Auditioning For The Second Line

Oilers Blackhawks Hockey

The Oilers may have a gap on their top line, but they have no shortage of second-line forwards, some of whom will undoubtedly be moved in the off-season. Let’s take a look at the options.

The List

Please note: ages are for next season.

  • Andrew Cogliano: 22 years old, 5’10”, 184lbs
  • Sam Gagner: 20 years old, 5’11”, 191lbs
  • Ales Kotalik: 31 years old, 6’1”, 227lbs
  • Robert Nilsson: 23 years old, 5’11”, 185lbs
  • Patrick O’Sullivan: 23 years old, 5’11”, 190lbs
  • Dustin Penner: 27 years old, 6’4”, 245lbs
  • Marc Pouliot: 23 years old, 6’1”, 195lbs

Outside of that group of seven, arguments could be made for prospects Ryan Potulny, Rob Schremp, or Jordan Eberle. However, they will be ignored for this exercise, since they haven’t been in the NHL much over the last two seasons. Since most of the young forwards (Cogliano, Gagner, Nilsson, Pouliot) have only been in the NHL for two seasons, we will only be comparing the past two years.

This will also be a weighted comparison; with 2008-09 performance reflecting two thirds of the final mark, and 2007-08 performance reflecting one third.

The Surface Numbers

Please note: only the weighted average will be listed here.

  • Patrick O’Sullivan: 81GP – 18G – 28A – 46PTS, -7
  • Sam Gagner: 77GP – 15G – 29A – 44 PTS, -8
  • Ales Kotalik: 76GP – 21G – 22A – 43 PTS, -5
  • Dustin Penner: 79GP – 19G – 21A – 40PTS, +1
  • Andrew Cogliano: 82GP – 18G – 22A – 40 PTS, -4
  • Robert Nilsson: 66GP – 9G – 24A – 33 PTS, +3
  • Marc Pouliot: 50GP – 6G – 10A – 16PTS, EV

Five players are tightly grouped here. Robert Nilsson, who had a disastrous season is a little ways off the pace while the seldom-used Marc Pouliot is well back. Ice-time and games played need to be considered here in the defense of both of the latter two; more on that in a moment. As for the other five, there seems to be virtually no separation.

5-on-5 Scoring

I’m going to use the same weighted average as before, but this time we will also take into account total ice-time, making use of Gabriel Desjardins’ Behind the Net website. Because of this, scoring units are expressed in goals/60, assists/60, and points/60.

  • Andrew Cogliano: 0.80 G/60 – 1.08 A/60 = 1.88 PTS/60
  • Patrick O’Sullivan: 0.70 G/60 – 1.11 A/60 = 1.81 PTS/60
  • Sam Gagner: 0.54 G/60 – 1.24 A/60 = 1.78 PTS/60
  • Robert Nilsson: 0.48 G/60 – 1.17 A/60 = 1.65 PTS/60
  • Marc Pouliot: 0.58 G/60 – 1.04 A/60 = 1.62 PTS/60
  • Dustin Penner: 0.71 G/60 – .87 A/60 = 1.58 PTS/60
  • Ales Kotalik: 0.72 G/60 – 0.62 A/60 = 1.34 PTS/60

This method gives us very interesting results. Cogliano, O’Sullivan and Gagner all fair well by this method; well ahead of the next three – Nilsson, Pouliot and Penner. The only player who obviously doesn’t belong in the same discussion is Ales Kotalik.

5-on-4 Scoring

Please note: Neither Andrew Cogliano or Marc Pouliot averaged 2 minutes a night over the past two seasons on the powerplay; therefore they aren’t included. Cogliano was just below the cutoff line while Pouliot was well back.

  • Ales Kotalik: 1.72 G/60 – 2.44 A/60 = 4.16 PTS/60
  • Robert Nilsson: 1.40 G/60 – 2.55 A/60 = 3.95 PTS/60
  • Dustin Penner: 1.77 G/60 – 1.69 A/60 = 3.46 PTS/60
  • Sam Gagner: 1.58 G/60 – 1.79 A/60 = 3.37 PTS/60
  • Patrick O’Sullivan: 0.65 G/60 – 1.74 A/60 = 2.39 PTS/60

This is another interesting breakdown, and shows where Kotalik picks up his points. However, if anything it understates Kotalik’s dominance – because he plays the point on the powerplay, Kotalik’s numbers should be compared not to forwards, but to defensemen, who generally score at a lesser rate with the man advantage.

As for the rest, Nilsson’s numbers are good after an excellent powerplay season, and Dustin Penner is probably better than his numbers because so many goals are scored while he is screening; goals he doesn’t get credit for. Gagner hasn’t been much more than a second-unit option at this point, and O’Sullivan’s numbers are so low as to be baffling; seriously, that’s a replacement level pace.

The Rest of It

O’Sullivan plays the PK and is a little more versatile than most of these guys, while Ales Kotalik deserves additional credit for his ability in the shootout. Beyond that, only Dustin Penner has really had to face difficult minutes over the past two seasons, although there effect is lessened because he generally gets sent out in the offensive zone.

Contract-wise, Penner’s easily the most expensive, with Patrick O’Sullivan coming in next. Ales Kotalik qualifies for free agency this summer, but probably won’t be too expensive for the next few seasons; I’d guess he gets a contract for somewhere between 2MM and 3MM a season. Robert Nilsson’s 2MM per season a deal, which initially looked to be something of a bargain now represents an overpay. Gagner and Cogliano are still on their entry level deals, so they’re relatively cheap, while Marc Pouliot earns less than 1MM a season. Pouliot really comes into the picture if the Oilers add a big-ticket player up front, since he’s versatile and dirt cheap.

How I See It

Penner, O’Sullivan and Kotalik are all very close at this point. Penner has size and positioning, O’Sullivan has youth and versatility, and Ales Kotalik is a welcome addition to any team’s powerplay or shootout lineup, so it all depends on what a team needs. Given the Oilers’ current roster, they have four defensemen who are legitimate powerplay options, with Souray and Visnovsky being particularly good, so I don’t see Kotalik as being as valuable here as he would be elsewhere (something that changes if one of the defensemen is moved).

Cogliano and Gagner don’t bring the same value to the roster today as those three players listed above, but they’re both very young and quite accomplished for their ages; I imagine that in five years time they’ll be better than any of O’Sullivan, Kotalik or Penner.

Nilsson and Pouliot are clearly on the outside looking in at this point. Nilsson needs to bounce back from a poor season and show the ability to put up points, while Pouliot needs to get a firm grip on a defined NHL role. Either could have an NHL career, but either could just as easily be playing in Europe in the next five years.