September 25 2011 08:51AM
Despite a depth chart that appears unkind, despite more one-way contracts than Carter has pills, Teemu Hartikainen has that "look" about him. It's the same look that thrust Kyle Brodziak from "also in photo" to opening night lineup in 2007 fall. Can the Finn make it?
Oiler fans love the Finns, with good reason. A long line of ridiculous talents from Finland have played for the Oilers, including Jarri Kurri, Esa Tikkanen, Risto Siltanen, Matti Hagman, Reijo Ruotsalainen, Janne Niinimaa, Jussi Markkanen, Joni Pitkanen and many others.
Hartikainen has a chance to join the top end of an exceptional list of Finnish Oilers, and he could push up the timeline by winning an NHL job this fall. In July, right after Steve Tambellini added Ryan Smyth, Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk to a LW depth chart that already boasted Tayler Hall and Magnus Paajarvi, I suggested Hartikainen might have to beat out Linus Omark in order to gain NHL employment opening night 2011:
- One gets the feeling the Oilers are moving in another direction. That direction is size. That direction will benefit Teemu Hartikainen. In order for Hartikainen to find his way to Edmonton, he'll need to pass a winger whose skills are duplicated by others on the roster and whose size/toughness will be viewed as a negative. I think Hartikainen stands a very good chance of passing Linus Omark either during training camp or during the season.
I think we're getting to the point in preseason where we can discuss Hartikainen's pushing Omark off the roster. I want to be clear about one thing: Linus Omark is a player I'd have on my team all day and he is exactly the kind of player a building team loses for less than 100 cents on the dollar because of things like size bias. Ask Calgary if they'd like to re-think the Martin St. Louis flush; although Omark isn't St. Louis it is clear that the young Swede is gifted and can make a difference.
THINGS LOOK PRETTY BLEAK
The Oilers depth chart on the wing looks about like this currently:
That's my list, your list may be different and superior. What we're really looking for here is how many players Hartikainen needs to jump over in order to make the team. A few points: Coach Renney has suggested Gilbert Brule is going to be a C on this team, and has shown a willingness to play Hartikainen at RW this fall (in what looks like an effort to find a way to get him on the roster). Also, Hordichuk is not a player Hartikainen can replace, their skill sets are not in any way duplicated. Here's the list of possible wingers the Finn could pass:
- Ryan Jones: I don't think Hartikainen can do enough to get past the veteran with a recently signed 2-year deal. Jones can penalty kill and plug in on any line.
- Ben Eager: Somewhat similar to Hordichuk except more skilled. Eager is a guy who could find himself on the 3line or 4line, or even another line if injuries hit. I don't think there's any way for Hartikainen to replace him.
- Linus Omark: And here we have an undersized skill player and a winger the coach feels could improve his play away from the puck. Man I hate to say it but Omark is in a tough situation on this roster. It doesn't help that Omark hasn't done a lot so far this training camp--he could use a big offensive night in the next couple of games.
- Ales Hemsky: Should the organization decide to trade Hemsky (possibly for help on the blue), the RW depth chart might end up being Eberle, Omark, Jones and Hartikainen. It's an interesting idea, although any team dealing for Hemsky will want to see him healthy before pulling the trigger.
The other item is injury. Should the Gagner injury be severe enough or the Eager injury drag on or Hemsky's difficulties prove to be time consuming then Hartikainen is the obvious choice from the group of wingers currently available.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
It'll come down to coach Renney and how he wants to deploy his wingers. Will Ryan Jones be part of the PK rotation, making him too valuable to deal away? Will Hartikainen continue to impress and force his way onto the roster? Will Linus Omark have one of those magical nights that establishes him as too valuable an offensive player?
Too soon to know, but if I'm a betting man Linus Omark is the odd man out.