Monday, August 29, 2005

Team Preview: Edmonton Oilers

Key additions: Chris Pronger, D (T - STL); Michael Peca, C (T - NYI); Rob Schremp, C (D - 2004, 1/25)

Key losses: Eric Brewer, D (T - STL); Mike York, C/RW/LW (T - NYI); Petr Nedved, C (FA - PHX); Brad Isbister, LW/RW (T - BOS); Scott Ferguson, D (FA - MIN); Jeff Woywitka, D (T - STL); Jamie Wright, LW (FA - Europe); Tyler Moss, G (FA - Europe); Adam Oates, C (Retired)

Key player unsigned: None

Forwards: Often in the NHL "balance" is a euphemism for "lack of talent." With that in mind, the 2003-04 Oilers were ninth in the NHL in goals scored and they did it with a balanced attack, as Ryan Smyth was the only Oiler to score more than 20 goals (23) and the only Oiler with more than 50 points (59). A similar balance will be back with the 2005-06 edition of the team. Youngsters Raffi Torres, Ales Hemsky and perhaps even Schremp will join a deep lot of mediocre forwards that includes Radek Dvorak, Shawn Horcoff and Ethan Moreau. Peca, brought in via trade from the Islanders, will add leadership, grit and defensive ability, but is not a #1 or even a #2 scoring option down the middle. The Oilers lack a true "go to" scorer and are weak at center, but they will ice three lines that can score relatively equally.

Defensemen: The trade that brought Pronger to Edmonton was a blockbuster move that, along with captain Jason Smith, gives the Oil as hard-hitting a duo of defenders as any team in hockey has. Steve Staios is another hard-hitter, Marc-Andre Bergeron a decent offensive defenseman, and Igor Ulanov, Cory Cross and Alexei Semenov will fill out the remainder of the minutes on the blueline on most nights. The Oilers could use more offense from the rearguards (only Pronger and Bergeron have any real passing or shooting ability), and a little more back-end depth, but with Pronger and Smith on the ice for nearly half of the game every night, Edmonton will have a tough, solid defense.

Goaltenders: Ty Conklin has been adequate so far for the Oilers, but wasn't spectacular in the AHL, does not have as much natural talent as most NHL starting goalies, and hasn't played more than 38 regular season games in a season in more than ten years. Conklin must prove that he can handle the workload of an NHL starting goalie, and he will be given the opportunity to do so. If (when?) Conklin falters, Jussi Markkanen will spell the American netminder. The 30-year-old Markkanen has been inconsistent during his limited NHL career, but can get hot for stretches at a time.

Bottom line: Edmonton missed the playoffs in 2003-04 by just two points, and likely will again be fighting to make the playoffs in 2005-06. The physical nature of the defensemen and the leadership of Pronger, Peca and Smith will keep the Oilers in every game and will help them win on many nights, but the goaltending is far too suspect to consider the Oilers a contender for anything more than a playoff spot. It would take a breakout year from a young forward or two and the emergence of one of the goalies to get Edmonton into the playoffs, and that is a tall order.

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