Where the biggest questions lie are in their own defensive zone, both with the defense and the forwards. This offseason, Edmonton has reached across the seas and into their past for depth by signing Anton Belov and Denis Grebeshkov away from the KHL. Belov is a 27 year old who put up 26 points in 46 games last year while playing just over 22 minutes a game. Grebeshkov is back for his second stint with Edmonton after a three year absence from the NHL. Sophomore Justin Schultz will be looked upon to lead a defensive core that has sturdy veterans Nick Schultz, Ladislav Smid, Jeff Petry and the newly signed Andrew Ference. Don't overlook the Ference signing - he brings a winning attitude and a chip on his shoulder as he returns home to Edmonton. There are some youngsters in the ranks for the first time in a long time for this squad as Oscar Klefbom, 20, Darnell Nurse, 18, and Martin Maricin, 21, attempt to push for roster spots. The defense looks solid on paper, but it needs to be a true team effort to really make this work. It's important to remember that every player on the ice has defensive responsibilities.
Despite the disappointment of the last couple of years, it still feels like this team is on the verge of something great. Their top two offensive lines just might combine for the best one-two punch in the league. Out comes Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, followedy by Nail Yakupov, Sam Gagner and David Perron. Their bottom six is feisty and skilled with one of my personal favorites Ryan Jones mixing with the energetic Boyd Gordon and the sometimes maddening - sometimes fantastic Ales Hemsky. Add in staple Ryan Smyth, an underrated Mike Brown and whoever Dallas Eakins fills the last spot with (Anton Lander? Ryan Hamilton?) and this offense is primed and ready.
Hopefully Eakins, who came from coaching the Toronto Marlies and has found a way to connect with younger players, can do so with Edmonton's blossoming core. Also, here's hoping Ryan Jones is back to full health after his scary eye injury last year. He is one of my favorite players in the league. He busts his ass and stands up for his teammates. He brings to the rink what every team in the NHL covets and does it well. Good luck this year to Jonesy and the Oilers!