What the Oilers have/What the Oilers need: Forwards

Jonathan Willis
February 08 2014 10:21AM

The Edmonton Oilers enter the Olympic break on the upswing, having gone 5-1-1 over their previous seven games, primarily thanks to strong goaltending. The break gives the organization a breather to take stock of where they are at and chart their path over the last quarter of the season and into the summer.

Let’s take the opportunity here to do the same.

What we’re going to do is go through the roster position by position, and determine what changes need to be made over the summer and at the deadline and what questions need to be answered to make those changes.

Top Six Forwards

The options:

  • Jordan Eberle
  • Sam Gagner
  • Ales Hemsky
  • Taylor Hall
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
  • David Perron
  • Nail Yakupov

The Oilers have seven top-six options for next season, making this technically a position of strength but the mix needs to be changed. The consensus view seems to be that size needs to be added, particularly down the middle. While I think a bit of size would be a welcome change in the complexion of the group, I also think the most important thing here is to add two-way ability.

People forget that teams like the 2011 Boston Bruins (to pick one example) weren’t actually all that big up front. Boston’s top six had two big wingers (Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton), two tiny wingers (Mark Recchi and Brad Marchand) and a lack of size down the middle (Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci). Overall, that group averaged out to being 6’, 204 pounds. That’s still bigger than the Oilers – and Edmonton could really use a guy (especially on that second line) with the size to create chaos in front of the net. But the big thing with Boston’s group was that it had a pile of dedicated two-way guys. Edmonton has two, maybe three if we’re feeling generous.

In my view, Edmonton needs to axe three of the seven players above. They currently have seven players for six spots and need a two-way centre and a power winger. I’d nix Sam Gagner (owing to two-way indifference), Ales Hemsky (owing to age and health concerns) and Jordan Eberle (it’s him or Yakupov if the team needs help on defence and Eberle looks to me like the guy who will fetch more in trade).

All three are good players, particularly Eberle. But the mix needs to change and Edmonton needs trade assets.

The Third Line

The options:

  • Boyd Gordon

Some might include Matt Hendricks or Ryan Smyth or Ryan Jones on this list. I don’t, though I’m close with Hendricks (the problem with Hendricks is age and style – he’s a guy likely to drop-off in the near future and consequently counting on him here is problematic). Ales Hemsky might be included too – he’s been fine in the role this year – but I have a specific vision for this line and Hemsky’s skillset isn’t a great fit.

A Dennis King tweet lays out my vision for this line exactly:

We’re trying to make the top end more defensively responsible, but it will take maturation for guys like Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov to get there, so in the meantime a dedicated hard-checking, nothing-happens defensive line will help ease the burden. Gordon’s one member; the Oilers need two more.

Forwards 10-14

The options:

  • Mark Arcobello
  • Luke Gazdic
  • Matt Hendricks
  • Jesse Joensuu
  • Ryan Jones
  • Anton Lander
  • Tyler Pitlick
  • Ryan Smyth

I’m a big believer in a few things. Ideally, a roster should have 14 forwards and seven defencemen (since the eighth defencemen ends up sitting for long stretches), it should have a fifth centre and with the exception of the 10th forward guys on the fourth line should generally be both cheap and young. I’ve included the NHL guys this year as well as the relevant AHL guys who won’t clear waivers next year as options; the Oilers have five spots for these eight (plus whatever they want to add).

Personally, I think the team doesn’t need to add anything here; there’s lots to like in the depth group. Assuming that Luke Gazdic’s role is seen as essential, the four others I’d take are Arcobello, Hendricks, Lander and Pitlick, with Joensuu buried in the AHL (or being the beneficiary of a training camp injury) and the others departing as free agents. That gives the team three guys who can play centre, a legitimate top-six fill-in option and brings two young AHL’ers who are coming on strong into the mix (I laid out the case for Lander and Pitlick the other day). It also gives the coach four penalty-killing options (everyone but Gazdic) at the end of the roster.

Completed Roster

Naturally, there’s wiggle room here. If Nail Yakupov or David Perron work in trade as well as Jordan Eberle does, it’s possible to keep Eberle and move one of them. If third-line wingers prove impossible to find, Matt Hendricks could slide in at left wing and one of Smyth or Jones could replace him on the fourth line; a cheap Ales Hemsky could work on the other side too if it comes down to that. If a two-way centre absolutely cannot be added, than Sam Gagner could be retained as a place-holder until such time as one is. And so on.

But this is the basic plan I’d pursue in Craig MacTavish’s shoes, and any trade I made would need to fall in line with it. In other words, if some team offers me a fourth-liner, I don’t care because I already have a fourth line; I’m moving players either for other trade ammunition (picks, prospects) at the deadline or for players who will help fill the actual holes I have in my lineup.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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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 Taylor Gang
February 08 2014, 08:09PM
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JW, would it be a long shot to allow Gagner to slide into the 2nd right wing spot if Eberle was traded for a top 2 defenseman/big two way centre? Would love to hear your thoughts.

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#102 Serious Gord
February 08 2014, 09:11PM
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Taylor Gang wrote:

JW, would it be a long shot to allow Gagner to slide into the 2nd right wing spot if Eberle was traded for a top 2 defenseman/big two way centre? Would love to hear your thoughts.

It's been tried and it has failed more than once already.

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#103 michael
February 08 2014, 09:27PM
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We agree to disagree. I am of a whole different mindset as to who will be here opening night 2014-15. But we'll see who is right in 7 months from now.

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#104 Fish
February 08 2014, 10:42PM
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Hall - RNH - Yak Perron - Bennett - Ebs Clifford - Gordon - Vey Smyth - Henricks - Pitlick

Erhoff - Petry Maricine - Ference Klefbom - J Schultz

Hemmer + D Simpson + Lander = Clifford + Vey from the Kings Gagner + Gernat + 2015 2nd = Erhoff

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#105 bwar
February 09 2014, 01:23AM
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I wonder if Buffalo would trade Gagner for Girgensens. Then we can eventually have a lethal Girgensens-Yakimov-Yakupov line. Zemgus, Bogdan and Nail. I don't even care if they are good that line would instantly be my favorite in the entire league.

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#106 719
February 09 2014, 07:47AM
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Great analysis of the needs of this team.

I think a great 3RW option would be Zack Smith from the Ottawa Senators. Reasonable contract and the rumor was a trade for Hemsky for him at the beginning of the year. If you are going the UFA route, Kumelin would be a good fit, maybe even Setoguchi (who is an Alberta boy).

2C I do not know, I have a feeling it will be Brayden Schenn...

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#107 stealthwise
February 09 2014, 08:48AM
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If the Oilers trade Perron they're admitting that they don't give a damn about the players that actually try.

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#108 Spencer
February 09 2014, 01:43PM
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Perron. Hall and Ebs are the 3 players you do not want to trade. A Dwight King between Hall and Ebs or 2 line between Perron and ? would be dominant. RNH can bounce between 1st and 2nd line.

Sam G, Ales H and Yak are all great trading pieces to acquire 2 power forwards and a solid D man. All new acquisitions should be 6'1 and 215 pounds +. You could also toss in N Shultz, Potter and Petry. Keep AF, MF, JS, AB, PL. Aquire 2 other good big D men. Larson could also be used as a 2nd or 3rd line wingers. He is another guy that is smart and clutch skater.

Arco could be used as a trade or 4th line center. Perron and Arco have played with the most heart this year. Try Gazdic on the blue line or keep him as the enforcer with great skating skill.

The future of the Oilers are Hall, Ebs, Perron, Gazdic, Gordon, Arco, Marcininn, J Shultz(Mabye), Belov, Ference and Joensuu(providing he gets more physical) and a few others. I think Gazdic is a diamond in the rough.

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#109 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
February 09 2014, 02:22PM
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The two so called tiny Boston wingers, Recchi and Marchand play way bigger than Gagner and Eberle!

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#110 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
February 09 2014, 02:29PM
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Great analysis of the positional needs and potentially how to prioritize the moves JW. Only small problem I see is a young inexperienced team getting younger and more inexperienced. Hopefully, this is accounted for with the players being brought in via trades being mature roster players ideally 24 to 27 years old.

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#111 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
February 09 2014, 02:48PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I haven't spent as much time keyed in on draft prospects this year as I have in years past, but from what I've read and heard I'm inclined to believe both Bennett and Reinhart will be in the NHL next season, likely as 2Cs. Agree/disagree?

Likely starting the season as 3C's and ending the season as 2c's

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#112 Mustangheart
February 09 2014, 02:56PM
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Taylor Gang wrote:

JW, would it be a long shot to allow Gagner to slide into the 2nd right wing spot if Eberle was traded for a top 2 defenseman/big two way centre? Would love to hear your thoughts.

I for one am not in the mix to trade Eberle. I think he is a huge asset With tremendous upside. Trade a draft pick, Hemsky, Gagner and even Smyth. If we ever hope to keep avoid stable group to build around, it's the young guns.

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#113 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
February 09 2014, 03:01PM
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shanetrain wrote:

Get good players.

Keep good players.

We would sorely regret trading Eberle.

Agree with most everything else. Nice post Willis.

Great conversation occurring based on a great JW article.

What's always left out in these conversations ( and maybe it's just assumed) is that you absolutely trade Eberle....or ANYONE else if the the deal makes sense. So, if someone's willing to give you the right 1-2 Dman or if Eberle + brings you the desired #1 Dman you do the deal.

Also, it's a Dynamic situation...depends who you get in the draft Dman Ekblad or Center Reinhart or Bennett. With each piece you add through draft or trade or free agency, the trade logic / needs dynamic changes. It's not a static equation.

All that aside...really good back and forth on this thread.

The dynamic in play is more like solving a Rubix Cube than winning a chess game.

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#114 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
February 09 2014, 03:23PM
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K_Mart wrote:

I'd deal Perron before Eberle

Not a realistic scenario, but if Perron brings you Erhoff whereas Eberle + Petry brings you Oliver Ekman Larrson.......which deal do you do?

The names are interchangeable but you get the point. You need to look at four players when you make the point you make. In my example you need to look at 5. What you lose and what you gain.

OEL and Perron vs Eberle, Petry, and Erhoff. Which cluster better serves the Oilers needs? I think it's debatable.

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#115 toprightcorner
February 10 2014, 01:54AM
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Moves after the season

Eberle, Arcobello, Klefbom and 1st for Tuytin and Dubinsky

Gagner and Fedun for Brouwer and Erat (Ridding them of imovable Erat contract of $4.5 for 1 year is the key to getting Brouwer loose and not taking on salary and saves Wsh $3.5 and restock the cubards)

Sign Orpik, Moss, Boyle and Stuart

Should all be able to be done with about $4 mill left in cap space next year.

Hall - Nuge - Yakapov Perron - Dubinksy (162 hits) - Brouwer(162 hits) Erat(PK) - Gordon(PK) - Moss(PK) Boyle(115 hits)(PK) - Lander(PK) - Hendricks(PK)

Gazdic - Pitlick

Tuytin - Petry Orpik(145 hits) - Schultz Ference - Stuart(149 hits) Marincin

- Boyle and Hendricks can also play centre and move up if required.

- Moss and Gordon were a great team in PHX and cut from the same cloth

- Entire bottom 6 can kill penalties

- Orpik is a perfect 2 year contract guy as a stop gap for Nurse and some younger dmen in the system

- Stuart hits everything and is tough as nails and played with Ference for a few years in Boston

- The second line would be a menace to any other team

This adds a great top pairing dman on a value contract and a great top 4 with winning experience, big gritty 2-way forward in Dubinsky, power forward in Brower, If Erat can rebound he has some solid talent, more size in bottom 6 with Moss and monster Boyle an 4 guys who can all hold their own on the dot in the bottom 6.

I listed hits of new guys to give an idea of grityness not to bring up a debate about if hitting improves shances of winning

This roster would be 180 degree turn from last year with size and grit in top 6 with minimal decrease in offence by replacements but potential increas in offence by existing players. 3rd line is a definite shutdown line that Eakins could easily match with ane top line in the league and 4th line is big and grity, won't lose many battles and could be close to breaking even which is a plus. The defence is vastly improved with a proven #1 in Tuytin and a top 3 in Orpik and Stuart is a gritty veteran defenceman that will always compete, he is everything N Schults should have been.

Completely revitalized image

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#116 camdog
February 10 2014, 08:47AM
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Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty) wrote:

The two so called tiny Boston wingers, Recchi and Marchand play way bigger than Gagner and Eberle!

I often wonder how big Yakapov would play if he had Lucic/Horton and Chara to play with. I can see him turning into a very aggravating player to play against with age and by being surrounded by players that can complement this component of his game.

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#117 Rdubb
February 11 2014, 07:46AM
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Serious Gord wrote:

It's been tried and it has failed more than once already.

Serious Gord How did it fail? How many games did Gagner play the wing, 2 or 3? Boy, that's a huge amount of time to look @ it isn't it? You also have to think if Gagner's head was into playing the wing @ the time too. He has said on several occasions that he clearly thinks of himself as a 2nd line centre & not a winger. I do not see Gagner having the same mind set/will to succeed @ the wing as Taylor Hall tried when he moved over centre from the wing @ the start of the year. I believe that the upper management & coaching staff must sit Sam down and let him know that he isn't an NHL quality 2nd line centre, and if need be, toss out a few stats to prove their point such as; face off winning %, or his lack of defensive ability, especially in his own zone (his +/- could go to this although this stat isn't always a good one to go by), and his lack of size and power... If Sam put the same effort into playing the wing as he does playing centre than I (& many others) think that he'd succeed playing the wing, plus his lack of defensive play wouldn't become so noticeable, not to mention his play making should be able to shine through while playing the wing... just my thoughts...but 2 or 3 games doesn't give a pass or fail to me, one needs a larger sample size before making those judgements

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