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

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
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.
Avatar
#1 Show me da Money
February 08 2014, 12:04PM
Trash it!
15
trashes
Cheers
50
cheers

I'd sooner trade Eberle before Yakupov. I think Yakupov's ceiling is much higher than Eberle's.

He's got a hustle and grit that Eberle doesn't seem to have. You can't train heart.

Avatar
#2 Jordan Nugent-Hallkins
February 08 2014, 10:30AM
Trash it!
6
trashes
Cheers
39
cheers

Boyd Gordon is, in my opinion, one of MacT's best acquisitions. The guy's a rock. Nuge should be getting one on one time every practice with him, learning the art of the face off.

Gordon gets real low, usually ends up on one knee after each draw. I don't know if Nuge has the upper body strength to pull this off yet.

EDIT: Ebs has been my favorite Oiler ever since his first goal against Calgary. But I would be willing to part with him+ if it meant a top D man or clear cut 2C coming back.

Avatar
#3 shanetrain
February 08 2014, 11:53AM
Trash it!
12
trashes
Cheers
30
cheers

Get good players.

Keep good players.

We would sorely regret trading Eberle.

Agree with most everything else. Nice post Willis.

Avatar
#4 TheRealEberle
February 08 2014, 10:28AM
Trash it!
28
trashes
Cheers
29
cheers

If Eberle gets traded I think I would cry more than Smyth did when he first got traded

Avatar
#6 S cottV
February 08 2014, 11:56AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
23
cheers

I would take a look at Hendricks as the 4c.

He has played a lot in the middle and knows how to handle himself in his own end.

Big, strong, aggressive, kills penalties, fights - the whole bit for a 4c.

Avatar
#8 K_Mart
February 08 2014, 01:17PM
Trash it!
14
trashes
Cheers
21
cheers

Eberle has been roughly the 5-10th most offensively productive right winger in the NHL for 3 straight years. Do not deal him

Avatar
#9 thatoneguy
February 08 2014, 11:57AM
Trash it!
1
trashes
Cheers
17
cheers

I agree that it would be better to trade Eberle. His value is higher than Perrons but more importantly he has a skill set that the Oilers already have while Perron's is unique. Trading Perron would be taking a step backwards to what this team should be trying to accomplish.

I do think that Arcobello is fully capable of filling that third line right wing slot. I think its important for any line to not have exact replication of skills. I'm not sure 2 more Boyd Gordon clones would necessarily be a good fit on the same line. Arcobello throws hits and is defensively responsible enough but also would bring unique offensive skills to that line plus he would be cheaper than someone from free agency

Avatar
#11 TonyT
February 08 2014, 10:43AM
Trash it!
5
trashes
Cheers
16
cheers

Wow, I actually agree with everything you said. As much as I like Ebs, I agree he fetches more in a trade (right now) and I don't think I've ever seen him initiate contact or finish a check. I know he's clutch in the jrs but I don't how that will hold up in the playoffs if he never plays the body.

Avatar
#12 David Staples
February 08 2014, 11:11AM
Trash it!
5
trashes
Cheers
16
cheers

Why not trade Perron, having a career year, and hold Eberle, who will be better over next five years?

And this argument about Boston, well, Lucic changes entire complexion of the forward lines, a nasty, skilled, intimidating forward like that. Average size isn't the issue, it's having that kind of big, tough, skilled player ... and good luck finding him.

So if you can't get a Lucic, what do you do?

I guess you just keep looking for one. A Hanzal would also do :)

Avatar
#13 DSF
February 08 2014, 11:32AM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Cheers
15
cheers
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?

No idea but it's always a risk to rely on an 18 year old in that prominent of a role.

I think, if I'm MacT I would take a hard run at Ryan O'Reilly from Colorado.

The Av's have Duchene and MacKinnon as their top 2C's and, even if they don't re-sign Statsny have Max Talbot to play #3C.

Eberle might get that done.

Avatar
#14 etownman
February 08 2014, 01:38PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Cheers
15
cheers
Jonathan Willis wrote:

How do you fix the D if you move Eberle for a centre? Just wait for guys to develop or hope for Markov or what?

Marincin is providing some argument for development JW! D-corp has changed significantly with this young fellow back there & I'm hoping we get a chance to see Klefbom during the last 22 games of the season! When you combine that with the change's in net, we're starting to see some positive signs!

Avatar
#15 Chainsawz
February 08 2014, 12:20PM
Trash it!
6
trashes
Cheers
14
cheers
Jonathan Willis wrote:

I love O'Reilly as a player but have trouble believing the Avs would move him in-division.

It's not an in-division move. And oddly makes sense (Ebs for O'Reilly).

Avatar
#17 Quicksilver ballet
February 08 2014, 11:52AM
Trash it!
19
trashes
Cheers
13
cheers

Perron and Petry may get you Couturier on Mar 5th. Take Meszaros too, if they throw in Rinaldo.

Avatar
#18 Serious Gord
February 08 2014, 09:11PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Cheers
13
cheers
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.

Avatar
#19 K_Mart
February 08 2014, 01:19PM
Trash it!
21
trashes
Cheers
12
cheers

I'd deal Perron before Eberle

Avatar
#20 HardBoiledOil
February 08 2014, 10:46AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
11
cheers

yup, seems easy to make all the right moves....problem with the Oilers is will they actually make the suggested moves? we also have to compete with all the other teams for the good UFA's, so trades for the players we need seems more logical, though i always worry about trading a player who's happy here for a player who might not want to be here or stay here.

Avatar
#21 Walter Sobchak
February 08 2014, 10:57AM
Trash it!
17
trashes
Cheers
11
cheers

I know I’ve said this before but I would really like to have a Dubinsky and Jenner on this team.

I would move Peron way before Eberle, I see Eberle has more upside, he has a favorable contract with length & term, Peron will be a UFA in two years, and the chances of him staying at this point would have to be pretty slim.

Yakupov shouldn’t be dealt but have a strong feeling the Oilers are moving him this summer.

Sam Gagner has to go! If the Oilers are ever going to improve this is the guy that has to be replaced. I would be hesitant to deal Hemsky.

Avatar
#25 stealthwise
February 09 2014, 08:48AM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Cheers
11
cheers

If the Oilers trade Perron they're admitting that they don't give a damn about the players that actually try.

Avatar
#28 Quicksilver ballet
February 08 2014, 11:30AM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Cheers
10
cheers

With Hemmer exploring other options soon. There will be a need to fill a spot on the RW. Chris Stewart from the Blues may soon get Perroned if the land Ryan Miller by mar 5th. If Miller does land in St. Louis, it would probably be accompanied with a multi yr extension in the 6 mill per range.

Eberle in the trade bait category is hard to fathom.

Think the Oilers will land Ekblad this coming June. Like in other recent drafts top 3 teams seem to focus on potential elite offensive players and not blueliners, as seen in Adam Larsson and Seth Jones. Ekblad will still be on the board when the Oilers draft in that 3 or 4 spot. Maybe they could get Rod Langway in here to help tutor Ekblad, Nurse, Marincin and Klefbom for a couple years.

Avatar
#29 DSF
February 08 2014, 11:42AM
Trash it!
1
trashes
Cheers
10
cheers
Jonathan Willis wrote:

I love O'Reilly as a player but have trouble believing the Avs would move him in-division.

Could be but, of course, Eberle would also be moving in division.

Avatar
#30 Halfwise
February 08 2014, 10:30AM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Cheers
9
cheers

Clear-thinking analysis. As a fan I have favorite players, but the team comes before the individuals.

If you broaden the perspective to include the holes on D, the trade chips have to be spread a bit more thinly.

Does an Eberle fetch an OEL or equivalent top pairing D?

Avatar
#31 DSF
February 08 2014, 11:05AM
Trash it!
19
trashes
Cheers
9
cheers

If you can move Eberle for a top pairing D (somewhat doubtful), you're left with Gagner, Hemsky (a rental who would likely only yield a draft pick), Smyth (likely no value because of age) and Jones as trade chips.

I would imagine you could try and move Klefbom or Gernat for 3rd line help so the acquisition of a #2C and a top 6 power winger become problematical unless you can acquire them as UFA's

Avatar
#32 Richard
February 08 2014, 12:31PM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Cheers
9
cheers
Serge wrote:

If Oilers are trading Eberle and that is a big if and if Philly is a trading partner rumour of the day Oilers would be wise to go after Sean Couturier.

I don't like the idea of going after a top Dman because he will be an older player and Oilers are not going to be peaking anytime soon. They have some excellent prospects at D.

Couldn't agree more.

Avatar
#33 DSF
February 08 2014, 01:37PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Cheers
9
cheers
Harry wrote:

Correct me if im wrong but Orielly is a free agent after this year isnt he? 6 mil X 5 years

A restricted free agent and he'll be really expensive to re-sign.

Perhaps the Oilers can move Eberle's $6M to the Avs if they throw in another asset.

Colorado also needs D but with the emergence of Erik Johnson this season, their need isn't quite as severe.

Avatar
#36 DSF
February 08 2014, 11:48AM
Trash it!
5
trashes
Cheers
8
cheers
Jonathan Willis wrote:

How do you fix the D if you move Eberle for a centre? Just wait for guys to develop or hope for Markov or what?

I think it's going to have to come down to a free agent or a more massive trade that includes draft picks and prospects.

Avatar
#37 gomez
February 08 2014, 10:45AM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Cheers
7
cheers

@RT26

Sounds like the return on hemsky and gagner be minimal. Eberle would be best bet to bring missing pieces.

Avatar
#40 etownman
February 08 2014, 11:33AM
Trash it!
1
trashes
Cheers
7
cheers

Also JW, I know fans are tired with the line 'be patient' but I believe the Oilers are close to harvesting some interesting players out of their system! Yakimov turns 20 this year & I'm really hoping the Oilers can sign & bring him over because I was impressed with him at WJC & he was a leader for Russia! He's doing great in KHL & is 6-5! Moroz & Khaira are graduating from WHL & both are around 6-3 214 lbs. These are big, physical players that can play but need a little time to develop! Ewanyk & Kessy are tough, physical players I'm following at OKC & they look like they're candidates for 3rd or 4th line roles!

We see the fruits of patience with Marincin & I believe we're going to see the same with these forwards, just a little more patience required!

Avatar
#43 vetinari
February 08 2014, 12:14PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Cheers
7
cheers

Eberle and Yakupov could be a great 1-2 punch and force teams to divide their attention to each of their lines. Of course that means getting bigger complimentary players like a new second line centre, which maybe Perron or Gagner and some prospects could get you?

Avatar
#44 **
February 08 2014, 12:29PM
Trash it!
6
trashes
Cheers
7
cheers

What are you talking about JW? all the Oilers need is love, though love, and cardio strenght, according to Eakins anyways.

Avatar
#45 etownman
February 08 2014, 01:01PM
Trash it!
29
trashes
Cheers
7
cheers
Show me da Money wrote:

I'd sooner trade Eberle before Yakupov. I think Yakupov's ceiling is much higher than Eberle's.

He's got a hustle and grit that Eberle doesn't seem to have. You can't train heart.

Wow, which hockey games have you been watching? Eberle doesn't have heart? He doesn't have size but everything else is top notch, especially the compete! Can't say I see that shift in, shift out with Yak just yet!

Avatar
#46 etownman
February 08 2014, 01:25PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Cheers
7
cheers

@Jonathan Willis

In regards to Moroz & Khaira JW I don't believe the Oilers are looking for them to be scorers on the Oilers! Khaira plays for a very defensive coach in Constantine in Everett & the team has been quite successful. I think the Oil are quite happy that Khaira is learning defensive responsibilities from a former successful NHL coach! I really like this pick!

Moroz has played on a very talented team during his time with the Oil Kings & accepted a different role the previous two years hence his point totals were less but not his value to the team! He is a player who could easily play on a 3rd line & with maturation could evolve into that player who will be able to slip up & down the line up when called upon!

There is only so many minutes available in a game for quality offensive players & that will be Hall, Nuge, Ebs, Yak & Perron territory! It would be very interesting to revisit this dialogue in couple years just to see how things play out!

Avatar
#47 #ThereGoesTheOilers
February 08 2014, 01:54PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
7
cheers
etownman wrote:

Marincin is providing some argument for development JW! D-corp has changed significantly with this young fellow back there & I'm hoping we get a chance to see Klefbom during the last 22 games of the season! When you combine that with the change's in net, we're starting to see some positive signs!

And just imagine how positive things would be looking if we could secure if one legit top-pairing defensemen.

Let Petry and Ference thrive on easier minutes, let Marincin and the rest of the up and comers ease into things.

Avatar
#48 @Oilanderp
February 08 2014, 02:02PM
Trash it!
16
trashes
Cheers
7
cheers

@Jonathan Willis

~J.W. I heard that you want to see Joensuu's future daughter get horrible marks on her report card in grade 3. Why?~

Avatar
#49 Harry
February 08 2014, 10:46AM
Trash it!
11
trashes
Cheers
6
cheers
Jonathan Willis wrote:

If the team could get every free agent it wanted, btw, I'd fill those missing spots with the following:

  • Paul Stastny
  • Dustin Penner
  • Nikolai Kulemin
  • David Moss

There's no way that happens, of course; there's only so much money and every team's going to be competing for a small list of available UFAs.

Good thing we kept that useless plug Hemsky and traded Penner hey?

I think we could also hold onto Ebs and Yak but only if we get a Ryan ORielly type #2 center

Avatar
#50 HardBoiledOil
February 08 2014, 11:44AM
Trash it!
1
trashes
Cheers
6
cheers
David Staples wrote:

Why not trade Perron, having a career year, and hold Eberle, who will be better over next five years?

And this argument about Boston, well, Lucic changes entire complexion of the forward lines, a nasty, skilled, intimidating forward like that. Average size isn't the issue, it's having that kind of big, tough, skilled player ... and good luck finding him.

So if you can't get a Lucic, what do you do?

I guess you just keep looking for one. A Hanzal would also do :)

problem is, if i'm a team giving up a top d-man or a big, 2-way forward, i'm asking for Eberle and not Perron.

Comments are closed for this article.