Oilers Watch: Plenty to like about Edmonton's future

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This isn’t the way the Oilers had hoped the 2007-08 season would unfold. After rising up and running all the way to the Stanley Cup final in 2006, the Oilers will miss out on the post-season for the second year in a row.

Injured key cogs such as Shawn Horcoff and Sheldon Souray are done for the season, while the list of Oilers who underachieved this year is lengthy.

However…all is not lost. Even in dark seasons such as this one, there are bright spots and hope for the future.

The Goalie: Call him a late bloomer. Mathieu Garon, 30, was drafted by Montreal in 1996 and bounced around the Canadiens system until he was traded to Los Angeles in 2004.

The Kings virtually handed Garon the starting job after the lockout, but he couldn’t hold onto it. A free agent signing last summer, Garon has taken over the Oilers crease from 2006 playoff hero Dwayne Roloson and been Edmonton’s best player on most nights.

The Kids: Rookie forwards Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano and second-year center Robert Nilsson could be the guys carrying the offensive load in a few years.

At 13-14 minutes per game, the young guns are playing enough this season to learn a few big-league lessons – but not enough to crush their youthful exuberance.

And that’s gotta be a good thing. Gagner, by the way, is only 18. He has to wait until Aug. 10 before he can go out and buy that first legal beer anywhere in Canada.

The Blueline:
Tom Gilbert (22 minutes per game), Ladislav Smid (19 minutes) and Denis Grebeshkov (16 minutes) were supposed to be depth defensemen – if they made the team at all.

But long-term injuries to the likes of Souray, Joni Pitkanen and Matt Greene forced the prospects to play like seasoned pros.

Gilbert, the least decorated of the trio, is probably the biggest surprise. He was a long shot to make the team in training camp – but he did, and he hasn’t missed a game all season. Plus, he’s chipped in with eight goals and 20 points, a nice chunk of offence.

The Comebacks:
Fernando Pisani endured a scary bout of ulcerative colitis in the summer and fall; he lost 30 pounds and, for a while, his hockey career appeared to be in jeopardy. But he made it back by December and gave the Oilers a much-needed emotional lift.

Captain Ethan Moreau returned, too, after missing more than a calendar year with a dislocated shoulder (sustained while attempting to fight in support of a teammate) and a leg injury.

The two wingers might not score a lot of goals, but they make up for it in heart and soul.

This column also appears in the Ottawa Metro newspaper.

Sam McCaig is The Hockey News' senior copy editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Tuesdays and his column, From The Point, every second Friday.

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