Young Guns

William Wilson January 18, 2013 1
Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall celebrate togetherPhoto by Ben Margot/The Associated Press

The wait is over.

Two of the Edmonton Oilers’ top young forwards were named alternative captains by the team on Tuesday.

Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall will now adorn an “A” on their jerseys. The new accolade recognizes their top-end leadership skills in addition to their undeniable offensive prowess. (I’m not sure, however, if the “A” reflects their scholastic abilities.) It goes without saying that these are two of the key pieces on the Oilers’ current roster.

The two youngsters have played a total 273 games at the NHL level between them. They take over the role of alternative captains from Ales Hemsky and Ryan Whitney, who both held the position last season. For the purposes of comparison, Hemsky has played 559 games at the NHL level while Whitney has played 440 games at the NHL level.

“We feel it’s a good time for Taylor and Jordan to step up,” head coach Ralph Krueger said about the decision. “It’s the passion they bring to the game, to our team and the city of Edmonton.”

Eberle showed some of that passion in his reaction to the news.

“It’s exciting news, and it’s an honour to be a captain, but we have a lot of leadership in this room,” he told reporters.

Both Eberle and Hall are entering their third season in the NHL. They are followed closely by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is entering his second season in the NHL, and Nail Yakupov, who will likely make his NHL debut this season.

Veteran defenceman Nick Schultz was given the team’s third “A” and fan favourite Shawn Horcoff will continue to carry the “C” on his jersey.

The decision to name Eberle and Hall as alternative captains over several veterans on the team underscores the Oilers’ confidence in their young guns. It also indicates that the team expects more output from them moving forward. They’re the future of the team and it’s time to act on that fact.

This might be the season where the Oilers finally return to the playoffs. They have a ton of offensive presence up front. A healthy Whitney and newcomer Justin Schultz (who is another young gun at only 22 years of age) should help stabilize the blueline. The only real question mark on the team concerns goal.

At 26 years old, Devan Dubnyk has put two solid NHL seasons behind him, but goalies in general are notoriously slow to develop and reach their full potential. It’s still not clear if Dubnyk can carry a full workload on his own – he has never played more than 47 games in a single NHL season – though this may be less important in a shortened NHL season.

The Oilers have the right pieces in place to succeed. By pushing Dubnyk into the spotlight alongside Eberle and Hall, the team could reap greater dividends from all three young players. At the same time, the team risks pushing them too far too soon.

For the past several seasons, the Oilers have been on the verge of transferring into a serious and perennial contender. That moment, I believe, is finally at hand.

As always, it’ll be fun to watch the Oilers this season. Unlike recent seasons, however, there’ll probably be some type of payoff at the end (no, high draft picks don’t count).

Second round exit this season, conference final heartbreaker next, then the Stanley Cup? I’m already booking my ticket to Oil Country.

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