x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The Oilers' turnaround trio

Edmonton fans hope rookies can restore the franchise to greatness.

The Edmonton Oilers know all about ups and downs. The Oilers joined the NHL in the late 1970s and almost immediately became Stanley Cup contenders. That is the way it goes when your line-up features a young Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and the rest of the skilled players who lifted Edmonton from a northern Canadian outpost to a North American hockey hot spot

Five Stanley Cups later, in the early 1990s, the Oilers' all-star roster was sold off by Peter Pocklington, the owner. The franchise's dark time had begun. The rest of the 1990s and the first few years of the next decade were a tough slog, year after year of missing the play-offs or being eliminated in the first round. There was a flash of success in 2006 when the Oilers snuck into the post-season, then suddenly they got hot and cruised into the Stanley Cup final to reclaim some of the franchise's lost glory.

In the end, Edmonton fell to Carolina in six games. And that was the last time the Oilers have seen the play-offs. They ended with a 30th-place finish last season. We might look back in a decade or two and pinpoint Edmonton's last-place finish in 2009/10 as a turning point. It gave them the first overall draft pick last June and Edmonton did not waste the opportunity, selecting the fast and skilled Taylor Hall, a two-time Memorial Cup champion and the MVP of the Canadian junior championship both times.

Hall combines world-class talent with steely eyed determination, plus he might just be the fastest mammal on the planet (in skates, that is). For a team to add one young player of Hall's calibre is a rare bonus, but the Oilers think they have three rookies with superstar potential. Rounding out the hat-trick of are Jordan Eberle, who had memorable performances on the world junior stage in 2009 and 2010, and Magnus Paajarvi, a Swedish winger with slick moves and a lethal shot.

Eberle was a draft steal at 22nd overall in 2008, while Paajarvi was plucked 10th in 2009. Suddenly, the team that died a slow death last season are full of youth and hope and speed and skill. Hall, Eberle and Paajarvi showed off their speed and talent in Game 1 of the regular season, a home victory against Calgary. Hall and Paajarvi both had chances and played a whirling-dervish game, while Eberle scored on a high-speed backhand shot that was one of the most brilliant "first goals" in NHL history.

Eberle picked himself off the ice and fist-pumped in celebration while being swarmed by smiling teammates. It was a scene that has been rare in recent seasons in Edmonton. The Oilers and the fans hope there is more rookie magic to come. sports@thenational.ae