14 Edmonton Oilers An improved power play is a must for this team, and it looks like a rookie will lead them

October 12, 2003

Toward the end of training camp the Oilers traveled 190 miles
west to the Canadian Rockies, where they spent four days biking
to the rink for morning skates and then hitting the golf course
in the afternoons for some team bonding. After winning only two
of their first 10 games last season, coaches and players hope
that the excursion to secluded Jasper, Alberta, will help propel
them to a successful first month and beyond. "We thought it would
be a good idea to get the guys away and work out stuff for the
beginning of the year," says fourth-year coach Craig MacTavish.
"We wanted to get through camp with the same goals and a singular
purpose."

During the trip MacTavish worked on some of the areas that kept
his club from advancing past the first round of the playoffs for
the fourth time in five years. Among the biggest concerns is the
power play: Without a consistent quarterback last year, Edmonton
converted only one of 23 power-play chances in the postseason.
Rookie Marc-Andre Bergeron, 23, emerged as the front-runner to
fill that void, and former Oilers forward Craig Simpson was hired
as an assistant coach for special teams.

With the loss of free agent Todd Marchant and the absence of Mike
Comrie, who was locked out of camp in a contract dispute,
MacTavish was forced to experiment at center. Ryan Smyth, the
team's leading scorer last year with 61 points (despite playing
in only 66 games because of injuries), was moved from left wing
to center on the top line with speedy right wing Ales Hemsky and
hulking left wing Brad Isbister. "I was nervous at first, and
it's unreal how fast the pace is," says Smyth, whose only
previous experience at center was a brief stint in juniors in the
early 1990s. "But I enjoy the challenge, and the line seems to be
connecting."

The small-market Oilers are accustomed to having to fight their
way through the powerful West to get into the playoffs. This year
won't be different, but with a strong start and improved special
teams they expect to be more than a playoff pushover.
--Andrea Woo

COLOR PHOTO COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL MARTIN/ICON SMI (SMYTH) RYAN SMYTH

SI RANKING
( 1 Best - 30 Worst )

OFFENSE 10
DEFENSE 12
GOALTENDING 14
POWER PLAY 16
PENALTY KILLING 19
G.M. AND COACH 7

INSIDER

This team is going to surprise a lot of people--the Oilers' speed
and skill are impressive.... Edmonton goes to the net harder than
any other club.... Nobody scores on rebounds and chances in the
slot better than F Ryan Smyth.... Want excitement? Keep your eyes
on second-year F Ales Hemsky, who is among the league's most
electrifying skaters.... Expect G Tommy Salo to rebound from his
mediocre 2002-03 season--he wants to win back his teammates'
respect.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)