GAME DAY: at Edmonton
Jackets try for Alberta sweep tonight in Oil Country
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|Oilers GM Steve Tambellini has had the bittersweet feeling of picking first overall in the NHL Entry Draft in each of the past two seasons. Though when he looks at what winning the draft lottery has done for teams like the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, it’s hard not to smile at the future of his club and the potential that lies ahead.
Edmonton boasts one of the league’s intriguing up-and-coming rosters, featuring a nice blend of high-end skill and veteran presence. The Oilers have surprised many around the NHL with their fast start, opening 12-10-3 (six points out of their division lead) and at one point last month, they were the top team in the Western Conference. A comeback-player-of-the-year effort from goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin has certainly steered the young Oilers in the right direction, as the 38-year-old has posted a 9-5-3 record, 1.88 goals-against average (top-five in the league) and .935 save percentage. His play has allowed head coach Tom Renney to ease the workload of Devan Dubnyk, who they consider to be their goaltender of the future.
This is a well-rounded team that plays a mature game, but their firepower starts up front. Even without former No. 1 pick Taylor Hall currently out of the lineup, the Oilers are led in scoring by 18-year-old rookie (and 2011 first overall pick) Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who has 27 points in the first 25 games of his career. Right behind him is second-year winger Jordan Eberle, who already has a handful of highlight-reel goals to his credit and has 26 points on the year. Former Oilers captain Ryan Smyth returned to Edmonton this summer in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings, and the gritty forward leads the team in goals with 12. The newfound depth at forward has pushed the always-dangerous Ales Hemsky to the second line.
Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger are two-way centers that give Renney consistency in the middle, and also flexibility in slotting the young wingers. Miami (Ohio) product Ryan Jones looks to have found a home in Edmonton after bouncing from Minnesota then to Nashville via waivers two years ago. Jones extended his contract with the Oilers over the summer and has six goals so far this season.
The Oiler defense is anchored by Ryan Whitney, who recently returned after a bout with injury. He’s joined on the blue line by Theo Peckham, Tom Gilbert, former Michigan State Spartan Jeff Petry and shot-blocking machine Ladislav Smid.