June 04 2012 07:19AM
The Edmonton Oilers future is fast, furious and spectacular. At this point it's not a matter of "if" they'll contend for a spot near the top of the conference, but "when" they'll put it together. The gathering of jacks and kings has given Edmonton a tremendous amount of skill. Do they have enough high end talent? Do they have enough room for another elite winger?
The answer is "yes." The Edmonton Oilers have enough room to add another elite level winger like Nail Yakupov. Even though Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have grand careers ahead of them and are in their entry level deals, even though Ales Hemsky is an outstanding talent--there's still room.
THE GIFTED KIDS ON THE POWERPLAY
The skilled men on an NHL team get the gravy minutes--powerplay time on ice. Last season, the PP TOI went like this for the Oilers:
- Taylor Hall 3:03
- Jordan Eberle 3:00
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 3:00
- Shawn Horcoff 2:52
- Ryan Smyth 2:28
- Sam Gagner 2:27
- Alex Hemsky 2:08
I'd argue that Hemsky should have been playing much bigger minutes but coach Renney had his wizard in the Nuge so it's hard to argue with success. Still, if the procurement department adds Nail Yakupov and the new coach wants to use the rookie on the 2nd PP there's plenty of talent beyond the three amigo's at the top of this list. Gagner, Hemmer and Yakupov or Smyth sounds pretty damn good.
I sincerely believe that Shawn Horcoff's time as a PP option should be over, and although EDM got a lot out of Eric Belanger's 1 minute a night it is perhaps best to leave him off the list as well. The big offensive stars on the powerplay were Hall (13 goals), Eberle (10 goals) and the Nuge (20 assists). I wonder if the new coach might use RNH more on the PP? Mats Sundin used to play over 4.5 minutes a game on the PP and with these whiz kids stomping the guts out of the opposition maybe extra minutes 5x4 as they mature will produce more offense.
Based on the minutes given to Horcoff and Ryan Smyth noted above, one would think there will be a way for Yakupov to earn his way onto the PP sometime in 2012-13. Rookies are rarely PP monsters like the Nuge was this season, but we're dealing in truly gifted teenagers here so a strong rookie season 5x4 from Yakupov is possible.
EVEN STRENGTH AND ZONE STARTS
Edmonton's weakness last season had a lot to do with protecting the gifted youths Nuge, Eberle and Hall. Punishing zone starts for Shawn Horcoff, Eric Belanger and Ryan Jones meant the kids got a major zone start push. Coach Renney also tried to protect the trio qual comp although all three ended up playing the 2nd toughest minutes overall (all information via behind the net).
All of the tough zone starts for Horcoff ruined his offense, but the club placed a large number of players in the NHL's top 180 forwards in 5x5/60 minutes. That's the "line in the sand" for top 6 forwards (again courtesy behind the net). An average NHL team would have 6 forwards in the group--3 in the top 90 and 3 listed 91-180.
- 2nd overall Jordan Eberle 3.08/60minutes
- 69th overall Taylor Hall: 2.07/60 minutes
- 88th overall Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: 1.98/60 minutes
- 91st overall Sam Gagner: 1.96/60 minutes
- 95th overall Ryan Smyth: 1.93/60 minutes
- 175th overall Ales Hemsky: 1.57/60 minutes
- 193rd overall Ryan Jones: 1.46/60 minutes
- 193rd overall Ben Eager: 1.46/60 minutes
Oilers had 5 men in the top 100 scorers 5x5/60 this past season, which obviously is above average (average would be 3.33). The offense fell off badly after the men listed here, and Horcoff's 1.04/60 ranks 280th among NHL forwards playing more than 50 games. Horcoff did play the toughs and defensive zone starts, so his overall numbers are badly skewed (although CorsiRel suggests he was getting the job done).
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
There's room for Nail Yakupov on the 2nd PP unit and an NHL coach can find him plenty of offensive zone starts and the soft parade opposition. If the new Oilers coach does that, some of the other youngsters are going to be forced into roles they haven't seen before.
A player like Jordan Eberle is probably vulnerable to a major downturn in fortunes based on Yakupov's presence on the roster. You cannot protect this many kids and have them develop in a straight line. Surely the Oilers have proven that much over these last seasons.