The Edmonton Oilers are a team with a storied past of success and numerous legendary player that are still held in the highest of admiration to this day. There was a time when it seemed like the Edmonton Oilers were an unstoppable Stanley Cup winning machine. With greats like “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, and the mighty wall that was Grant Fuhr. From 1983-1990 they didn’t win one Stanley Cup…they won SIX. Those years are now simply known as the Dynasty Years. In recent years, however, the Oilers have made playoff threats with their most notable run coming in 2006 when they just squeaked into the playoffs at the eight seed and managed to knock off the Mighty Red Wings, the always strong San Jose Sharks, and a tough Might Ducks team. While they hoped to finish the Cinderella run, they were stopped short after losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals to the Carolina Hurricanes. The next year, however, marked the first time in NHL history when both the runner-up, Edmonton Oilers, and the Stanley Cup winners, the Carolina Hurricanes, missed the playoffs completely. 2008 saw some young talent with a promising future, but the Oilers once again missed the playoffs.

What does the 2009-2010 season hold for the once proud Oilers? The last two seasons have seen them not even make the playoffs, can things get any worse? Let’s take a look at the impact forwards, defensemen, and goalies for the Edmonton Oilers and see what we can’t figure out.

Impact Forwards:

Ales Hemsky:  If the Oilers offense is going to do anything then it is going to be behind the stick of this man, Ales Hemsky. A quick footed speedster with a shot as accurate as the top players in the NHL, the only problem is in recent years he has struggled to actually use it. Ales Hemsky is one of those guys that is TOO unselfish. He is always dishing the puck off instead of taking an open shot. Don’t get me wrong, he can thread the needle like a seamstress on crack, but he NEEDS to take the puck and rip it more. Last season he started to get it and pulled off some highlight reel goals that the Edmonton Faithful have been waiting to see from him for a long time. Of course, another thing that would help is if, in the past few years, Ales Hemsky had someone who knew what to do with the crisp passes he delivers. Hemsky is a little small so he needs to avoid getting in physical battles too much.

Andrew Cogliano:  Speed, speed, and more speed. This kid on skates is a bullet screaming up and down the ice. Cogliano won the 2009 Fastest Skater Competition at the All-Star Skills competition. He has very quick hands to bout, so when he goes streaking by you? By the time you turn your head he’s probably already deke’d your goalie out of his pads five times, scored, and has already started celebrating. But, he is kind of tiny standing at 5’10” and only 184 pounds. If Cogliano stops moving long enough to get checked by a big man then he is toast.

Dustin Penner: Streaky, streaky, streaky is about how we can sum up is 2007-2008 play. Had a lot of struggles with adapting to previous coach Craig McTavish because he wanted more ice time despite really not scoring enough goals to be getting more ice time and being quite out of shape for an NHLer at 6’4” 245 pounds. Penner has all the tools to become a really solid player, but he needs to check his ego at the door and just be as productive as he can with the time on the ice he is given. At one point McTavish RIPPED into Penner saying he has NEVER been fit enough to help the Oilers organization and isn’t anywhere near competitive enough to be put in the lineup. However, with McTavish out and Pat Quinn in…maybe Penner will feel more at ease and be able to play and keep in shape. He could be a top two liner if he gets his act together, but I think the bigger shock to the Edmonton Faithful is that he still has a job with the Oilers. Winning a Stanley Cup with Anaheim has never done so much for a guy.

Sam Gagner: Another small forward with tons of potential stacked on his shoulders. Many think he could easily slip into a leadership position with a little stronger play. Gagner is a great passer and is one of those guys that have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. However, last season he only scored 16 goals. The Oilers are going to need a little more from him and if he can get that extra push then he can turn this team around all by himself. But, if he continues to dip in the point production, last season saw an eight point deduction from the prior season, then things could get ugly in Edmonton.

Shawn Horcoff: Imagine the Oilers are losing by a goal with under a minute left to go. There is a crucial faceoff in the Oilers zone and they NEED to win the faceoff to get a rush started. I guarantee you that if Horcoff is available he is the guy taking that faceoff. Pressure faceoffs are Horcoff’s bread and butter. In that faceoff circle there is no better man to have on your side than Shawn Horcoff. He isn’t a terrible offensive player, but he isn’t a particularly great one either. He tries hard and plays both ends of the ice fairly well, but his biggest asset is being able to win the clutch faceoffs and really any faceoff in general. He is being paid an awful lot of money to win faceoffs though and this is a subject of great debate among Oiler faithful.

Ethan Moreau: Known fondly as “the captianethanmoreau”, he struggled a great deal in the 2008-2009 season because of his shady attitude in the locker room and being stupid enough to play with a broken hand for more than half a season. You see, Moreau has a long history with the Oilers because he is the last remnants of the Gretzky trade. Now, when you have a guy like that it’s either a good thing or a terribly awful thing. It’s good if they help the young guys out and share their veteran savvy. However, in Moreau’s case, he instead created somewhat of a warring faction of young vs. old in the locker room. Always bad. Plus, playing with a broken hand killed his numbers and production last year when he should have just been scratched and started fresh the next season. It’s one of the old time hockey things where if you can skate, then you can play. Many think he should be traded to make cap space, the unbiased side of me says, “Well a broken hand is a broken hand.” While my rational side says, “Lose the bum and trade him for a six pack of Molson and a bag of pucks.” Has been heralded as the worst Captain in Oiler history.

Impact Defensemen:

Sheldon Souray: Souray is a big hulking defenseman at 6’4” and 233 pounds, and the guy uses every last pound to crush anyone daring enough to try him. Is known for his heavy shot as it has broken many a plexiglass screens. On the powerplay he is the big point producer because of that heavy, heavy, heavy shot. Is a solid defensive player without the shot, however, as of late he has been having a bit of a bout with the injury bug. Had an unofficial shot, meaning he did it someplace other than the All-Star Game, that clocked in at a blistering 106.7 MPH. Even while fighting injury he still scored 23 times last season. Be it on the powerplay or not, Sheldon Souray is a HUGE weapon at the point position.

Steve Staios: A man’s man when it comes to his position on the blueline and in his defensive zone. If you mess with any of their star players than expect to have Steve Staios all over you and trying to knock your head off regardless of how much bigger you are than he is. A gritty and intense defensemen that works his butt off every time he is on the ice. While he may not contribute many goals, he saves more than his fair share with his solid defensive work and lord knows how many critical blocked shots he has.

Ladislav Smid: Smid has been heralded as the future of the Edmonton Oilers defense because of his strong puck handling and smooth skating. The only real problems he faces is that he isn’t overly physical and for a defenseman you really need to get in there and fight those tough physical battles. He has the size to do it at 6’3” 226 pounds, but he is a silky smooth passer and holds the blueline fairly well. Once he settles into his position on the blueline and gets a little more physical than he could very well become the next big defensive name.

Goaltending:

Nikolai Khabibulin: Yes, I spelled that without looking at anything. Khabibulin is the replacement for the recently let go Dwayne Roloson. Khabibulin…I just don’t know what to think about this. Khabibulin, in his prime, was one of the best goalies the NHL had to offer and garnished the nickname “The Bulin Wall”. Unfortunately, it seems like this Bulin Wall is starting to fall just like the real life Berlin Wall. He had some good games with the Blackhawks last season but he was nowhere near as consistent as he used to be when he took Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup finals and won. I dunno, this is one of those times where we’ll just have to wait and see.

Jeff Deslauriers: A young goalie that showed an immense amount of potential last season when Roloson was streaking and having a rough patch in the middle of the season. Deslauriers showed some amazing flexibility and a real quick glove hand. He is a fairly big guy, which is always a helpful asset to a butterfly goalie, and is pretty quick. Gives up a few too many juicy rebounds, but that should lessen if/when he gets more NHL ice time.

Overall: Edmonton…Edmonton…Edmonton…it’s a bit of a crapshoot as to predicting how well they will or will not do. On paper if their players play to their potential then they can have a big season, however, that rarely every happens in Edmonton. If Penner can remain in shape and play to his potential that would be a big help, however, who knows how that will go. With Moreau in the locker room there will inevitably a locker room divided and that can’t happen if the team really wants to move forward and win. Especially with all the young talented guys they have, they don’t need a Captain like that ruining their bright future. So, with time we’ll see how it goes. Guys like Hemsky, Souray, Cogliano and Gagner will really shape this team and if they want to win they’ll all have to step up and have a breakout year. If they can’t and the division in the locker room spills onto the ice then we could see another missed playoffs.