I am awakened by the first sign of winning.
Ryan Smyth is back where he belongs (imo he should have never left in the first place) to help Tom Renney, Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Whitney, and Tom Gilbert mentor the next generation of Edmonton Oilers. Make no mistake, this team is being built around Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. A promising core of young players already surrounds them in Sam Gagner, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Gilbert Brule, Linus Omark, Andrew Cogliano, Ladislav Smid, Theo Peckham, Taylor Chorney, and Jeff Petry. Free agency yielded a potential hidden gem stud D-Man in Cam Barker; some sand and grit in big agitating winger Ben Eager and even bigger, nasty D-Man Andy Sutton; a two-way center that can actually win face-offs and help on the PK in Eric Belanger; and Darcy Hordichuk, a tough-as-nails enforcer, who is as comfortable taking a regular shift as he is sitting in the penalty box or the press box. Devan Dubnyk may yet prove to be a serviceable NHL goaltender, and the Nikolai Khabibulin signing is looking more and more like a strategic decision to guarantee multiple lottery picks while creating the optical illusion of attempting to ice the best team possible.
The organization is at the roster limit with 50 contracts and brimming with talented prospects ready to step up and take anyone's roster spot should they falter. Watch out for Teemu Hartikainen, Anton Lander, Chris Vande Velde, Tyler Pitlick, Curtis Hamilton, Alex Plante, Colten Teubert, Martin Marincin, Oscar Klefbom, and David Musil.
The lines and pairings for this season might look something like this:
Press Box Brigade: Hordichuk, Cogliano, Brule
My bet is that we see some trades and that RNH goes back to junior unless he absolutely forces his way onto the team during training camp. Assuming even average goaltending, good health, and continued progress from the core kids, this team should at least contend for a playoff spot this year, possibly finding a way to sneak in if it all starts finally to come together.
Next summer brings a ton of cap room and yet more hope. Besides the core living up to their promise, the supporting cast needs to pan out, and a stud blueliner and clutch goaltending need to appear before the Edmonton Oilers can really take the next steps toward winning and then consistently contending for the Stanley Cup.
That said, so far this has been the best summer to be an Oiler fan since 2005.