NHL

Young Oilers face uphill climb

NESN Douglas Flynn
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The Oilers thought they had bottomed out with their last-place finish in 2009-10. However, Edmonton continued its futility this past season, finishing dead last again with an identical 62 points and missing the playoffs for a fifth straight season. That's the longest postseason drought ever for a franchise that won five Stanley Cups in a seven-year span from 1984-90.

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The last of those titles came two years before Taylor Hall was even born. Hall was Edmonton's reward for the last-place finish two years ago, and he enjoyed a solid rookie campaign before an ankle injury ended his season in early March. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was added to the fold with this year's top pick, and he joins an impressive collection of young talent in Edmonton. The Oilers just hope that talent can develop quickly enough to keep them from extending their streak of top overall picks, and maybe even end their streak of missed playoffs.

2010-11 record: 25-45-12, 62 points (5th Northwest Division; 15th Western Conference; did not qualify for playoffs)

Key additions: F Ryan Smyth (trade with Los Angeles); F Ben Eager (free agent); F Darcy Hordichuk (free agent); F Eric Belanger (free agent); D Cam Barker (free agent); D Andy Sutton (trade with Anaheim); F Josh Green (free agent); G Yann Danis (free agent); D Corey Potter (free agent); F Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (draft)

Key losses: D Sheldon Souray (bought out, signed with Dallas); D Kurtis Foster (traded to Anaheim); D Jim Vandermeer (signed with San Jose); F Colin Fraser (traded to Los Angeles); F Steve MacIntyre (signed with Pittsburgh); F Zack Stortini (signed with Nashville); F Jean-Francois Jacques (signed with Anaheim); F Andrew Cogliano (traded to Anaheim); F Alexandre Giroux (signed with Columbus); G Martin Gerber (signed with Vaxjo Lakers, Sweden); D Jason Strudwick (free agent)

Burning question: Can Nikolai Khabibulin be a factor in goal for the Oilers?

Oilers at a glance

 
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The Oilers haven't gotten much back on their four-year, $15 million investment in goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. After playing 18 games in his first season in Edmonton, Khabibulin was just 10-32-4 with a 3.40 GAA and an .890 save percentage last year, and that was before he spent part of the summer in jail in Arizona for driving under the influence. At 38 and with two years remaining on that deal, can he regain his form and help Edmonton turn things around? He'll first have to beat out Devan Dubnyk for the starting role after Dubnyk was 12-13-8 with a 2.71 GAA and .916 save percentage last year. The Oilers have made a financial commitment to Khabibulin, but Dubnyk, 25, may be the better option at this point.

2011-12 outlook: The youth movement is in full swing in Edmonton. Hall impressed in his first season with 22-20-42 totals in 65 games, while Jordan Eberle was 18-25-43 in his rookie year and Magnus Paajarvi was 15-19-34. Sam Gagner (15-27-42) and Ales Hemsky (14-28-42) are slightly more seasoned.

Smyth is back in Edmonton after a controversial trade from Los Angeles which the Kings are still contesting because Fraser, who was acquired in return, is more seriously injured than they had believed. Smyth will add some needed leadership, while free-agent acquisitions Hordichuk and Eager will bring some toughness to give the kids a safer working environment. Sutton adds some size to the blue line as well, with holdovers Whitney, Peckham, Ladislav Smid and Tom Gilbert rounding out the defense.

Did you know? In their first 31 years in the NHL, the Oilers had never had the first overall pick in the entry draft. Now they've had it in each of the last two years, nabbing Hall and Nugent-Hopkins. It's the first time the same team has picked first in consecutive years since Ottawa had the top pick in 1995 and 1996, and just the fourth time it has happened since the start of the draft in 1969.

The Senators picked Bryan Berard, who was quickly flipped to the Islanders for Wade Redden, and Chris Phillips with their picks. Quebec had three straight first overall picks from 1989-91, and also didn't retain one of them as they traded Eric Lindros to Philadelphia in 1991 after selecting Mats Sundin and Owen Nolan the previous two years. The Islanders had the only other back-to-back top picks, taking Billy Harris and Dennis Potvin in 1972 and 1973.

Tagged: Oilers, Kings, Ducks, Wild, Ryan Smyth, Nikolai Khabibulin, Cam Barker, Devan Dubnyk

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