As the World Junior Championships have now drawn to a close, there’s little for an Oilers fan to do other than wait for Jordan Eberle, Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson and (fingers crossed) Taylor Hall to deliver us from the day-to-day drudgery of supporting this team. I mostly followed the WJC through the game threads at Lowetide’s site – I did watch last night’s game – but I understand that Pierre McGuire has taken a shine to Pääjärvi-Svensson and effectively stated that he has to be in the NHL next season.
The pressure on the Oilers to put Pääjärvi-Svensson and (touch wood) Hall on the team next year will be immense. I assume that Eberle is as close to a lock as one can be – the Oilers are going to be selling hope and Eberle, with the last two WJC’s, basically personifies hope. “Sure we’ve missed the playoffs for four years, have a ton of bad contracts and it seems impossible that we’ll make the playoffs. It seemed impossible for Canada to beat Russia down by one with ten seconds left or to come back against the United States down by two but Eberle did it. He’ll help us achieve the impossible this year.” Eberle’s twenty next year, so I’ve got no issue with him making the team if he’s good enough to do so.
Pääjärvi-Svensson and (wishing hard) Hall are another question though. If they were to make the team next year, they’ll qualify for salary arbitration and free agency sooner than they otherwise would. Sam Gagner is going to be looking for a new deal at the end of this season after making the team at 18 and his first two years with the Oilers were pretty pointless – he wasn’t a difference maker.
I was curious about how well run teams do this, so I took a look at the Devils during Lou Lamoriello’s tenure. Since he took over in 1987, only three teens have played with the Devils enough to impact their contractual status: Brendan Shanahan, Scott Niedermayer and Petr Sykora. Shanahan and Niedermayer played so long ago that I’m not sure that the rules were even the same – there may well have been no implications with respect to their contracts in starting them in the NHL as teenagers. The Devils, however, have had an amazing array of excellent players who’ve made the team at 20 or 21 and had an impact: Jason Smith, Brian Rolston, Sheldon Souray, Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac.
Could some of those guys have made the team sooner? Undoubtedly. It does, however, seem to me that the Devils have been very careful about who makes their team as a teenager – when two of the three are surefire Hall of Famers, the bar has been set very high. If a team can enjoy as much success as the Devils have without letting the talented youngsters make the team at the age of 18 or 19, I’m not sure that there’s a really compelling argument that the Oilers need to be placing Pääjärvi-Svensson or (whispered prayer) Hall on the team next season. Add Eberle and wait.