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Will Ralph Krueger help young Edmonton Oilers stars reach their potential?

Sean Leahy
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Ralph Krueger became the 10th head coach in Edmonton Oilers history on Wednesday, being promoted from associate coach. He takes over a collection of young talent that features three straight first overall NHL Draft picks, including Nail Yakupov, who was taken last weekend.

"We have skill in our room that's so exciting," said Krueger. "The winning is a byproduct, and not as a focus. The focus will be the excellence, our execution, our practices. You will not come to a practice where you will see us in any way, shape or form compromising our quality."

After finally relieving Tom Renney of his duties in May, Oilers GM Steve Tambellini decided to keep the job in-house -- not, say, go the Brent Sutter route -- and promote Krueger.

(As John MacKinnon of the Edmonton Journal points out, the Montreal Canadiens have replaced their GM, head coach and entire hockey operations staff with outside hires in the time Tambellini finally decided on a head coach.)

Krueger's previous head coaching experience was in Europe and as Head Coach of the Swiss National Team.

"I think about him in the Olympics, playing against Team Canada, and Ralph motivating a group to install a belief they could beat Team Canada, which is a feat in itself. Just to have the belief that you could accomplish something like this," said Tambellini, of the Swiss upset of Canada in 2006.

"For hockey, that was an incredible moment, but I know why that happened. You speak to players that have played with him, and they talk about leadership, clarity and motivation. Everyone come up with different types of tactics, but it's the person they want to play for. He has a reputation that people want to play for him, and want to win for him."

Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger are back as assistants for the Oilers, helping Krueger take over a team he feels has the potential to be successful if given the right guidance.

"We'll base this on respect. I guess I could call it 'tough empathy' as a leader," said Krueger, 52, who signed a 3-year deal. "We've all heard the word 'potential' here so often for the last few years, and I need to find, as a leader, in every player that path where he can go to his potential individually. Then the group automatically will reach its potential."

So what are the expectations for Krueger?

Lowetide laid out five key issues Krueger will need to check off his list this season, including further developing the young talent currently residing in Edmonton. Earlier this month, Tambellini spoke to the media about the coaching search and talked about needing the right person in place to take the Oilers to the next step, the one that come after three straight last place finishes:

"We have a general direction of what we want to do ... We're going to get the right person that can push people to the right expectations that we feel are going to take place over the next few years ... We have to grow this team properly. We still have to have people that can teach and motivate and all the things that players in the NHL expect today out of their coaching staff."

Like everyone else, Krueger sees what's potentially budding in Edmonton and as he told the Edmonton Sun's Terry Jones he's done playing the associate coach/buddy role with the players.

"I'm not interested in my own popularity. I don't need anybody to like me. It's about liking the results.

"I know how much potential I feel there is in Edmonton. I don't think there's any question there's a big upside. It's there. But it's going to take a lot of hard work in the next while to get there."

Jason Strudwick over at Oilers Nation wrote that this is Tambellini's most important hire because, well, if this fails, then down goes Tambellini.

Edmonton's last playoff game was Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final. Six playoff-less seasons later, the word "rebuild" is getting tiresome with the faithful. After three straight seasons of No. 1 overall picks, the time is now for the Oilers to begin the process of showing progress.

Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy

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