EDMONTON - With the present dismal, fans of the Edmonton Oilers packed a suburban rink to get a glimpse of the future Tuesday in the form of Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson and Jordan Eberle.
The Oilers last three first-round draft picks opened a four-day development camp with the stands jammed, fans standing 10 deep behind the net and jerseys emblazoned with their names for sale in the lobby.
In a city where the Oilers just finished 30th in the standings and have missed playoffs for four straight years, a peek at the promise of the future was a hot ticket. That wasn't lost on Hall, Paajarvi-Svensson or Eberle, who stand together on square one of a major rebuilding job.
The Oilers are selling hope, and they are it.
"It's been exciting for me ever since the draft," Hall said. "I've really gotten excited about this season, not that I wasn't before, but it's really hit home I'm coming to a great city with great fans and a young group of players. You can just tell there's a lot of excitement in the city for this team."
Hall, 18, a two-time Memorial Cup MVP with the Windsor Spitfires who was selected first overall by the Oilers on June 25, has top billing at the camp, which is being attended by 28 prospects.
Sharing the marquee is Paajarvi-Svensson, 19, a lanky Swedish winger taken 10th by the Oilers in 2009, and Eberle, 20, selected 22nd overall from the Regina Pats in 2008.
"I don't know about the private person, but I know they're fantastic players," Paajarvi-Svensson said of Hall and Eberle. "I've faced Eberle a couple times at the world junior championship and Taylor Hall one or two times. He's first overall, MVP of the Memorial Cup a couple times.
"That proves he's a really good player. I'm glad to be around them and take a few tips from them."
Eberle, who had 106 points with Regina this season before closing out the campaign in the AHL with Springfield, is the senior member of the trio. He's had a taste of Edmonton's rabid fanbase before.
"Obviously, it's exciting when you've got an opportunity to make the NHL," Eberle said.
"You see the direction the Oilers are going, the positions that are open for guys. It's exciting that you're going to camp with a legitimate shot of making the team. There are many guys in the same position as me."
Coach Tom Renney doesn't know where Hall, Paajarvi-Svensson and Eberle fit on his 2010-11 roster, but there's no question in his mind there's something special about the trio.
"What I'm OK with is putting the best team on the ice we can," Renney said when asked if all three could make the team this season. "Whoever those spots go to, so be it. We might have more than three guys for that matter. Who's to say? I don't know.
"We can project until we're blue in the face as to who might be here, but there's a process involved. The beauty of it is nobody knows that better than those three kids."
The time for making personnel decisions will come soon enough when main camp opens in September. For now, Renney wants to see the kids get used to life in a hockey-mad market.
"These young guys are at the front end of a very special relationship with these fans, so drink it up," he said.
"Develop those bonds with these people. Be good to them, respect them. Understand it's important to be able to reach out and touch these people and give it your best shot every single day as an athlete. It's an exciting time for them."
Hall, coming off a 106-point season in Windsor, understands the potential the fans see in the team after four forgettable seasons since an appearance in the 2006 Stanley Cup final.
"I see the same thing—there's a lot of good pieces here," he said. "Hopefully, one day, we can put it together.
"They've done a very good job drafting here. There's a lot of young players coming in, especially from Europe, who are going to be integral pieces of this club, whether it's next year or the year after."
Paajarvi-Svensson, who had 29 points in 49 games with Timra in the Swedish Elite League and was a force at the IIHF World Hockey Championship, had a booster club of at least one—one fan stood behind the glass wearing a Team Sweden shirt.
"Taylor said to me, 'Look behind you,'" said Paajarvi-Svensson with a laugh. "I saw the yellow shirt. It was fun.
"I believe I can play (in the NHL). I wouldn't have signed here otherwise. I think I had three good seasons and I'm going to do everything in my power to take a spot on this team this year. I've got a lot of work to do this summer, but I feel ready."
At the end of the session, hundreds of fans packed the lobby waiting for autographs. Hall, Paajarvi-Svensson and Eberle were in the middle of the swarm.
"It's fun to come into camp when you've got guys like that with you," Eberle said. "It takes pressure off you. It's going to make it an exciting camp. We're all excited about it."