Maybe what they say about busy people is true; that, if you want something done, ask a busy person.
The concept seems to be working for the Edmonton Oilers. The Oil, buried deep in the Western Conference standings for most of the season (like the black gold that inspired their name, perhaps?), are playing some of their best hockey while in the middle of an insane 15-games-in-28-days stretch that runs from March 2-29.
Edmonton is 4-2-0 in the six five games of that frenetic schedule – and forget that traditional blather of young players fading down the stretch because they’re not used to the long, 82-game NHL campaign. Rookie Andrew Cogliano, of course, just set a league record for popping the overtime game-winning goal in three consecutive contests, while fellow freshman Sam Gagner has five goals and 20 points in his past 17 games, including a 10-game point streak (which ties him with Chicago fab frosh Jonathan Toews for the longest this season by a rookie).
Gagner, by the way, had four goals and 21 points in his first 51 games, so the 5-foot-10, 18-year-old certainly isn’t fading in the most intense segment of the schedule; rather, he’s thriving on increased ice time and opportunity.
This is all good news for Edmonton – which the franchise could surely use – and it’s good news for a few significant reasons. First, obviously, players such as Cogliano and Gagner are the future cornerstones of the team; at least, that’s the fervent hope. The fact they’re producing as baby-faced NHLers is the most encouraging thing the team could ask of them.
Second, the Oilers are hanging around the playoff race. And while Edmonton remains a (long) long shot to leapfrog three or four teams and slip into eighth in the West – especially with just a handful of games remaining – the fact the Oilers are still playing meaningful games should pay off in a season or two when Edmonton matures into a legitimate post-season contender.
And there’s a third factor to keep in mind. The Oilers’ first round draft pick this June belongs to the Anaheim Ducks, courtesy of the Brian Burke-approved Dustin Penner signing (“It’s just Ducky!” the Anaheim GM was heard to exclaim last summer…or something like that).
So, given the recent Chris Pronger exit and simmering feud between Burke and Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, it’s safe to say Edmonton does not want to hand the rival Ducks a lottery pick and a shot at the No. 1 overall selection (or No. 2 or No. 3 or No. 4…).
If the Oilers don’t make it into the playoffs, they’d love to finish 17th and hand Burke and the Ducks a middle-of the-pack first round pick, when the likes of super-prospects Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty are long gone.
The column also appears in the Edmonton Metro newspaper.
Sam McCaig’s From The Point appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Have a point to make with Sam McCaig? You can reach him at email@example.com.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.