Even with the wealth of offensive talent that the Oilers possess they once again missed the playoffs last year. All the goal scoring in the world can't make up for a team incredibly light on defense, and lacking between the pipes. The Oilers have a top-six forward grouping that can rival any in the league, but defense is still a major work in progress and although it should be better this season, that isn't saying a whole lot. Goaltending is another question mark as the team still seems to be trying to figure out if they have a true No. 1 netminder in the organization or if that position will be next in line to be overhauled after the blue line.
The Oilers are going to score goals. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could make for a formidable top line for years to come. RNH is still recovering from shoulder surgery and may miss the start of the season. What may even be more concerning is that due to the offseason surgery, he still has not been able to bulk up enough to last through the rigors of an entire season, especially an 82-game one. If he is unable to start the season on time, Sam Gagner would get bumped up to the top line. The second line won't be any fun for the opposition either. Nail Yakupov should only get better in his second year in the league and the recently acquired David Perron along with Nugent-Hopkins or Gagner will put opposing teams in a defensive dilemma.
Defensively, the Oilers are a mess although there is help on the way. Like Yakupov, Justin Schultz should only get better in his second NHL season, especially in the defensive end. The addition of Andrew Ference in free agency gives them a solid veteran presence on the blue line and help is on the way from within as Oscar Klefbom could also start the season with the team with a good training camp.
Devan Dubnyk is slated to start the season in goal but the Oilers covered their bases by signing Jason LaBarbera away from Phoenix. Whether or not Dubnyk can handle the starter's role over a full 82-game season will be a big topic of discussion this season. If not, Edmonton will once again be in the market for a goaltender. Remember, Edmonton had talks with Vancouver about Roberto Luongo last season, so it's not as though they are unaware what their biggest weakness is.
As for Edmonton's prospects this season. Even the most optimistic of fans would have a hard time stating the team is better than any of the eight teams that made the playoffs from the Western Conference last season. However, with the new conference alignments, Detroit is now playing in the East. This could mean that the Oilers will battle with Phoenix, Nashville, and Dallas for the final playoff spot, and each of those three clubs have problems of their own.
The Big Guns
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (C): Before suffering another shoulder injury last season RNH was on pace to produce more points than his rookie season, but not quite as many goals. Nugent-Hopkins seemed to have settled into a role of trying to set up his high scoring line mates, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. The goals should come as he gains experience and learns that there is nothing wrong with shooting the puck. The biggest worry is his ability or inability to stay healthy. He would seem to need a heavy dose of off-season work to gain upper body strength but shoulder surgery has once again put that off for another year. RNH is a great talent, but the over/under on games played this season may once again be around 60.
Taylor Hall (LW): Hall is already one of the best wings in the game and he's not going to last long in any fantasy draft. The only drawback for Hall is that he is once again another top Oiler forward who has battled the injury bug since making the jump to the NHL. His first two seasons in the league saw Hall miss 17 and 21 games but in last year's lockout shortened season he only missed three. If this is a sign of things to come, then Hall is a lock for 30+ goals and could approach 40.
Jordan Eberle (RW): Eberle didn't quite have the season last year as he did in his breakout 2011-12 campaign but he is still a top notch scorer. Like Hall he is almost a lock for 30+ goals with 40 being well within his reach. The Oilers know they will have to score aplenty this season in order to win on a consistent basis as their defense and goaltending are sketchy at best, so these young guns are going to be let loose to see what they can do.
On The Rise
Sam Gagner (C): Gagner just signed at three-year, $14.4 million contract extension with Edmonton that has a no-trade clause that should secure his future with the Oilers for at least the next couple of seasons. Why is this important? Well, Gagner's name has been mentioned in trade talks constantly over the past few seasons as some thought the best move for Edmonton would be to trade Gagner for some defensive help. Instead the team will keep his 20-plus goal potential and have him center an up-and-coming second line with Nail Yakupov and Ales Hemsky (or Hemsky's replacement, if they successfully move him). There he might be a solid, 55-point contributor.
Nail Yakupov (RW): Yakupov's first season in the NHL was an up and down one. While he did finish with 17 goals and 31 points in 48 games, he had stretches where he was absolutely invisible. Of course, that is to be expected from a pimple-faced, first-year player no matter how highly touted he is. The good news is that he should approach the 30-goal level this season and that's while toiling on the second line. He should be a second wing for most fantasy teams. Watch out if he ever gets a first-line gig.
Justin Schultz (D): Schultz was a gift from above last season for Edmonton. He signed with the Oilers after being unable to come to an agreement with the Ducks and immediately provided the team with an offensive presence on the blue line that they hadn't seen since Paul Coffey. Now, he did admit he hit the wall at midseason, but that will change this year now that he knows what it's like to play in the NHL. And one has to think his second season could produce 12 to 15 goals and as many as 50 points. Sweet.
Two To Watch
David Perron (LW): Perron was acquired from the Blues as he seemed to have a problem with the higher ups in the St. Louis organization. In Perron the Oilers get a solid veteran presence to play along with some of their young up and coming stars. Perron doesn't possess the upside of a Hall or Eberle, but playing with talented youngsters like Gagner and Yakupov should see Perron return to his 25 goal ways.
Ales Hemsky (RW): It feels Hemsky's name has been on and off the trading block for about a decade, but he is more than likely going to begin the season in Edmonton. A $5 million cap hit plus a decline in play makes that almost a foregone conclusion. If Hemsky can stay healthy, however, he could make for an intriguing fantasy play if he plays on a line with former first-overall pick Nail Yakupov and Sam Gagner, a trio that won't see too many top defenders because opposing teams will worry more about the Oilers dynamic top line. He'll battle David Perron for the gig. Are 60 points a possibility if he wins the job? Absolutely and then some, but only if health and chemistry are on his side.
Andrew Ference (D): Ference was the Oilers' top free-agent addition this offseason and he gives the team something they desperately need -- a solid and steady veteran presence along the blue line. Is he going to light it up offensively? Not a chance. But six to eight goals is not out of the question. His value, though, is more toward being a mentor for the Oilers young defensemen than helping your fantasy squad.
Devan Dubnyk (G): Dubnyk had a bit of a mixed bag of a season last year. He went 14-16 with a 2.57 GAA and .920 SV% -- certainly not bad numbers, but ones that need to improve. But the Oilers' defense is the weakest part of the team and that means that Dubnyk will more than likely see his fair share of rubber. He's also not entrenched as the long-term starting goaltender for the team -- remember the Oilers were in on the Cory Schneider talks on draft day -- which means any kind of slump could see the team start Jason LaBarbera. The Oilers are under some pressure to make the playoffs this season, or at the very least, be in the hunt. Dubnyk could have a short rope if he doesn't get off to a good start. He might be worth a spot as your second goalie, but only if you have an absolute sure thing in the top seat.
Martin Marincin (D): There are three defensive prospects on this list and the Oilers really need at least two to hit. Marincin will likely begin his second season with Oklahoma City of the AHL, but the time is coming near for his ascension to Edmonton. Marincin has the talent to be an all around defenseman and could be someone the Oilers eventually build their defensive corps around.
Darnell Nurse (D): Hopefully Darnell can nurse the Oilers' defensive unit back to health in a few years. The Oilers' first-round pick in this past July's draft possesses unique size and physical ability to go with some offensive side. He has been compared to a Shea Weber type but with a Chris Pronger attitude.
Oscar Klefbom (D): Klefbom is the closest of the Oilers' defensive prospects to making the team. It's not out of the question that he starts October in Edmonton. The only thing holding Klefbom back is how he plays in his own end. In the end he may get caught in a numbers game as the Oilers may decide to see if they get by with NHL proven, though low end, defensemen to start the season, but he has little left to prove at the AHL level.