2011-2012 season preview: Edmonton Oilers

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.

Is Brayden Schenn’s star turn for real?

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For years, hockey nerds and/or experts were waiting for Brayden Schenn to make “the leap.” Eventually, people gave up on that, to the point that the 26-year-old’s trade to the St. Louis Blues seemed more like a curious swap than a tide-turner.

Now, sure, Schenn found a solid niche with the Philadelphia Flyers, but it was in more of a specialist role. Many believed that he was dependent upon a plum gig on the team’s lethal power play and would possibly slip in St. Louis.

Considering that 17 of his 25 goals came on the power play last season, it wasn’t that outrageous to wonder if he might be just “a guy” in St. Louis.

As it turns out, he’s bordering on the guy with the Blues, and it’s been a truly wondrous thing to behold. Wondrous and baffling, to be honest.

On Saturday, it seemed like his hot streak would come to an end … until overtime. In what was very much a solo effort, Schenn beguiled the Vancouver Canucks to secure a 4-3 OT win for his Blues.

Nice. Now, it’s true that Schenn wasn’t the overall star of the night for St. Louis, as that probably goes to Paul Stastny, who piled up three assists. Still, Schenn’s third game-winning goal of the season extended his point streak to seven games, and it’s not like he’s just eking out production, either:

Wow. Overall, Schenn now has 8 goals and 26 points in 21 games during his debut season with the Blues. He’s on a pace to absolutely smash the best work of his career, which came in previous seasons where he collected 55 and 59 points.

So, naturally, the question is: with about a quarter of the season over, how much of this is real and how much of this is a lucky little mirage?

Under normal circumstances, one would lean toward luck, especially with a guy who’s already 26. That doesn’t sound old, and it’s certainly in a scorer’s prime range, but it also strikes as a bit unexpected.

To some extent, this is luck. Frankly, it’s not realistic to expect Schenn to average 1.25 points per game; consider that Sidney Crosby‘s career mark is 1.30, and you realize it’s wise to dial back expectations for a guy whose previous career-high was .74.

That aside, there are some reasons to believe that Schenn could very well remain a bigger scorer with the Blues than he did with the Flyers. Allow me to break it down.

Firing away

Whenever you’re trying to do some hockey myth-busting, shooting percentage is a great place to start. If one-third of the pucks a guy sends toward the net beats a goalie, then ‘ol gravity might not be very kind.

According to NHL.com, Schenn has now connected on 14 percent of his shots on goal this season (eight of 57). That might be a little high, but his career average is 12.5.

Now, assists are a big part of his totals, and that’s where things should cool down. Schenn’s most common linemates have been Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz, by quite a margin according to Natural Stat Trick.

So, you can deduce that some of Schenn’s numbers are inflated by those two, especially with Schwartz connecting on 22.2 percent of his SOG so far in 2017-18.

Nurtured

And that’s where things could slide quite a bit. If the Blues get some talent back from that wave of summer injuries, perhaps Mike Yeo might move Schenn away from one or both of Tarasenko and Schwartz?

The overall setup definitely gooses Schenn’s numbers, but it’s not just linemates.

He’s getting way more ice time, in general. Schenn is averaging just under 20 minutes per night after logging almost 18 per evening last season, via Hockey Reference. While Schenn enjoyed fairly cushy zone starts before, it’s even more pronounced now; the 26-year-old’s began a career-high 63 percent of his shifts in the attacking zone entering tonight’s game.

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So, long story short, you can expect some of this success to subside. The Blues, as a team, are on a roll that is likely cool down.

The more interesting queries revolve around how much the Blues and Schenn might slip from these hot streaks. It should be some, but will the slide be as extreme as some expect? It should be fun to find out.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Chance the Rapper plays clueless hockey reporter on ‘SNL’ (Video)

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Chance the Rapper hosted “Saturday Night Live” last night and in skit he played Lazlo Holmes, a New York Knicks reporter for Madison Square Garden network filling in for the usual New York Rangers reporter who’s on paternity leave.

Holmes quickly discovers that the temperature for hockey is a tad different than that of a hoops game, and that some of the names in the sport are pretty tough to say for an outsider, like Brady Skjei, for example.

It’s not quite Tim “Little Hockey” Meadows bemoaning the 1994 NHL lockout, but it was good for some chuckles.

Hopefully next time NBC has a coach mic’d up for a pre-game speech, he lets fly with “let’s do that hockey!”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

USHL goaltender scores goal, makes most of celebration (Video)

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It was a pretty eventful night Saturday in Sioux Falls as the USHL’s Stampede beat the Muskegon Lumberjacks 7-4 to sweep a weekend series.

After falling behind 3-0 in the first period, the Stampede scored five unanswered times en route to the win. Along the way, their first goal started the teddy bear tossing and the game’s final tally came off the stick of goaltender Mikhail Berdin. Not only did the kid make history by becoming the first goalie in franchise history to ever score, he followed it up with an impressive celebration.

Berdin, a 19-year-old sixth-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 2016, went with the bench fly-by, did some fist pumps, saluted the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center crowd and ended it with a Vince McMahon strut. That kid knows how to celebrate.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Monahan the man, torrid Tavares

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Choice PHT Cuts:

Canadiens, Maple Leafs did NOT play nice.

If you didn’t think Alex Ovechkin was tough …

*Rubs eyes* A winning streak … for the Coyotes?

Connor McDavid and Oilers are sad pandas.

Players of the Night

  • Anthony Duclair‘s hat trick is well-covered here, so check that out. Duclair gets one edge on Sean Monahan in that Duclair scored all of his team’s goals on Saturday, but Monahan combined his first career hat trick with an assist, helping his Flames win in OT much like Duclair did for Arizona.

Monahan slightly upstaged Johnny Gaudreau (one goal, two assists) who was pumped to play in front of a crowd in Philly.

  • Paul Stastny collected three assists to help the Blues beat the Canucks in overtime. Check PHT on Sunday morning for an in-depth look at Brayden Schenn, who kept his hot streak going with the OT-clincher.
  • John Tavares just continues to ride high with a goal and two assists. The real stars might be the Islanders as a whole, however, as they beat the Lightning and kept Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov pointless in a 5-3 Isles win.
  • Frederik Andersen has achieved back-to-back shutouts, helping the Leafs make the Habs extra-miserable. He made 33 saves, so you could argue Montreal deserved better than a 6-0 fate.

Heel of the Night?

While Connor McDavid absorbed an odd portion of the Oilers’ blame in defeat despite a three-point night, Antoine Roussel really played up his villain cred. He collected three points of his own and did this:

Highlight of the Night

Going off script a bit here, let’s go with Alex Ovechkin bouncing back from this:

And Corey Crawford being OK despite this bump from Evgeni Malkin.

Both players helped their teams seal up wins as a bonus. (Feel free to share your favorite highlights from tonight, even if they don’t involve near-injuries.)

Factoid of the Night

Congrats, Antti Niemi. Kind of.

Here’s a free joke regarding that situation.

Scores

Flames 5, Flyers 4 (OT)
Stars 6, Oilers 3
Coyotes 3, Senators 2 (OT)
Jets 5, Devils 2
Kings 4, Panthers 0
Hurricanes 3, Sabres 1
Maple Leafs 6, Canadiens 0
Islanders 5, Lightning 3
Blackhawks 2, Penguins 1
Capitals 3, Wild 1
Predators 5, Avalanche 2
Blues 4, Canucks 3 (OT)
Bruins 3, Sharks 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.