Oilers eager to end playoff drought

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EDMONTON, ALBERTA (AP) - With a roster full of young talent, the Edmonton Oilers are eager to end their lengthy playoff drought.

They’ve missed the postseason since losing to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup final.

Two years into a top-to-bottom rebuild that’s seen them finish last overall the past two seasons, the Oilers have a long way to go to become contenders.

Coach Tom Renney’s team is laden with talented forwards in Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the first overall picks in 2010 and 2011, as well as former first-rounders Jordan Hall, Magnus Paajarvi and Ales Hemsky.

Edmonton added to its core of veterans with Ryan Smyth, back for a second tour, Cam Barker, Andy Sutton, Eric Belanger, Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk.

In goal, Devan Dubnyk begins his third NHL season looking ready to take the starter’s job away from veteran 38-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin, who is coming off two subpar seasons.

There’s no place to go but up.

“We’re still a lump of coal in lots of ways, but it certainly has great potential,” Renney said. “The players of real influence are young, you know, and they still have a lot to learn.”

Renney talked about making the playoffs last season. However, the club didn’t have nearly enough depth to overcome long-term injuries to Ryan Whitney, captain Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner, Hemsky and Hall.

“Our mindset is definitely making the playoffs,” Horcoff said. “We want to be a competitive team right through the end of March and early April.

“Really, the only way you’re going to get some of these young guys to grow is to get them in pressure situations, where the intensity is at a level where they’ve never played before. It’s important for us to get to that.”

With Hall, Paajarvi and Eberle back for their sophomore seasons, Nugent-Hopkins on the roster, a healthy Hemsky and the addition of Smyth, the Oilers should have a more potent attack. They will have to be _ Edmonton scored just 193 goals last season, 28th in the NHL.

“I really believe we’ve got a lot of depth at forward,” Hall said. “We had some guys come in last year, myself included, who weren’t used to the NHL.

“I think this year we have a little bit more of a grasp on it. The guys we added, like Smyth, Eager and Hordichuk, they can play. That creates some competition for jobs, for what line you play on. If you want to be a playoff team, there has to be that competition.”

Hall had 22 goals and 42 points in just 65 games. A concussion and shoulder injury requiring surgery limited Hemsky to 47 games.

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