The Oilers 2013/2014 is going to be a wild ride one way or another. After 7 years of dwelling in the basement the fans are hoping this is the year they will be rewarded for their patience with a playoff appearance. After reading over my previous two blogs, I believe there are a few things that need to happen for the Oilers to be in the second season for the first time since 2006.
They need to stay healthy. The injury bug has plagued this team for as long as I can remember. If Craig Mactavish is telling the truth and his is done with trades for the summer, this forward group is not deep enough to withstand any long term injury to someone playing top 9 minutes. RNH has to be playing hockey November 1st at the latest; they do not have the depth to handle one of their top six being out for an extended period of time. Not to mention an injury to one of the top 6 before the Nuge is back could spell a losing streak that they won’t be able to bounce back from. Health is the single most important thing the Oilers need this season, they will be in the playoffs in their top 6 forwards and top 4 defense all play 70+ games.
Young players need to become the leaders. Everything I’ve read on new coach Dallas Eakins suggests the big players will play big minutes, and this could go a long way in moving up the standings; more Taylor Hall/Jordan Eberle and less Ryan Smyth/Mike Brown? Yes please. Taylor Hall should be named captain, and needs to be in the top 10 in league scoring. Jordan Eberle and especially Ryan Nugent-Hopkins need to have better years, and the Gagner line must be better in the d-zone. Justin Schultz cannot play like he did towards the end of last season, and will be depended on to play a competent role in the top 4.
Bounce back years. RNH suffered through the dreaded ‘sophomore slump’ last season, the Oilers need their #1 center to be huge all year for a shot at the playoffs. Newly acquired David Perron has had 2 healthy seasons since missing parts of 2 years with a concussion, but he was on pace for 43 points last season and that won’t be enough if the Oilers are post season bound at the end of the year. Ales Hemsky played 38 games last season, but was rumored to be playing hurt. A healthy Hemsky on the third line could have a huge impact on the season and give the Oilers some secondary scoring that they have lacked for a long time. The Smid/Petry pairing took a real step backwards after a real breakout year in 2011-2012. The Oilers need these two to regain that form and more as they will be relied upon to play first pairing shut down minutes all year long.
After looking at what has to go right for the Oilers to have success this season, I am not convinced fans in Edmonton will be rewarded with playoff hockey until next season. I see the depth up the middle as a real concern; injuries happen in the NHL and the teams that are best prepared for them are the teams that usually have the most success. Boyd Gordon playing on either of the top 2 lines will not make Edmonton a playoff team. I think Taylor Hall is going to emerge as a real force this season and should make Canada’s Olympic squad, but beyond that I think that Oiler fans will need to be patient with their still very young core. How many teams make the playoffs with their #1 center being 20 years old, not to mention having another 20 year old in their top six? They are going to be playing against some very stiff competition in the newly aligned Pacific division and I don’t think they have the experience to run with the big boys into the postseason.rn