April 15 2011 07:42AM
It's fun to ponder which of the Oilers rookies had the best season, and to ask which of them will have the better career. A better question might be "can these kids help the Oilers win the Stanley in the next decade?"
If we take each rookie (just the ones who qualify as rookies, let's not get ahead of ourselves with small sample sizes) and ask the question, it becomes clear just how many holes have/may have been filled during this long, dreary (and unending, apparently) winter.
- Will the Oilers be able to count on Taylor Hall to deliver quality on the top line? No need to shake the big 8-ball on this question, Hall showed flashes of elite-level talent during the season and delivered 22 goals in a shortened year. It's best not to project too far into the future, but a reasonable progression year over year has Hall north of 30 goals in 11-12. And he's still a teenager.
- Will the Oilers be able to count on Jordan Eberle as a 2-way player on a quality team? Of all the 10-11 rookies, Eberle showed beyond expectations. Smart player, quick hands and a hard worker. I think he might end up playing center, but even if Eberle doesn't change position he has all of the skills required to be a complete player.
- Can Magnus Pääjärvi find an effective role in the top 9? The 8-ball doesn't come back completely convinced about his offense, but the young man is much better without the puck than what you expect from a rookie. It didn't show up as much in the stats as we'd like (he appears to have been playing in some bad puck luck when on the Gagner-Omark line) but Pääjärvi's natural instincts have him leaving the zone early and playing middle linebacker at the slightest hint of trouble. If his offense doesn't come (MP wasn't among the top flight offensive rookies like the two men above) the Oilers will have a quality checker with size and an idea about defense. That's a useful player.
- Can Linus Omark play in the top 6F? Omark's season is a little bit of a riddle, as he has some mixed up math in his resume. By eye he's remarkable with the puck, tough to knock it away from and capable of stickhandling in a phone booth. However, he's generally out of position and on the wrong side of the puck when it's turned over, so I'd guess he'll be a one dimensional offensive player who can quarterback the powerplay. You can't have too many of these guys, but if he can stay in the league and learn on the job Omark might end up being an integral part of a contending team. He's certainly talented enough to survive, but because of size bias he'll need a little luck to stay. Teams often flush these player types as soon as they slump, and everyone slumps.
- Can Jeff Petry play a prominent role on a championship team? Petry has an exceptional skill set: size, mobility, intelligence, quality head-man passing ability and he can help on the powerplay. I don't think Petry will play the heart of his career as an Oiler. Why? Oiler fans aren't fond of "finesse defensemen" and sooner or later he's going to pass up an opportunity to make a hit or make a coverage error that looks obvious on television. Fans turn on these guys, we have decades of proof in this regard. Want to know Petry's future in Edmonton? Ask Tom Gilbert. I don't think he'll be here when the team is contending for the Stanley. Too bad, I think he's an exceptional talent.
- Can Devan Dubnyk backstop a championship team? As with all of these questions, we're not going to know the answer for awhile. However, Dubnyk's rookie season was good. Really good. He went 12-13-8 on a horrible team, and his GAA (2.71) towers over Super Bowl Sunday's. His .916SP ranked third among rookies and in a tie for 18th among all qualifying goalers in the NHL. If he can build on that impressive season--winning 12 games for the Sisters of the Poor orphanage team--Devan Dubnyk is going to have a career.
Next season won't be as plentiful for Oiler rookies. Teemu Hartikainen would appear to be a strong candidate and a couple of defensemen (Plante, Teubert) may also qualify. No worries, as this year's crop has quality and quantity. If the fans can get out of their own way re:Petry, maybe there's even a defenseman in the group.