The Edmonton Oilers, one of the NHL's tradition-rich franchises, has fallen on hard times. The parent club of the Oklahoma City Barons, who play the Texas Stars Tuesday night at the Cox Convention Center, Edmonton has been one of the league's big disappointments this season.
In an offseason player poll of NHL veterans, Edmonton was the No. 1 choice for the team on the rise. The Oilers, though, are last in the Western Conference.
The Oilers, who have missed the playoffs the last seven seasons, are building around Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who all played in Oklahoma City last season during the NHL lockout.
One key to ending the NHL's longest playoff drought is building a quality blueline corps to complement the young stars on offense.
“We have more prospects here than we've had in the past,” said Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish, who played on four Stanley Cup championship teams. “This team (in Oklahoma City) has a little more of an organizational depth look. But it makes for some good competition.”
How that competition plays out might determine how aggressive MacTavish will be in the trade market and free agency next summer.
Justin Schultz, who began his pro career in OKC last season, is one of Edmonton's blueline cornerstones along with veterans Jeff Petry and Andrew Ference. But other spots on defense are up for grabs.
Darnell Nurse, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2013 draft, is stashed in the junior ranks. The talented 18-year-old defensemen eventually will be a key member of Edmonton's blue line.
Denis Gresbeshkov, 20, and Philip Larsen, 24, who were with the Barons earlier this season, currently are with the Oilers.
Oscar Klefbom, 20, Brandon Davidson, 22, and Taylor Fedun, the Princeton product who has battled back from a shattered leg two years ago, all had brief NHL auditions early this season. Another prospect is Martin Marincin, 21.
The trade-off is the Barons lack a veteran presence on the defensive end.
“Usually a lot of (AHL) teams have five- and six-year veterans sprinkled in,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “This group is talented, but they're really young. It's going to take time to get these guys to play consistently well. That's our task. That's our job here, to help develop players.”