2010-2011 Season Preview: Forwards
In the first of our three-part series, we examine the forwards for the 2010-11 season
The Oilers began the summer with some significant house cleaning to clear roser spots and salary; not only for competition come training camp, but also to make space available for the influx of young talent that was ready to step into the NHL.
The Oilers knew as an organization that a large overhaul was in order. As such, several long-time veterans and other oft-injured under-performing forwards were let go, put on waivers, or bought out. Rather than chasing the big fish during free agency, the Oilers played a more conservative game and worked on acquiring depth and role players to create a more balanced lineup with fresh leadership and a new attitude.
Rebuilds are so much more than simply addressing the skill on the ice. It's equally as important, if not more so, to address and correct the culture in the dressing room to create a positive and winning environment.
With the final roster assignments completed, we now know how the Oilers roster will look on opening night and early into the 2010-2011 campaign. The summer of evaluation continued well into training camp, as the organization made a stringent effort to provide players with a fair opportunity to earn a job with the Oilers. The team used all of its six pre-season games to experiment with different rosters and line combinations. Leading into Thursday’s opener, the team hasn’t had the opportunity to work as a unit in game action; perhaps a concern, but a risk the organization was willing to take to ensure they made the correct roster decisions.
Over the course of only a few months, the Edmonton Oilers have remarkably changed its landscape. We’re seeing a new era in Oil Country as an emphasis on young skill is brought to the forefront. Evaluation, success through the draft, and minor league player development is the priority. The Oilers have the luxury of dressing three skilled rookies on opening night: Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi, and Jordan Eberle. Although the organization wants to be careful that these players aren’t rushed in the NHL, it becomes difficult to say no when the players earn such immediate on-ice respect with their play and equally as impressive past resumes.
So what can Oilers fans really expect to see out of this forward group for the 2010-2011 season?
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PRIDE, PASSION, POWER
General Manager Steve Tambellini insisted on this particular theme as we roll into the new season. The organization wants to acquire and develop players that want to be an Oiler; players that want to work in Edmonton and have success with this team and with this city. More than anything, players that want to do all of the above and win a Stanley Cup to top it all off.
|Colin Fraser is looking to bring his Cup-winning experience and leadership to a young Oilers squad.
Talent and offensive skill alone can’t win hockey games, let alone a league championship. Fraser’s experience and specific skill-sets should provide the Oilers with more flexibility down the middle and another veteran voice to help guide the younger players within the organization. Although Fraser is only one player in the grand scheme, his pride and commitment to the process here in Oil Country is exactly what the organization needs to be successful.
THE EXISTING YOUTH CORE
|Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano are looking to have breakout seasons in Edmonton following a disappointing year.
Both Gagner and Cogliano have proven they can succeed in their roles, but the pressure and expectations can sometimes get the best of them. Fortunately for both, the expectations this season are kept in check. For many, it’s an expectation of further evaluation with an emphasis on player development. Hall, Paajarvi, and Eberle have already taken over the spotlight in that regard, which could prove to be incredibly beneficial for the pair.
Less pressure, a restraint on expectations, and placement in a role with other young players could allow both to exceed their personal goals; to fly under the radar and avoid the critical spotlight. Like many of the storylines heading into the new season, only time will tell. Both Gagner and Cogliano could be poised for a breakout season as the Oilers look to build a new identity.
As a team, there wasn’t much to take from the results of the 2009-2010 season. But for Dustin Penner and Gilbert Brule, their respective seasons could be considered a success by individual metrics.
|Expectations are high for Dustin Penner who set career highs in all offensive categories last season.
For Gilbert Brule, he also scored career highs with 17 goals and 37 points in an abbreviated season, with frequent injuries and illnesses sidelining him for several games at a time. Brule was one of the most versatile Oiler forwards, as he could be used in a variety of roles that included both energy and scoring line responsibilities.
Can Penner and Brule maintain their high level of play into the new season? The success of the Oilers, as with most NHL teams, relies on the ability for top flight players to maintain what they’ve shown in the past. The Oilers have invested a lot in both Penner and Brule, meaning their respective performances this season could have a large impact on where the Oilers finish in the standings this year.
|Shawn Horcoff is looking for a bounce-back season as he mentors young forwards Taylor Hall & Jordan Eberle.
Horcoff has come into camp in a different role and seems to have excelled in that capacity. Not only is he back in a scoring line role, but he’s currently the mentor for many of the young rookies; most notably, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall.
It’s become evident through the various practices and pre-season games in camp that Horcoff is thriving with a rejuvenated attitude and fresh role with the new Oilers. Can Horcoff return to being a 55+ point forward while providing solid defence and above average faceoff numbers? Horcoff appears prepared to prove his doubters wrong.
THE FOOT SOLDIERS
Not to be forgotten, Edmonton’s grinding line competitors are looking to be an incredible force this season. Zack Stortini, Ryan Jones, and Steve MacIntyre are going to play a collective pest and enforcer role this year. Stortini and Jones in particular are tough, can throw thunderous hits, and irritate the you-know-what out of the opposition. While MacIntyre won’t provide the infectious energy and crash-and-bang style on the forecheck, his fists generally do the talking. All three may not dress for every game, but their shared versatility will provide some flexibility and extra toughness when needed.
FRESH OFFENSIVE TALENT
|All eyes are on Edmonton's offensively talented trio of Magnus Paajarvi, Jordan Eberle, & Taylor Hall
Skill and raw offensive talent is a requirement for any rebuild and the timing couldn’t be better for all three and the Oilers organization as a whole. Oilers fans will treated to some of the most mesmerizing skill in recent memory when the trio flashes their skill at Rexall Place this season. All three have terrific hockey sense to complement their raw talent, which can be a dangerous combination for any team facing these young NHLers.
Of course, the trio of Hall, Paajarvi, and Eberle isn’t the only introduction of high-skill for the Oilers. Ales Hemsky returns for 2010-2011 and is ready to make up for lost time. The crafty winger was limited to only 22 games last year before being sidelined with a season-ending shoulder injury that required surgery. Hemsky looks poised to return to form and enjoy the fruits of playing alongside several other offensively gifted forwards.
THIS IS A JOURNEY
Unfortunately, rebuilds don’t always result in immediate success. Will there be growing pains? Will the team stumble and have difficult times? Of course, and that’s what makes it a process. Let the players develop to their full capability. Let them experience life in the NHL and develop the chemistry that makes successful teams what they are. Remember that most of these young forwards are still kids and need to be given time to adjust and further establish themselves in this league.
Give them time and be patient. The players, the organization, and the fans will be rewarded if you do. The journey always has an end goal and this current roster looks driven to accomplish that. Let’s enjoy the ride, because one thing's for sure: The 2010-2011 Edmonton Oilers forward group is going to be incredibly entertaining.
Stay tuned throughout the week as we will be bringing you parts two and three of the Season Preview Series. Tomorrow, we will be examining the defence.
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com