Dustin Penner led the Oilers in goals, assists, points, powerplay goals and shots. To be honest he represented the lone offensive threat once Ales Hemsky went down with injuries. His 63 points marked a career-high in his fourth full NHL season. At this point, expect Penner to continue to carry the offense and be helped by a healthy Hemsky.
Gilbert Brule also showed flashes of what made him a high draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets. After years of inconsistency the 23-year-old potted 17 goals and finished with 37 points. Ryan Potulny proved to team brass he can play a regular shift and can be relied upon for secondary scoring but one has to wonder whether he would produce on a better team. The 2010 World Championships served as a spotlight for Potulny as he gains a chance to play with and against heightened competitors, however it would be difficult to pinpoint any positive play from Team USA during that tournament.
Unfortunately, with players like Patrick O’Sullivan and Shawn Horcoff still taking a large amount of payroll, these baby steps will prove useless. Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson rarely play to their potential leaving fans in Edmonton wishing for more while Marc Pouliot and Jean-Francois Jacques appear to lack legitimate NHL talent.
Things would look even more bleak if the Oilers did not possess Jordan Eberle, Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson, Linus Omark and one of Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin in their system. Over the next few years, this team will be forced to make many decisions regarding their current forward core, decisions which should usher in more youth.
The Oilers began the season with a stacked top four of Tom Gilbert, Sheldon Souray, Denis Grebeshkov and Lubomir Visnovsky but could not convert all that talent into production. All four legitimate offensive threats failed to eclipse the 40 point barrier, leading to Grebeshkov and Visnovsky moving on to greener pastures (or at least to potential playoff teams).
Next year will tell a different story as only Gilbert remains a lock to start opening night. The often injured Souray remains questionable to start the season as is breakout player Ladislav Smid. Ryan Whitney, who came over from Anaheim for Visnovsky, showed flashes of his former 50-point player with 11 points in his final 19 games to close out the season. He looks like a player to watch next season if he continues to get extended playing time with the Oilers’ talented players.
Tambellini also may look into re-signing UFA defenseman Aaron Johnson who also displayed some offensive flair towards the end of the season. He has options, however, with Jeff Petry, Taylor Chorney, Theo Peckham and Alex Plante coming up the pipeline. We may be looking at a mostly homegrown defensive core within the next few seasons.
How do we describe this situation with any other word than messy. Nikolai Khabibulin went down with a back injury after carrying a heavy load and never managed to return to the team leaving two unexperienced goaltenders to man the pipes for the remainder of the year.
If you owned either Devan Dubnyk or Jeff Deslauriers then I truly feel sorry for your team. Each netminder showed glimpses of poise and the occasional game-stealing ability. The two combined for 20 wins against 44 losses, which certainly is not the best recipe to get the W.
Looking forward the netminders all should get a chance to start with the team next season. Khabibulin may choose retirement due to consistent setbacks with his back which would force the Oilers to either look for another goalie or hope their young tandem will improve by a lofty margin.
On the Bench:
Speculation surrounded coach Pat Quinn returning for another year of work for the Oilers, but he will be back according to GM Steve Tambellini. Classify his situation as sturdy.
During the season Quinn pushed his team and he pushed his team hard, benching veterans such as Mike Comrie when the former failed to meet his expectations. This winning coach seems committed to turning this team around despite thinking the current team is both too small and not hard-working enough.
Perhaps a young, rebuilding team needs a younger coach like assistant coach Tom Renney, but for now Tambellini seems intent on keeping his coach on the bench. Quinn currently sits in year two of a three year contract signed last offseason.
The Bottom Line:
The team began the season looking improved but fell hard to injuries. Towards the latter end of the season coach Quinn clearly gave up on hope for the season and ruled his team out as “not good enough.” Due to this I can see a mild improvement next season as he surely will push certain players out of the organization. This current team gets a full-blown F grade, but the prospects coming in will surely keep things interesting in Edmonton for the foreseeable future.