubomir Visnovsky, and they are relying on him to regain his touch as he will anchor their defensive corps. Unfortunately, only nine goals in his last 129 games makes him a risky pick in fantasy.
ON THE RISE
Sam Gagner (C): Gagner was another Oiler that ended last season on injured reserve. His problem was with his hip and although the injury wasn't considered all that serious, the Oilers decided it would be best not to take a chance with their young center. If he had stayed healthy, Gagner was poised to score the most goals in a season in his young career, but is still not much of a fantasy force with the exception of deeper leagues as scoring more than 25 goals in a season may be a stretch for him if he's not on the first line.
Andrew Cogliano (C): After scoring 18 goals in back-to-back seasons, Cogliano regressed to only 10 last season. Perhaps all of the trade rumors have affected his play somewhat as he was mentioned in a deal for Dany Heatley, and Colorado also had some interest in him as well. Cogliano must be doing something right for so many teams to want to acquire his services, and the Oilers are reluctant to include him in any deal, so look for him to get one last chance to show what he can do in Edmonton.
TWO TO AVOID
Nikolai Khabibulin (G): Khabibulin's first season in Edmonton was nothing short of a disaster as he only made it through 18 games before a back injury ended his season, then was arrested for drunk driving while in Arizona. That case is still pending and threatening to interrupt training and/or the regular season. The Oilers are unlikely to try and void his contract even if Khabibulin is found guilty, but a fine or suspension may not be out of the question. Either way, the Oilers are in a rebuilding mode and you're better off finding a solution to your goaltending needs elsewhere.
Sheldon Souray (D): Souray had a terrible season in 2009-10. He was tripped into the boards by Jarome Iginla, and subsequently broke his hand getting into a fight with Iginla after he recovered. As if things couldn't get worse, Souray and management have been squabbling, causing Souray to demand a trade. That wasn't possible before the trade deadline last season as Souray wasn't healthy, but no team was willing to even claim Souray and his salary off of waivers for free, so it may seem unlikely that he is going anywhere. If Souray and the Oilers still want to part ways, the best chance may be during camp when another team suffers an injury and gets desperate, or the Oilers could just put him on re-entry waivers where a claiming team would only be responsible for half of his remaining contract. Souray could still be a useful piece to a team's puzzle as he has cannon for a shot and would be a bonus to any team's power play.
Taylor Hall (LW): Hall was the first overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and the Oilersí prize after finishing with the worst record in the NHL last season. The question is: will Hall start the season with Edmonton? The Oilers need any kind of goal scoring they can get and though Hall is sure to go through some rough patches if he starts the season with the big club, he seems to have all the poise and maturity to excel immediately.
Jordan Eberle (C): Eberle scored 50 goals and had 106 points in 57 games last season for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League. He may be the type of player who can not only light the lamp, but put fans in the seats for Edmonton. Eberle has the look of a 40-plus goal scorer, but that may take a season or two to come to fruition. The Oilers have been taking it slow with Eberle not wanting to rush him to the NHL, but after being named the Canadian Hockey League Player of the year, the time may be now for both Edmonton and Eberle. If he's not ready for the NHL, Eberle will start the year in the AHL with the Oilers' affiliate in Oklahoma City.