Every Stanley won by the Edmonton Oilers featured a strong group of foot soldiers. Men like Kevin McClelland, Mike Krushelnyski, Dave Hunter, Dave Lumley, Jaroslav Pouzar, Craig MacTavish, Martin Gelinas and more. The Oilers of today have identified their skilled men of tomorrow: the snipers, the rear gunners, the flyboys and they will likely play their future roles beginning in the fall. The foot soldiers of tomorrow? Today? Here’s the list:
- C Shawn Horcoff: With the summer procruement activity closing up front, it falls to Horcoff to man the designated checking line (as he did at the end of the season with Moreau and Pisani). A steady diet of Sedins and Stastny’s await Horcoff and his linemates and we discussed this possibility earlier in the summer. He was a -29 one year ago and depending on his linemates (and his overall health) he could be in the red by a wide margin again this winter. The fact remains there are no better options for the tough minutes C role, and like last year there is very little support beyond #10. Reasonable expectations: A lot of PK work and tough sledding at EVs. Horcoff’s FO winning percentage was subpar a year ago, but I think he’ll still be the main faceoff man. The Oilers badly need him to rebound to previous levels and a longer term injury would be disastrous. 68gp, 13-29-42.
- R Jordan Eberle: I took 7 forwards for the top 6 (I’ll post their details in a later post) and Eberle was the final cut. The Oilers could go any number of ways with this player, he has a nice range of skills and lots of grey matter. I think he might end up on a "kid line" for long stretches this season but there’s also going to be periods of time when the kids slump and the coaching staff attempt to take the pressure off of the rookies. I think Renney and company may try him on the PK a lot early because his anticipation is already all-world. If he can contribute there, he might get Horcoff or Fraser as his center and be asked to play a more complete game as a rookie. Reasonable boxcars: 72gp, 12-17-29 on 15 minutes a night (with several on the PK). Jordan Eberle sees the game extremely well, and I think it might end up landing him a job as an NHL center down the line.
- C Colin Fraser: Colin Fraser is a very important player for the 2010-11 Edmonton Oilers. Toughness, penalty killing, faceoffs (many ownzone) and mentoring young men who are stepping into their first NHL seasons. He’s going to be asked to play tougher minutes than he did a year ago with that ridiculous Chicago team, but he’s also a little older (25) and is probably as ready as he’ll ever be to handle the role. Reasonable expectations: 75gp, 8-14-22. If Horcoff plays a checking C role, the Oilers don’t need him to be Rem Murray or even Kyle Brodziak. But if he can win ownzone faceoffs, help on the PK and contribute to a checking line (Oilers could move him to RW for the Pisani role) Colin Fraser will be a very valuable player for this team.
- L Ryan Jones: I considered Jones for the top 6F (seriously) because he does have some size and skill. The Oilers apparently are thinking along those lines (quoting Jones: "They said they didn’t really have a ton of guys that fit my role. A power forward, goes to the net — that’s what they picked me up for.") and it is something we should look for in pre-season. However, Jones played 4line minutes and was productive in his previous town, so he’s in a similar situation to Fraser (new town and a chance to move up the depth chart). I really want to slot Jones on a designated checking line of Horcoff-Jones-Fraser but don’t know that the skill sets fit the checking line role. We’ll see. Either way he’s going to be a top 12F and we’ll see a lot of him in varying role. Reasonable expectations: His resume suggests we’re getting a productive player in a defined role who can make a difference in some important areas of the game. A complete wild card. 69gp, 10-12-22.
- R Zack Stortini: I think he’s going to see a lot more playing time this coming season. In the post below Archaeologuy brought up some excellent points about the Oilers and how they’ll use Horcoff. It got me thinking back to the 1997 Oilers (the Marchant scores on Moog group) and how they used their forwards. The club was deep down the middle (Doug Weight, Jason Arnott, Rem Murray, Mats Lindgren) and had a large number of skilled kids (Smyth, Czerkwaski, Marchant) on LW. They handled their RW’s thusly: Kovalenko (please tell me you saw him because I can’t explain him in less than 500 words) played with Weight on the de facto top line and they rolled Czerkawski, Smyth and Marchant along the portside. The 2line RW was veteran Kelly Buchberger and he played with Arnott and (mostly) young Ryan Smyth on a fun line to watch even when Smyth was just a kid. Marchant played with Rem and young Mike Grier (who was good the day he arrived) and they crashed everything in sight. Lindgren played on a 4line with a mixture of Klima (who played on all the lines depending on how deep he was in the doghouse), DeBrusk, Hulbig, Steve Kelly, McGuinn, Clark & Hillman. Long story short, could Stortini play a role similar to the one Buchberger played? Could the Oilers take Gagner/Penner and ask Stortini to play on that line? What about Brule/Cogliano? I think Stortini gets all kinds of chances just like that one to move into a top 9 role with this team. Reasonable expectations: 66gp, 4-7-11 and those numbers could increase if he can find a role with two skilled men.
- L Linus Omark: I wish he had come over a year ago. If Omark had been in Springfield to start last season the club would have had a long look at him at the NHL level. As it is, Omark is down the depth chart far enough that he’ll need to impress early and will not get many chances. My guess is he starts the season in Oklahoma City and rips it up, and will be the first callup due to injury/slump. After that, it is up to him. Reasonable expectations: There’s a wide range, since he should post offensive numbers given a slot in the batting order but we don’t know that he’ll get one. 25gp, 5-5-10.
- C Ryan O’Marra: He has good size (6.02, 207), he signed and he plays with a bit of an edge plus he signed an Oiler friendly contract. The Oilers clearly see something in him (they sent away Pouliot, Nilsson, Potulny but kept Omarra; he’s in their plans) but math doesn’t like his offense. He may land a role as a PK/faceoff man with some size and grit, but it will be a very small role unless he can post some crooked numbers. Reasonable expectations: 24gp, 1-3-4 and a pure checking/PK role.
- R Steve MacIntyre: We’re now at the 13-14F role. Steve MacIntyre is employed as a deterrent and as a fighter. He is a big mountain (6.05, 250) and fact is he has been effective in the role. Tom Renney has some bullet points on his resume that suggest MacIntyre will improve enough to play more (Colton Orr) as time rolls along, but we shouldn’t get too excited. MacIntyre–despite playing 44 NHL games–has about 2.5 hours experience in the NHL. Reasonable expectations: Oilers have their fighter. 3-4 minutes a game. 36gp, 0-2-2.
- L JF Jacques: Oilers gave him a huge push last season but it was a failed experiment: ALL Oilers had better Corsi numbers away from Jacques than they did with him. Jacques continues to get chances because coaches love the idea of him: Coke Machine on skates who can fly. Who wouldn’t like that? I’d love to know what Fred Shero would have done with him and would bet money the old timey Flyer coach would have traded for him in a heartbeat. Still, you reach a point where the experiment costs too much to continue and I think the Oilers are close to being at that point with this player. Injuries are also a concern. He’s missed a lot of playing time over the last 2 seasons and his career is in some doubt. Either way, that 24-goal season in the AHL is a distant bell. Reasonable expectations: 25gp, 1-1-2. He’ll get another chance. Why? Watch him skate.
- C Chris Vande Velde: I think he has a chance to make the team. VV is a big player with a terrific resume in terms of faceoffs and has that size/skill combination that caused the Oilers to elevate Jacques and Stone one year ago. Reasonable expecations: 2gp, 0-0-0. A cup of coffee and you never know.
NOTE: This is the third of five reasonable expectations posts for ON. The first one is here and the second one is here. I’ll have two more, one devoted to the top 6F’s (actually 7) and then one devoted to the goaltenders (also 7. Kidding).