The young and exciting Edmonton Oilers will get their season started Sunday evening in Vancouver, as they visit the Canucks for a Northwest Division clash at Rogers Arena.
The Oilers have finished last in the Northwest Division in each of the last three seasons and haven't made the playoffs since a surprise run to the Stanley Cup Finals in the spring of 2006. The lack of success, however, has given Edmonton plenty of high draft packs and that's why the club is stocked with blue-chip prospects.
Edmonton has held the top pick in the draft in each of the past three seasons and all three of those selections -- Taylor Hall (2010), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins ('11) and Nail Yakupov ('12) -- are on the club's opening-day roster.
Yakupov, 19, has an excellent chance to make an immediate impact this year, but perhaps an even bigger pickup than the No. 1 overall pick was the signing of Justin Schultz, a 22-year-old defensive prospect who became a free agent after failing to come to terms with the Anaheim Ducks. After a standout college career at Wisconsin, Schultz turned many heads during the lockout by amassing 48 points (18 goals, 30 assists) in 34 games with Oklahoma City of the AHL.
During his stint this year in the AHL only Jordan Eberle, another one of Edmonton's highly-drafted forward prospects, had more points than Schultz. With nearly all of Edmonton's young talent sitting on the offensive side, Schultz has a chance to make an even bigger impact than Yakupov this season.
The Oilers have a new presence behind the bench in Ralph Krueger, who takes over for the fired Tom Renney, who was dismissed despite improving the club 12 points last season to 74. One of Krueger's many tasks this season is getting this talented young club to play with more of an edge.
With loads of talented skaters it still remains to be seen if goaltender Devan Dubnyk, 26, has what it takes to be a No. 1 goaltender at the NHL level. The 2011-12 campaign was an inconsistent one for the Saskatchewan native, but his 20 wins, 47 games and 2.67 goals-against average all represented career-highs.
Vancouver goaltender Cory Schneider also has something to prove after falling flat in his first start of the season on Saturday night. Schneider allowed five goals on 14 shots before being pulled from Saturday's 7-3 blowout loss to the visiting Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.
"It was unacceptable to play that way and put my team in that situation and not even have a chance to win," Schneider said. "It's something you live and learn. I'm not going to think too long about this one."
Schneider, who inked a three-year, $12 million deal with the Canucks in the offseason, is expected to be Vancouver's No. 1 netminder over the highly-paid Roberto Luongo this season. Luongo stopped 10-of-12 shots in relief of Schneider on Saturday.
It's unclear if Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault will go back to Schneider as the starter on Sunday.
Teemu Selanne, Anaheim's 42-year-old forward, torched the Canucks for two goals and two assists on Saturday, while Daniel Sedin, Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler scored the goals for Vancouver.
The Canucks haven't lost consecutive games to start a season since dropping three straight to begin the 2009-10 campaign.
Vancouver won five of six meetings with the Oilers in 2011-12 and outscored Edmonton by a combined score of 22-13 during the season series. The Oilers have lost three straight and eight of their last nine games in Vancouver.