After watching young defensemen make mistakes for what seems like a decade, a veteran hand like Nick Schultz is like a breath of fresh air. He always seems to be on right side of the play, has a penchant for directing the forwards wide and is all battle along the boards. I’m never going to agree he was full payment for Tom Gilbert, but Schultz can flat out play the position.
Do you remember the glory Oilers blue? They had Paul Coffey, who was so exciting to watch play the game. He was electrifying. Lowe was a tough defender, gave no quarter, Huddy could do a little of everything and Dr. Randy Gregg was big, strong and had surprising offensive acumen. Lee Fogolin was heart and soul, Don Jackson was meat. After that came Craig Muni and Steve Smith and Marty McSorley and a host of others, but I don’t recall a period during those years where Edmonton didn’t have 5 guys they could count on and about three waiting in the wings.
I think next season really does depend on two things: the calibre of defenseman (or defensemen) acquired to add to the group that will no doubt include Ladislav Smid, Jeff Petry, Nick Schultz, Ryan Whitney and Andy Sutton.
And the other item is Whitney’s health. If he can return to previous levels, that’s a tremendous plus for the organization. The youngsters should start showing up in AHL boxscores beginning this fall, hell maybe one or two gets a cup of coffee during the year. However, a healthy Ryan Whitney would go a long way to backing up the depth chart and forcing the kids into the AHL, ECHL and Europe for seasoning. Can Ryan Whitney return to previous levels? I don’t know. If the Oilers don’t cover for him on the NHL depth chart and he fails to perform at significant levels, we will probably see another finish deep in the second division.
Injuries are as much a part of the Oilers in this era as the draft or changing coaches. It’s a part of everyday life. Ryan Whitney’s recovery from injury is an enormous item in the 12-13 edition of the Oilers.