Predicting the Oilers' 2009/10 line-ups

Jason Gregor
September 21 2009 11:18AM

lineup-whiteboard

After five games in six days, the Oilers will get a bit of a break before they continue their pre-season on Wednesday against the Flames.

The final three pre-season games should be better and more competitive than the first five because we'll see more NHL lineups this week. I don’t know if the first five games made the line combination picture any clearer.

Ryan Rishaug from TSN and I were debating what the combinations would look like come October 3rd. We both agreed that this year there doesn’t seem to be many spots that are secure. Ales Hemsky will be the 1st line right winger, and Stortini will play the right side on the fourth line, but after that the possibilities are endless.

I asked Rishaug to jot down his thoughts on the lines, and I’ll toss in mine as well. I’m guessing most of you will agree with some combos and disagree with others.

Ryan Rishaug's Oilers Lineup

Trying to piece together lines for the Oilers this season reminds me of looking through my closet for a suit to wear. I have the trusted "go to" combos that look relatively okay, and have worked in the past, yet they just feel a little stale.

I did find an old suit in the back of the closet that I hadn't worn in some time, and once I had it dry-cleaned and pressed, I remembered how nice it actually was, so it’s back in the rotation. Other than that, there are a lot of familiar looks.  Below is the mundane Monday to Friday look.

Penner — Horcoff — Hemsky

Comrie — Gagner — O’Sullivan

Moreau — Cogliano — Pisani

Jacques — Brule — Stortini

Pouliot Nilsson

But for the sake of this article, let's pretend for a moment, that I am standing not in front of my own closet, but instead that of Jason Gregor.  A closet filled with crazy colours, impossible combinations and endless options. And oh yeah, let's say it’s Friday night, not Monday morning. In this world, anything is possible, and like Gregor, I'm sure I will be mocked, but it is someone else's closet, so let's indulge.

Cogliano — Gagner — Hemsky

Comrie — Horcoff — O’Sullivan

Moreau — Brule — Penner

Jacques — Pisani — Stortini

Pouliot

MacIntyre

The first thing you'll notice is no Horcoff with Hemsky. It's time for Gagner to get some time with the big man and see what he can do. And enough of this talk of Cogliano being a third-line centre. He has a 25-goal and 60-point potential, but needs top-six minutes and some offence around him to make it happen.

Comrie and O’Sullivan have been great in pre-season together, why break up a good thing?  Brule is fast, and plays hard. A year of consistent minutes next to the captain would do him a world of good. In cases where the Oil need a shut down line, Comrie drops down to line three with Brule and Penner, while Moreau joins O’Sullivan and Horcoff as a shut down line.

There's been talk of Pisani perhaps not making this team, and while I believe he is in tough, I believe he'll be there, but perhaps as a fourth liner. He has played some centre, and even out of position is an upgrade on Pouliot as a fourth line centre. He's also a valuable penalty killer. Out of the mix in this scenario, is Nilsson and a savings of two million on the cap.

There are a few problems with this configuration. Penner is back on his off-wing, and the top line is pretty small, but the way this team is built, those two problems won't be avoided in any configuration. Also, Brule has to play extremely well to stay on that third line. If not, perhaps Pisani can bump up, but I'd like to see Brule get a shot.

So here I stand, in the middle of the busy bar on a Friday wearing light brown pointy shoes with dragons on them, tight blue jeans, and a shirt that looks like it was just torn off the back of Garth Brooks mid-concert. My glasses have bizarre bright green rims, but at least they match my earrings.

Go ahead, mock all you like. At least it’s not a boring black suit with a blue shirt and red tie; nice enough to wear on TV for a quick live hit or stand up, but not nearly nice enough to anchor Sportscentre, or for the VIP door at the bar. The defence by the way is already set, so no sense speculating.

My Oilers Lineup

I’m stunned that Rishaug’s combinations are a bit outside the box, because like his wardrobe, he rarely colours outside the lines.

I think it will take Pat Quinn and company at least ten regular season games before they know exactly what they have, but it's obvious that they want guys who won’t take short cuts anywhere on the ice.

I would like to see Gagner get a shot with Hemsky, but I see it happening as the season progresses, not from the start, so here goes.

Penner — Horcoff — Hemsky

Comrie — Gagner — O’Sullivan

Moreau — Cogliano — Pisani

Jacques — Brule — Stortini

Nilsson

MacIntyre

I think Penner is a better fit with Cogliano and Pisani, but I can’t justify putting Nilsson on that line to start the season, unless he rips it up in the final three pre-season games.

I also think Cogliano will eventually find himself in the top six, but not on October 3rd. I know these lines don’t look very different, but outside of Comrie and O’Sullivan no other combinations have produced so far. Hemsky likes playing with Horcoff, and since Gagner and Hemsky haven’t done anything yet, I doubt they will start the year together.

If — and it is a big if — Jacques plays more games like he did against Florida and less like his effort in Calgary, I can see him getting some shifts with the skilled guys. They will need some size and aggression in the top six at some point.

That's why I put Penner up top. Because they need some size in the top six, and even if he doesn’t use it all the time, he is still a better option than Nilsson at this point. Penner looks a step quicker, because he is actually moving his feet and if he continues to do that he will stay in Quinn’s good books.

What about Eberle or Stone?

Eberle has looked good in the pre-season, but how many points has he put up against NHL/AHL lineups? Zero. There is no point rushing the kid and he will be back in Regina by the end of the week I’d expect.

Stone has shown good energy, but he won’t be taking Pisani’s spot just yet. Stone has put himself in a position to be the first call up, when the injury bug inevitably shows up. Pre-season games against non-NHL lineups will not win him a job on the team, and while you might think it isn’t fair, the fact is Moreau and Pisani are more proven NHL third-liners.

Based on some short conversations I’ve had with coaches and some members of management, even they don’t know which combinations are the best. The whiteboard in the coaches’ office will have plenty of options, and we might get a clearer picture tomorrow when they return to the ice after their first day off since camp started.

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#151 jeff
September 22 2009, 10:32AM
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@ Ender the Dragon: I'm not really looking at Comrie replacing Horcoff. I'm not even looking at him playing center.

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#152 Ender the Dragon
September 22 2009, 12:41PM
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@ jeff: Now you're speaking my language. Before the signing, I wasn't even looking at him playing for the Oilers. :-)

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#153 Ogden Brother
September 22 2009, 08:56PM
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jeff wrote:

@ Ender the Dragon: LOL on the first part and yes. Thing is even going back to last year did Horcoff ever generate anything on his own? I think Comrie is better in that department.

The team as a whole did produce at a far better clip when Horc was out without Hemsky then it did when Hemsky was out without Horc. I don't think that tells the whole story, but it certainly does give support to the theory that Horc does at least have a competent level of offensive abbility.

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#154 Jkumar
September 22 2009, 10:59PM
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Here it is:

Penner-Horcoff-Hemsky

Comrie-O'Sullivan=Gagner

Moreau-Cogliano-Pisani

Jacques-Brule- Stortini

Macintyre

Stone

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