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, 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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#101 Air on Egg blood
February 08 2014, 10:52AM
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JW, what do you think the price would be for a guy like Martin Hanzal in a trade?

You're not rooting for Patrick Thoresen anymore???

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#102 Benhur
February 08 2014, 11:37AM
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i do like your analysis but I still would hate to see Ebs go...the justification here is that Yak projects better...which is questionable! Getting an offensive big winger would be nice but who is going to trade one of these unless they are lesser talents with lower upside. Who would be available? If someone is available they usually draw a premium as seen during last summers free agency and how did that work out? The other player I see as an asset is Hemsky but not at his current price point. I would sign him as a third liner as he is doing a good job in that role now. Also he can play up the order when needed. Unfortunatley I believe Hemmer will opt for free agency so MacT is backed into a corner here...a no win situation! If Lander is going to succeed he'll need to be in more of an offensive role not on a 4th line pluggers role...he's just not built for that. I see him as a 3rd liner...probably slotting into Hemmer's spot. I do agree that they should try out some of the OKC players as mentioned...but how do you do that without exposing players to the waiver wire? It's going to be extremely difficult for MacT to get the pieces we need this summer so good luck to him. Another point...I'm not happy with the coaching and I haven't been for a long time because of the teams inability to exit their zone. They have way too many turnovers in the Dzone....sometimes 2 to 4 times as many as the oposition. This is definitley a coaching issue and I was glad to hear Dallas talking about it (finally) a few games ago. I think this is one of their biggest areas of improvement needed! Hemsky happens to be one of the few forwards that can move the puck up the ice through stickhandling or passing!!!!

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#103 #ThereGoesTheOilers
February 08 2014, 01:30PM
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I agree with this entire layout.

So what we need for top end acquisitions: 2C, 2RW, 1D

What we have to give: 2C, 2RW, First round pick.

Will this be enough tit for tat though? Is free agency the only way we'll be able to address all three positions?

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#104 Max
February 08 2014, 05:57PM
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A forum is for everyone to voice their ideas and opinions - including the writer of the article. My God, how many armchair coaches/GMs who comment on this web site there are. Quote "I'd do this, I'd do that, I'd trade him, I'd pay him out." Listen to yourselves - try going into politics - you all obviously believe you can solve the world and achieve world peace. Leave the decisions to those in the positions to do so, stop making insane suggestions simply because you think you know better - NOT. I give up on this forum, too many know-it-alls, including the journalists.

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#105 tabs
February 08 2014, 07:48PM
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Your completed roster at forward is spot-on going forward. Great article Jonathan, with this you have slipped into the lead as ON's top writer.

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#106 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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#107 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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#108 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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#109 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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#110 Wohin gehst du?
February 08 2014, 11:40AM
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Look, I know Joensuu hasn't played well, but would you really wish injury on him?

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#111 Zangetsu
February 08 2014, 12:54PM
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I mosly agree with you, bit i see it as; Hall 2WC yak PF Nuge Eberle Perron Gordon Hemsky I would round out the forwards with gazdic(or any other goon because you HAVE to have one:(), and three good defensive forwards. I dont think you want to kill 3line offence, and that it's best to nudge off some 4liners. I dont know if hendricks, lander or smyth are up to the job.

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#112 Fuhr4Life
February 08 2014, 05:48PM
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@Jonathan Willis

I'm playing GM Mode on NHL14 on hard setting and at the deadline I traded: Hemsky, Gagner, Arcobello, Jones, Bryzgalov, N.Shultz, Ference, O.Roy, Maricin, #1 & # 2 2014 picks, #2 2015 pick.

In return on trades and free agent off season I added: P.Stastny 2C, Cam Ward G, Brad Stuart Top 2 D, Jarome Iginla 3RW, Mayson Raymond, 4LW, Jamie Olesiak Top 6 D, Dan Hejda Top 4 D

My Line-Up is

Hall Nuge Yak Perron Stastny Eberle Smyth Gordon Iginla Raymond Lander Gadzic

Jonessu Hendricks Pitlick

Stuart J.Shultz Hejda Petry Fedun Olesiak

Fraser Belov

G 1. Ward Back-up: Scrivens

In the 2015/16 season we finished 1st in the division. Tool out Chicago in the 1st Round and playing Phoenix now. Note: in this game it's really hard to make trades

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#113 Pouzar99
February 08 2014, 06:33PM
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This is the most interesting and thought-proving article on the Oilers needs and possibilities moving forward I have read in ages and I am looking forward to Sunday's piece on the defence assets and huge needs. I also love that you are participating in the discussion you started, which really fills out the broader picture you are painting.

It is also nice to read something that is admirably blunt but forward looking. Of course all of this depends on what deals GMs are willing to make at the trade deadline and the draft, what pick we get, who is available and how willing needed FAs are to sign here. It will also show what kind of GM MacT is. I believe he IS willing to make bold moves if the right deal is there. Whether he will get it right or not I do not know.

The most we can hope for next season is a strong sense of progress and a sense that the right hands are at the tiller. My only major concern with MacT is his decision to bring in Eakins, who was obviously overwhelmed at first and the jury is still out on him. I fear a major fan revolt if the Oilers do not show marked improvement next season, meaning 85 points at least.

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#114 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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#115 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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#116 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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#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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