During the NHL lockout, four of the Edmonton Oilers’ top prospects were sent to the AHL to play for the Oklahoma City Barons. Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz all managed to score at an amazing pace, heightening expectations for the Oilers’ future when the work stoppage ended. All four experienced a great amount of success with the Barons, with Eberle and Schultz finding themselves at the top of the league’s leaderboard in scoring. In fact, it was just a few weeks ago that Eberle finally lost the scoring lead, despite having been in the NHL for almost two months. As the Oilers have struggled to a 10-11-5 record, it remains puzzling why these young players have not been able to translate their success during the lockout into success at the NHL level.
Eberle scored 25 goals and had 51 points in just 34 games for Oklahoma City, but in 26 games for the Oilers he has found the back of the net just six times. Hall joined the Barons for 26 games, scoring 14 goals and adding 20 assists. He has only five goals for Edmonton this season, but does have 18 assists which places him second on the team in scoring. Schultz’s totals with the Oilers have been more than acceptable for a rookie defenseman (five goals, 15 points) but pale in comparison to the 18 goals and 48 points he racked up with the Barons. Nugent-Hopkins is having perhaps the most disappointing season of the four, with only two goals and 11 points. He had eight goals and 20 points in 19 games with the Barons and got to join Team Canada for the World Junior Championship. He scored 18 goals and had 52 points as a rookie last season, but hasn’t developed much chemistry with Eberle and Ryan Jones on the Oilers’ second line this season.
The Oilers have been saying for years that they were building for the future, and with all of the young talent they have on their roster one has to wonder when this “future” is coming. 2012 first overall draft pick Nail Yakupov has flashed moments of greatness, with six goals and 13 points and Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky have proven to be reliable veterans. The Oilers sit within two games of a playoff spot at the moment, but if their young talent doesn’t start delivering, the focus will soon again turn to “next year.”