Right winger Jordan Eberle is another first-round pick (22nd overall, 2008) and he will battle Yakupov for playing time on one of the top-two lines. Eberle had 16 points and 21 assists in 48 games last season, finishing one point behind Gagner for second place on the team in scoring.
Also back for the Oilers in 2013-14 are Ales Hemsky, who had nine goals and 20 points last season, and fellow winger Ryan Smyth. At 37 years of age, Smyth will try to bounce back from a dreadful 2013 season that saw him post just two goals and 11 assists over 47 games.
There will also be several new faces up front for the Oilers, including left winger David Perron and centerman Boyd Gordon. The 25-year-old Perron, who was acquired from St. Louis in the Paajarvi trade, is a speedy player who had a pair of 20-goal seasons during his time the Blues and is coming off a 10-goal, 25-point effort in 48 games with St. Louis last season.
Gordon, meanwhile, offers little scoring punch but provides depth as a checking centerman. He could help a team like the Oilers, who are loaded with skill, but often skip the dirty work.
Edmonton's main goal this year is, of course, to make the playoffs and getting this talented offense to take the next step is the way to get there.
DEFENSE - While the forward group is loaded with untapped potential, the defense is even more of a work in progress.
While Darnell Nurse, this past summer's first-round pick, could get a shot to make the team, second-year player Justin Schultz will likely log big-time minutes at the top of the rotation.
Schultz was second to Jeff Petry in average ice time during his rookie campaign in 2013, but he certainly experienced some ups-and-downs. Blessed with a dynamic offensive skill set, Schultz led Edmonton's blue line in both goals (8) and assists (19) but he also had a team-worst rating of minus-17.
Petry, who was paired with Schultz for much of last season, had three goals and nine assists in 2013.
MacTavish also brought in veteran blueliner Andrew Ference, a mainstay on Boston's defense over the last several seasons, to try and bring some stability to the back end. A solid all-around defenseman, the 34-year-old Ference signed a four-year, $13-million deal with Edmonton this summer after posting four goals, nine assists and a plus-nine rating in 48 games for the Bruins last year.
Ference could form a shutdown pairing along with Ladislav Smid, who logged major minutes for the Oilers last season despite offering just one goal and three assists over 48 games.
In addition to the 18-year-old Nurse, who was the seventh selection at the most recent draft, the Oilers also boast another highly-touted defenseman in Oscar Klefbom, the 19th overall pick of the 2011 draft. Both players could push older defenseman like Nick Schultz (no relation to Justin) and Corey Potter for playing time in 2013-14, although the veterans appear to have the inside track for at least one more season.
GOALTENDING - Last season, Devan Dubnyk supplanted veteran Nikolai Khabibulin as Edmonton's starting goaltender and enters this season with the No. 1 job all to himself.
Khabibulin departed to sign a free-agent deal with Chicago and the Oilers replaced him with Jason LaBarbera, who at 33 years of age seems to be a better backup option than his 40-year-old predecessor.
Dubnyk performed well under difficult circumstances for the Oilers last season, facing a ton of rubber on a nightly basis thanks in part to a defense that had a rough time getting the puck out of its own end. Still, the 27-year- old managed to record a strong .920 save percentage to go with a 2.57 goals against average and 14-6-6 record in 2013.
LaBarbera is coming off a solid showing in Phoenix, where he went 4-6-2 with a 2.64 GAA and .923 save percentage in 15 games (10 starts) last season.
WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - With the onset of realignment, the Oilers will play this season in the Pacific Division, which will boast four teams -- Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose and Vancouver -- that qualified for the playoffs last spring. The switch could make it difficult for Edmonton to end its lengthy playoff drought this season, unless Eakins finds a way to make everything click in his first year as an NHL head coach. Edmonton desperately needs to prove it's more than just a collection of former high draft picks. But, if they miss the playoffs badly again in 2013-14, MacTavish's roster purge from this past summer could look like a walk in the park.