The Edmonton Oilers' new practice lines

Jonathan Willis
March 16 2013 01:16PM

The Edmonton Oilers shuffled their lines in practice today, including Eric Belanger - a player close to returning but not quite there yet.

By the look of things, Teemu Hartikainen will be on the outside looking in, which probably means he can expect a brief AHL stint when the Oilers eventually bring Belanger off the injured reserve list.

Lines are courtesy of the Oilers' official Twitter feed:

  • Taylor Hall - Shawn Horcoff - Ryan Jones
  • Ryan Smyth - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
  • Magnus Paajarvi - Sam Gagner - Nail Yakupov
  • Mike Brown - Eric Belanger - Lennart Petrell
  • Teemu Hartikainen

Ales Hemsky is absent from the skate.

In practice, this likely means that the very successful top unit of Hall, Horcoff and Hemsky remains intact, which I think is a good thing. The unit is doing a good job of playing a power-vs.-power role and it's really the best spot on the roster for Horcoff - he complements Hemsky and Hall well and talented wingers keeps his line from becoming the place where offence goes to die.

I like Smyth on the second line. We've heard a lot about Smyth's decline this year, and while his foot-speed isn't where it could be he's still a player. Michael Parkatti did some solid work with adjusted Corsi (plus/minus of shots, missed shots and blocked shots, weighted for quality of opposition and which zone a player starts in) a few days ago - looking at Smyth's numbers he's been solid and this isn't accounting for the fact that he's spent big chunks of the season playing centre where he's been far less effective than he is on the wing. Ideally, he's not on an NHL team's second line but given what the Oilers have to work with he's a pretty decent option and one I find hard to criticize.

That third line has killed it of late, and was actually the second line against Detroit, matching up primarily against Datsyuk in the Oilers' last game. Magnus Paajarvi and Nail Yakupov are both excellent young players but the Oilers have had trouble finding a fit for them - they're clicking now so keeping them together makes sense to me.

The last line is where things get interesting. Eric Belanger is probably the least popular player on the team with the fanbase, but having him at centre on that fourth line is an upgrade on Smyth. Does Hartikainen deserve to be in the lineup over Mike Brown or Lennart Petrell? Arguably, but he also doesn't need to clear waivers to go to the minors and he hasn't played so well that a trip to Oklahoma is out of the question. With the trade deadline coming up, it seems probable the Oilers will be moving some bodies out, in which case it would be a temporary 'get some playing time' situation. I would also suggest that if the fourth line gets used primarily as a defensive zone unit - which, given personnel, they should - the coaches will feel more comfortable with Brown, Petrell or Jones than they would with Hartikainen.

For now, though, it's a matter of waiting for Belanger to get up to 100%, and there's always the possibility that something else happens before he's ready to return to action. In the meantime, the best guess would seem to be that Smyth goes back to the fourth line and Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins get another look with Ryan Jones.

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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 GVBlackhawk
March 17 2013, 03:56AM
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Dangilitis wrote:

And DSF - I know you are a clown but you should really stop making so many jokes. Suter is a very good defenseman. He also had a great March. He still has zero ES goals and only 2 total (one when his team was trailing by 3+ goals). He is -3 on his team which puts him behind Konopka and clearly in the bottom 1/2 of his team. Weber faces similar competition and is +4 (3rd for his team) and has double the number of goals (1 OT winner, 1 breaking a tie, and all with the game close) on an offensively challenged team. Suter has 7 1st assists and 14 2nd assists, while Weber has 6 1st assists, 5 2nd assists. To me that shows that Suter is more the beneficiary of better forward teammartes. Both are missing one another, but suggesting that Weber misses Suter more is laughable. The Predators miss Suter, that's for sure, but not at that price under the new CBA (not that Suter's is any more palatable).

And you never got back to me about Dubnyk, you kind of turtled when I proved to you his performance this season is in the top 1/3 of the league right now (his SPG is 10th in league and he is pushing 700 shots, tops amongst those goalies). I'll let you eat crow on both of these comments.

What? DSF was wrong? Shocking!

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#52 NewAgeSys
March 17 2013, 04:27AM
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Hall-Nuge-Ebbs

Hall needs to provide a constant consistant o-zone entry useing his speed and shot threat so Nuge can do his job abd so Ebbs can do his job. Taylor needs to get back to what was working last year and give it up for the line itself, he has shown he can find the points HIS way but that undercutts his linemates potential.

Mps-Gagner-Yakupov

Gagner needs to remember to think shot as much as Yakupov does and MPS needs to provide consistant n-zone transits for his line as he has been doing so well. Yakupov has done an excellent job of being more physical and of going into and out of scoreing areas and shooting lanes disturbing defenses. This line needs to stay together for the rest of the year as it has the most natural chemistry.

Smyth and Horcs have both lost a step and need Hemmer to provide consistant o-zone entrys and penetration. This should have been the 3rd line since game 3 when we had enough data to identify our need for scoring depth beyond the 1st and 2nd lines.

Games are won and lost in that locker room, and ours is a dead-zone right now.

Leaders are VOCAL , leaders think, then say, then do, in that order. And the type of leader we see needs to be a proactive leader obbsessed with winning games no matter what it takes, cerebral system work or dirty onice work. And this means we need a pumped up involved passionate NATURAL leader that verbally and constantly and naturally projects this influence in a 3 dimensional 360 degree sphere of influence.

Every team needs to be led by the right few men because leadership is a rare commoddity that cannot be defined and must always be subject to sudden and unexpected changes and evolutions to be true and naturally catalysed. Leaders are "TEACHERS" first and are more than stakeholders in the teams evolution they are catalysts of it, so they lead with passion and emotion and verbal accuity and volume on a consistant and consistant basis. What rocket scientist decided to put letters on kids who arent ready to TEACH yet? Winners step up and will not be denied, they arent intimidated by hard work or education or the order the two come in, Nugent -Hopkins and MPS and Gagner are the best examples of this we have in our young core. Winners want to make everyone around them become as good as they are as individuals and will go out of their way and exchange personal shine for team spirit to create winning dynamics to teach their teammates how to evolve their games upwards. There are other players on the cusp of this winning mindset, especially among the Rookies.

Winners get angry when they lose, first at themselves and then at the opposition and then at their teammates, in that order, and they take out their emotions on those entitys in huge quantitys and liberally with terminal intent until they begin to win again. I understand competative leadership and this is what we need here, this is when you are so angry and frustrated and pissed off at losing that you cannot look over at an underachieving teammate across the room with out wanting to go over and grab them by the neck and shake them until they give you their word they will leave 100% of themselves on the ice next game. And if they dont keep their word then they need to know a withdrawel will be made after the game in the locker room personally to ensure no man saves himself at the teams expense. What one man does, another must also do.

We are playing a dangerous game in our locker room, we are forcing a fracture to occur between naturally evolving leadership influencs and managerial leadership powers, we are causeing the winning spirit to die. This dynamic is being forced by what we are doing managerially. We loaded up on Alpha winning attitudes and now we not allowing them to sort themselves out and evolve as they would on other teams. We are messing with their heads.

One man literally can catalyse an entire team and organisation, but never without their 100% combined and passionately presented support.

Daryl Katz needs someone given greater juridictional power than Kevin Lowe to do an Intuative Dynamic Analysis of the entire organisation from the top to the bottom, this is critical. A Maverick influence must be released to read and asses the organisation at every level imaginable, and this influence must have absolute power to do as it pleases and answer only to the Owner one on one with no levels in between. Its time to utilise Intuative Dynamic Analysis and time to macro-manage things whole-sale, we need to streamline the process from top to bottom immediatly. It is time to answer the bell to an unbiased dynamiclly driven inquest.

The Oilers lines have obviously been poorly managed all season long, recently we have seen changes that were being clamored for online on many different forums and sites, these changes were needed at the 3-5 game mark and were not made and many many more games went by before these obvious and clear errors were corrected, now I dont care what the status-quo is, that was the key reason we ended up behind the eightball right now, our lack of primary and tertiary scoring, the 1st line was managed poorly dynamicly which is a coaching issue and the 3rd line was never given the zone entry ability and firepower to provide us with depth scoring like we needed all year long, Hemmer was kept off the 3rd specificlly by Ralph long beyond all reason in a stubborn act of selfishness, to defy the data he was being forcefed. Again a coaching issue. He has finally rolled over at the last possible second and made some of the needed adjustments.

Combine Ralphs system learning curve with the confusion the roundtable creates and then toss in poorly concieved and structured lines that are ridden past their due date by a stubborn coach and you have a team that is exactly where it belongs. Top it all off with a lack of a catalysing vocal leadership energy and the team is looking really bad right now in a lot of areas.

We finally got the system somewhat under control, we finally have correctly dynamiclly structured lines, the real question is this-- can Ralph maintain the resources that got the system under control for him because there is zero wiggle room left this year, does Ralph have control of the positive influence that garnered the changes to his line structure?

We have seen positive changes but we have seen no documentable and explainable history of how and why we came to these changes and this means we have reason to doubt wether or not these positive changes can be maintained and even evolved further. EXACTLY How did you do it Ralph? We need to know to have faith that you can maintain this positive change in direction.

Judging by the way we managed the last game in Detroit I dont think Ralph quite has control of the influences that helped him learn to better manage his system, he had the right start but as soon as the adjustments began he couldnt generate any offense at all and this wasnt fluke it was a "system checkmate" does Ralph even know what happened to him in Detroit, does he even know why his system couldnt generate any offense beyond the first two concurrent system adjustments the teams both made? I dont think he does, in fact I think he started the game the right way because he is NOW useing a better system template than he started the season with, so where did he find it? The data that allowed him to better manage his game starts also contains the tactical formats he needs to break a system checkmate{which we will see endlessly now} and initiate offense between d-zone exit adjustments but he wasnt able to engage the right system tactics,so why not? Its a pretty important question.

I and many others will be posting alongside Ralph as usual.

Without immediate handson help I dont believe Ralph will be able to handle the system on his own well enough to do any more damage this season, we will roll over like the Titanic. With immediate handson help we have the ability because of Ralph to make the playoffs, this is all about data not quality of personell, Ralph needs someone to read for him so he can strategise his reactions faster, its that simple, and there is only one way to tell the future accurately and consistantly and that is by having demonstratable Intuative ability.

So Ralph needs an Intuit to read the dynamic flow and developing playaction for him in realtime so Ralph can stay not one and not two but THREE steps ahead of his counterpart on the other bench. Ralph needs to see things another step ahead so he can plan and initiate his offense in a timely manner.

In a nutshell if you imagine every player surrounded by the colored circle games use and you can consistantly guess where those circles of influence will go exactly and in sequence then you are doing what I do and what Ralph does, you are reading the playaction developing, now if you take it further and try to guess the next TWO spots every circle will go to simultaneously then you are cooking and will have a lock on momentum, now if you can find a crystal ball and literally accurately see THREE steps ahead and identify where the circles or spheres of influence will go you are able to strategise terminal offense constantly and consistantly, in fact the opponent will be helping you by reacting consistantly.

Ralph can effectively handle TWO levels of anticipation on his own, after that no coach can work on tangible grounds, Intuition must come into play in a huge way. This is where Ralph needs an unconventional resource to help him out, players up in the pressbox dont have the Intuition to help Ralph out, they also can only get to the 2nd dimension of reading the developing playaction and dynamic flow. Ralph needs a results based Intuative Dynamic Analysis influence at his disposal and he needs it yesterday. There is no time to teach unless its on-the-fly.

I actually cant believe Intuition hasnt been openly resourced in the past in Pro Hockey. Its probably because unlike statistical analysis, Intuative Dynamic Analysis actually provides quantifiable and definable results that force adjustments and asses accountability immediatly. Or maybe, ha ha ha, its because so few people can actually utilise Intuition as a results based tool. And out of those very very few even fewer have the slightest clue what hockey is never mind an in depth interest in it,ha ha ha. Like i said 3 steps ahead consistantly and the ability to strategise and catalyse offense almost at will.

And the sweetest part of all is an Intuit never has to have put on a pair of skates to DOMINATE. They just need high level competative dynamic experience at least in playing and optimally as far as coaching. To become gamebreakers an Intuit just needs a qualified and able coach to do all of the real work, Intuits are just the eyes and instincts, the feelers not the brain at all, a good coach and reactive roster and all the other critical components of a winning team must also be in place so the Intuit can scream INCOMING and have appropriate and timely actions engaged by qualified professionals.

Ralph just needs more accurate and timely intel thats all,he has everything else in his house in order. But if you cant see whats coming down the pipe before the other bench does its an uphill battle every night, the line between winning and loseing at the NHL level is so thin that even the seemingly tiniest advantage can manifest incredible results if utilised in a timely and proper manner.Ralph can now start games the right way and initiate and maintain momentum through the first counter the opponets throw at him, and if they react fast he can absorb two adjustments on-the-fly but if it comes down to a third either because of the opponents extra push or a simple system breakdown on our part we suffer terminal consequences immediatly on the scoreboeard. We need to get one more step ahead so that after Ralphs excellent starts we can not just maintain pressure but increase it exponentially period by period by proactive system adjustments based on intuative speculation. Translated this means we need to learn to and be willing to take more calculated risks, nothing ventured nothing gained so they say,so far we have based our risk off of stats based speculation maybe its time to try something new. After all a risk is a risk at the end of the day what difference does the flavor makeÉ

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#53 washed up
March 17 2013, 08:42AM
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Off topic. Went over to Jets Nation to check it out. That place is like rexall during the post season.

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#54 Ryan2
March 17 2013, 09:55AM
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cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan wrote:

i believe he was trying to say how impressed he was that Gagner is still outscoring Parise so far this year.

Good one.

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#55 Rama Lama
March 17 2013, 12:03PM
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cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan wrote:

i believe he was trying to say how impressed he was that Gagner is still outscoring Parise so far this year.

No, I read that he thinks Horcoff and Smyth are slow like the second coming of the band "the Turtles".

I like Smyth but the more I watch him the slower he seems to get! I think there must be something wrong with his skates.......no one can slow down that much in two years.

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#56 Dawn
March 17 2013, 04:20PM
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Serious Gord wrote:

A few days ago I went through the numbers exercise on this site. To even squeak into the playoffs the oil would have to pay at least as well as Vancouver has FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON.

Looking at this teams lineup - or rather the gaping holes in the current lineup's skill set and that looks to be an impossibility.

Who's expecting playoffs this year? It's far from reasonable to expect to go from 29th place to playoffs in a 1/2 season. It's not like our #1 pick was Crosby. I would expect to finish anywhere from 8th (with a lot of luck) to 11th. I'd be fully satisfied with anything in that range. We are all tired of missing playoffs. But hey, at least we're not Leafs fans.

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#57 Old Retired Guy
March 17 2013, 04:48PM
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OilersBrass wrote:

I'm excited to watch Klefbom play next year. He's the Oilers best D prospect (besides J Shultz). Everyone on this site would like to see him be traded for some strange reason, but they don't know how good he really is. This kid is gonna be a future top 2 defenceman for the team.

Not arguing with you, just curious, when you say that people don't know how good he is going to be and that he is going to be a future top 2 dman......are you just HOPING? or, have you perhaps seen him play? What are you basing you assessment on?

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#58 Old Retired Guy
March 17 2013, 05:03PM
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DigDeepNBleedBlue wrote:

After a loss it's always a good idea to go into armchair coach mode. I was there last night!

I would like to see the kids back together. Here's how I'd give 'em a go for a game or two.

Hall-RNH-Eberle

At times this year they were hot and cold both during even strength and with a man advantage. This could be attributed to the fact that RNH and Eberle looked a step or two behind to start the season. Plus, they were being pulled off the ice after 30 seconds of PP time. I kept thinking these guys can't get into a flow when you keep doing that and then they were split up. I'm not sure the thinking behind that or there separation.

Balance the lines? Sure. I get it.

They all seem to be going right now. From my armchair I say put the thoroughbreds out together again. I think they're ripe for the moment. Besides, wasn't that the whole point of having them together in the A during the lockout?

Paajarvi-Gagner-Yakupov

It has worked. Yakupov provides some creativity with the puck and Gagner and Paajarvi understand that when you go to the net you have a greater chance of scoring. Who knew? Soft parade for these guys, though.

Smyth-Horcoff-Hemsky

These guys can play together. History tells us that. Tough minutes line.

Brown-Belanger-Jones

If Jones can get back to where he's been then this could be a decent energy line with a stable center that can keep the defensive side of the game in check. One would hope.

I like what Hartikainen brings and he could fit into Yakupov's spot a time or two, but with the mess on D right now (8 D-men on the roster) he would be the logical choice to go down. Petrell is the extra skater and one could argue that he could go down, but waivers and all.

Gotta put that peddle down for the third. Play to win! Whatever the reason is for not doing that, strategy, line combos or players lack of want, it needs to be addressed. Now.

I have the faith they'll get it worked out.

Last thought. Never liked that Eberle got the permanent A on his jersey. No slight on him. I just always thought Hall should of got it. His try and personal accountability are top notch. As this season goes on it's more and more evident who should become the next captain. JMO.

Agree with "A" for Hall (eventually a "C") and your lines look good except that: 1) putting the top 3 together on the top line didn't work in when Krueger tried it earlier this year 2) with all your eggs in one basket, you're in big trouble if they aren't "going" on any particular night 3) One of the biggest coaching strategies going is to use your "talent" to elevate the play of "others" on the team. Having the big three on one line raises no ones talent level. They always say about the great players, "He made everyone around him better" Hall makes Horcoff and Hemsky better....(almost) whoever you put on line with RNH and Eberle is going to be/get better....Magnus, Gagner and YAK can grow together....

4) you get the added advantage, that when things are going a little stale in any given game, you can always reunite Hall,RNH, and Ebbs to try and provide a lift....

So, while I like your lines for the reasons you say, I have NO issue with balancing the linup based on pairings ( RNH/Ebbs, Gags/Yak, Hall/Hemsky)

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#59 Old Retired Guy
March 17 2013, 05:19PM
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Old Retired Guy wrote:

Agree with "A" for Hall (eventually a "C") and your lines look good except that: 1) putting the top 3 together on the top line didn't work in when Krueger tried it earlier this year 2) with all your eggs in one basket, you're in big trouble if they aren't "going" on any particular night 3) One of the biggest coaching strategies going is to use your "talent" to elevate the play of "others" on the team. Having the big three on one line raises no ones talent level. They always say about the great players, "He made everyone around him better" Hall makes Horcoff and Hemsky better....(almost) whoever you put on line with RNH and Eberle is going to be/get better....Magnus, Gagner and YAK can grow together....

4) you get the added advantage, that when things are going a little stale in any given game, you can always reunite Hall,RNH, and Ebbs to try and provide a lift....

So, while I like your lines for the reasons you say, I have NO issue with balancing the linup based on pairings ( RNH/Ebbs, Gags/Yak, Hall/Hemsky)

Besides which you get three classic line names,

You get the "RNH" line....because the guy is stud he deserves to have a whole line named after just him.

You get the Comedy stylings of the Gags and Yaks line.

And you get the WWF RAW Power of the Triple H Line (Hall/Horc/Hemmer).

Thats Star Power, Comedy Power, and Power Power. How can you beat that!

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#60 rickithebear
March 18 2013, 09:48AM
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@Old Retired Guy

For me: It has been stated in scouting reports: Strong Skater, Physical, Can Carry the Puck, great outlet pass.

Two key signs: U 20 WJC Allstar Dmen. 2005 Dion Phaneuf R Suter 2006 Luc Bourdon Jack Johnson 2007 Letang Erik Johnson 2008 Doughty Hedman 2009 Karlsson Subban 2010 Pietrangelo Carlson 2011 Ellis Orlov 2012 Gormeley Klefbolm 2013 Trouba McCabe All were playing in NHL @ 20.

Top 5 Dman In SEL For GA when injured this year.

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