Fantasy Puck Preview: Edmonton Oilers

Scott Cullen

9/15/2009 8:12:46 AM

As it's seemed to be for a few seasons now, the Edmonton Oilers have a nucleus of young players that need to take the next step in their collective development. As a result, there are no elite fantasy performers here, but several players with upside that could represent good value.

Talented winger Ales Hemsky has been knocking on the point-per-game plateau three times in the last four seasons and his gradual increase in shot production resulted in last year's career-best 23 goals. Hemsky is also a force on the power play, tallying at least 25 points with the man advantage in each of the last four seasons.

There always seems to be the perception that Hemsky is still waiting for a suitably accomplished linemate to truly find his peak game, but it doesn't appear that -- while talented -- the other Oilers forwards are up to Hemsky's skill level.

Patrick O'Sullivan is a promising young player coming off a poor season, that started with a bad line combination in L.A. and then his production didn't improve after coming to Edmonton at the trade deadline. Nevertheless, the 24-year-old has 38 goals over the last two seasons and has the speed and skill to do more.

Perhaps the Oilers' most likely player to have a breakout season would be third-year forward Sam Gagner, but the slick puckhandler will need to figure out how to produce over a full season. In each of his first two seasons, Gagner has struggled early before finishing with a flourish. If he puts it all together, a 70-point season wouldn't be out of the question.

Shawn Horcoff is a hard-working two-way centre, who has shown some offensive flair, scoring 73 points in 79 games in 2005-2006 and 50 points in 53 games in 2007-2008, but those two years are sprinkled in with 51 and 53-point seasons over the last four, making it hard to determine if this is the year that Horcoff challenges a point-per-game or is decidedly less productive that that.

The late signing of Edmonton native Mike Comrie does add some proven depth up front. Though he only managed 27 points in 63 games with the Islanders and Senators last season, Comrie is a five-time 20-goal scorer and his presence gives the Oilers insurance in case underachievers Robert Nilsson or Dustin Penner aren't getting the job done.

Penner is a possible sleeper, but one that comes fraught with risk, given his lack of production in his first couple of seasons with the Oilers. 40 goals and 85 points over two seasons is serviceable, but not when you're signed to a big contract and Penner very clearly fell into former coach Craig MacTavish's doghouse. If the new regime can light a fire under Penner, he's still capable of scoring 30 goals.

Speedy centre Andrew Cogliano has shown some skill in his first two seasons, notching a total of 83 points, but his two-way game thus far would seem to limit his offensive potential. If circumstances change and suddenly Cogliano is playing with scoring linemates and getting significant power play time, then obviously his value would go up.

Edmonton's defence is led by quality offensive defencemen. At the top of the list is Sheldon Souray, who has become a lethal power play performer with his booming blast from the point. More than half of Souray's 23 goals last season came with the man advantage and his goal and point totals (53) were the second-best marks of his career and he's not afraid to mix it up, adding penalty minute value.

Playing a decidedly different game than Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky played in a career-low 50 games last season, but still scored 17 of his 31 points on the power play. Visnovsky's mobility and headiness with the puck gives him good scoring potential, if he can stay healthy.

26-year-old Tom Gilbert improved nicely in his second season, scoring 45 points and ably rising to the challenge when Visnovsky was hurt. If everyone stays healthy, Gilbert would figure to be the third wheel and that might mean only second-unit power play time, but, given his production to this point, he can't be ignored.

Rounding out the top four, Denis Grebeshkov also warrants consideration after last year's breakout 39-point campaign.

Theoretically, the Oilers upgraded in goal by signing Nikolai Khabibulin, who is coming off a fine season in Chicago. Of course, the danger is that Khabibulin went in the tank after signing his last big contract with the Blackhawks, so the Oilers had better hope that the 36-year-old veteran puckstopper is prepared to step in and play well for 60-plus games. If he is, Khabibulin could have nice late-round value for fantasy purposes.