Over the last several weeks the writers here at The Copper & Blue have painstakingly gone through the Oilers system to identify who they believe are the teams' twenty-five best prospects under 25. It's a list that appears to have some very good, potentially great, talent at the top of the list, while near the bottom we find players who are anything but a sure thing to make a living playing in the NHL. Of course even the best teams in the world won't have twenty-five can't miss prospects.
For fans of a two time running dead last hockey club, a stockpile of good looking prospects gives us hope that something good will come out of all this losing, which is, after all, the whole point of the rebuild. So let's grab a crystal ball and look into the future to see what the 2014/15 Oilers might look like when the rebuild has hopefully been completed and the team is once again winning much more frequently than they're losing.
Before getting started I need to get a couple things out of the way. First, a thank you to the good folks at Litter Box Cats who find themselves in a similar predicament and came up with this idea first. Second, as we all know, it's too cold in Edmonton to lure free agents to town so the roster doesn't include any free agent acquisitions. Third, Tambellini makes roster moves at a speed glaciers make fun of so it's a stretch to assume any trades will be made in the next three seasons, which means that no acquisitions through trades are included either. And lastly, no new draft picks have been added to the mix; I'll leave it up to you to decide whether the averages caught up with the Oilers or whether the picks were later in the first round and are just taking longer to reach the NHL.
Now, with that all out of the way, let's take a look at your 2014/15 Edmonton Oilers.
Even three seasons from now the Oilers will still have one of the youngest top lines in the NHL. Gagner, entering his eighth NHL campaign, will still be just 25 years old and will be the elder statesman of the group. With Hall and Eberle, now each in their fifth season, on his wings, the Oilers top trio will form a very good line that can go head to head with the NHL's best. Expectations for the group will be high; I would predict 80 plus point seasons across the board with both Hall and Eberle threatening the 35 goal mark.
The entry level contracts of Hall and Eberle expired at the end of the 2012/13 season but both will be priorities for the Oilers to sign making it very unlikely that they're not still around the organization at this time. Gagner, on the other hand, will be into his unrestricted seasons by this point, his last controllable season being the previous year. Following the 2011/12 season I expect the Oilers to sign Gagner to a three or four year deal which will look like a very good deal by this point.
With the top line taking on the other teams' best, this is the line that will have the opportunity to feast on weaker competition. With four seasons to his credit Paajarvi shoud be well on his way to establishing himself as a high-end NHL talent and at 31 Hemsky will still be able to keep up with his much younger linemates. The group's combination of speed and playmaking ability will make this a formidable second line. Paajarvi will likely be around 30 goals and one, maybe two, of the players on this line will reach 65 points.
Concerned with trying to jam too many forward prospects through the door to the NHL in a very short time frame the Oilers chose to return Nugent-Hopkins to the Red Deer Rebels for the 2011/12 season meaning this will be the third and final year of his entry level contract. Paajarvi, like Hall and Eberle, will be in need of a new contract following the 2012/13 season and while I don't expect him to get a long term deal like the other two get, I would imagine he'll still be with the club at this time. Hemsky is something of a wildcard in this exercise but I think the Oilers will get a long term deal done with him during the upcoming season that will still have him with the club to start the 2014 season.
I see this as the first season with Nugent-Hopkins moving to the second line on a full time basis meaning Horcoff, who is the only current Oiler with a contract for the 2014/15 season, will find himself playing more of a shutdown role with a couple of players just a few years younger than he is. Ultimately, the Oilers may try to play Pitlick at centre but to begin his career at least he will be playing on the wing and handling an easier defensive role while Horcoff does the heavy lifting for his line.
The Oilers fourth line is an intersecting mix of players who will likely move up the lineup in the future (Hamilton and Lander) and a player who is a stretch to even play on the fourth line (Abney). With Gagner, Nugent-Hopkins, and Horcoff locking down the centre spots on the first three lines, Lander finds himself relegated to fourth line duties although ultimately he and Hamilton will likely find full time jobs on the third line. The Oilers have very few right wingers in the system and when in doubt the team always goes with big so I've given the last spot to Abney. (Note: if this happens I will go berserk.)
With a brand new contract Gilbert will be back for an eighth season with the Oilers and will find himself still playing on the top pair with Whitney. Whitney and Gilbert continue to hold down spots on the top pair because a better option simply hasn't presented itself and at 30 years of age both are still in the prime years of their careers. There are injury concerns with Whitney but I don't think they will be serious enough to see the Oilers move in a different direction when his contract expires after the 2012/13 season.
The player most likely to supplant one of Whitney or Gilbert is Petry but three years from now I still see him playing on the Oilers second pair, at least to start the year. By this time Smid will have established himself as a defensive force, hopefully getting a little meaner at the same time, and this will let Petry roam free a little more giving the Oilers another offensive threat on the blue line.
Whether either player establishes himself as a full-time NHLer is anything but a sure thing, but by this point both should be in the NHL or within shouting distance if they are ever going to make it. Both are big, listed as 6'5" and 6'4" respectively, and Marincin brings a little offensive flair with his game as well. If these two happened to click together it'll take about nine seconds for the local media to dub them the Twin Towers.
Number one goalie - Devan Dubnyk
In what I assume will be a 50/30 split of games I think it will be Dubnyk that gets the 50 games and the start on opening night. The 2013/14 season will have been his first without Nikolai Khabibulin taking up space between the pipes from time to time and while Dubnyk may not have yet established himself as a true number one goalie in just one season he will almost certainly be given the chance to do so once again at the start of this season.
Backup goalie - Olivier Roy
Goalies are not easy to project but with three pro years under his belt Roy will have the most professional experience on his resume and will likely get the job as backup to Dubnyk. With the departure of Khabibulin to parts unknown the season before it is possible, although unlikely, that Roy assumed the role of Oilers backup before now.
So there you have it, your 2014/15 Oilers. With only four players over 30 this is still a very young team but one that could be fairly competitive. If you add in a couple of trades and/or free agent signing, you might really have something. You've likely noticed that Linus Omark and Theo Peckham are not on my roster; that's because I think they will have moved on to other teams by this point (I hope not with Omark but my gut says otherwise) as a result of too many bodies and not enough spots. Looking at the lineup, if the return for those two is in the form of another defenceman or goalie that would be a very good thing.