Oilers welcome back Gagner, Potter and Grebeshkov

Jonathan Willis
October 18 2013 11:49AM

Reinforcements, such as they are, are on the way and that’s good news for the Edmonton Oilers.

There is, of course, a difference between practicing with the team and playing in the games. Denis Grebeshkov is game-ready; he was able to shake off the rust down on the farm and at some point shortly should draw into the lineup.

Jim Matheson wrote an update on Potter’s situation a week ago; given where he slots in on the depth chart and the severity of the injury I wonder if he is sent down on a conditioning stint before he gets a chance to get back in the lineup. Gagner, meanwhile, sounded eager to get on the ice in a Joanne Ireland piece yesterday; there seems little doubt that he’ll slot in at the NHL level as soon as he possibly can.

Lineup Changes

The Oilers have a bit of a conundrum up front when Gagner is ready to go (assuming no injuries in the meantime). Mark Arcobello has been too good to come out of the lineup entirely, but with Gagner back it’s hard to see where he fits in the top-nine. If and when everybody’s healthy, I wonder if the forward lineup doesn’t look something like this:

  • Taylor Hall – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Jordan Eberle
  • David Perron – Boyd Gordon – Ales Hemsky
  • Jesse Joensuu – Sam Gagner – Nail Yakupov
  • Ryan Smyth – Mark Arcobello – Ryan Jones
  • Spares: Will Acton, Luke Gazdic

The coach has shown a preference for a crash-and-bang fourth line, and the lineup above excludes both Steve MacIntyre and Mike Brown. I just don’t see a way to demote Arcobello given his play, and it seems a waste to stick him on a line with Will Acton and Mike Brown. With that said, this is all likely moot; Joensuu is hurt and there are bound to be more injuries before long.

Defensively, Denis Grebeshkov slotting in immediately makes a certain amount of sense. That is not so much a case of Grebeshkov being unbelievably good during preseason or his conditioning assignment, but more a situation where there are two or three guys in the current group that could use a night off.

My choice for healthy scratch would be Nick Schultz, who has been bizarrely used this season – I get the idea behind a shutdown pairing, but sticking a guy with limited puck skills with Andrew Ference (forcing him to be the primary passer) and worse Ladislav Smid makes no sense to me. I’m also open to arguments that Justin Schultz and Anton Belov could use a night in the pressbox; really the trouble is that there is no shortage of candidates for a night off.

Assuming Nick Schultz was the scratch, something like this might be the way to go:

  • Andrew Ference – Jeff Petry
  • Ladislav Smid – Justin Schultz
  • Denis Grebeshkov – Anton Belov
  • Spare: Nick Schultz

The idea there is to put the two best defencemen on the team in the early going together (Petry, to my eye, has been far and away the best blueliner on the team) and throw them to the wolves – quality opposition, lots of defensive zone work, etc. That leaves the team’s most pure defensive defenceman on a pairing with their most pure offensive defenceman; the idea there being that Smid’s near-total inability to move the puck can be compensated for by Schultz’s sublime skills in that area, while Schultz’s laissez faire approach to defence can be covered by Smid’s complete focus on that side of the game.

Regardless, once Grebeshkov and Gagner get back Edmonton will have some options they have not had the last little while. 

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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 pkam
October 18 2013, 05:02PM
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Romanus wrote:

You mean move 2 of the Oiler's top 3 goal scorers to the 4th line? BOYD GORDON 8 4 1 5 TAYLOR HALL 8 3 5 8 RYAN SMYTH 7 3 1 4

Honestly, Gordon has cool down in the last 3 games but Acrobello just keeps going. And consider his size, I really don't see any reason to put him in the 4th line. If you really don't want to move Gordon to the 4th line, then put Gagner or RNH there. You choose. My point is bad choice to put Acrobello in the 4th line.

JW put Smyth in 4th line, I didn't. But I have no problem with it. If you don't like Smyth in the 4th line, I have no problem switching Joensuu to the 4th line.

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#52 Ari Gold
October 18 2013, 05:36PM
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I think Belov has been the best Dman. Petry looks like a kid with a single mother: he has no idea how to be out there.

I'd roll 3 scoring lines with a true checking line with Gordo. Arco deserves better than a 4th line role.

Perhaps lacking size, the Oilers forwards are excellent. The needs help but isn't the worst in the league. Goaltending could use an upgrade but isn't the worst either.

This team needs an upgrade in head office. Don't just fire Lowe, send him to purgatory.

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#53 Dan 1919
October 18 2013, 06:44PM
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Ari Gold wrote:

I think Belov has been the best Dman. Petry looks like a kid with a single mother: he has no idea how to be out there.

I'd roll 3 scoring lines with a true checking line with Gordo. Arco deserves better than a 4th line role.

Perhaps lacking size, the Oilers forwards are excellent. The needs help but isn't the worst in the league. Goaltending could use an upgrade but isn't the worst either.

This team needs an upgrade in head office. Don't just fire Lowe, send him to purgatory.

I agree Belov looks the best. In a world where Petry can be mistaken for the best defencemen, it is clear that the Oilers desperately need to upgrade the back end, and they need to do it last year.

It may take a "Bold" move, but it is necessary. It will appear high risk at first but pay huge dividends, not only because of the top talent D that immediately helps, but also the help he'd provide in developing the young talent already here on the blue line... Shultz, Klefbom, and Nurse.

It's time MacT, go for it. Yours truly,

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#54 michael
October 18 2013, 06:51PM
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What fresh hell is this? Good land we have options? Is that allowed?

As far as who plays where? Gagner is going to be cold as ice coming off an injury. Makes no sense slotting him in the top 2 lines. Boyd Gordon slots in the fourth line only because it makes the most sense. His need to win draws on the PP will and is being reduced due to Arcobello's skill on the dot. Gordon's minutes are needed more on the PK than on the PP.

I leave Arcobello with Hall and Eberle. RNH with Perron and Yakupov Gagner with Hemsky and Smyth Gordon with Jones and Acton/Brown or Gazdic.

My rotational guys are Smyth,Jonnesu,Acton,Brown and Gazdic.

I do not like Smyth playing more than 3 games in a row. Max. I think Brown may become a waiver wire guy. Maybe.

The nice thing is that we have options.

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#55 jmang
October 18 2013, 07:13PM
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grebeshcov doesn't deserve a chance up here. h left for the khl. Larson looked outstanding. fedun looked solid. I would like to see either of them try out in an nhl game. if they look better than Shultz id keep them in and scratch Shultz. maybe let him learn to play d in okc

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#56 Geitus Maximus
October 19 2013, 02:04AM
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michael wrote:

What fresh hell is this? Good land we have options? Is that allowed?

As far as who plays where? Gagner is going to be cold as ice coming off an injury. Makes no sense slotting him in the top 2 lines. Boyd Gordon slots in the fourth line only because it makes the most sense. His need to win draws on the PP will and is being reduced due to Arcobello's skill on the dot. Gordon's minutes are needed more on the PK than on the PP.

I leave Arcobello with Hall and Eberle. RNH with Perron and Yakupov Gagner with Hemsky and Smyth Gordon with Jones and Acton/Brown or Gazdic.

My rotational guys are Smyth,Jonnesu,Acton,Brown and Gazdic.

I do not like Smyth playing more than 3 games in a row. Max. I think Brown may become a waiver wire guy. Maybe.

The nice thing is that we have options.

Seriously dude, you just hit out of the park. Those lines really make sense and more importantly they are balanced. By balanced I mean Yak can play with RNH and Perron, Why stick him with guys who cant set him up like Gordon or Smyth? Yak needs a playmaker and a finisher. If Gagner, Hemsky and Smyth are your third line, thats pretty darn good.The problem is Gordon deserves better. Ice time on PK and give him defensive zone draws.

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#57 2004Z06
October 19 2013, 09:13AM
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Any of you that have J. Schultz on the top pairing clearly have not seen him play this year. Horrible defensively. Better off moving this guy up to the wing. Just horrific in his own zone and pinches way too often leaving odd man rushes going the other way.

I like his offensive upside, but isn't he supposed to be a defenseman first? Press box please!

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