I must say, when I was asked to come on and join Smokin Ray here at Oilersjambalaya a couple years ago, I was full of excitement and anticipation. The Oilers had been trying to scratch and crawl their way back to respectability and were drafting and developing new talents much better then in years past. My excitement for the team , the prospects and their development was hard to surpass. I would spend endless hours in research and conversation with any contacts I could find that had any information that could be useful or give myself a different look at these players.
As the last few years have passed by, that same excitement started to dwindle and while I am still a die hard fan, it has been less emotional excitement then in the past. Why? I am guessing maybe emotional drain? Maybe it is disappointment? Frustration? Regardless of what it was, I was still faithful and still am today watching and following this team. Some have said not drafting the best young player in the world for the 4th consecutive year in a row did it to me. Maybe, but bringing in a new coach and everything MacT has done has not impressed me yet. Sure it's a start but the proof as they say, is in the pudding!
This year, it's time to 'put up, or shut up'! Anything less the a playoff push to the last week is a train wreck to me. I know, teams can only improve so much without major change in player personal. That is true, but no one who drafts as high as the Edmonton Oilers and has elite talent like they do, should grow slowly like some teams that finish in the middle of the pack and yet still see drastic improvement with little changes. With the natural physical, mental and emotional maturity of elite talent comes great strides.
Enough about the past! I love that Eakins cleaned out the past player persona in the changing room. The past is not what you build on, its the future you build into. Having said that, I am starting to feel that 'twitch' again that makes me jump, scream, shout or say 'Yes'! on every Oiler goal, assist, save, hit, fight and plain old 'sweet play'. Looking through this team, there really is no built in excuses why this team can not be a playoff bound team this year. Let's look at the reasons we can anticipate the excitement building for the Edmonton Oilers.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is Cerebal
He's back!! Do not look at his stats line from last year when he was fighting a injury that limited his shot and passing. I have followed RNH for the past 5 years and last year, his whole offensive game was affected. What did he do? Became a even better center defensively. Once RNH can bring his FO% up to around 50% he will become a Top 5 Center in this league as far as I am concerned. His presence on this team will be a huge boost and the team's offensive output will start shooting through the roof of arena's everywhere. Why? Because it will be contagious and will be a catalyst this team needs.
Boyd Gordon is a solid defensive center
Nail Yakupov is a beast
In training camp and pre-season and right throughout the 1st period in the season opener, you can see Nail has gained some great strength in protecting the puck. He doesn't just dangle it, he dares the opposition to take it away from him. He handles it like a bull in a china shop and he doesn't care about the results other then getting that puck to the net. His one-timers from anywhere are hard, crisp, fast and bulls eye accurate. His one-timers take a backseat to no more then maybe 10 current NHL'ers currently playing and if he continues to grow in this area, the sky is the limit for this Russian kid. His hunger for the game, his relentless back check and speed will not be able to be contained too often as this season progresses.
Taylor Hall is a Stud
Not many players can play like Taylor Hall plays. His intensity, versatility, drive, speed and love for hockey make Taylor Hall one of a kind. The fact he has been able to make this shift to centre in the loss of the Oilers top 2 centers has been nothing short of incredible. Sure there have been some mistakes but playing a 1st line center role when you have never done it at a NHL level? That is crazy and he is still holding his own. With Nugent-Hopkins set to return , it is likely to free him up some to relax and take some of the pressure off of him. Don't forget he is carrying two players in Hemsky and Smyth who most Oiler fans wanted run out of town not long ago. Hall with a Yakupov and Joensuu could be a interesting line while Perron and Eberle play with Nugent-Hopkins? No matter how it plays out, left wing or centre , Taylor Hall is a stud out there and intends to make this a winning season at any expense.
Don't fret Oiler fans over the opening night loss. I know it may look like the same old story but this team while down 2 of their top 6 players has looked dominating at times and with this new 'swarm' philosophy of hockey for the Oilers, it might just suit this team well. The addition of some new players added to the mix currently growing by leaps and bounds could be what takes this team back into the 'sacred temples of Lord's Stanley'.
to be continued....