Edmonton Oilers: Camp preview

For the first time since the last century, the Edmonton Oilers will have a new coach at training camp who will try to inspire the same core group of skaters that finished six points out of a playoff spot last year.
Pat Quinn, left, and Tom Renney bring about 2,000 regular-season and playoff games worth of NHL coaching experience to the Oilers, a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2006. ((Ben Lemphers/Canadian Press))

2008-09 record: 38-35-9,  11th in Western Conference.

New faces: Nikolai Khabibulin (G), Chris Minard (F).

Camp slogan: It's the X's and O's, not the Bobbys and Joes.

There's an interesting experiment about to take place. Edmonton retains nearly all of its players, with a new coaching staff led by Pat Quinn and top assistant Tom Renney. The arrangement could go a long way to explaining who was most to blame for the team's struggles the past three seasons.

Last year at this time, goalies Dwayne Roloson, Mathieu Garon and Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers participated in camp. Only Drouin-Deslauriers remains, with veteran Nikolai Khabibulin offered a lot of money to be the go-to guy for the next four years.

The Oilers are so pressed against the salary cap that there won't be a lot of changes, which is why the possible return of journeyman forward Mike Comrie has received a disproportionate amount of attention.

Edmonton has four home games in the pre-season and also plays in Saskatoon on Sept. 20 and Winnipeg on Sept. 24.

Young blood: Jordan Eberle

With roster space scarce, there is a very real possibility that no new youngsters will join the Oilers.

Eberle is the top candidate. He has a year of junior eligibility left, but he's a precocious talent who has risen to the challenge at the under-18 and junior world championships, where he was coached by Quinn. He even averaged a point per game in an American Hockey League stint late last season.

Time to make a move: Robbie Schremp

The resistance to Schremp from former coach Craig MacTavish is a bit puzzling. Sure, Schremp didn't set the world on fire in the AHL after impressive junior numbers and YouTube displays of flash, but it's not like Edmonton was scoring goals by the bucketload. The Oilers have been in the bottom half of the league in goal scoring the last three years, with not a single player over 23 goals at season's end.

Schremp should have extra motivation given the new coaches and the fact that for the first time in his career, he can be plucked off waivers by another NHL club if Edmonton sends him back down to the AHL.

X-factor: Devan Dubnyk

It's been assumed that Drouin-Deslauriers will be the backup, but 10 career NHL games worth of experience isn't an ironclad guarantee, and it's not like Khabibulin hasn't had his share of injuries in the past.

So, former Canadian world junior team member Dubnyk can do himself a world of good with a strong camp. He took a step forward last year by carrying a No. 1 goalie's load in Springfield. All that said, it's most likely that he's headed for another year of seasoning with the Falcons.

On the spot: Dustin Penner

It's tempting to select Andrew Cogliano, who dipped in his sophomore season and then had to endure his name being leaked in association with a deal with Dany Heatley that was on the table until the Ottawa star rejected it.

But no player should be more motivated to make a good first impression in front of the new brain trust on the ice than Dustin Penner. In 2008-09, the big forward scored the fewest points of any of his three NHL seasons and even spent time in the press box.

Penner this season will pass the halfway point of the ballyhooed offer sheet contract he signed in 2007.