Out with the old, and in with the new. The metamorphosis of the Edmonton Oilers is officially underway, as the team opened its 2010-11 training camp with on-ice sessions yesterday morning down at The Drug Store (Rexall Place), before moving over to Sherwood Park’s Millennium Place today.
The team was broken into three for today’s camp, which focused heavily on endurance and skating drills.
Comrie, Dom (coach), Moreau, Nilsson, O’Sullivan, Pisani, Potulny, Pouliot, Prendergast, (Front Office) Souray, and Quinn.
Belle, Eberle, Foster, Fraser, Gerber, Hall, Krueger (coach), MacIntyre, Omark, Paajarvi, Smith (coach), Vandermeer.
After finishing in the NHL’s cellar following the 2009-10 regular season and missing the playoffs yet again, the Edmonton Oilers hit rock bottom – no regular season, no post season, no optimism, no, well, anything! And for a franchise with such a rich history, the past four seasons have been painful for Oilers Nation! Okay, not “Maple Leaf torment” per say, but extremely distressing nonetheless, especially when your team goes from the threshold of Stanley Cup greatness (2006) to the NHL outhouse in four years.
Hope springs eternal, they say, and in the Oilers’ case hope is spelt H.A.L.L – Taylor Hall. When Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini selected the former Windsor Spitfire and Memorial Cup MVP x 2 last June at the NHL Draft in Los Angeles, not only did it represent the team’s first-ever, first overall draft choice, but instantaneous hope for a bright future. A once-proud franchise and its fans sensed optimism once again – even if it was only momentarily. And throw in solid offensive prospects like the three amigos in Eberle, Paajarvi and Hall, and it appears, as though Edmonton’s draft cabinet is not so bare anymore.
Without question, the Oil change is well underway in the Heartland of Hockey, and while the three amigos, and possibly Linus Omark (who may be destined for Oklahoma City based on the number of bodies in camp) are generating much of the excitement for this franchise, Edmonton coach Tom Renney will undoubtedly being looking for huge bounce-back years from Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano. Heading into their fourth seasons respectively, the two young centres boast new contracts and a wealth of untapped potential, Cogs more so than his roommate, Gagner. The trick for both Ontario-born players will be to eliminate the stretches of inconsistency that have inhibited their games in their first three seasons. The upside? Both are in their early 20s and now considered seasoned pros. The sky’s the limit for both, and fans can expect them to improve on their offensive contributions this season, if Renney avoids the “line blender” that has plagued this team since Craig MacTavish patrolled the bench. Brule, who also filled his jeans with a new contact this off-season, will look to improve upon a solid 2009-10 campaign that gave fans something to cheer about amidst the ugly.
A retooled blue line will be missing the booming slap shot of Sheldon Souray, following his public breakup this summer with Tambellini. Rather than inviting Souray to training camp while he solidified a trade, Tambellini cut ties with the club’s $5M-dollar asset, sending a strong message to not only Souray, but to current and future prima donnas, that there’s a new sheriff in town and it’s his way or the highway. A bold stand by the Oilers’ GM, and one that could further delay Souray’s departure.
On the blueline, former Anaheim Duck Ryan Whitney established himself on the Oilers’ back end last season, following a trade that saw Lubomir Visnovsky head to southern Cal. Enter veteran Jim Vandermeer who played with the Coyotes last season, Tampa Bay Lightning monster D-man Kurtis Foster (6”, 5’) and veteran blueliners Tom Gilbert, Ladislav Smid, Theo Peckham and Jason Strudwick, as well as a large supporting cast of D-men (re: Alex Plante), who are attempting to claim a position with the team at training camp. Foster is coming off a successful season on the ice in Tampa, posting career highs of 8-34-42, on the heels of breaking his leg a year earlier in Minnesota. Off the ice, he and his wife suffered the tragic loss of their five-day-old daughter, Lila. A change of scenery may be precisely what the Fosters need.
Edmonton’s blueline is one injury away from becoming this team’s Achilles, but Tambellini has done his part to try and beef up his club’s D, which spent much of last season being pushed around in their own zone. In goal, Devan Dubnyk and JD Deslaurier will battle for the back-up position behind starter Nikolai Khabibulin, anxious to resume his hockey career, following back surgery and a serious brush with the law in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he was recently convicted on charges of DUI. Never a dull moment in E-town folks.
Renney, Tambellini, Quinn and company should be prepared for the trials and tribulations that come with guiding a very young squad. When players like Gagner and Cogliano are considered veterans, players in their early 20s, unequivocally, this team is going to have growing pains. The reality, however, is there’s nowhere to go but up. Finishing 30th overall usually translates into “a youth movement”, and the Oilers and their fans have embraced that philosophy, though many believe it should have happened a lot sooner.
Nonetheless, optimism abounds throughout the league at this time of year, when the leaves begin to change colours and a hockey fans’ attention changes from beaches and bikinis to breakaways and backhanders. (okay, let’s not get carried away!)
On day one of camp, fans got a glimpse of their team’s future with Gagner centering Penner and Hemsky on the top line, and Horcoff centering young guns, Hall and Eberle. Regardless if those lines break camp together, the Edmonton Oilers are writing a script that seemingly has “underdog” written all over it. Careful not to cut ‘em short.
In the meantime Oiler fans, chins up…sticks down. Hockey is alive and well in the Heartland!
About the Author
Written by Scott Pattison
Scott is an award-winning sports writer whose career spans more than 20 years. He's proudly covered the Oilers since moving to the Alberta capital in 2000.