It's the best time of year!
Posted by Ryan Porth Labels: Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall
The 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins and 2010 Chicago Blackhawks have one thing in common. Both went through tough times before and after the lockout, but benefitted from it by winning a Stanley Cup with a core mostly made up of high draft picks.
With back-to-back No. 1 overall picks in their possession, can the Edmonton Oilers be the next team to experience a renaissance of sorts, like Pittsburgh and Chicago?
I don’t think any team will ever hit the jackpot like the Penguins did from 2003 through 2006. With top three selections each year, they selected Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal – all key pieces to their 2009 Cup-winning club. In 2006 and 2007, the Blackhawks drafted the dynamic duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who were big contributors to their Cup victory in 2010.
As a result to having two of the worst seasons in franchise history, GM Steve Tambellini and the Oilers have stockpiled young talent of their own. Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were drafted by Edmonton in consecutive years first overall. Aside from those two, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and Sam Gagner are former first-round picks that have a lot of potential as well.
Does that mean playoff success is on the way in the near future for the Oilers? Not necessarily. While they are gathering all of these top-end prospects, the team is still a year or two away from making the playoffs, let alone contending with the likes of Vancouver, Detroit and San Jose atop the conference.
Oilers fans have to remember, though, that the Pens and ‘Hawks didn’t exactly have instant success. In the rookie years for Crosby, Toews and Kane, their teams did not make the playoffs. It took about three years for their core to develop from baby-faced youngsters to league-wide superstars, and that’s when they saw all of the high draft picks translate to winning a Cup.
If Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and company follow in that same timeline, it may not be until 2014 or 2015 before they contend for a championship –assuming the pieces they’re putting together live up to their potential.
Edmonton hasn’t had the best track record of drafting over the last decade or two. Dating back to 1995, they have only seen one first-rounder match or exceed its potential, and that was Ales Hemsky in 2001. The team has drafted notable first-round busts such as Steve Kelly, Michel Reisen, Jani Rita, Alexei Mikhnov, Jesse Niinimaki and Rob Schremp.
With that being said, Hall and Eberle showed a lot of promise in their rookie campaigns last season. Both amassed 40-plus points before suffering season-ending injuries late in the year. Hall scored 22 goals, while Eberle dazzled on the highlight reel.
Nugent-Hopkins, the top overall pick last month, is expected to center Hall and Eberle on a line in the future. Nugent-Hopkins has already drawn comparisons to Matt Duchene; so if Hall and Eberle live up to expectations, that will eventually be one frightening line for opposing defenses and goaltenders.
Yet, that trio won’t be enough to help deliver the Oilers their first Cup since 1990. Pittsburgh (Sergei Gonchar, Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz) and Chicago (Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp) had strong support systems that surrounded their bevy of youth in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
The Oilers have veterans Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Whitney in place, but not much else beyond that. Minus Nikolai Khabibulin, Tambellini has been reluctant to spend a lot of money in free agency during this rebuilding process, which is smart. At some point, though, he’ll have to start bringing in some experience to support this young nucleus.
The right coach is leading the way, at least during the rebuild. Tom Renney is a superb teacher of the game, which is currently the right fit for the Oilers. Is he capable of leading them to the top of the mountain? That is an unknown, as he didn’t exactly have the best playoff success in New York… but that’s a long ways off.
Pittsburgh and Chicago provide good examples for the currently-rebuilding Oilers. Hall and Nugent-Hopkins provide a solid foundation, similarly to Crosby and Malkin in Pittsburgh, as well as Toews and Kane in Chicago, when those players were drafted. Now it’s up to Tambellini and the front office to wisely piece together a supporting cast that could help the Oilers become a threat to the rest of the NHL in the future.
Photos credit: Getty Images
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