They haven’t tasted the postseason since, but this will be their best opportunity to do. As their young players mature, their players stay healthy and other teams start to decline, the team’s speed and energy will vault them into first place in their division.
It will be a good year for Oilers fans.
Forwards: The team has speed, youth and will shootout specialists, which means extra points in the standings.
Ales Hemsky was the team’s leading point-getter last year with 71 points. Look for those numbers to rise as his new linemate, Erik Cole, gets used to playing in a new city.
While he may not be playing on the top line yet, the team will be led by second-year player Sam Gagner. As he gets used to the NHL, look for improve upon his 13 goals and 49 points last year. Andrew Cogliano is another second-year player who should be looking at a bigger role this season.
Shawn Horcoff was almost a point per game player last year, but only played in 53 games because of injury. He should have have a career year this year, cracking 80 points for the first time.
Finally, there’s Dustin Penner, the guy who the Oilers gave up draft picks for when they signed him as a restricted free agent last summer. I’m not sold on this guy making as much as he is, but he should be good for 25 goals.
Defence: Something you need to know about Sheldon Souray. He alternates good years and bad ones. Last year, he had a bad year, playing in only 26 games due to injuries. Look for that to improve this year, as Souray will score 20 to 25 goals with that big shot of his. And his goals go up, so will the Oilers powerplay.
Lubomir Visnovsky will be the other point guy on the powerplay, who will also rack up the points. That means other teams have to come out to challenge the defencemen, opening up the ice for the forwards.
Steve Staios had a poor season last year, but look for him to rebound. He won’t put up the same numbers as Souray and Visnovsky, but he’ll be a solid defenceman for the Oilers.
Goaltending: This team needs to decide on a number one goalie, and stick with him throughout the season. None of this switching back and forth throughout the season. It divides the team, and when you make the playoffs, increases the controversy and media scrutiny, while redcuing the players’ confidence.
Look for Mathieu Garon to be that guy this season. Even though Dwayne Roloson makes three times the money, Garon had a better save percentage, goals against average and winning percentage than this teammate. It’s time he stepped up and showed what he can do.
On the bright side, the two goalies helped the Oilers to the league’s best save percentage in the shootout last season.
Pool picks: Look for Sheldon Souray’s numbers to climb as he plays a full season, and with it, the numbers of his powerplay linemates. But Sam Gagner is the dark horse pick year. I say he doesn’t have a sophomore slump, and ends up with at least 60 points. Stay away from: Fernando Pisani. Yes, he was injured for part of last season, but I don’t think he’ll ever get more than 40 points. But his name is fun to say.
Miscellaneous: The Oilers led the league in shootout appearances with 19 and shootout wins last year. In fact, almost 25% of their games went into a shootout, and quite a few more went into oevrtime. That’s a lot of extra points. That also shows the Oilers can keep up with a lot of teams out there. If they can translate those wins into regulation wins, that will boost the team into the playoffs.
Expected finish: First in the Northwest division, 3th in the Western conference
Overall: The Oilers are a fun team to watch. They’ll be involved in some battles this year, but they have more balanced scoring than their division foes. That will ultimately win them the division and a top-three seed.