NHL Pre-season Predictions: Pacific Division – No. 5 Edmonton Oilers

THN’s PRE-SEASON PREDICTION: Fifth in Pacific Division.

2013: 19-22-7. 12th in West.

KEY DEPARTURES: Mark Fistric, Theo Peckham, Eric Belanger, Magnus Paajarvi, Nikolai Khabibulin, Shawn Horcoff, Andy Sutton.

KEY ADDITIONS: Denis Grebeshkov, David Perron, Jason Labarbera, Boyd Gordon, Andrew Ference.

THN’s TOP PROJECTED SCORERS: Taylor Hall (85), Jordan Eberle (80), Nail Yakupov (67).

PROS: Potential, potential, potential. It rains prospects in Edmonton these days, with Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov crowned as the winning future of the franchise. In the past, depth and defense has been lacking on this young team, though, which is why third-line center Boyd Gordon was targeted and acquired. Alone Gordon won’t get this team to the playoffs, but his experienced checking and faceoff acumen were exactly the components Edmonton needed on its depth lines. The blueline still leaves much to be desired, but veteran and Cup winner Andrew Ference brings a steady know-how that didn’t exist there before. David Perron was also a nice add and it only cost them Magnus Paajarvi, who was and always would struggle to find a top-two line role in Edmonton. Perron brings six years of NHL experience and comes from one of the most disciplined and well-coached teams in the league, so he should be both a productive complement to Edmonton’s core and a guiding light. None of Edmonton’s upgrades were ground breaking, but they addressed needs.

CONS: Prove it, prove it, prove it. There comes a time when a young roster such as Edmonton’s has to jump out of the lottery cycle and into the playoff pool. That time has come for these Oilers who have a new coach, GM and a few roster upgrades. Still, defense is a major concern for this team. Justin Schultz has all the talent in the world, but his reliability in his own end still begs for improvement. Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid are better in that department, but should they be pulling down 21 and 20 minutes a night for a playoff team? And the forwards, for all their value, still lack in the two-way game. Devin Dubnyk enters this season as the surefire No. 1 for the first time and though his save percentages have been both decent and consistent three years straight, he hasn’t played more than 47 games in an NHL season yet, so proving he’s capable of maintaining numbers over 82 games seems to be the last hurdle in establishing himself as a true No. 1.

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X-FACTOR: Very nice support players were added to round out and bring a veteran presence to the young roster, so the high-flying first-rounders need to take their games to the next level. That means Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov must drive the offense and also grow their games on the defensive side of the puck. If they do, they’ll be in tough for a playoff spot – which we predict them achieving as a cross-over seed.

PERIPHERAL PREDICTION: The Oilers rake in extra hockey-related revenue through a pay-per-view offering when President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe fights new Calgary president of hockey operations, Brian Burke, in a rural Alberta barn.