Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Kids Are Alright

If there's a team in the NHL that could potentially make a lot of noise this season, the Oilers could be that team. The Oilers have a plethora of young, dynamic players, and the announcements of both Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle signing long-term contracts should set the Oilers up for success for many years to come. They have Ryan Nugent-Hopkins a little older and more mature, should get a re-inspired Magnus Paajaavi in camp this season, will see Justin Schultz emerge as a top blueliner, and will see Nail Yakupov try to crack the roster. In short, the cupboard is stocked with good talent, and the Oilers will be able to mature together as a team.

While I admit that the injuries suffered by some of the younger Oilers last season are something to keep in mind, I think that the talent the Oilers are assembling will bring them success. I can't say it will result in a Stanley Cup just yet, and I refuse to make comparisons to the Gretzky-led Oilers of the 1980s. But I can say that, like the Penguins a few years back, the youth and talent that the Oilers have acquired should start building towards something great, even if it is still a year or two away.

With both Eberle and Hall signing for an annual cap hit of $6 million, neither player has handcuffed the Oilers if they want to re-sign or pursue any young talent. Hall should be around for the next seven years while Eberle signed on for six years, making both players a large part of the future for the Oilers over the next decade. Getting a pair of players like that under contract for a significant period of time is only good news for the Oilers.

Hall's recovery from shoulder surgery seems to be going well. He's optimistic for this season already. "It's good, I'm really positive about it," Hall told the media. "I'm not going to say I'm perfect on Day 1 but it feels really good now and I'm excited about the process of being healthy."

Eberle, on the other hand, has been training hard this off-season, and believes that he'll be stronger and more prepared for the upcoming season. "Obviously there's a lot of pressure that goes along with this but at the same time I'm going to go out there and do the exact same thing," Eberle told reporters. "I've had a huge summer in training, maybe the best I've had in a long time.

"I've been healthy, I don't know whether it's because I'm getting older or if I'm getting my man strength but whatever it is I'm definitely a lot stronger than I've been, for sure, ever in my life and I'm excited for a new season."

"Man strength" aside, Eberle looked great at times last season, and getting a healthy Taylor Hall back will help the Oilers in a big way. The wild card may be Justin Schultz, though, as it remains to be seen if he can live up to his billing. After being regarded as "NHL-ready", the defenceman will step into an Oilers camp where a clear leader on the blueline is needed.

"I think I am ready for it," Schultz said at an Oilers press conference. "Some people have made it out that I was looking for a guarantee of ice time, but that was never the case. I want to earn my spot and I know I am going to have to do that come the fall. I know I am going to have to work hard this summer and be ready come the camp.

"I want to earn everything I get."

Isn't that what you want to hear from a blue-chip prospect - that he wants to earn what he receives? That he's willing to work hard to be ready for training camp? These three young men are showing a lot of maturity in their speaking to the media, so there's good reason to believe that they will take that same attitude into the season.

If these three men set the stage for the Oilers this season, there could be good things in store for the City of Champions. Edmonton hasn't seen a playoff game in six seasons, and there's good reason to be optimistic this season. While a Stanley Cup may be out of reach of these talented players this season, they'll get many more opportunities with the attitude they are showing this season as long as they keep it up.

I don't see success avoiding these men for very long.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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