Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) - If the reaction on social media has been any
indication, it appears Canadian hockey fans are ready to replace bitterness
over the NHL lockout with excitement for the shortened season that is expected
to start by Jan. 19.
Nowhere is that probably truer than in Edmonton.
Unlike any other NHL club, the Oilers have had the advantage of seeing their
core players - namely their trio of star forwards in Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall
and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins along with newcomer stud rookie defenseman Justin
Schultz - remain together for more or less the entire duration of the lockout
and dominate statistically in the AHL with the Oklahoma City Barons.
The play of the big four - especially Eberle and Shultz, who depart the AHL as
the two runaway leaders in points - ought to be more than enough to whet the
appetite of the Edmonton faithful who will expect them to have a leg up against
the rest of the competition once they finally get to don the Oilers' crest
Considering how critical getting off to a quick start in a shortened season
when each team's margin of error has been decreased by at least 30 games
compared to a typical campaign, Edmonton finds itself positioned ideally
with its top players in midseason form ready to burst out of the gate in a
very tough Northwest Division which includes the revamped Minnesota Wild and
the perennial contending Vancouver Canucks.
Edmonton is no stranger to fast starts with their current bunch.
Last season, the Oilers jumped out to a 9-3-2 record and had the early division
lead before coming back down to earth shortly thereafter. But they are a more
poised and experienced bunch this season and a similar start in a 48-game
campaign might just give them enough of a boost to punch their ticket to the
And then there is the wild card factor in the addition of 19-year-old forward
Nail Yakupov, the first overall pick from the 2012 NHL Entry Draft who will be
expected to add even more to Edmonton's already dynamic offensive group up
Yakupov came under fire recently for his poor dealings with the media not to
mention his less-than-stellar performance at the recent World Junior Hockey
championships, although he did get end the tournament on a high by outduelling
future teammate Nugent-Hopkins and scoring twice in the bronze medal game to
help Russia stun Canada, 6-5, in overtime.
He might get a bit of a rough initiation when he first arrives in Edmonton, but
nothing shuts critics up faster than on-ice success. If he can instantly bring
the dynamic offensive firepower that the Oilers figured he would when they
selected him out of Sarnia, then any potential ill feelings there are between
the media and fans toward the Russian sniper will certainly dissipate in a
Any way you slice, it the Oilers, like they have been for the past couple of
years, will be a team to watch out for at the start of the season.
The only difference is that this year, you can bet on them being a team to be
reckoned with by the time the regular season draws to an end.
And if you happen to be a fan of the Oilers, you have even more reason to be
thrilled that the NHL will be dropping the puck in January.
The Sports Network