Wednesday, September 28, 2011

On Kid Line 2.0 and Managing Expectations

Fans got a sneak peak at the future of the Edmonton Oilers tonight as Tom Renney finally put together the trio of players that will form the cornerstone of this franchise for the next 10 years. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins centered Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle for the first time this preseason and the kid line 2.0 did not disappoint, generating all three goals in a 3-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes, with the last two first overall picks in the NHL entry draft netting 6 points. The trio of young forwards displayed an impressive transition game and scored two of the three goals off the rush, something that Oilers forwards have had difficulty doing in the past.  As an Oilers fan you can't help but think about what this line has in store for years to come. There seems to be the pieces required for a great chemistry: an elite playmaker, a hard nosed power forward, and a budding sniper.  But will they be playing together in the NHL this season?

As exciting as it was tonight to see the sublime passing by Nugent-Hopkins combined with the great finishing of Hall, the quality of competition wasn't exactly the cream of the crop. With not quite an NHL caliber lineup iced by the Coyotes it's hard to judge how good this line could really be in the regular season. This was also the Coyotes team that I predicted to finish last in the Western Conference earlier this summer. With two games remaining on the preseason schedule against the Wild and Canucks, it will be interesting to see if Renney gives this line another chance to play against tougher competition and what will surely be near NHL rosters.

While Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle certainly have their names already etched on the roster sheet for this season, whether Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will stay past the first 9 games is still up in the air. But so far in the preseason he's done almost everything right, and is making a strong case for himself. He's scored 6 points in 4 games, which has likely exceeded almost everyone's expectations. Not only has he performed on the offensive side of the puck, but he's managed to stay responsible on the defensive side as well. He definitely does not look out of place on NHL ice. Most importantly he's been able to play the game that made him the first overall pick this summer. This is still an ongoing evaluation of RNH, but he's making the most of his opportunities and doing everything he can to stick with the big club. Regardless of what happens in October, it sure makes for exciting times in Oil Country.

Flying under the shadow of the new kid line tonight was the reunited man line of Smyth-Horcoff-Hemsky, and it was just like old times. The trio worked the cycle well, and while they were held off of the score sheet, they seemed to find the chemistry they had back in 2006. Hemsky played in his first game since March 1st and looked like the same player we last saw. He didn't shy away from contact, even crashing Phoenix goalie Mike Smith hard off the wing on one rush when he tried to tuck the puck in far side. Importantly he looked comfortable out there with his rebuilt shoulder. Hopefully Hemsky will be able to build on this first game back, as the Oilers will need him if they are going to be competitive in the Western Conference this season.

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