The Edmonton Oilers are a team struggling to pull themselves out of the NHL basement. Management has committed to a long-term rebuild, and that means that many of the older players playing significant roles now – including the team’s (arguably) starting goaltender and their two big-minute forwards – probably won’t be when the team is eventually ready to contend for a playoff spot.
We spend a lot of time talking about the Oilers’ young core, but who are they, really? What does this team look like when we break them down by age? What I’ve done is divided the team’s current players by their age on July 1, 2012, the date the team can address some of their needs via unrestricted free agency. The purpose here is just to get a clearer look at how players fit into the Oilers’ age strata.
Age 23 and younger
- 17/18: 2012 First Round Pick
- 19: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
- 20: Taylor Hall
- 21: Magnus Paajarvi, Anton Lander
- 22: Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Colten Teubert
- 23: none
When people talk about the core group of the rebuilding Oilers, this is typically the set of players they have in mind. Nugent-Hopkins, Hall and Eberle are the trio the team should eventually be built around offensively, while the future is less clear for Magnus Paajarvi and Anton Lander.
It’s easy to forget how young Sam Gagner really is; he’s just nine months older than Jordan Eberle, despite the fact that he’s 300+ games into his NHL career.
- 24: Jeff Petry
- 25: Linus Omark, Theo Peckham
- 26: Ladislav Smid, Devan Dubnyk, Cam Barker
- 27: none
- 28: Ales Hemsky, Ryan Jones, Corey Potter, Ben Eager, Lennart Petrell
- 29: Tom Gilbert, Ryan Whitney
The players in this age range are still young enough to play significant minutes if the Oilers are going to compete for a playoff spot five years from now. Some of these guys don’t have particularly sure futures – it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture any of Omark, Peckham, Barker, Potter or Petrell outside the league five years from now. On the other hand, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to put most of those guys on a contending team in some role. Jeff Petry, while still full of rough edges, increasingly looks like a guy who will play a key role on the blue line going forward.
Among the older veterans in this group, the duo of Tom Gilbert and Ladislav Smid are probably the most important. Both players are young enough and good enough to play tough minutes on a weak blue line, and both should be regarded as essential elements in the rebuild, and untouchable unless replaced by someone who can play the same minutes.
Ales Hemsky and Ryan Whitney should be in the same group as Gilbert/Smid, but Hemsky’s frequently injured and appears likely to be traded before the deadline, while Whitney had significant injury problems prior to joining the Oilers – and it wasn’t long ago that he was saying that he could still play in the NHL even at “80 percent.”
Also in this group are useful role players Ryan Jones and Ben Eager, as well as Devan Dubnyk. Robin Brownlee wrote an article on Dubnyk not long ago, but this quote basically sums up my feelings on the player:
Is Devan Dubnyk the man for the job? I don’t know the answer to that, but if the Oilers don’t give Dubnyk every chance to address the question in their final 32 games, starting tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks, then they’re making a huge mistake in how they are building this team for the future – and that wouldn’t be a first.
- 30: none
- 31: Darcy Hordichuk
- 32: none
- 33: Shawn Horcoff
- 34: Eric Belanger
- 35: none
In a short-term turnaround – something that would see the Oilers contending for a playoff spot in the next two seasons – both Horcoff and Belanger will be under contract and likely playing significant minutes in certain situations.
Age 36 and older
- 36: Ryan Smyth
- 37: Andy Sutton
- 38: none
- 39: Nikolai Khabibulin
The return of Ryan Smyth was welcomed by many – including yours truly – but given his age it’s hard to imagine him playing a significant role in a prolonged rebuild; one would imagine his minutes are reduced and his role becomes more specialized over time. This is even more true for Andy Sutton, who is both a year older and a lesser player today. It’s very difficult to imagine Khabibulin playing an important role on a good Oilers team.