by Lisa McRitchie on 04/25/12 at 01:00 AM ET
The Edmonton Oilers’ season did not go the way that many had expected, but somehow things have worked out. The team starred the season off with rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scoring his first NHL goal in his first NHL game and then also the game winning shootout goal in the team’s home opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Nugent-Hopkins would go on to win the rookie of the month title for the month of October while netminders Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk would put up unreal numbers of their own and Khabibulin would be named the NHL third star of the same month. Things may have gone downhill from there, but this was a far more exciting season than years previous.
Last season the Oilers finished dead last and had abysmal goals against averages, special teams’ rankings and a very low goals for count. While not all of that changed this year, it was enough of an improvement to inspire hope. This was real hope, not HOPE (Hall Omark Paajarvi Eberle) of last year, but an actual measured improvement as the Oilers power play at times topped the league and their penalty kill percentage kept them in the middle of the pack. For the 2010-11 season the Oilers averaged 3.50 goals against and 2.33 goals per game and this season those numbers improved to 2.52 goals for and 2.61 goals against per game. While the average may make that seem less significant than it is, that the Oilers allowed nearly 30 less goals against this season (232 this season 260 last season) than last should not.
The changes in goal averages also led to changes in games won. While finishing 30th for the second year in a row last season the Oilers won just 25 of their 82 game season. This year, that number increased to 31. Next year with the addition of another first overall draft pick, that number can be expected to rise again.
While the Oilers still need to make improvements on the blue line, this year showed significant growth from their defencive prospects. Jeff Petry was not expected to play the entire season with the Oilers, but rather to spend a significant amount of time in Oklahoma City. Thankfully, Petry flourished under pressure and through his 73 games played has shown that he can be a shutdown defenceman for the team. While Petry can be expected to make the odd mistake or bad pass out of the zone his overall play has been remarkable and at only 24 years old, there is a lot of potential yet to be seen.
And speaking of potential, who could have guessed that it would be Jordan Eberle who would have the breakout sophomore season? Taylor Hall may have been the first overall pick of 2010, but it was the 22nd overall pick of the 2008 draft that made the biggest impact on the team’s scoring. Not only did Eberle earn a nomination for the Lady Byng Memorial trophy, but he also led his team in goals, assists and shooting percentage (if you exclude Chris VandeVelde’s one shot one goal stat from his short callup). While the Oilers overall had another poor year, Jordan Eberle was certainly one the brightest lights and will be a big part of the Nu-HYPE (Nugent-Hopkins Hall Yakupov Paajarvi Eberle) hope going forward.
While it was exciting to see the Oilers pick first overall for a second year in a row, there were very few who felt that Nugent-Hopkins would play the entire season with the team. Even my friend Bruce McCurdy of the Edmonton Journal’s Cult of Hockey raised an eyebrow when I assured him at the team’s July prospect camp that Nugent-Hopkins would play the season with the Oilers. Of course you could say that I was wrong because Nugent-Hopkins missed 20 games, but I will still claim to have been right. Nugent-Hopkins may not win rookie of the year officially, but he did enough to silence the critics and to make us believe that the best is yet to come.
This year did have it’s painful times but it also had its happy times and finally there were more positives than negatives. This team is not perfect as is, and changes will be made but the Oilers should do even better next year. Small changes will build, players will improve and grow and before you know it, the Oilers will once again be in the playoffs instead of the Worlds.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
Although the Oilers have had a difficult past decade… or three, here at Oil Patch, the future looks bright.
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