The Oilers hit the jackpot in the draft lottery as they were awarded the top pick even though Columbus finished with the worst overall record. With that pick they took yet another top offensive prospect in Nail Yakupov. Some could argue that the Oilers were better off trading the top pick so that they could fall down a few spots a grab a defender. Edmonton finished seventh in the Western Conference with 212 goals for, a figure that should improve as their youngsters gain experience, but they allowed the second most goals in the conference (239), a figure that may not change much this season.
Defense was certainly a priority for Edmonton coming into the draft, but in the end they took the best available player and no one can blame them for that and after the draft they signed one of the top free agents, Justin Schultz, to help solidify their blue line. Is this enough to get the Oilers back into the playoffs? Maybe, but there are still other problems to worry about before we start thinking about the Stanley Cup once again finding it's home in Edmonton.
Defense wasn't the only reason for the Oilers lack of a playoff berth last season. Goaltending is also an issue. Nikolai Khabibulin may have signed the big contract, but he has really been nothing more than a big bust. The Oilers will more than likely give the starting job to Devan Dubnyk this season which should help matters in the crease, but he's more than likely not the long term answer either. Who is? That player may not yet be on the roster. Dubnyk deserves the shot though and may surprise some.
If the Oilers were to return to the playoffs this season it will be because of their offense. Forwards Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are an impressive trio that could account for 110+ goals all by themselves if they each remain healthy. That can be said of just about any team's top three players, but even more so for the Oilers as they lack the depth of some other teams. They are getting better however and their minor league system is one of the best in the game and should start to produce even more fruit in the future.
Bottom line for Edmonton is that this will be a fun to team to watch. We know they can score goals, but will more than likely have a difficult time keeping the puck out of their net yet again which could lead to quite a few high scoring, entertaining games. They may not make the playoffs this season, but they should be in the mix of things until the end.
THE BIG GUNS
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (C): The future is so bright for Nugent-Hopkins that he should wear shades. The top pick in the 2011 Entry Draft did not disappoint in his rookie season, scoring 18 goals and 52 points. RNH should only get better with experience and has plenty of offensive firepower to play alongside Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, and possibly even the top overall pick from this season, Nail Yakupov. He is a player to target earlier, rather than later, in fantasy drafts as he will be one of the key players that will lead Edmonton back to respectability.
Taylor Hall (LW): Hall is one of the Oilers' best young players. He has scored 49 goals and added 46 assists in his first two NHL seasons. The only negative that can be attributed to him is that he has not been able to stay healthy in either season. Hall missed 17 games in his rookie campaign with an ankle injury and then missed another 21 games last season with a shoulder injury. The shoulder should be 100 percent by the time camp opens in September. And with the talent around him -- and if he can remain healthy -- a 30+ goal season should easily be within his reach.
Jordan Eberle (RW): Eberle's sophomore season was a big success as he scored 34 goals and 42 assists in 78 games. He plays on a top line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall, a line that's one of the best up-and-coming trios in the NHL. Eberle should only get better as all three players gain much needed experience. Eberle fell through the cracks in some fantasy drafts last season, but that time has come to an end. He'll be off the board early.
ON THE RISE
Sam Gagner (C): Gagner has been pushed to the second line with the Oil's addition of so much top end talent. He can still be a useful player, but is no longer seen as someone to build a franchise around and his name is often whispered in trade rumors. Gagner is still just 22 years of age and could start this year with 2012's top overall pick, Nail Yakupov, flanking him, but his upside seems to be that of a 20-goal scorer with only a small handful of those goals on the power play.
Ryan Jones (LW): Jones is what he is, the type of player that every team has (and wants), a third- or fourth-liner that won't get much publicity, but will chip in with 15 to 20 goals and 100+ hits each season.
Devan Dubnyk (G): Dubnyk went 20-20-3 last season with Edmonton with a 2.67 GAA and 91.4 save percentage, very respectable numbers for a team that had major holes on defense. The Oilers are getting better, especially on offense, but how much better their defense will be remains to be seen. As the defense goes, so goes Dubnyk -- for good and bad. There's also the looming shadow of Nikolai Khabibulin, who is nowhere near the goaltender he used to be, but will still see plenty of time between the pipes as the Oilers look to justify his contract. In a perfect world, Dubnyk would see 75 to 80 percent of the starts in goal, but that number could be closer to 60 percent with the Bulin Wall still in town.
TWO TO WATCH
Nail Yakupov (C): Yakupov is yet another top overall pick that the Oilers have added to their already potent arsenal. Yakupov can skate like very few players (think Pavel Bure) and has a rocket for a shot. Passing and vision are also among his strengths. You want Yakupov on your team in dynasty or keeper leagues. The big question in re-draft leagues will be, does he begin the season with Edmonton? Smart money is yes as he will be given every opportunity to make the squad out of camp. But keep this in mind -- the Oilers don't have to force him as they have plenty of offensive talent to keep the fans happy. And even if he does play in the NHL from day one, he won't play on the top line ... not yet anyway. There's a slim chance they'll keep him in junior solely to keep his clock from running -- this team has a lot of young, expensive talent and they really need to balance their cap hits sooner rather than later.
Justin Schultz (D): The Oilers may have drafted Nail Yakupov with the top pick in the 2012 Entry Draft, but signing Justin Schultz must have felt like they hit the lottery again. Schultz was considered by most to be the best free agent defenseman after Ryan Suter and his signing with Edmonton was a blessing for the team. He is a big, puck-moving blue liner who will be given every shot to make the team out of training camp and is their cornerstone defenseman of the future.
Ryan Smyth (LW): When you look at Smyth's 2011-12 season, you could say he had a productive one -- 19 goals and 27 assists. But on closer examination, you realize the bulk of his points came in the first half of the season and at 36, his game is in decline. He is also no longer relied upon to be a big offensive threat as that will fall to the young guns on the team. Instead, he'll be a leader and steadying influence for those young players. Smyth should be a fixture on the third line this season.
Nikolai Khabibulin (G): If not for the fact that he has a big contract, Khabibulin might no longer be with Edmonton. He is no longer top dog between the pipes as that job is Devan Dubnyk's, but he will more than likely play more than a normal backup, possibly as many as 30 games. The Bulin Wall is nowhere near the goalie he used to be, but isn't a sieve either and could be trade bait at some point during the season.
HOT (OR NOT?) PROSPECTS
Olivier Roy (G): Roy continued his development last season as he was promoted to the AHL after starting the season in the ECHL. Roy could be the Oilers' goaltender of the future once Nikolai Khabibulin is gone or -- at the very least -- the backup to Devan Dubnyk if he continues to mature. He is not considered an elite prospect, but he has the talent to be very good.
Martin Marincin (D): Marincin is likely to begin his pro career this season with Oklahoma City of the AHL. Marincin and Justin Schultz are considered to be the Oilers' top two defensive prospects. Schultz is expected to start this season in Edmonton, but Marincin requires seasoning to advance the mental aspects of the game.
Oscar Klefbom (D): Klefbom has yet to play in North America as he has spent the last two seasons in the Swedish Elite League. He is one of the Oilers' top prospects on defense, a position they are desperate for talent. His offensive talents haven't really shown up yet, but he is projected to be the type of defender that could be a power-play quarterback. Keeper leaguers need to know his name.