The Evolution of Zack Stortini

Jonathan Willis
August 02 2010 09:58AM

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 3:  Right wing Zack Stortini #46 of the Edmonton Oilers fights with right wing Brandon Prust #33 of the Calgary Flames in the second period during an NHL game on October 3, 2009 at Rexall Arena in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Jimmy Jeong/Getty Images)

“Evolution” and “evolved” may not be the first two words that come to mind when one looks at that picture, which highlights a big gap-toothed man with unkempt hair poised to beat on another man with his fist, but despite that seeming incongruity, evolution is what we saw when Zack Stortini fought in 2009-10.

Ever since Stortini entered the league, we’ve seen a lot of two things from him. We’ve seen him willing to drop the gloves with anyone – regardless of opponent, Stortini’s a willing dance partner. He led the league in major penalties in 2008-09, because of that willingness. The other thing we’ve seen a lot of is Stortini moving in close and grappling when facing off against superior opponents, the action that earned him the nickname “Huggy Bear.”

At the end of 2008-2009, however, I looked at Stortini’s record as a fighter and I saw substantial improvement: after winning four of his first 47 fights, he went 5-2-1 to close out the season (wins and losses determined by voting at hockeyfights.com) while fighting against guys like Ivanans, Parros and Scott. I thought this was a positive indicator for 2009-10; Stortini’s still a young player and it’s certainly conceivable that we would see improvement.

This chart shows us Stortini’s win/loss record by season over his NHL career:

Season Wins Losses Draws Win %
2006-07 1 4 2 0.29
2007-08 3 16 4 0.22
2008-09 5 10 10 0.40
2009-10 6 6 5 0.50

A 0.500 season! More wins than draws!

I tend to think this is a sustainable trend, and that we will see Stortini eventually hang in around the 0.500 mark while still fighting pretty much anyone. The reason I think that is a belief that fighting ability sees the same general development path as other NHL skills: a player struggles early, then improves until he hits the age of 25 or so, and then sticks around that mark over the next few years (his prime) before declining due to age. Because Stortini has some ability outside of fighting, he made his NHL debut younger than most, at age 21. He’s at the age now where we can expect his development in all areas to start levelling off (it may not, but for most players it does) but even if it does he has value: a fourth-line guy who can play, and a high-end middleweight who can fight with anyone.

Of course, it also remains to be seen if Stortini’s a player the Oilers are interested in long-term. I say that despite the fact that I’ve done a 180° on Stortini, a player I rather disliked in 2006-07 but have since come to respect for his tenacity and his willingness to do whatever it takes to stay in the league. My question though is this: if Stortini never becomes a true heavyweight, and the Oilers feel they need one, can Stortini’s presence on the roster be justified? Every time Stortini’s had success as a hockey player, he’s been on a line with other talent: either Brodziak and Glencross or Nilsson and Stone. In both cases, Stortini was able to play a defined role that fit his skillset. On the other hand, I’d say Stortini’s worst performances came while playing on a line with Steve MacIntyre; Stortini simply hasn’t displayed the skill to adapt to a role where more of the puck work falls to him. I have my doubts he will, and while MacIntyre’s a highly effective fighter he isn’t much help either carrying or obtaining the puck.

 

The solution would either seem to be to rotate Stortini in and out of the lineup with the designated heavyweight, with Stortini coming in for teams regarded as less physically challenging or without a true heavyweight enforcer, or to send him away and let the designated heavyweight take his spot on the fourth line.

Honestly, I’m not sure what the solution is; despite Stortini’s improvement as a fighter I’ve become more sceptical of his role on the team if a heavyweight is also on the roster.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, 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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#1 Wilee1
August 02 2010, 10:03AM
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Never has FIST been more appropriate given the picture....

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#2 rindog
August 02 2010, 10:08AM
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Kind of a harsh statemenet about MacIntyre.

When used for 2 or 3 shifts a game it is hard to gage whether or not he can get in a forecheck, etc.

While I agree that Stortini has evolved, I am interested to see if the two of them (if they get into the line-up on the same nights), can become an effective forth line (given the right middle man to play with).

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#3 Oil_Loc8or
August 02 2010, 10:09AM
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So Stortini will not grow as a player ? He is a team leader on and of the ice. He brings it every night , try watching the games

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#4 Manfly
August 02 2010, 10:12AM
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i like Zach, but if he were to be let go, it wouldn't break my heart.

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#7 wangtaco
August 02 2010, 10:23AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Oil_Loc8or wrote:

So Stortini will not grow as a player ? He is a team leader on and of the ice. He brings it every night , try watching the games

Try not to say such stupid things.

Stortini will likely not develop as a player because most players hit their peak around the age of 25. I know what I wrote, and it's not what you think I wrote.

Secondly, as the guy tasked almost every night with writing about the crappy performance from the pathetic display that was the 2009-10 Oilers, don't tell me to watch the games. I watched and wrote about almost all of them, right here on OilersNation where everybody could see them. That line is a copout on your part.

Oil_Loc8or=pwned

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#8 Dave
August 02 2010, 10:28AM
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Stortini is a throwback to the Oilers players of the late 90s. It would be nice to see more Oilers emulate his grit, tenacity & character. I'd even consider giving him a letter if say Hemsky was made captain.

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#9 Racki
August 02 2010, 10:37AM
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I don't agree on the possibility of Stortini growing as a player either. While most players might peak at 25, that isn't always true. It's all about work ethic as well too. Horcoff for example, didn't peak until around 30, and Souray's offensive and defensive game came together at around 32.

I think Stortini has shown the off-season commitment to be a better player. He doesn't have much natural talent at all (in fact "natural talent" are two words that shouldn't ever be used when describing Stortini), but I think there are things he can still learn to help improve his game, such as working hard on his skating, and well, even fighting other guys and taking tips from teammates such as Mac could probably help his fighting skills.

I know you were just saying this stuff to emphasize that his 0.500 fighting record is sustainable, but I think he's just starting to figure things out and could still get better.

Also, I still haven't figured out this whole hammer-fist method he uses. I've often wondered if he fought sometimes with bad had injuries... cause seriously... hammerfist? lol

Anyways, one of the comments coaches present and past have made about him is that he's very coachable.. so I wouldn't be surprised to see his game improve even for a few more years, perhaps to the point where he can be an OK 3rd liner.

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#10 Crackenbury
August 02 2010, 10:40AM
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I agree with most of your article. I am curious to see how Stortini plays this year. His improvement on a year over year basis has been impressive and if he makes another step forward this year I see him as an everyday 3/4 liner.

The Smac signing is something else. I don't see where he fits in the lineup, especially with the summers signings. We now have 2-3 everyday players in the lineup that are willing to drop the gloves. Smac will see very limited ice time before he is eventually placed on waivers.

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#11 madjam
August 02 2010, 10:40AM
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Stortini on a fourth line may be acceptable , but MacIntyre getting minutes like that seems counter productive ! I agree with Willis here .

One other area that needs to be cast out for debate is whom will we be using to make our specialty teams stronger , especially the PK . Specialty team play has to get much better than last season if we are to be competitive . I think we have the offensive tools to improve a lot . With present roster i see little improvement in PK , however .

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#12 hamtundra
August 02 2010, 10:44AM
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How were those win percentages calculated? I don't follow the numbers.

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#14 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
August 02 2010, 10:47AM
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Stortini may have grown as a fighter last year, but did he grow in the other areas? I just wonder how much longer the Oilers give him. He needs to either step up and be a better fighter or step up in other areas of the game.

At the end of the 08-09 season I thought that Stortini was getting better defensively and was becoming an agitator. At the end of last year I didn't see much improvement other then his fighting, which still is average at best.

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#15 Mike Modano's Dog
August 02 2010, 10:49AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Oil_Loc8or wrote:

So Stortini will not grow as a player ? He is a team leader on and of the ice. He brings it every night , try watching the games

Try not to say such stupid things.

Stortini will likely not develop as a player because most players hit their peak around the age of 25. I know what I wrote, and it's not what you think I wrote.

Secondly, as the guy tasked almost every night with writing about the crappy performance from the pathetic display that was the 2009-10 Oilers, don't tell me to watch the games. I watched and wrote about almost all of them, right here on OilersNation where everybody could see them. That line is a copout on your part.

LMAO at that one!

Your question about Stortini is one of the best, maybe the best I have read in the offseason. I am struggling with how to answer that one, big-time. Of course, the easy answer with that one is to simply state that we will see in time, over the course of this season how him and MacIntyre work out this year and to take it from there.

I will try to answer it, though. If Stortini never becomes a true heavyweight can he be justified on the roster if the Oilers need that heavyweight? I do believe he can be an effective Kevin McClelland to our Marty McSorley. I believe that is the perfect scenario in this case. Have a Steve MacIntyre along with him and you don't have to worry about which one you use. So, if you are asking about in the long-term I think that is perfect because I feel we would need both of those weapons on our roster. Now if you're talking about on a game-by-game basis I don't think it's a big loss if you pull him out of a game that you don't feel his skill set is needed. And, that makes him useful, too, in a sense, because you can spot-duty him if need be, but I believe you definitely need another heavyweight on the roster, too!

Now does that make ANY sense?

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#16 Manfly
August 02 2010, 10:49AM
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i am one who is glad MacIntyre was signed just because we need someone who can actually go toe to toe (hopefully) with Rick Rypien. Rypien is the main thorn in our side in this conference, and Stortini just can't be asked to fight this guy every game. he's just not a good enough match for him. i'm hoping Steve is.

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#18 Crackenbury
August 02 2010, 10:52AM
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hamtundra wrote:

How were those win percentages calculated? I don't follow the numbers.

Ties are worth a half point. Add wins and ties and divide by the total.

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#19 Racki
August 02 2010, 10:55AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Racki wrote:

I don't agree on the possibility of Stortini growing as a player either. While most players might peak at 25, that isn't always true.

Jonathan Willis wrote:

He’s at the age now where we can expect his development in all areas to start levelling off (it may not, but for most players it does)...

The point here is that Stortini's development will likely level off, not that it will. Each player is an individual.

That said, for most players, development does start levelling off here, and that seems the most likely outcome for Stortini as well. It wouldn't shock me if he were an exception to the rule, but I think the most likely outcome is that he's close to his peak performance. That's all.

yes, I realize you are saying that he is likely to level off (as opposed to that he will level off). I just think that there is still more to Stortini to be seen. So I take the opposite view on that... that he could stop levelling off, but I think the most likely outcome with him is that he will continue to grow a bit as a player ;)

That's not to say that he'll be a 20 goal scorer at age 29. I just think his hard work ethic and coachability are going to help improve year by year for a couple/few more years. I don't think this is the top of his game just yet.

And yes, I realize you are saying that he isn't necessarily at his peak (but likely is at his peak). I just think it's more likely that he's not there. I think the popular argument would be what you're saying though.

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#20 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
August 02 2010, 10:57AM
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@Jonathan Willis

Does this hold true for guys learning to fight?

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#24 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
August 02 2010, 11:06AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Ogden Brother Jr.:

I'm actually not sure; it's hard to track fighter development ;)

Honestly, I'm assuming a bit here - that fighting is like any other skill, and probably follows a similar curve. I don't know that assumption is true, and I'd be open to anything that points to it being untrue, but it generally fits with what I've seen and I don't see a reason for it to be false.

It's a working hypothesis, in other words; it seems likely and can be accepted until/unless there is evidence to the contrary.

I'm kinda looking at hockeyfights and it appears that the guys with the most fights last year for the most part didn't become the fighters they are today until after 25.

I guess the question is how many guys are top fighters before they hit 25? The other question would be are you looking for Zach to be a top tier fighter or a solid tier 2 fighter that fights the top fighters from time to time?

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#25 jake
August 02 2010, 11:18AM
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What I want out of Stortini is not to win fights but to be an A+ agitator. Anyone see the TSN special on the top 10 agitators last night? One of those guys, getting the other team off their game, and dragging opposition talent to the sin bin with him. I want, and think he could be that prick to play against that the Oil it seems like forever, have not had.

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#28 Dk
August 02 2010, 11:25AM
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In my mind, it would not at all ruin my day if Zack got traded. He will never be a "heavyweight" in my mind. That is why we brought in SMAC, to provide the heavyweight presence. It may be time Zach tries a new role such as agitator. Just seems useless to me though, just my two cents.

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#29 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
August 02 2010, 11:26AM
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@Jonathan Willis

I think the biggest thing is Stortini doesn't have the size to step in at 23-26 and dominate. Guys like Carkner, Thornton, Konopka stepped in at a later age and learnt the trick of the trade whether it was through the AHL of arse kickings in the NHL before they became reliable tier 2 fighters.

I wonder if Stortini maybe needed more time in the AHL? A place where if he takes a instigator here and there to fight guys in is class would be okay.

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#30 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
August 02 2010, 11:30AM
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I'd add, that I wish Stortini would've looked to help in the fighting department before last summer. It is clear to me that Laraque did teach him a few things and that Stortini could fit into that category of still developing as a fighter.

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#31 David S
August 02 2010, 12:14PM
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I've had the opportunity to listen to a couple of Stortini guest spots that Jason recently hosted on his show. He's been training his butt off (no surprise) with Ladi Smid, dong intensive on-ice sessions with the intent to improve his puck possession skills among other aspects.

While I agree with your assertion that most players have a defined development curve, its my belief that Zack falls outside the norm. He's working on becoming a league-leading agitator who can back up what he says. That's alot more valuable to a team than a guy who punches in (sorry for the pun) for 3 or 4 minutes a game before resting in the penalty box.

Zack is going to will himself to be a productive team member. Book it.

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#32 @NateInVegas
August 02 2010, 12:27PM
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I've gone 180 on Stortini. Watching him skate as a rookie was painful, like seeing a giraffe taking its first steps or a kid pushing the cones on ice...

Rick Rypien using him as a speed bag was also brutal but it happens and Stortini's getting better... There's no reason to move him before "the kids" reach their RFA summer.

@ Racki,

Souray found his defensive game at 32??? That's frightening.

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#33 Milli
August 02 2010, 12:44PM
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No trading Zac, NONONONONO. He has grown s much as a player, is willing to put in the work, I thin he will grow into at the very least, a solid fourth liner, if not a solid third (depending on the trend of 3 scoring one energy). But more than that, he brings what this team needs and will continue to need. Energy, and physical presence, a do anything attitude.

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#34 Ned Flanders
August 02 2010, 12:46PM
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On a team with a lot of rookies, and other young, undersized players like the upcoming Oilers, we can probably expect some cheap shots from middleweights, some of which aren't fighters. I'm not sure of the unwritten rules, but doubt that it would be proper to send SMac after Handzus after a hit from behind on Hemmer or Paulson on Stoll or MaCarther/Eager on Reddox. I'd have no problem having Stortini unfairly tuning in the Eagers and Avery's out there as a deterrent. SMac is probably only going to fight the true heavyweights.

Stortini is not a bad player either. From my view only Stortini, Souray and Grebeshkov had a good year in 08/09. Last year only Penner and maybe Brule while Stortini didn't improve or drop in perhaps a smaller role under Quinn. He's a valuable guy.

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#35 Oil_Loc8or
August 02 2010, 12:56PM
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I like most the articles on the nation you write. I just understand that stats aren't everything in a team sports. Stortini plays his role as asked my coaching staff unlike most others on the team. He is a leader in the public and in the room. He will be with the Oil for a long time because of his team skills.

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#37 Cervantes
August 02 2010, 01:24PM
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Zack is a good kid and very coachable and driven. What interested me most last year was rumours that he was working on draws and PK in practice. If he can continue to improve his foot speed, he might become a passable PK guy, or even that PK Centre that we've been missing for so long. Certainly, he's tough enough to block a puck and get up again. Now that he's maturing, maybe he has the hockey sense to do it as well?

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#39 Racki
August 02 2010, 01:41PM
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David S wrote:

I've had the opportunity to listen to a couple of Stortini guest spots that Jason recently hosted on his show. He's been training his butt off (no surprise) with Ladi Smid, dong intensive on-ice sessions with the intent to improve his puck possession skills among other aspects.

While I agree with your assertion that most players have a defined development curve, its my belief that Zack falls outside the norm. He's working on becoming a league-leading agitator who can back up what he says. That's alot more valuable to a team than a guy who punches in (sorry for the pun) for 3 or 4 minutes a game before resting in the penalty box.

Zack is going to will himself to be a productive team member. Book it.

I agree with you. I think Stortini's just got that desire and will to do what it takes to improve his game during the season and off. The one thing I'll give MacT credit for (that I don't think Quinn/Renney took advantage of enough last year) was that he seemed to discover the magic formula for getting Stortini to play good games. When he started to get off his game, he'd just simply bench him for one or two games to send the message. Then he'd come back in the line up and be flying again. Sometimes he just needs a bit of a wake up call to realize that he's not here because of inherent ability. He's got to work harder than the average guy to stay in the line up, but he's willing to do it 99% of the time.

And well, these off-season sessions with Steve Serdachny and teammates will help him to become a better fighter and a better contributer. We haven't seen the best of Stortini yet. He'll be a decent 3rd line guy eventually.

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#40 Racki
August 02 2010, 01:44PM
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@NateInVegas wrote:

I've gone 180 on Stortini. Watching him skate as a rookie was painful, like seeing a giraffe taking its first steps or a kid pushing the cones on ice...

Rick Rypien using him as a speed bag was also brutal but it happens and Stortini's getting better... There's no reason to move him before "the kids" reach their RFA summer.

@ Racki,

Souray found his defensive game at 32??? That's frightening.

hah, no... I think he had a more solid defensive game when he was with Jersey... and I'm not saying he was a feared shutdown d-man or anything. But I meant in Jersey he had a more defensive-minded game... in Montreal he had a more offensive-minded game with very little defensive ability. That year (08/09) though, he was solid enough defensively, yet still had a career offensive year. Obviously there were better choices for a defensive d-man than him, but he wasn't a huge liability like he once was before.

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#41 Oil_Loc8or
August 02 2010, 02:02PM
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Playing with the SMAC won't help Stortinis game as far as skills but now he can play a better and different role I hope this will work for a long time. Stortini is a dream for most GMs and coaching staff they know what to expect. Jonathan don't get me wrong I respect the stats. It's just not always pessimistic. May plays improve after 25. Not eveything is black and white. Keep up the good work you articles are always interesting. I enjoy to look at the game in different point of views. I seen you wrote Ryan Jones what style of game does he play ? It's hard to keep track of all the younger players we have.

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#43 jake
August 02 2010, 02:44PM
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Stortini is the type of guy I could see really amping up his play during an intense playoff series. It would be fun to watch him in one. (someday right??)

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#44 Milli
August 02 2010, 02:59PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Oil_Loc8or:

It's not about statistics - which are barely used here, and only to give us some idea of how he's progressing as a fighter.

It's about the idea that most players get better until about 25, have 5-10 years at the heart of their career and then go into decline. Stortini may be an exception, and I noted that, but to tack on 'try watching the games' wasn't about that: it was a shot and since it was both irrelevant and easily refutable I'm not sure why you mentioned it.

I'm not sure why you non-stats guys feel the need to assume the existence of statistics in articles that don't deal with them. Surely even someone who has never seen a number can comprehend that young players get better as they gain experience, and then get worse as their skills decline. The general career curve isn't something that most people disagree with.

The funny thing is that I don't disagree with your assessment of Stortini's other skills, I was just annoyed by the fact that instead of discussing it you reverted to the sadly typical 'watching the games' argument. I have no problem when people disagree with me, but I like it when they present arguments and facts instead.

In any case, all the best and I hope you keep enjoying the 'Nation.

No kidding! I felt for you last year, I quit watching the last 15 or 20 games, just read your highlights! It must have been tough. Good article.

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#45 RossCreekNation
August 02 2010, 03:22PM
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I would think guys tend to peak at 27-28, not 25. I think Zack's game has come a long way. I could see him evolving into an A+ agitator, an A+ middleweight, and a potential 10 min, 10 goal scorer capable of 3rd line minutes at some point. I used to LMFAO at him, but dude's worked his bag off & I wouldn't be looking to get rid of him any time too soon. Especially after all the time they have invested in him... to let him go & watch him find some polish elsewhere would be a real kick in the nuts. He could be a Steve Ott in the making. Who here would love to have Steve Ott?

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#46 @NateInVegas
August 02 2010, 03:29PM
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Stortini will have the potential to produce a bit more this year if given the opportunity to ride shotgun with "the kids" occasionally.

The "3rd line" should be more talented this year which Stortini can benefit from also.

The team knows what they have in him and his compete should keep him around until other players have defined their roles.

If anything you keep Stortini around and move the heavyweight in a few years when the prospects can make teams pay on the PP.

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#47 Pajamah
August 02 2010, 03:35PM
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RossCreekNation wrote:

I would think guys tend to peak at 27-28, not 25. I think Zack's game has come a long way. I could see him evolving into an A+ agitator, an A+ middleweight, and a potential 10 min, 10 goal scorer capable of 3rd line minutes at some point. I used to LMFAO at him, but dude's worked his bag off & I wouldn't be looking to get rid of him any time too soon. Especially after all the time they have invested in him... to let him go & watch him find some polish elsewhere would be a real kick in the nuts. He could be a Steve Ott in the making. Who here would love to have Steve Ott?

like in my house? So that I can punch him?

Agreed.

Ive always bought in to the "hate to play against him, but if he were on my team" bit

If Stortini becomes Steve Ott, he may price himself out of a job, especially if it falls in line with our young guys needing second contracts (The Oilers essentially are now all young guys, be it Entry Level, or RFA)

But if thats his ceiling, I'd be happy

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#48 Oil_Loc8or
August 02 2010, 05:01PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Oil_Loc8or

There will be something up on Ryan Jones tomorrow.

Nice work.

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#49 Oil_Loc8or
August 02 2010, 05:04PM
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@RossCreekNation

I agree he has improved his all round game. I think the "huggy bear" with laperriere scene last season helped him. After that the last ten games he was a beast. ( I almost wrote breast thinking of LT's article the other day )

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#50 Jerk Store
August 02 2010, 05:20PM
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At the risk of repeating what Ross Creek and Jake have already stated, we need a "Steve Ott type" not Derek Boogard. Those wanting to cast Stortini in an enforcer role are going to be sadly disappointed. He can be a hybrid of sorts. Be the agitator and SMac's "wingman" in games where the other teams Nuclear deterants are in the lineup and be the pseudo muscle in games where SMac is not playing (which will be significant). He has shown he is willing to show up which means a lot, is a good guy in the dressing room, and a great community guy. what do you want out of your 4th liner? If he progresses and chips in offensively here and there, that is all a bonus. Glad to see mostly positive responses to the guy here. We have too few players who "know their role".

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