Saturday, September 15

Driving The Bus

The Edmonton Oilers need a lot of things to go right this season in order to make the playoffs. You never feel good about the prospects for the season when you find your analysis of the team contains a lot of sentances starting with "If..."

Other than goaltending and a PP that looks very dangerous on paper, the Oilers have a lot "If" situations. Most specifically, scoring goals, contributions from rookies, and a revamped blueline. But there are a few guys in particular who hold the key to the success or lack thereof in 2007-08:

1) Jarret Stoll

The season basically started to tank last year when he got hurt. He was playing the best hockey of his career, and was dominating games every night. Everyone wants to see him take a hit to test the head, and I'm sure he wants to get it out of the way as well. If he comes through the first month unscathed, expect Lowe to lock him up to a 5 or 6 year deal fairly quickly.

2) Ales Hemsky

He's not going to shoot...just get over it. While the guy is a joy to watch, the production has to start catching up to the oohs and aahs. The Oil still don't have a natural finisher to compliment him, so he will be counted on to make chicken salad out of Dustin Penner and Shawn Horcoff...until Derek Boogard decapitates him in Game #4.

3) Robert Nilsson

Yeah, I said it, Ro-bear Neal-son. The hole on right wing was pretty big before Pisani went down, but you could drive a truck full of Greener's noses through it now. Nilsson has been pencilled in on the 2nd line and it's his job to lose. We know he has tons of skill, (possibly 2nd only to Hemsky) and he's put up big numbers at the AHL level, but he's yet to stick at the NHL level. Some have argued that getting out of Long Island - where I think Wade Dubielewicz has just been named Director of Scouting - will be the cure. If that's true, a productive campaign from 'Mini-Magic' will go a long way towards solving some of the Oil's scoring woes.

4) Joni Pitkanen

Seems an obvious enough choice, but the Oilers now have a glutton of puck moving defenceman (geez, did you ever think you'd hear that) and Pitkanen might be counted on in an even more important role - the shutdown guy. Aside from good puck movers, last years' defence also lacked a pairing to play against the opposition's top line. It's not going to be Souray, Tarnstrom, Grebeshkov or Gilbert. Smid and Greene are not there yet, which has all signs pointing to Pitkanen and Staios. Although he's only in his 3rd year, Pitkanen has the size, skating and all-around game to be that guy. But will he?

5) Raffi Torres

I listened to an interview with Raffi last night in which he talked about his off-season dedication to training. Just as important were his comments about his non-dedication in the past and growing up. He's got a girlfriend that lives with him now and says he didn't drink all summer. Hopefully 'drink' was a broad term that also covered all the other substances he's been, ahem, rumored to enjoy. As frustrating as he is to watch sometimes, I understand why it's so hard to trade or give up on him. He's a destroyer, and he can score. When he's involved physically he can change a game, even a series as he showed in the playoffs. I don't think Raffi is an 'if' this year. He'll score 25-30.

Next up: The Rookies

No comments: