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2011-2012 season preview: Edmonton Oilers

Sep 30, 2011, 1:34 PM EDT

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Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Getty Images

2010-2011 Record: 25-45-12, 62 points; 5th in Northwest, 15th in West

Playoffs: Did not qualify

Despite the amount of future talent in Edmonton, the Oilers were horrendous last season. Exciting forwards, a lack of depth, poor defense, and goaltending that was both bad and hung out to dry. So did anything get better in Edmonton? Let’s just say the Oilers at least have a lot of young stars to watch grow.

Offense

The offense will, at the very least, be fun to watch. How could it not be? Taylor Hall returns after a solid but injury-shortened first season. Jordan Eberle spices things up with his electric moves while Magnus Paajarvi looks to build on his solid first season. This year’s No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins may or may not be joining them for the full season to really make everyone else look old. Ryan Smyth makes his triumphant return and joins up with old pals Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky. Eric Belanger will help them win faceoffs and youngster Anton Lander could be a factor as well. Fun pieces and a fast tempo will keep fans from turning their noses up completely at the team.

Defense

What will make fans grumpy is how their defense sets up. Cam Barker joins up looking to redeem his career after playing so poorly in Minnesota after starting so well in Chicago. The Oilers will need Ryan Whitney to stay healthy and Tom Gilbert to play smart to keep the offense rolling. Theo Peckham has developed into a decent physical defenseman and Ladislav Smid is OK out there. Andy Sutton will look to bring his expertise and gruff demeanor in a positive way to Edmonton. Young guys like Jeff Petry and Taylor Chorney will provide depth to a unit that has average pieces. No one here is a real standout.

source: APGoalies

After doing hard time in Tent City in Arizona this summer, Nikolai Khabibulin, 38, hopes to come back with a strong season. The question here is whether he should be the starter over 25-year-old Devan Dubnyk, who showed flashes of brilliance last season and it’s clear he’s got more of a future ahead of him. But will it matter at all with how questionable the Oilers are defensively all over the ice? Both guys are destined to be part of a shooting gallery.

Coach

Tom Renney enters his second season as Oilers’ coach and he’s working more as a school teacher than a coach given the amount of youth all over the roster. Things were about as bad as they could get last year even with the burgeoning youth explosion. He could be in for more of the same this season unless guys like Hall, Eberle, and Paajarvi explode in their sophomore seasons and the goaltending does something other than get sunburn on their necks from the goal light.

source: Getty ImagesBreakout candidate

Nugent-Hopkins’ status is up in the air as he might get a nine-game peek before being sent back to Red Deer in the WHL. Anton Lander is a possibility for the breakout guy, but we’ll go with a guy who did OK last year but could do even better in his second season. Paajarvi has all the talent to be on that top level with the likes of Hall and Eberle but struggled a bit to find his way last season scoring 15 goals and 34 points last season. Look for Paajarvi to try and push for a 25-goal season and 50-plus points. Full seasons with him and the rest of the young army of players could see all their numbers jump a bit.

Best-case scenario

Edmonton gets all their offense and then some from a rejuvenated Smyth being back in his favorite city while they get healthy seasons from all of Hemsky, Hall, and Eberle who blow up big offensively. They see Paajarvi find his stride while Nugent-Hopkins proves he belongs and joins in the scorefest. The defense plays passable along the blue line and doesn’t resemble a line of  turnstiles too often while Dubnyk and Khabibulin hold the fort down and the Oilers challenge for the last spot in the West.

Reality

Health is the biggest thing for Edmonton. So many injuries really helped pile on to what was already a year meant for growing pains. If their whole team can keep it together and evolve together as well, they could be a dangerous team. That said, their goaltending and defense have too many questions and holes to it to take them seriously. It would be miraculous if they made the playoffs.

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