Getting to know the young Oilers

A couple of days ago I spoke with Oilers blogger and stats overlord Derek Zone about the young team he cheers for, and he answered three questions for me.

There's a lot of hype around the Oilers' young players, but Taylor Hall is the only one that's truly asserted himself as both a game breaker, and a darling of the fancy stats community. Justin Schultz ended up as one of the worst looking defensemen in the NHL last year when looking at Fenwick, so what gives? Was he just overused, or is he overhyped?

The team insists on using Justin Schultz in a second-pairing role, but his work in his own zone leaves everything to be desired. He's going to have to get better defensively very soon to be effective there. He's as offensively gifted as any young defenseman in the league, including Subban and Doughty, but fails to engage below the dots, is out-muscled pretty easily and hasn't quite figured out the positional game. It's tough to be an offensive dynamo without the puck. Last season, he was also saddled with a declining Nick Schultz, which didn't help, so the Oilers fixed that by pairing him with Andrew Ference, though the two have looked completely out of sync thus far.

Edmonton does seem to finally be turning the corner a bit, with Dallas Eakins likely being a big part of that. In your estimation, can they make the playoffs as currently composed? If not, what do you think they'll need to target?

I predicted that they'd finish 5th in the Pacific and nab the crossover spot, but that was before the injuries at centre and the bizarre bottom-of-the-roster moves Craig MacTavish made in September. Now, I'm not so sure. They don't have much depth at forward, but they have a ton of high-end talent. They don't have any high-end, complete defensemen, but they have a of depth on the blueline. They don't have a top-flight goaltender, but have two very solid options in net. The roster sets itself up for a middle-of-the-pack finish, but the team can't withstand injuries.

There are some other things at work here as well: Devan Dubnyk and Jason Labarbera have had a miserable start to the season (Edmonton's ES goaltending ranks 26th in the league through 3 games), and the crazy corner of the fanbase is Tweeting about Ilya Bryzgalov. The affinity for goons has left the Oilers penalty kill cupboard bare and they've been forced to use Taylor Hall, Ales Hemsky, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins while short-handed, even though they have little experience. They've looked good early, but how long can they hold up?

On the other hand, the top of the lineup: Hall, Hopkins, Yakupov, Eberle, Perron, Hemsky, Gordon, Gagner is loaded. They're bound to dominate their fair share of games.

After not playing the Oilers since March of 2012, what's the biggest difference the Habs should be expecting to see?

Facepunchers. Facepunchers everywhere. The bottom of the roster is a bizarre mix of facepunchers and players that Dallas Eakins liked while coaching the Toronto Marlies. They're not NHL-ready and if the Canadiens choose not to fight them, they're completely neutered.

The other significant change is Nail Yakupov. He's amazing and I believe the most talented of all of the first round picks the Oilers have on the roster. I've compared him to a whirling dervish, a ball of energy and the Tasmanian Devil. He's constantly in motion and loves to forecheck. He's the Oilers best hitter by far, but he's also possesses the best shot on the team. It's just wicked - hard and accurate and he can keep it low. He also looks like he loves to play the game, which is endearing.

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