One of the things we've repeated again and again here is that this year isn't going to have much winning. One of the things we've been reminded of again and again is that this year isn't about winning, at least in the short term. Oiler fans watching on television and watching live can't measure success this year by the number of points the team earns; instead, the season needs to be measured by the success of individuals, and to that end, there's plenty to be happy about. I know that I (and others) like to analyze all of the small errors (like the demotion of Shawn Belle), but with the season a quarter over, I thought it would be good to recognize a few of the big things that are going well.
The Progress of Taylor Hall - He's been a really fun player to watch so far this season, and that trend doesn't look like it's about to stop anytime soon. He's tremendous on the forecheck, he has incredible hands, and he doesn't get enough credit for being a smart player, at least when he has the puck. One play that comes to mind in that regard came a couple of nights ago against the Ducks. The Oilers were on the power play and Hall had the puck deep in Anaheim's zone. Kurtis Foster had just broken his stick, and so he needed to head to the bench, so Hall just delayed with the puck to make sure the Oilers kept possession. It was a small play, but a smart one, and it just made me smile. The other very pleasant surprise has been the lack of decimation he's endured. When he played in the OHL, it seemed like he was destroyed on a reasonably regular basis, but so far this season, he's managed to avoid any really dangerous hits without losing the tenacity in his game. Given how much play that got before the draft, it's been great to see that Hall can protect himself a little bit better than Ladislav Smid. Sure, there are things to work on, but watching Taylor Hall grow has been great fun so far this season, and watching his second half should be even better.
Jordan Eberle Coming Ready to Play - I didn't expect Jordan Eberle to be this good. I did think he was capable of playing in the NHL, but I really didn't think he'd be able to think the game as well as he does already at both ends of the ice. It's been amazing to watch the twenty year-old rookie adjust so quickly, and to see that "hockey sense" really is one of his elite skills and not just a cover for the fact that he doesn't have any. It's been nice to speed, shot, and passing to the "above average" category too. The man is just a good player already. How fun is that? About as much fun as that goal against Calgary; it may end up being the high point of the season, but boy oh boy, it sure was a wonderful start.
The Resurgence of Shawn Horcoff - For those wondering, yes, I have made a concious effort to avoid any use of statistics in this article, and I won't stop now, but suffice to say, Shawn Horcoff is looking much better so far this season. Before the year began, I didn't think there would be any hope of Horcoff and two rookies having any sort of prolonged success. The fact that they are is absolutely a credit to the captain who's helping them to learn the NHL game. After last season, I was very worried that Horcoff had entered a steep decline, and that his level of play would never get back to where it once was. So far this season, it looks like that isn't the case. In that Horcoff will be around for several more seasons, his spike in performance is almost as big as the kids starting well.
There have of course been other great moments. Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky have both played very well so far this season, including a couple of great rushes from against the Ducks, one of which began with a Dustin Penner bull-rush face-off win and ended with a gorgeous Hemsky roof-job; Devan Dubnyk is exceeding expectations and looking calm and confident in an NHL goal; Theo Peckham looks like a real NHL defenseman, which is a pleasant surprise for a guy who thought he wouldn't look much better than Strudwick; and of course the AHL team that looked like it should have success really is having it. So there you go. Even though Steve Tambellini is a putz who's hard to watch, there are a lot of good things in Edmonton right now; his successor should be able to use them to great effect.