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 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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#52 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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#53 westcoastoil
October 18 2013, 12:46PM
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K_Mart wrote:

If Arco keeps this up, there's no way he goes back down.

Nuge, Gags,Gordon,Arco could end up being a decent mix of centres, but my goodness are they tiny, and easily pushed over.

Agree, that's why it makes the most sense for one of Gagner or Arco to slide to the wing. Arco's been very good so far and is kililng it on the dot. Gager will need to get up to speed and is usually under 50% in the circle.

Gagner with Gordon and Yak gives Nail a nice pair to find his game with.

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#54 Micbilly99
October 18 2013, 01:55PM
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If you take a faraway look at the Oilers defensive corps and assess the groups play from the beginning of the year, you could come to the position that Justin Schultz needs some severe work in his own end of the ice. His positioning, physical play and competitiveness are lacking and need work. How is he different that Yakupov? Should he not have taken a seat in the press box? And by the way TAKE A SLAPSHOT!!! This is the NHL, goaltenders in is this league can stop a wrist shot from the point 99% of the time.

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#55 pkam
October 18 2013, 01:58PM
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Acrobello is doing great with Eberle and Hall now, and he was doing great with Eberle and Perron in the preseason. So why would we move our smallest player and top point producer Acrobello to the 4th line?

Since Hall and Hemsky seem to have some chemistry, I will put them together with RNH, and put Acrobello between Eberle and Perron.

I like the idea of trying Gagner with Yak and Joensuu and see how it works out.

So move Gordon to the 4th line instead of Acrobello, I think Gordon will be a better fit in the 4th line than Acrobello.

And pairing Smid and J. Schultz? Didn't we already try it once? If I remember correctly, it is a mess, isn't it?

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#56 Dog Train
October 18 2013, 02:00PM
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Having Arcobello on that line might also help prevent the fourth line from spending a minute in their own end every time they are on the ice. I know that it's not the typical makeup of a fourth line but having three guys running around chasing the puck and either pounding it into the boards or icing it is tough to watch.

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#57 916oiler
October 18 2013, 03:06PM
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I, for one, hope we get Joensuu back soon and he stays healthy. All for having the good problem of deciding between Gags vs. Arco, but I really like what Joensuu brings to the table when healthy!

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