End of Roster Forwards

Jonathan Willis
April 09 2014 07:00AM

51-Lander-1

This late season run was supposed to be an opportunity for some of the Oilers top AHL prospects – players like Anton Lander and Tyler Pitlick – to show they belonged in the NHL.

Instead, Lander’s floundering in a feature role and Pitlick can’t string half a dozen healthy games together. But that doesn’t mean nobody’s taking advantage of the opportunity.

13-Pinizzotto-1

Steve Pinizzotto’s in a rough spot. He turns 30 this summer, and while he’s a scrappy, do-it-all kind of forward he’s at an age where a lot of teams are going to look right past him. When the Oilers first traded for him and assigned him to Oklahoma, I asked him something along the lines of how vital it was to make an immediate impression on the organization.

“I’m getting to an age now where there are guys that I am probably 10 years older than,” he replied. “The door can’t stay open forever. I can’t look at next year; like you said I have to worry about this year and hopefully catch some eyes.”

Through four games, he’s been pretty decent for the Oilers. He’s not a pure enforcer, but like Matt Hendricks he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty (HockeyFights.com has him at eight tilts this year, after he fought six times last season) and at the AHL level he’s been a secondary scorer and a penalty killer. He’s tougher than Tyler Pitlick and a better hockey player than Luke Gazdic.

36-Larsen-4

Surprising, at least for me, has been the play of Philip Larsen. Over his last five games, all at right wing, the Oilers’ fourth line has had a slight edge in scoring chances (8-7) with Larsen on the ice. He has three points in that span, too, and has looked better as a forward than he did at any point this year as a defenceman.

There’s a part of me that really likes the idea of the last skater on the roster being a swingman who can play on either the back end or on a forward line. I find myself wishing the Oilers had tried him at right wing earlier in the year – though of course there was no way Dallas Eakins and company could have known he was going to make the transition so seamlessly.

41-Acton-2

Finally, Will Acton’s had a pretty reasonable five games, too. He’s not producing any offence, but the fourth line has done a far better job of late in terms of out-chancing the opposition, and he’s been around for that. Like Lander, Acton got stuck at the start of the year with lousy linemates; unlike Lander he doesn’t have the pedigree that would get him a cameo on the higher lines. I’m not saying that’s wrong – Lander had earned his shot with strong AHL play – but any fair evaluation of Acton notes who he’s played with.

My Guesses

Craig MacTavish2

I don’t know what’s going to happen with the five fringe players – Pitlcik, Lander, Pinizzotto, Larsen and Acton – currently getting NHL minutes up front.

I do think that Pinizzotto – a pending unrestricted free agent – would be a really nice fit on a two-way contract next year, and it wouldn’t bother me at all to see him in the fight for one of the bottom spots in training camp next fall. Worst case scenario, he’s a useful AHL’er and a reliable call-up; best case scenario he can fill a depth role in the NHL.

Larsen, Lander and Pitlick are RFAs. My expectation is that the Oilers decline to qualify Larsen, but retain both Pitlick and Lander (unless one or both find their way into a summer trade). The wrinkle here is that both players should probably be in the same boat as Pinizzotto: signed to two-way deals and asked to come in and win a job in training camp.

Acton’s the lone guy under contract for next season, and he looks like a nice fit for the Chris Vande Velde role: the checking line in Oklahoma City and occasional call-ups if/when injuries warrant.

But those are just my guesses, and with only one of the five guys under contract the Oilers have the ability to go in an entirely different direction.

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
#51 Ari Gold
April 09 2014, 03:07PM
Trash it!
4
trashes
Cheers
9
cheers

The bottom 3 are not nearly as important as the top 6.

Avatar
#52 Mason Storm
April 09 2014, 03:10PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Cheers
15
cheers
Jonathan Willis wrote:

I'm a big fan of Detroit's development model.

The problem with both Lander and Pitlick is that they have to clear waivers to be demoted next season. Right now I'd be in favour of bringing both back and (potentially) sending them down out of training camp, but the reality is they might not make it to the minors.

Certainly there's no reason to just cut bait, though.

I don't think the Oilers have to worry about losing either to a waiver claim. Pitlick can't stay healthy and Lander can't produce at the NHL level. I don't think a team uses up a roster spot for either.

Avatar
#53 Digger
April 09 2014, 03:49PM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Cheers
6
cheers

Regarding Lander, I think there's at least a chance that if the Oilers are going to try to get him to a sign another two-way deal, he could take the option to sign a deal with the SEL or KHL, especially if he comes to the conclusion that his opportunity for advancement with the Oilers has run its course...and I honestly wouldn't take fault with either Lander or the Oilers if that's what ends up happening, sometimes that's just how things work out with a team.

I'm sure he's already gotten feelers from the SEL trying to entice him to come back, he was very popular back in Timra.

Avatar
#54 Tikkanese
April 09 2014, 03:49PM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Cheers
12
cheers
Scrivy wrote:

By my eye, Larsen has looked like a smooth skating, excellent passing, playmaking dman all year.

And yet everyone in the msm has dumped on him all year.

I believe the numbers back me up when I say, please re-sign Phillip Larsen. He is a very good Petry-esque player, underappreciated, overperforming.

If Petry and Larsen are overperforming, the Oilers D is in much worse shape than everyone thinks.

Avatar
#55 Brian
April 09 2014, 05:45PM
Trash it!
8
trashes
Cheers
14
cheers

Pitlick, lander, Larsen, Petry, Pinnizoto, Gazdic....Yawn.

Wake me when we have 2 Line Center, a #1 and/or #2 D Man ( not a turnstile) and a fired KLowe so no more gas can be poured on this out of control fire.

Call me burned out. No excitement to this "team" anymore.

And get Smyth his precious goal in the next two games otherwise he may be back next year, God forbid.

Avatar
#56 GCW
April 09 2014, 06:06PM
Trash it!
7
trashes
Cheers
8
cheers

If Pinizzotto is taking a contract spot from a college free agent, or heaven forbid a real NHL player, oilers management really are idiots.

Sign him to an AHL only deal with an out cause. Otherwise, pass.

Avatar
#57 Dog Train
April 09 2014, 06:49PM
Trash it!
6
trashes
Cheers
1
cheers

I say qualify Pitlick and Lander and let Larsen walk. Pinizotto has played well so I wouldn't be too upset if they gave him a two-way deal but it's not a priority at this point in time. Bottom line, best way to improve the fringe positions is to upgrade the top 9 and push other guys down the lineup.

Avatar
#58 BLAKPOO
April 09 2014, 07:52PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
8
cheers
Scrivy wrote:

By my eye, Larsen has looked like a smooth skating, excellent passing, playmaking dman all year.

And yet everyone in the msm has dumped on him all year.

I believe the numbers back me up when I say, please re-sign Phillip Larsen. He is a very good Petry-esque player, underappreciated, overperforming.

I was nodding my head while reading this, until I read "Petry-esque".

Give the kid some credit.

Larsen plays like a guy Petry's size, and Petry plays like a guy Larsen's size.

Larsen makes good passes, plays well positionally, and even if he may be undersized, he at least puts himself in front of guys, or tries to clear traffic in front of the net.

Petry has good size, speed and hands, but the heart of a mouse. He's also bad at defence.

Ask Erik Johnson.

Avatar
#59 2004Z06
April 10 2014, 12:05PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

@Lochenzo

Ummm when has he done this so far? Please don't pull the on pace for argument out either.

I'd be on pace to make a million dollars this year if someone handed me a cheque for 900k.

For every point Gagner gets, he gives up 2!

Comments are closed for this article.