Updated: January 17, 2013, 3:49 PM ET
Rob Grabowski/US Presswire The Oilers should get off to a fast start with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins among 11 Edmonton players in action during the lockout.

Oilers: Five Things You Need To Know

By Pierre LeBrun

Is there a market in the NHL that's more excited than Edmonton?

Six years out of the playoffs -- their last taste of the postseason was Game 7 of the Cup finals in Carolina seven years ago -- the young Oilers are on the rise and coming at you, baby.

Led by Jordan Eberle (for my money, the best player on the team), Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov, the kids are going to rock the joint in this young season.

Supported by a veteran cast that includes Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky and Ryan Whitney, the pieces are in place to at the very least finally compete for a playoff spot this season.

Long term? The sky's the limit.

1. Game Shape
The Oilers have 11 players that have been playing pro hockey during the lockout, four in the AHL and seven overseas. That's a real edge over teams that have had very few active players. You can work out every day, but real-time game shape is a different animal. The Oilers should soar out of the gates over the first 2-3 weeks.

2. OK-C Power Play
Fans in AHL Oklahoma City will recognize most of Edmonton's NHL power play this season. That's because the four AHLers -- Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, Eberle (on the point) and Schultz -- are expected to be on the Oilers' first PP unit, which should be dangerous. They'll be just as dangerous in their top six forward group at five on five. Nugent-Hopkins is expected to open the season between Hall and Eberle, of course, while Sam Gagner should center Yakupov and Hemsky on the second line. Dangerous!

3. Blue Line Might Need Help
The defense has long been Edmonton's Achilles' heel, and while it's not terrible anymore, it's still not the team's area of strength, that's for sure. Justin Schultz's arrival -- he was dynamite in the AHL this season -- cannot be understated. You can see why half the teams in the NHL bid on the college UFA last summer. He should play on the top pair with the veteran Whitney. Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid are a decent shutdown pair on the second duo. Nick Schultz is the No. 5 man, while Corey Potter and Theo Peckham round out the blueliners. They also acquired Mark Fistric after the start of training camp. While this trade lessens the head on the Oilers to make a move on defense, I still think GM Steve Tambellini looks to add a body if the Oilers are threatening for a playoff spot or better come the trade deadline.

4. Doubting Dubnyk?
Time for Devan Dubnyk to answer his critics. Is he a real NHL starter or a glorified NHL backup? At 26, this is a make-or-break season for him. Dubnyk, albeit on a bad team, was 31st in GAA at 2.67 last season and 24th in save percentage at .914. If the Oilers are playoff-bound but Dubnyk is still raising doubt in the front office, look for Tambellini to try to address this. Dubnyk might very well make it a simple decision by erasing all doubts over the next few months.

5. New Coach
Ralph Krueger got a well-deserved promotion from associate coach to the head man in the offseason. I like this move. Krueger has a wealth of hockey experience (the Winnipeg native is a former Swiss national team head coach), and the Oilers players have really liked him since he arrived on the scene in Edmonton. As head coach there's going to have to be a bit more bad cop in him, but I believe his technical acumen is top notch and he's going to succeed with this young team.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.


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