On September 17, after completing medical and fitness testing, the Oilers made their first public comments about the upcoming 2010-11 season. 207 days and 88 games later, the players concluded the season with a final round of questions at Rexall Place.
The Oilers of six months ago couldn't (and wouldn't want to) predict that the club would finish in 30th place for a second consecutive year. Injuries and inexperience contributed to another difficult campaign in Edmonton, but according to captain Shawn Horcoff, a sense of optimism has improved the atmosphere in the locker room.
"I think last year, there was a lot of uncertainty of 'Where do we go from here? What's going to happen?'" he said. "But it's a totally different feeling this year: We understand the direction that we're going, we have a real good base. I think the talent, and the young talent especially, they came in this year and really I think showed everyone, the fans and the city, that they can play and they're going to be able to play at a high level early."
Devan Dubnyk was one of the young players who excelled this season. The 24-year-old goaltender registered a 0.916 save percentage and 2.71 goals-against average in 35 appearances this season, impressive numbers on a team that struggled to find success.
"As a team we certainly would have liked to have some more wins, but personally I felt like I grew from the start of the year to the end and continued to get better and develop that confidence," Dubnyk said. "(I) got to play a lot of games, probably a lot more than I would have expected at the start of the year, so I got to see a lot of situations against a lot of different teams. That's how you get better."
Outside the crease, an unprecedented influx of rookies provided Edmonton with a welcome dose of enthusiasm, optimism, and offense. The Oilers leading scorer was first-year right winger Jordan Eberle, who finished the season with 18 goals and 25 assists.
"It was definitely a learning year," Eberle reflected. "I think if I look from day one to now, obviously the biggest thing I looked for is if the game is going to slow down, and I thought definitely it did."
The Oiler that attracted the most attention and, accordingly, played with the most pressure was also the youngest on the roster: Taylor Hall.
In his first NHL season, the first overall draft pick scored 22 goals and added 20 assists before succumbing to an ankle injury March 3rd. Despite the disappointing end to the season, Hall is pleased with the progress he made.
"It was a big adjustment at first for me personally, but as the season wore on, I got more used to the NHL, and I'll come here next year knowing a lot about the league," he said. "I want to keep improving as a player. I want to continue working with my teammates, getting chemistry with whoever I play with next year. I want to become a better player at both ends of the rink, but at the same time, it's nice to know that whatever I've done has worked and I had a pretty good year."
WINNING THE LOTTERY
|The Oilers selected Taylor Hall first overall last year. Will they get first overall again this year? And if so, who will they pick? (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Based on tomorrow's NHL Entry Draft Lottery, the Oilers could have another first overall pick on their roster next season. The players agree that the high draft pick is a silver lining on the dark-cloud season, but they aren't thinking too deeply about who the pick might be or what he will contribute come September.
"As a player, you know you're going to get the first-round pick and obviously we're happy with it, but all that's out of our control," Horcoff said. "[September] really becomes the time where, as a player, you get to evaluate the draft or what kind of players these guys are. We're going to get a top pick, first or second pick. Who that is remains to be seen, but it's going to be a good player and they're going to help us soon."
Hall predicts that Edmonton's top selection "is going to have some pressure," but added that the players and coaches are eager to welcome the new addition this fall.
"We talk about it all the time that as much as we don't like losing, it's a lot better than finishing ninth and not getting a high pick. So we're on the right track here, we have a lot of young players, and for good reasons fans should be excited."
IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLDS
|Oilers forward Magnus Paajarvi led Team Sweden in scoring at last year's IIHF World Championships. Will he do it again this year? (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)
The 2011 NHL Entry Draft is 2.5 months away, but don't despair, Oilers fans: although official announcements have yet to be made, some of your favourite players are likely to participate in the IIHF World Championships.
After finishing third in tournament scoring last year with nine points in nine games, Magnus Paajarvi is eager to upgrade his bronze medal as part of Team Sweden this year.
"I love playing hockey and putting the national team jersey on is pretty cool. It's a big honour for sure," he said. "The last World Champs was a really good experience for me and hopefully we can take the gold. I really developed a lot that tournament so hopefully I can do that this year too."
Eberle registered four points in four games with Team Canada last year but has yet to be contacted by team management.
"Obviously I'd love to go -- I went last year and it was a great experience," he said. "I talked to (Oilers GM Steve) Tambellini and he said that obviously I'm on the radar and it's just a matter of who they want to take, so like I said before, it would be awesome to go and continue playing."
The 2011 World Championships run from April 29 - May 15 in Slovakia. Stay tuned to edmontonoilers.com for full coverage of the participating Oilers.
Author: Jen Sharpe | edmontonoilers.com, with files from Bob Stauffer & Tom Gazzola