September 19 2011 04:55PM
A year ago, the Edmonton Oilers had a trio of strong Calder candidates to start the season. In the end, none of them won the Calder trophy despite delivering solid debut seasons. This year, the Oilers don't have any strong candidates for the trophy.
Or do they?
Driving around listening to the radio and viewing the various blogs (is it just me, or are there more this year?) and websites, it's clear not many believe the Oilers will employ rookies in 11-12. I respectfully disagree. It says here that the Oilers will have 9 first year players in the lineup for at least one game, and three of them will play more than 20 games. How do I know this? History.
History tells us that injuries, slumps, trades and suspensions all impact a roster during the long season. Last year the Oilers had a watershed season for new hires, including Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Linus Omark, Devan Dubnyk, Jeff Petry and cups of coffee for several others.
I'll break down my rookie predictions by timeline, beginning with opening night, followed by callups and ending with the cups of coffee.
OPENING NIGHT ROSTER
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will make the opening night roster and show enough during the first 9 games to earn his NHL ticket. RNH has displayed a nice range of skills and may be used in several roles as the year progresses (did you SEE his PK work against Taylor Hall yesterday afternoon?) and he finds his way. My prediction for Nugent-Hopkins suggests just average boxcars (63gp, 11-23-34) but he's all that and I don't think he spends another minute playing junior hockey.
Teemu Hartikainen is showing well early, slimmer, more fleet-of-foot and generating chances. We got a brief glimpse at the tail end of the season and this season I'm suggesting we see more of the big Finn (45gp, 7-8-15) although in a strictly 4th line role. The Oilers have so many options for top 9F over the next several years, but this is a unique talent in that he's big and has soft hands.
Anton Lander has a nice range of skills and like Hartikainen is somewhat unique on the Oilers roster. Attention to defensive detail has been on his resume from the start, but improved footspeed over the last year has allowed him to spend more time in scoring zones. THAT feature will see Lander get a mid-season recall and I predict he'll show us a hint of what is to come (16gp, 1-3-4) over the next several seasons.
Chris VandeVelde needs to hurry because the Oilers at C is going to be wrapped up soon and there won't be an opening for some time. With Gagner and Horcoff already established and Belanger added, there's a small window between RNH and Lander establishing themselves as NHL options every night. I don't think VandeVelde will win the day, but these cups of coffee may be enough for him to attract another NHL team. The window for him is now, and I think he'll get some games (14gp, 1-1-2) to show his abilities.
Corey Potter (25gp, 0-5-5) is a two-way defender with an outside shot at making the big club out of training camp (where IS Andy Sutton, anyway?). Potter is a RH shot, has a nice minor league resume and scouting reports suggest his speed is good enough for him to play in the NHL. Add that to Tom Renney's knowledge of this player's skill set and there's a good chance we see him for an extended period during the year.
LOTS AND LOTS OF COFFEE
Lennert Petrell has a chance to prove that the Oilers pro scouting department has a pulse. In the olden days Oiler training camp would have several invites and signings who showed well enough to be in the mix for the big club. Lately though, the pro scouts have been graduating AHL scrubs and we can barely remember that the group found Jan Hejda in the Russian hinterland or Toby Petersen in the middle of the Wyoming valley. Petrell may be able to help out the penalty kill and has scored some goals in his time, I bet he'll get a chance (10gp, 1-1-2) to show the Oilers what he can do in the NHL.
Curtis Hamilton reminds me of those old Habs prospects who used to come up from the farm and perform well. Montreal's farm system in the 70s was the ultimate 'plug and play' minor league club and in some cases there was minimal difference between the established NHLers and the AHL stars. I don't think Hamilton wins an NHL job this season, but do believe he'll impress enough to get a look-see (10gp, 1-2-3) toward the end of the season.
Colten Teubert is going to get a late start to his season but should eventually be healthy enough to patrol the blue in Okla City. He's already gained a reputation of being a punishing hitter who plays on the edge and that dimension should get his ticket punched for some NHL time (4gp, 0-0-0) this season.
Taylor Fedun is an older prospect and a player the Oilers will want to see in OKC for much of the season. Having said that, with Taylor Chorney's future in the organization somewhat in doubt Fedun will be an option when the head coach needs a puck moving option from the farm. Jeff Petry will get the first call, but I think Fedun will get a chance (3gp, 0-1-1) after the trade deadline.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
History tells us that holding on to an NHL job is a pretty damn difficult task, and a team drafting in the rarified air of lottery country makes it doubly difficult. The Oilers sent away Andrew Cogliano, Liam Reddox, Jim Vandermeer, Kurtis Foster, JF Jacques, Colin Fraser, Jason Strudwick, Zack Stortini and others after the 10-11 season. Their replacements are the names above and the next wave which includes Tyler Pitlick, Martin Marincin, David Musil and others.
Should the Oilers struggle again the purge will continue. It is the nature of an NHL team.