October 11 2010 08:25AM
A look at the overall NHL standings this morning has two unlikely teams at the top of each conference: The Edmonton Oilers are kings of the west and first place in the east belongs to the Big Smoke. Its early. For Edmonton Oiler fans, the W's are fun. The serious business has little to do with W's and a lot to do with three gifted kids making their NHL debuts. Here's a very early glance at the results.
We don't have enough at-bats to reach any conclusions, but as the three kids fill up each column with crooked numbers we can begin to see the picture clearly. Consider this exercise the first few minutes of a Thanksgiving jigsaw puzzle: we're placing all the blue sky pieces at the top and trying to get a feel for the task at hand.
- Jordan Eberle (2gp, 1-1-2 +2). The best boxcars of the group, Eberle has impressed both the "saw him good" group and the math people. His goal was a splendid shorthanded tally, he's a shooter (averaging 2 shots a game) and a passer and the young man is being used in multiple roles. His 16:01 a night includes 12 at even strength and about 2 on the PK and PP. Tom Renney clearly sees him as a solid option in all areas, and Eberle's intelligent decision making reflects it. The Desjardins numbers are up for the first game but don't give us a feel (yet) for how things are going. Dennis King is tracking scoring chances and so far Eberle (9-5) is well above .500 in his two games. I think we can reasonably rule out luck or onlooker status for #14, he really has been helping send the puck in the right direction. I suspect his Corsi will reflect that as we roll along. A very strong start for this player.
- Taylor Hall (2gp, 0-1-1 +1). The only rookie in the group to score a point at even strength, Hall has impressed (4 shots) with his work in the offensive zone and his willingness to venture into high traffic areas. He is clearly the youngest of the group in terms of experience at higher levels, and that has shown itself from time to time. However, a lot of this season is about survival for these kids and I don't think it is a stretch to say he's doing way better than that after two games. His 16 minutes have been doled out by Renney like this: 14 at even-strength, 2 on the PP per night. It is a subtle tell, but I think it'll likely hold all season long. His early RelCorsi (38, same as Eberle's) is ridiculous but we don't have enough sorties to consider it a legit number. Nice start, though. Hall's scoring chance numbers (10-5) is a match for Eberle; they have been playing on the same line.
- This is where we have to talk about context. Hall and Eberle are playing on the 2line with Shawn Horcoff. Now I know Horcoff is thought by many to be a horrible hockey player, but he is in fact a good one. I'm not trying to reduce the impact of what the two kids above have accomplished, but they've done it with calm seas and clear skies (relatively speaking). Some of that is their own doing, but some of it comes from playing with a calm, steady veteran in the middle. The third rookie has not had that kind of luxury, and as we'll see (below) the results have been far different.
- A quick note about injuries: We (hockey fans) have a tendency to forget about them. In baseball, the at-bat takes time and the announcer will inevitably say (during the at-bat) "Tommy was hit on the hand by pitcher Lightning McGee in July and it really cut back on his power. He hit 14 homers before July 10th, and none after getting plunked." We view that at-bat differently. We know that the batter will probably regain his power, but not this season. Years of observing (or playing) baseball have taught us that this is player who--while valuable--is not completely healthy. We temper our expectations.
- In hockey, we forget all about it. We find out Gilbert Brule has been hurt and we wait for news about how long he'll be out. If he's in (as he was last night), we (as a group) expect him to perform at previous levels. Part of it (imo) is that hockey is such a fluid game and the announcer may mention it one time during a break in the action. It doesn't have the same impact as it might during an at-bat. Brule's injury may have had an impact on Pääjärvi's game last night.
- Even if it didn't, Andrew Cogliano's play did have an impact on that line. The late game shuffle by coach Renney saw both Cogliano and Brule spend some time on the bench (Coglaino spent 16 seconds on the ice between the 11 and 17 minutes mark of the third and Brule didn't hit the ice at all during that time. The 4line replaced them and MPS moved up to the 1line) based on poor results. Injury or confusion, doesn't matter. It wasn't working.
- Magnus Pääjärvi (2gp, 0-0-0 -1). MPS has been noticed during these two games, often for being the first man back on his line and his tendency to get blown up on a hit (I don't think he has any fear). He's been shooting (3 shots in 2 games) but honestly his line hasn't been in the offensive zone enough to have an impact. He's getting a little less icetime (14 minutes) than the other two rookies but it isn't a lot considering he is on the de facto 3line and that 14 minutes is still a nice total for a rookie (Renney is giving this group playing time, no one can complain). It breaks down like this: 12.5 at evens, 1.5 on the PP. Dennis scoring chance totals for the 2 games so far (5-6) reflect that the 3line is slightly below average overall (Brule is 3-5, Cogliano has had some golden chances and is 5-4). I don't think the 3line will stay together long, unless Cogliano can figure things out in a hurry. Brule's injury did seem to impact his performance; the benching of the two (young) veterans and the elevation of the kid in the third period offers us anecdotal evidence that there will be changes if things continue. It wasn't all roses and sunshine after G1, either. Gabriel Desjardins' RelCorsi had the line at -36 (Brule) -46 (MPS) and -58 (Cogs). I don't think this line is going to stick.
All things considered I think the trio has had a nice start. It is (very) early but to my eye each of them has shown exceptional natural ability and a surprising amount of intelligence. That combined with some real courage in physical areas tells me their arrows are all pointing in a positive direction.
The rookies are doing well.