Key Departures: D Linus Omark, head coach Tom Renney.
Key Decisions: Drafted F Nail Yakupov 1st overall, signed F Taylor Hall to 7-year, $42-million US extension, signed F Jordan Eberle to 6-year, $36-million extension, re-signed UFA F Ryan Smyth to 2-year, $4.5-million contract, re-signed RFA G Devan Dubnyk to 2-year, $7-million contract, re-signed RFA F Sam Gagner to 1-year, $3.2-million contract, promoted associate coach Ralph Krueger to head coach.
2011-12 record: 32-40-10, finished 14th in Western Conference.
Last year’s story
After bursting out to a 9-3-2 start, the Oilers limped to a last-place finish in the Northwest Division for a third consecutive season. But they also won the draft lottery for the third straight year, using the pick on Sarnia Sting winger Nail Yakupov.
Bright spots from last season included a breakthrough by second-year forward Jordan Eberle (76 points in 78 games), a promising rookie campaign by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (52 points in an injury-shortened 62 contests) and an eight-point game by Sam Gagner. Taylor Hall built on his solid rookie totals by notching 27 goals and 53 points in only 61 games, but once again saw his season end early because of injury.
This year’s outlook
A cloud hangs over the franchise as owner Daryl Katz presses Edmonton for a new arena and hints at the possibility of moving if he doesn’t get the government funding he wants. On the ice, the roster features plenty of young forward talent, but the defence and goaltending remains thin.
The Oilers hope Devan Dubnyk can help with the latter and take over for an aging Nikolai Khabibulin. They split the starting duties almost exactly evenly last season, but the lanky Dubnyk emerged as the go-to guy down the stretch after Khabibulin cooled from a hot start.
On the blue-line, the Oilers have an intriguing prospect in Justin Schultz, a 22-year-old who was originally drafted in the second round in 2008 by Anaheim, which let his rights expire after he went to the University of Wisconsin. Schultz notched 91 points in 78 games over his last two seasons with the Badgers, and looked good in his pro debut this season, tallying 48 points (including 18 goals) in 34 AHL games during the NHL lockout.
If Edmonton's considerable stable of young talent can mature — and stay healthy — the Oilers could make a rapid transformation from cellar-dweller to playoff team a la the Penguins in 2006-07. At the very least, they should be fun to watch.
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