July 31 2013 09:18AM
While Craig MacTavish may have failed to make all the bold moves he wanted to get done, he has been very active in his first summer as the Oilers’ general manager. How does the roster he’s assembled compare with the one Steve Tambellini put together for the start of last season?
Players in grey represent players in Edmonton to start the 2013 season; rather than going off the opening night lineup I’ve ranked them according to their ice-time over the year. This has resulted in the odd positional liberty – Magnus Paajarvi as the third line right wing stands out – but for the most part these players should be more or less in the role they played on balance over the course of last season.
Players in white are this year’s group. Players in red are ones I perceive as clear upgrades over their equivalent from the year before.
The top line is young, and certainly it would be unsurprising if a 21-year old Taylor Hall found another gear. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who just turned 20 in April, is so early in his career that he seems likely to be improved, particularly with surgery taking care of the shoulder problems he had last season.
On the second line, an established David Perron seems a clear upgrade over last season’s version of Nail Yakupov. Some might argue that Yakupov in 2013-14 is likely to be better than Hemsky was last year; that’s certainly possible but I don’t think it’s completely certain.
The third line is a different group, but expectations should be similar. The wild card is Hemsky; I expect he’ll offer more than Paajarvi did last year.
Beyond that group, I see Smyth as a better player than Lennart Petrell, who seemed totally lost when not killing penalties; beyond that I don’t see a whole lot to choose between the Tambellini group and the MacTavish group.
Defence & Goal
On defence, three of the presumed top-four are holdovers from those roles last season. Justin Schultz, off a whirlwind rookie campaign, should be better while Andrew Ference is coming off a stint as a top-four defender with one of the best teams in the league and can in my view be reasonably seen as an improvement on Nick Schultz.
The third pairing, likely comprised of Denis Grebeshkov and Nick Schultz, seems obviously better than Ryan Whitney and Corey Potter. Whitney was a disaster for the Oilers last season and if Grebeshkov’s anywhere near the form he left the NHL in he’ll be an upgrade. While I have time for Corey Potter, Nick Schultz is a bona fide NHL defender and Potter’s a ‘tweener.
On the third pair, I prefer Anton Belov and Philip Larsen to Mark Fistric and Theo Peckham overall, but they’re obviously different layer-types. Fistric did solid work in the number seven role and might be better or worse than Belov, a top KHL defenceman who at this point has serious potential but is also a significant question mark. Peckham and Larsen are both flawed in different ways.
In net, Devan Dubnyk returns as starter. I like Jason LaBarbera the player over Nikolai Khabibulin by a significant amount, but Khabibulin’s coming off a superb season as backup so I don’t see this as a big upgrade over what was accomplished last season.
Recently around the Nation Network
At Jets Nation, Kevin McCartney breaks down Zach Bogosian's seven-year, $36 million extension:
Again - Bogosian has all the tools to be a top-pairing defenceman within a few short years. Right now, he helps the Jets win and that can't be denied. Nevertheless, he's being paid to be a Top-4 (though not elite) level defenceman after a very short audition in that role, and without the kind of success to show he can do it for the next 7 years. At best, we can hope that he lives up to his cap hit.
Click the link above to read more. Otherwise, feel free to read some of my recent pieces: