How will Dallas Eakins run his special teams?

Jonathan Willis
August 01 2013 07:49AM

A little over a week ago, with the Oilers seemingly done making significant changes, we looked at how the Oilers might run their even-strength lines. But what about special teams?

While we can’t know what Dallas Eakins has in mind for special teams, we can look at the personnel on the team and make some guesses.

The Power Play

One of the things I’ve tried to do is keep lines together; thus the presumed top line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle forms the core of the first unit power play while David Perron, Sam Gagner and Nail Yakupov are all on the second unit.

I’m unfamiliar with how Dallas Eakins ran his power plays with the Toronto Marlies; initially I thought about sticking with the 1-3-1 setup the Oilers ran for much of last year but instead decided to model these units off San Jose’s fantastic group. From what I’ve seen of the Sharks (arguably the league’s best power play over the last few years) they typically have Logan Couture and Joe Thornton on each wing with Joe Pavelski in the slot and Dan Boyle and Patrick Marleau on the points.

The first unit power play above features Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall on their off-wings, putting both in position to take a lot of shots and work the puck down low. Justin Schultz, unsurprisingly, takes one of the point positions while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins slides into the other. On the whole, that’s a quartet I really like – it would be nice if Nugent-Hopkins was more of a shooter, but this power play model is built more around puck movement and a variety of options rather than a big shot from the point, so it’s not a critical failing.

As strange as this sounds, I think the Oilers’ power play is going to miss Shawn Horcoff a little. Looking through potential candidates for power play work, it’s hard not to be struck by the lack of net-front players – ideally you want someone with size and strength and decent hands, and the Oilers don’t really have that guy. Horcoff had first-unit duty a year ago, and Magnus Paajarvi and Teemu Hartikainen also played the role at times. That’s where Ryan Smyth comes in: he’s built a career in that role, and given his presumably reduced responsibility at even-strength he can sub-in on the first unit power play in that net-front role.

The second unit has a very similar structure. Ales Hemsky and Nail Yakupov play either side up front here, while Sam Gagner mans one point and either Denis Grebeshkov or Anton Belov handles the other (Grebeshkov has had success on the Oilers’ power play in the past). All four are on their off-sides, encouraging shooting. David Perron isn’t really an ideal candidate for the slot role, but the trouble is that a) the Oilers don’t really have a lot of natural options for the job and b) Eberle, Hemsky and Perron are all ideally slotted along the left wall; one of them can’t be there. Besides, Perron’s no smaller than Joe Pavelski, and the Sharks have done just fine the last few years.

Naturally, this is just my read and I’m open to others. I was very tempted to put Hall in the slot and Yakupov on the right side on the first unit, bumping Smyth down to the slot position on the second and flanking him with Hemsky on the right and Perron on the left; it’s an arrangement I actually like a little better (because it loads up that top unit) but it breaks up the even-strength forward lines and introduces another element for the coach to juggle. I’m interested to see what the comments think; we have some bright readers and this is an interesting topic.

Also, I picture a line of Boyd Gordon, Ryan Jones and Jesse Joensuu for the first even-strength shift after the power play.

Penalty Kill

No major surprises here. As with the power play, I have endeavoured to keep even-strength combinations together.

Boyd Gordon centres the top penalty killing forward pair, along with either Ryan Jones or Ryan Smyth (depending on which player one sees winning the battle for the open third line wing job). Both players will be experienced veterans in the role.

The other of Smyth and Jones will join presumptive fourth-line centre Anton Lander on the second penalty killing unit; again, it’s a case of sticking the veteran defensive forwards in the primary penalty kill roles.

Generally two units will do the bulk of the work, but Sam Gagner and David Perron have both filled in on the penalty kill in the past and can either provide a third forward pairing or fill-ins for the first two pairings. I have Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins listed as a potential fourth pairing, with the thought that they can take over in the last 20-30 seconds of the penalty and provide some offensive push and a smooth transition back to even-strength play. I also see both players as strong fits talent-wise for the penalty kill; it wouldn’t bother me at all if Eakins chose to break them in as a regular third unit (though I prefer Gagner and Perron because they have an edge in age/experience and their responsibilities at even-strength and on the power play are less).

On defence, Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry reprise their role as the team’s top duo, while the other two logical candidates (Andrew Ference and Nick Schultz) take second pairing duty. The other defencemen on the team are somewhat problematic, but Denis Grebeshkov would be my choice for the number five role – he killed penalties for Craig MacTavish and is more of a known factor than either Anton Belov or Justin Schultz.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, 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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#101 YFC Prez
August 01 2013, 08:08PM
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@GVBlackhawk

I Haven't been to TSN in awhile, but last time I was there it was way over moderated, took an hour for a comment to show making it impossible to have a conversation with anyone. Most of the comments were about the weather in Edmonton or the lack of Stanley cups in Vancouver regardless of the article topic.

I think it's a safe bet that the Nation will never be like TSN community. Trash Button aside

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#102 YFC Prez
August 01 2013, 08:23PM
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@madjam

No question Horcoffs absence will be felt, especially on the PK, there were many things that Horcoff was very good at, the PK being one of them.

But we did not let Horcoff get away, we shipped him off, if was time to move on and the team as a whole will be better and Horcoff will hopefully find new life in Dallas.

Pk was quite good last year both with and without Horc, they do have other options....all will be fine.

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#103 nuge2nail
August 01 2013, 11:00PM
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Oiler Domination To Follow

Yaks wearing the Pavel Bure #10 has got to be on the first pp unit.

He's got the best shot on the team.

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#104 kieran
August 02 2013, 12:28PM
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you said petry, smid, ference, n shultz and gebisshkov are the top 5. where does there best d man j shultz fit?

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#105 Oilerdiehard
August 07 2013, 01:46AM
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With regards to the net front PP presence. Coach Trotz in Nashville used Ryan Jones in that spot when he was there. If you look back at his goal highlights on nhl.com from that time you will see him there getting a few goals on tips and greasy rebounds. I have been surprised he has never really been employed there with the Oil.

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