The Big Picture View of the Small Forwards

Jonathan Willis
September 25 2009 05:00AM

Small hockey player

The Oilers, as of right now, have nine forwards under 6’ tall on their roster. Four of those forwards are locks for the team, and two more are likely.

Locks

  • Sam Gagner: 5’11”
  • Patrick O’Sullivan: 5’11”
  • Andrew Cogliano: 5’10”
  • Mike Comrie: 5’10”

Likely

  • Robert Nilsson: 5’11”
  • Gilbert Brule: 5’10”

Possible

  • Rob Schremp: 5’11”
  • Jordan Eberle: 5’10”
  • Liam Reddox: 5’10”

Of that group four of those guys (Gagner, Cogliano, Comrie, Nilsson) are not a fit anywhere but on a scoring line, although Gagner and Cogliano might be able to grow into two-way players.

Additionally, Patrick O’Sullivan is probably best utilized in a scoring role against less than stellar opposition, and Gilbert Brule hasn’t shown that he’s capable of playing a defensive role; in other words, everyone but O’Sullivan needs to be put in a position to succeed – not too many own-zone starts, and not too many shifts against the Getzlafs and Iginlas of the league.

This is all relatively common knowledge, and has been discussed ad nauseum on message boards, radio, TV, and this site.

Let’s Step One Year Forward

Does anyone here believe that Jordan Eberle isn’t going to get a push next season, or that he’ll be anywhere other than on the Oilers’ roster? He should go back to junior this year, but the fact that he’s pushed his way into the conversation at this camp, combined with his draft pedigree means that he’ll almost certainly be an Oiler in 2010-11.

Let’s not forget 5’9” Linus Omark. Omark is coming off a tremendous season in Sweden, and so far has apparently had some issues with his KHL team. Maybe he makes the team, maybe he doesn’t; either way, it seems very likely that he’s going to challenge for a spot on the roster next season.

Next, we consider Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson. Paajarvi isn’t in the same range size-wise (6’1”, 201lbs) as the other players we’re considering, but his skill-set certainly is: he’s a young player with offensive talent who needs to round out his defensive game and probably needs some shelter from his coaching staff when he comes to North America. Maybe he starts next season in the AHL, but it’s easily within the realm of possibility that he pushes for a roster spot.

The Oilers are going to need to make decisions on all three of these guys, and it’s very difficult to imagine that either Eberle or Paajarvi are going to be tossed aside. Based on what he did in Sweden, it also seems like it would be a shame to send out Omark without taking a look at him.

In Other Words…

The Oilers are over-stocked with small players with a largely offense-only mindset. They have three remarkable prospects coming in next season, all of whom are going to be (at least initially) of much the same skill-set.

Individually, there’s an argument to be made for every one of these players. Gagner and Cogliano are obviously valuable players. Robert Nilsson, coming off a bad season, continues to show flashes of brilliance and is a guy who would be nice to keep. Mike Comrie’s had a strong preseason, and brings some experience and edge that the other players don’t. Patrick O’Sullivan has a few skills (shooter, penalty-killer) in short supply on the Oilers, and on top of that has put up better totals in the NHL than any of the other young guys. Gilbert Brule was a 6th overall pick in 2005 and has untapped offensive ability and a physical edge.

The fact of the matter though, is that however valuable these players are individually, there isn’t room for all of them. Certainly one, probably two and possibly as many as three are going to be shipped out by the start of next season.

Barring an outstanding return, Gagner, Cogliano and O’Sullivan are the three currently on the roster that I would keep.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 Chris
September 25 2009, 09:49AM
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Anyone listen to Quinn's post game comments?

"Three faceoffs cost us the game"

or

"we lost the actual war in the middle"

Sounds like old man Quinn figured out after only part of one training camp what we all already know; what management refuses to adress: This team needs another gritty, faceoff specialist down the middle.

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#52 blu
September 25 2009, 09:51AM
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@ scorecoff hemmercules:

point very much taken. I obviously didn't see that, and had no idea he was nearly that ambitious.

Is it really that hard to find a faceoff man with a little depth?

Beyond all the carbon copy small guy scenarios we've talked over, where are we on the "our top six (with 1 or 2 exceptions) are 3rd and 4rth line guys on almost any other team in the NHL" issue? I think Death Metal Nightmare brought this same issue up with different wording around comment #28 or so ...

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#53 Chris
September 25 2009, 09:52AM
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Watty wrote:

Horcoff-Hemsky-Jaques

JFJ: from goat to star in three short pre-season games. Amazing.

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#54 Ender the Dragon
September 25 2009, 09:53AM
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blu wrote:

Why we didn’t pick up Manny “mile-away” Malhotra in the off season, I’ll never know.

scorecoff hemmercules wrote:

We never had a shot at him and probably never will unless he wins the cup in SJ this year.

True; it was reported that he turned down $8M over 4 years to go to the Sharks. No way Edmonton was offering more than that, even if Manny would have given it any thought. He was never an option.

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#55 RossCreek
September 25 2009, 09:53AM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

If that was the regular season no FO guy cost us a point.

If that was regular season, its prob Horcoff out there for the faceoff. He wasn't in the lineup last night. Stone lost the draw, but Grebeshkov let the winger get it back to the point. If you tie up the wingers, the center can lose the faceoff but you could still gain control of the puck. Bob Cob wrote:

aren’t Pisani, Staios and Nilsson UFA’s next year

Staios, Moreau & Nilsson all have another year after this year on their deals. sofapimp wrote:

i know this is old news but even last night the kids seem to be apart from vets even celebrating after a goal...my bad no vets were on ice for goals

LOL

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#56 RossCreek
September 25 2009, 09:55AM
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Chris wrote:

Watty wrote: Horcoff-Hemsky-Jaques JFJ: from goat to star in three short pre-season games. Amazing.

Nilsson did it overnight.

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#57 Ender the Dragon
September 25 2009, 09:55AM
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@ blu: Your point stands, though. Free agents (Betts) or trades (Steckel) should have been a huge priority over the Comrie signing.

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#58 Jimmy
September 25 2009, 09:58AM
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scorecoff hemmercules wrote:

There’s no motivation for guys like Hemsky and Souray who are pretty much a lock to play on the first line.

Souray makes better decisions with the puck than Staios does - that doesn't necessarily require a whole lot of effort, and it's not really something you can 'turn off'.

I was actually pretty unimpressed with Gilbert last night, too. It seemed like he couldn't hold the blue line if his life depended on it.

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#59 Ogden Brother Jr.
September 25 2009, 09:59AM
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Ender the Dragon wrote:

@ blu: Your point stands, though. Free agents (Betts) or trades (Steckel) should have been a huge priority over the Comrie signing.

Betts isn't all that great on the draw, but he brings the PK. Steckel never was and never will be an option.

Moore is still out there if we really want someone.

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#60 scorecoff hemmercules
September 25 2009, 10:03AM
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@ Chris: @ blu:

In my opinion management wanted to see what they had in all their rookies before they cast them aside and start bringing in more vets and faceoff guys. Being against the cap and full of contracts didn't help the situation either.

Can Brule be good enough on the dot and play gritty enough to make the team without adding a gritty faceoff guy??? Can Schremp be good enough on the dot and play defensively enough to crack our top nine??? Can Cogs be good enough at center to stay there?? Can some of our bigger young prospects play well enough to crack the roster and play gritty roles??

These are the questions that get answered in training camp and pre-season games. If the guys we have can't step up and fill those holes in the first few weeks of the season then people become expendable and will be traded, bought out, waivered or demoted. At least I hope thats what Tambo has planned.

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#61 RossCreek
September 25 2009, 10:04AM
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@ Ogden Brother Jr.: Jerrid Smithson is a pretty good faceoff guy. If he's available and Nashvile & the Oil are talking, he'd be one of the better guys out there that is available. He's got size too.

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#62 Igor Ulanov
September 25 2009, 10:06AM
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There still is a faceoff king left out there that is a UFa and has been skating. Mike Peca. You put Peca in tha tsituation last night, the draw was ours and we are going into a shoot out. The guy can win battles as well. Peca has been through the wars Quinn is talking about and he also enjoyed his time in Edmonton. I know his preferance is to play on the East Coast, but no body has offered him a deal. Why don't we dump 2 players on waivers, see if they get picked up and sign Peca to a one year deal and let him and Souray re shape the leadership of this group.

I would also like to see Tambo put it all on the line this Trade Deadline and try to aquire Kovalchuk. I don't care if it takes Cogliano, Gilbert and 2 first rounders! The 2 first rounders likely will not turn out to be pure Snipes like Kovalchuk. Get him in Edmonton at the Deadline, Sign him long term, front loaded before they change the CBA rules, pry Jagr out of Russia and this will be one hell of an exciting team again.

Rumor has it as well, The Oilers are looking at video of Tootoo and Hamuis. They like Pisani and Nilsson? If this is a true rumour, pull that trigger faster than Marty St Louis one timer in the back of our net last night. That guy is a beauty.

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#63 jayoilfan
September 25 2009, 10:06AM
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I was not impressed with much of the Oilers last might. No kidding the face offs were bad. It isn't that the Oilers lost the draw outight it was wingers etc not covering thier man and letting the lightning players get to the puck first.

So frustrating. I think it is going to be a long and frustrating season.

and I'll be there for every minute to cheer them on! and then visit ON to either cheer some more or bitch and complain... GO Oilers GO!

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#64 jake
September 25 2009, 10:08AM
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Death Metal Nightmare wrote:

you could also look at this from another perspective: the Oilers are built so bad, currently, from top to bottom, that ALL of these young players are being depended on for possible spots. what does that say about the team? well, for one – they draft like crap. two, the vets they have on this team are so mediocre/bad that they have to push the maturation process of a lot of these players, yet at the same time the vets HARDLY help these types of players fit in and transition properly because… welp, they SUCK. these vets can hardly handle their own roles properly, let alone help ween the talents along if 4-6 twenty year old kids. why? because theyre missing elite talent that eases the mental load on players (wow, Chris Pronger sure helped) so they can find their game. this team is just spinning its wheels season after season until there is a true paradigm shift in the roster structure. and with how geographically handicapped the team is – thats only coming through trades or drafting. most likely the slow, long process of drafting.

I for one think you nailed this on the head looking at the broader, bigger picture. We have to hope the players over achieve every year due to lack of proven elite talent (elite is operative word). Damn Pronger, he was the "paradigm shift" going forward from 2005-06 and we "had" him. Anyway..go oil and down with the sunbelt.

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#65 Ogden Brother Jr.
September 25 2009, 10:13AM
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@ RossCreek: RossCreek wrote:

@ Ogden Brother Jr.: Jerrid Smithson is a pretty good faceoff guy. If he’s available and Nashvile & the Oil are talking, he’d be one of the better guys out there that is available. He’s got size too.

Yep, I looked up his numbers and such yesterday and he should be someone that we target. Thing is there a tonne of these guys we should target, but are they available?

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#66 scorecoff hemmercules
September 25 2009, 10:19AM
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Cult of hockey has a decent article on our PK, which actually hasn't looked too bad so far from what I've seen. Improving our PK would be a huge step forward.

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#67 BingBong
September 25 2009, 10:19AM
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Chris wrote:

Anyone listen to Quinn’s post game comments? “Three faceoffs cost us the game” or “we lost the actual war in the middle” Sounds like old man Quinn figured out after only part of one training camp what we all already know; what management refuses to adress: This team needs another gritty, faceoff specialist down the middle.

Did Quinn say anything else of interest?? I missed the post game.

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#68 scorecoff hemmercules
September 25 2009, 10:21AM
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@ BingBong:

hxxp://www.coppernblue.com/2009/9/25/1054026/more-wisdom-from-pat-quinn

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#69 Chris
September 25 2009, 10:21AM
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scorecoff hemmercules wrote:

These are the questions that get answered in training camp and pre-season games. If the guys we have can’t step up and fill those holes in the first few weeks of the season then people become expendable and will be traded, bought out, waivered or demoted. At least I hope thats what Tambo has planned.

Or it'll be:

"I like to give the team at least twenty games to properly evaluate what we have moving forward"

Followed by:

"I've seen some positve things... guys are still adjusting to a new system. Quinn's doing an excellent job with our young players"

And then:

"Let's see what happens after the Olympic break. We've got some injuries, guys need some time to recharge their batteries and mentally refocus. Young players can be inconsistant at times, it's a mental thing, the break will do us good."

Then more of this:

"We're still very much in the hunt. We just need some guys to step it up a little. The next few games will decide if we are going to actively pursue guys at the deadline. It's difficult to make deals right now."

Finally:

"It's been disappointing. We've had some guys underachieve... we'll have to get better. There will definately be changes this offseason..."

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#70 OilFanAroundCalgary
September 25 2009, 10:25AM
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The size issue is everywhere this training camp, getting a guy like Tootoo does bring a physical element yes, but the guy is only like five foot four. What we need is a guy who is willing to come here and win some draws here and there, this team for all its physical shortcomings are fast. The game last night showed the skill and speed that these guys can play with. If anything the NHL is not necessarily a big mans game anymore. These things are magnified by the talking heads at TSN and Sportsnet who will hammer it into our collective psychies about how the Oilers don't stand a chance against bigger more physical teams.

The reall issue here is the same as it was last year, lack of faceoff ability and leadership. Skill and speed can only take us so far, I wanna see Tambo go out there and find a veteran warrior who knows a thing or two about faceoffs. All the ingredients are here for a winner, the young guys need someone who has battle written and beaten into his face. With all the rule changes that took place after the lockout this isn't the same waterskiing, clutching, holding and grabbing game it used to be. And the small forward issue is just something they use to constantly put our team down. They already have the excitement going for Toronto because they got Phil Kessel and a few goons. Don't believe all the hype, this team has the weapons to bust a game wide open, small forwards and all.

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#71 scorecoff hemmercules
September 25 2009, 10:30AM
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@ Chris:

Haha, it's almost scary how much those quotes sound like Tambo!

All I'm saying is that we have a group of 1st and 2nd round guys that are on the bubble and probably won't be part of the oilers after this year if they don't make it now. Might as well give them the chance before we never see them again. Lowe and company probably don't want to look like complete idiots and are hoping some of these draft picks work out.

Chris wrote:

“We’re still very much in the hunt. We just need some guys to step it up a little. The next few games will decide if we are going to actively pursue guys at the deadline. It’s difficult to make deals right now.”

No matter what happens this season, this is the position I see us at around the Olympic break. This is not a team that will be in 5th or 6th place this year, anyone would be crazy to think so IMO.

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#72 BingBong
September 25 2009, 10:34AM
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scorecoff hemmercules wrote:

@ BingBong: hxxp://www.coppernblue.com/2009/9/25/1054026/more-wisdom-from-pat-quinn

Nice, thanks.

Can someone tell me why we didn't sign Betts?? Just looking at his numbers...good on faceoffs, great penalty killer, the perfect 4th line center. Renney loved him in NY, and he was born in Edmonton. He made $615,000 last year - would probably get around $650,000 this year according to a Phili paper I just read. The one issue the paper mentioned was that he had a bad injury during the playoffs last year, but I don't remember that...

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#73 Ogden Brother Jr.
September 25 2009, 10:37AM
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@ BingBong: I really think that management thought Pouilot and Brule could be that guy. Now I don't agree with them not grabbing someone, but why else wouldn't they get someone?

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#74 cableguy
September 25 2009, 10:40AM
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Igor Ulanov wrote:

and try to aquire Kovalchuk. I don’t care if it takes Cogliano, Gilbert and 2 first rounders! The 2 first rounders likely will not turn out to be pure Snipes like Kovalchuk.

you want to trade that much for a rental player?

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#75 scorecoff hemmercules
September 25 2009, 10:41AM
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@ BingBong:

If Renney loved Betts some much like I always hear I think he would have been here already. Like OB jr. said, they must have thought they could fill the role from within or we would have someone by now.

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#76 cableguy
September 25 2009, 10:42AM
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cableguy wrote:

Igor Ulanov wrote: and try to aquire Kovalchuk. I don’t care if it takes Cogliano, Gilbert and 2 first rounders! The 2 first rounders likely will not turn out to be pure Snipes like Kovalchuk. you want to trade that much for a rental player?

i may have misread the post.

you want to deal that for kovalchuk assuming he has agreed to a long term extension?

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#77 RossCreek
September 25 2009, 10:42AM
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BREAKING… Darren Millard just said on HockeyCentral that no Theo Fleury at practice today… More to come… (if you care, I know its not Oilers)

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#78 scorecoff hemmercules
September 25 2009, 10:47AM
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@ RossCreek:

I read the other day that it was pretty much agreed by Fleury and Sutter that he would start the season in Abbottsford, and Fleury was happy with that. I think he still has a head for the game and some decent hands but the speed and physicallity have caught up wth him. He will get called I'm sure as soon as someone gets hurt. I tried to bet a die hard flames fan last nught that Fleury would play less than 40 games in the NHL for the rest of his life, he didn't take the bet.

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#79 Chris
September 25 2009, 10:47AM
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Comrie scored thirty goals and sixty points as a twenty one year old player... a few off ice issues, and some injuries later: the Oilers are able to pick him up for a million and change in the flower of his career. He has clearly outperformed many of our skill guys at camp and may turn out to be a nice addition.

So what does this tell you about the true value of our small skilled players when a guy like Comrie can be so easily aquired, and is so obviously an upgrade?

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#80 RossCreek
September 25 2009, 10:47AM
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Flames release Fleury.

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#81 Andrew W
September 25 2009, 10:48AM
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@ Jonathan Willis: Jonathan Willis wrote:

RE: MPS as this season’s Eberle, it’s important to remember that MPS is a) bigger b) a much higher draft pick. I’d like to see him in the AHL next season, but I’d be very surprised if the Oilers don’t put him in the roster at 19, since he’s a better prospect than Eberle.

Won't MPS be ineligible for the AHL next season if he's only 19, though? Based on this, I thought he'd probably follow in the footsteps of other prominent Sweedes and stay in the SEL for an extra season or two.

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#82 RossCreek
September 25 2009, 10:53AM
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Andrew W wrote:

Won’t MPS be ineligible for the AHL next season if he’s only 19, though?

He is eligible because he's European. That rule is in place for WHL, OHL & QMJHL players so that those leagues don't lose all their top 19 year olds.

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#83 Ogden Brother Jr.
September 25 2009, 10:57AM
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@ Andrew W: Because he is a Euro he can play in the AHL. I rather him stay in Sweden and then the AHL, seemed to work for Detroit.

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#84 Jay
September 25 2009, 10:58AM
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Jimmy wrote:

BingBong wrote: I thought JDD looked pretty good last night, but not good enough to save this Oilers team. He’s still shaky, and his puck handling is weak. Understatement of the year. JDD coming out to play the puck is as suspenseful as Datsyuk on a breakaway.

And yet JDD is still about 10,000 times better with the puck than roloson. that guy was a shaky puckhandler

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#85 Jay
September 25 2009, 10:58AM
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and for everyone hating on brule's game last night, he had a few good chances around the next and set up gilbert with a beautiful pass for gilbert's goal

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#86 BigE57
September 25 2009, 10:59AM
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@ RossCreek:

We could add him to the Oilers list of small forwards........

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#87 Ogden Brother
September 25 2009, 10:59AM
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RossCreek wrote:

Flames release Fleury.

Where's Sandra?

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#88 scorecoff hemmercules
September 25 2009, 11:00AM
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@ Jay:

Haha Roli wasn't that shaky, he just had no peripheral vision! I hope Bulin does a couple of those Roli zone clearing puck swats just for some laughs.

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#89 Ogden Brother Jr.
September 25 2009, 11:01AM
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@ Jay: I really wasn't bothered by many of our forwards play. Never noticed Stortini and Mcintyre. I thought Schremp had some nice passes, thought Reddox skated really well. Stone was up and down for me. Really the only guy that drove me nuts was Moreau up front.

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#90 Jay
September 25 2009, 11:02AM
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Igor Ulanov wrote:

would also like to see Tambo put it all on the line this Trade Deadline and try to aquire Kovalchuk

i think this is the oilers nation's view of heaven.

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#91 Chris
September 25 2009, 11:03AM
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Jay wrote:

and for everyone hating on brule’s game last night, he had a few good chances around the next and set up gilbert with a beautiful pass for gilbert’s goal

How about three brutal turnovers and the fact that he was knocked around like a supermodel in a hurricane?

We already have enough Nancy's who can make a pretty pass or two after an otherwise underwhelming performance.

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#92 scorecoff hemmercules
September 25 2009, 11:05AM
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Chris wrote:

Comrie scored thirty goals and sixty points as a twenty one year old player… a few off ice issues, and some injuries later: the Oilers are able to pick him up for a million and change in the flower of his career. He has clearly outperformed many of our skill guys at camp and may turn out to be a nice addition. So what does this tell you about the true value of our small skilled players when a guy like Comrie can be so easily aquired, and is so obviously an upgrade?

Well we apparently won't trade Gagner away for anything and Cogs was requested in a trade for one of the best scoring forwards in the league. I would say that there is some value there. Can't say the same for Nilsson an Poo. I think Tambo had his hand pushed on the Comrie deal, why else would he sign him????

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#93 RossCreek
September 25 2009, 11:06AM
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@ Ogden Brother: LOL

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#94 Jay
September 25 2009, 11:07AM
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scorecoff hemmercules wrote:

Haha Roli wasn’t that shaky, he just had no peripheral vision!

haha, no peripheral vision or quickness in decisionmaking. you could almost hear the gears grinding as he decided who he was gonna fumble the puck to.

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#95 Andrew W
September 25 2009, 11:09AM
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@ RossCreek:

What a strange system. It allows Europeans to come to North America to make money at 19, but North Americans are banned from playing for a half-decent salary in the same league? It's surprising that none of the players' reps have challenged that rule in court. What justification could the CHL leagues come up with to allow this? It seems to be a subversive strategy to keep the stars on the ice and the profits high at the expense of their best players.

Doesn't this also mean that a European player like Hemsky, who came to play in Hull of the QMJHL, would have been eligible to play in the AHL after a season or two while his North American teammates couldn't? This must contravene a labour law somewhere...

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#96 Jay
September 25 2009, 11:11AM
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Chris wrote:

How about three brutal turnovers and the fact that he was knocked around like a supermodel in a hurricane?

Haha. Supermodel in a hurricane. Hilarious. At least he was involved in the game. How many oilers DIDN'T make some brutal turnovers last night, or for the whole preseason for that matter? Hell, all Grebs used to do is turn the puck over, now he might be our best developing d-man. Young guys are gonna make mistakes, but Brule definately had some good moments last night, that you can't deny.

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#97 Chris
September 25 2009, 11:11AM
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@ scorecoff hemmercules:

I'm not seriously trying to rank Gagner in relation to Comrie... but it is interesting how automatically optimistic everyone is about Gagner/Cogliano when either player could very well end up as just another twenty-nine year old UFA with two sixty point seasons looking for an NHL contract in August. Comrie was once held in very high regard here also, but time has shown us that his league wide value was never very high.

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#98 Jimmy
September 25 2009, 11:11AM
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Andrew W wrote:

What a strange system. It allows Europeans to come to North America to make money at 19, but North Americans are banned from playing for a half-decent salary in the same league?

I think the reasoning is to allow an easier transition into the North American style of play. Most of the time the Europeans need an extra year in the AHL and would be disadvantaged if they were held to the same standards as their domestic counterparts. It allows for equally talented prospects to enter the NHL at the same age.

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#99 RossCreek
September 25 2009, 11:12AM
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Andrew W wrote:

but North Americans are banned from playing for a half-decent salary in the same league?

Never thought of it that way. Andrew W wrote:

What justification could the CHL leagues come up with to allow this?

If the CHL teams lose their top 19 year olds, the leagues become less competetive.

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#100 RossCreek
September 25 2009, 11:15AM
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From Roger Millions... ... Fleury may pop up in Bridgeport as the New York Islanders have been sniffing around Theo. Wow. Not New York Theo! Maybe give the Red Wings a call. Classy organization gave McCarty a chance in the A last year.

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