The Edmonton Oilers four young stars playing in Oklahoma City during the lockout are showing why all four could be future NHL All-Stars.
Seven weeks into American Hockey League season Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz and Taylor Hall have displayed unique offensive skills that have produced off-the-chart statistics.
Nearly every NHL team last summer made an offer to Schultz, a highly coveted, unexpected free agent who used a loophole to erase being an original draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks four years ago.
Compiling 28 points in 18 games would be a remarkable professional debut for a center or winger. A defenseman? Those type of stats are never seen from a blue liner.
It’s rare for a defenseman to even approach averaging close to a point a game, but Schultz (10 goals, 18 assists) often contributes two- or three-point games. Blue liners don’t finish in the top 10 in scoring much less lead the entire league.
The type of offensive defenseman every NHL team covets to anchor their power play, Schultz last year was playing at Wisconsin University. This year he’s taken the AHL by storm.
Schultz is off to such a sizzling start he’s created a buzz around the NHL. That was never more evident than when he was booed in Abbotsford, B.C. earlier this month because he signed with the Oilers and not the Canucks.
Eberle, who played in last year’s NHL All-Star game, has scored 11 goals and is second in the AHL with 26 points, trailing only his teammate.
A proven goal scorer during two NHL seasons, Eberle four times has scored two goals in a game for the Barons. But he’s also had games he’s dished out three assists. The lightning quick 2009 first-round pick that’s lethal around the net is capable of someday averaging a point a game in the NHL, an elite club.
Nugent-Hopkins probably would have won the NHL Rookie of the Year award last season if he hadn’t been sidelined 20 games. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft also ranks in the top 10 in the AHL in scoring with 20 points in 18 games.
Age 19, in only his second professional season, Nugent-Hopkins has unlimited potential. You can see why Edmonton executives raved about his high hockey IQ.
Hall, the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, already has two year’s NHL experience. He scored 95 points in 126 games the past two years in Edmonton.
Oilers management understandably was cautious with Hall, coming off shoulder surgery last spring. One of the fastest players in the league, Hall’s ability to beat everyone down the ice is unique. Hall’s speed is evident the first time you see him skate.
Hall also would be among the league scoring leaders but joined the Barons during the season. He’s scored 15 points in 10 games with four goals and 11 assists. That’s a pace that would be 27 points if Hall had played in 18 games like Nugent-Hopkins and Schultz.
It will be difficult for the Oilers’ four young stars — ages 19, 21, 22 and 22 — to maintain their current paces. But Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Schultz and Hall have consistently found the back of net almost every game, sometimes two or three times a game.
In a weekend sweep of South division leader Charlotte, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Schultz scored six goals. Hall dished out six assists.