Striking Oil

For years the Edmonton Oilers have wasted draft picks on busts such as Jason Bonsignore, Steve Kelly, Michel Riesen and Michael Heinrich. It left their system bereft of good prospects. The Oilers were forced to acquire their nucleus through trades such as Doug Weight, Todd Marchant, Curtis Joseph, Bill Geurin, Roman Hamrlik only to see these players leave for greener pastures.

But finally, the Oilers are starting to get it right and are building a fine group of young players to support the young nucleus that the team already has.

The Oil have not developed a goalie from within since the days of Fuhr and Moog. Ranford, Cujo and Tommy Salo all came in trades. Now they have 3 they can call their own in the organization that should give the Oilers strong goaltending for years. Ty Conklin was signed out of US College and has been terrific. His numbers would be better if he has more scoring support but on most nights he keeps his team in it. Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers is another in the long line of French Canadian goalies coming from the Q to the NHL. He should challenge for at least backup duty next season. And their top pick in 2004 Devan Dubnyk will probably challenge for a job in Edmonton a few years down the road. As a bigger goalie he will take a bit more time to develop but he could be another Sean Burke type.

The Oilers have had a very hard time finding the next generation of defencemen to replace the stars they had in the 80s like Coffey, Lowe and Huddy. Players like Jason Soules, Nick Stajduhar and Chris Joseph were not the answer. But I think now the Oilers have turned the corner.

The current Oilers roster has 3 blueliners who can provide the kind of offence the team needs from the backend. Since the team’s style is to use speed and the transition game, it is important to have defencemen with the offensive instincts to join the rush or at least start it with a good outlet pass. Eric Brewer, Marc Andre Bergeron and Alexei Semenov all have that kind of talent to generate offence from the defence. Brewer of course is the cornerstone of the defence playing in the Olympics and World Cup and not looking out of place against the world’s best. Bergeron had 9 goals in his first full year as an Oiler in just 54 games as he quarterbacked the PP. While Semenov showed how well a man 6’6 can move around. with these 3, there should be no problem getting offence from the blueliners.

Instead of riding their goaltending to success, they have now the talent on D to provide better support for whomever is in goal. Jason Smith and Steve Staios are providing the Oilers with the kind of tough D that the team hasnt seen since Lowe and Fogilin were shutting down opponents. However with both being over 30, they are nearing the downside of their careers but replacements are on the way. Doug Lynch and Jeff Woywitka are the two top defence prospects in the system. both are very similar. both are big but move well and can generate offence plus be solid on the points with their big shots. Their size helps them in their own end and with experience should get better. Another top defence prospect is Matt Greene. He captained North Dakota to a NCAA championship and should eventually makes his way onto the Oilers roster. he will give a different dimension to the Oilers with his toughness and mean streak. He has been punishing in US College. So whether it be good offence or tough defence, the Oilers appear set on the blueline.

Edmonton was spoiled in the 80s with their hall of fame cast of forwards. Now, under defensive minded Craig MacTavish, the Oilers play a more tighter defensive system, but still have that same philosophy of using team speed to their advantage. because of it they like to attack and forecheck rather than play a trap. It makes for more exciting hockey to watch. However the Oilers for the last few years have had trouble finishing. the only true sniper they have had in the last while has been Bill Guerin. But due to lack of funds, the team has been forced to go with cheaper talent and less with players with star power. However the team does have many players who can play a solid two-way game plus a couple players who could be the offensive stars the team needs to score a big goal.

The current roster is led by Ryan Smyth. This guy leads by example and does whatever it takes to win. He is the face of the Oilers and can check, score, hit and lead. the team also has some offensive minded players like York, Hemsky and Dvorak, some tough rugged players like Moreau, Isbister, Laraque and Torres, and some quality checkers like Horcoff, Pisani and Stoll. Many of these players are still young and should be with the team for years. Hemsky has jaw-dropping skill. though sometimes his attention span wanes and he defensive play is weak, he has the potential to break a game open. I think a player like him would benefit from the new rules changes the most. Stoll should develop into a top 3rd line centre for years. He has the speed and smarts to be a solid two way threat. Torres should learn a thing or two from Smyth. He has the talent to play that kind of game. He loves to hit and if he goes to the net more he will see greater results. if he gets that Smyth like workethic he should be a solid player for a long time.

Since the team is mainly built with two way players and not with pure scorers, getting goals has been a problem. But in the system the team has some prospects who can provide the Oilers with the offensive game the team lacks, most notably Rob Schremp and Marc-Antoine Pouliot. Pouliot is a top playmaker in the Q. He may develop into a second line centre in the NHL because of his passing skills and offensive instincts as well as his attention to defence (a rarity for Q players). Schremp could be a gamebreaker. He could be the next big offensive star in the NHL. His attitude lowered his draft status however his play with the top CHL team in London has made him one of the top prospects anywhere. the development of these two could go a long way in helping Edmonton become playoff contenders again.

After some cost cutting trades and poor drafts in the Glen Sather era left the organization thin, Kevin Lowe has retooled the franchise and sooner rather than later should be able to take the next step and get back to the playoffs.


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