We’re not really expecting the Edmonton Oilers to be a threat in the Western Conference this year but we are expecting them to be a team worth keeping an eye on. After all with young and dynamic scorers like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Linus Omark, Magnus Paajarvi, and Sam Gagner there’s a lot to be excited about.
Of course, with Nikolai Khabibulin being another year older and Devan Dubnyk being a potentially solid goalie along with a defensive unit that doesn’t stand out as a pack of stoppers, things will again be rough in keeping opponents off the board.
The one guy who might find a way onto the team this year is the top pick from the 2011 NHL Draft in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. A lot of number one picks find their way into the NHL right away and Oilers coach Tom Renney has to be prepared for anything when it comes to his latest top pick. That means he’s even got some ideas for line combinations featuring Nugent-Hopkins worked out in his mind already as David Staples of the Edmonton Journal shares.
The other day on CHED, both Dan Tencer and Bob Stauffer asked questions of Oilers coach Tom Renney about RNH.
Renney said that he has many post-it notes with line combinations in his office and RNH’s name is in the mix.
Asked if he was able to put his own opinions on hold and simply evaluate the kid at training camp, Renney said, “I’m trying to do the latter. Those post-it notes, though, certainly a lot of them have his name on them with different combinations of people. I want to give him a fair opportunity to do what he wants to do badly, and that’s to make our hockey team. More important than anything else though, I have to put the stongest team on the ice as I possibly can.”
For Renney, putting the strongest team on the ice might mean having to include Nugent-Hopkins. Nugent-Hopkins is a guy who could slot in on the first or second line at center and while he’s just 18 years-old, the Oilers other options at center may not live up to the amount offensive potential that Nugent-Hopkins has. Sam Gagner figures to be one guy to get in the mix there but with older depth guys like Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger, their experience is good but their offensive production isn’t quite up to par.
Of course, the question is pertinent as to whether or not Nugent-Hopkins should even play in the NHL right away. Some, like Staples says in his piece, believe he should go back for one more year of junior hockey with the Red Deer Rebels. The same questions came up last year for Taylor Hall and he was able to eventually find his way winding up with a 22-goal season in an injury-shortened 65 game season. Whether a guy grows better in the NHL or through another year in junior hockey is up for debate.
For guys at the talent level of Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, having them head back to junior hockey would show how dominant they can be there against guys their own age while they grow up a bit more themselves. For teams like the Oilers, getting all the help they can from within can override that wont to have guys develop at an easier pace.
That said, the question for Renney is simple: If Nugent-Hopkins is ready and can handle the NHL load right away, then go for it. If there’s any questions, give him a look for up to nine games and then decide whether or not to send him back to Red Deer or keep him in Edmonton. Having that option to send him back to junior hockey is there for that purpose and if the Oilers are unsure, they’ll put it to use.