Reasonable Expectations 10-11: The Foot Soldiers (F)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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).


  • Action Jackson

    Good Read!

    There will be lots of great camp battles to watch to see where everyone fits in. One I am especially interested in is the first line defensive pairing on the PP.

    Is a Hall a lock to play D like he did for a lot of junior? In that case do you split up Gilbert and Whitney, or do you put Hall with Foster who was good for the Lightning? If Souray comes back the situation becomes even more cloudy.

    What do you think Lowetide?

  • Action Jackson

    The problem I see, as do a number of bloggers and posters on the web, is that the Oilers are strikingly mediocre at taking face offs and that is even using 2008-09 Shawn Horcoff who was a face off stud. With his injuries if Horcoff is not absolutely dominating in face offs, we could be a truly horrendous. Like Fraser’s skill set, I am just not sure winning face offs is one of his strengths.

    Beating horse to death but one of the unbelievable advantages the Oilers of 05/06 had was they had the perfect blend of strong right handed (Peca. Stoll) and lefty (Horcof. Reasoner) face off studs

    Maybe Fraser can improve or O’Marra or CVV make a surprising jump to the big leagues

  • Lowetide

    Action Jackson: I thought a lot about the PP. Hall might be an option, but I’d like to see Renney make use of both Gagner and Hemsky on the 1PP. That probably means one of them is on the point.

    As an aside, I don’t think Souray will be here in the fall. As for where Hall plays on a regular basis, I think he’ll end up on the same line as Hemsky. Probably on LW.

  • Action Jackson

    The Oilers’ do not have the stand out offensive weapons of other teams; our talent is evenly spread out among the top 6 forwards. As this is the case, the team should set up two balanced PP units in an effort to set up some healthy competition between the units. Consistency within the units is always key in generating chemistry. This balanced unit approach would lead to less personnel changes within the units as Renney would not need to cycle players in and out of the first unit.

    Regardless, this year is going to be fun to watch!

  • Brocktw

    Thanks Lowetide, excellent read as usual. I agree with O’mara, Omark & Vande Velde being on this list. However, I really think Reddox may end up playing more than any of these three. For the simple fact that he has an NHL resume, playing as a bottom 6 foot soldier.
    LT what are our thoughts.

  • Lowetide

    Brock: Yeah, I didn’t include Reddox in the mix because there are so many other options that are shiny and new. But Reddox has played at least one NHL game in the last three seasons so I suspect he’ll find a way onto the roster at some point.

    I know Buchberger liked him when he coached in the AHL.

  • magisterrex

    I know Tambelini said he won’t be adding more players, but I wonder if a call to the New Jersey Devils to take Dainius Zubrus off their hands would be in order. Another tough minutes center who can win a draw, and Jersey needs to shed some salary cap.

  • Action Jackson

    LT: Are you joining Gregor in stooping to running photos of hot chicks in uniforms to attract readership now? Can you not simply rely on quality content and insight as I always do? Have you no dignity? Tsk. Tsk. You’re better than that.

    And get the hell off my lawn . . .

  • What all the Horcoff haters seem to fail to realize, is that some teams like to play their best line against Hemsky & Penner. Those are tough minutes. If you want Horcoff as a checker playing tough minutes, well, at times, it may be in the Oilers best interests to actually play Horcoff with those two.

    I’m not saying that’s what I’d do all the time, but if you get into situations where some teams play PvP, Horcoff may need to be on the top line. And with other teams that deploy more of a traditional checking line, let Sam take the reigns as the 1C and let him challenge himself to get better & fight thru it (at least he’ll be supported by strong linemates). As long as he’s not getting pwned, let him learn how to deal with being a 1C in those situations, while Horcoff can move to more of a checking line to play the other teams top line.

    Because until they find a true, legit 1C (or until Sam proves the naysayers like me that say he “only” has a high-end 2C ceiling), a Horcoff-Gagner combo as 1C will have to suffice.

    • Luckily the safety valve for the Hemsky Penner duo is Penner. The guy is extremely good defensively and will help out young Sam Gagner as he continues to get better, as he has every year, defensively.

      That is, if they choose to go with Penner and Hemsky as a duo.

      I think they will choose to let Horcoff start the year in the role he finished out last season in. It’s the situation you described. Horcoff is still getting a ton of ice time but Gagner is playing with the top line.

      That does mean that Gagner will have to play against generally tougher opposition. I dont see any reason to revert expectations from the way they were at the end of last season until either player proves differently.

  • Lowetide

    I think they top 2 offensive lines will be “pairs” that the team will add/delete the kids to based on who’s hot/who’s not.

    Penner-Gagner has great chem and so does Horcoff-Hemsky. If they move Horcoff to a designated checking line then I think the pairing will be Hall-Hemsky with centermen (Brule, Cogliano, others) auditioning.

    • They could also go with:


      2)Penner-Horc-Brule Or 2)Penner-Brule-Eberle

      I think a Penner-Horc-Brule line could get a lot of ice time and depend offensively on the Brule/Penner chemistry. The line is defensively supported by Penner with Horcoff. This is a line where there is a kid line of MPS-Cogs-Eberle as the #3.

      The Penner-Brule-Eberle line would represent a more balanced peppering of rookies among the lines with Horcoff on the 3rd line.

      The more I think about it, the more having Horc play on the 2nd line with a 3rd kid line makes some sense. I know many Horc pushers quote the chemistry between Hemsky and 10, but that is a couple years removed from any kind of real success and that coincides with Horc’s tremendous drop off. The fact of the matter is that Hemsky hasnt had any real opportunity to play with anyone as offensively capable as Horc used to be. There are now better options offensively.

      *not entirely sure that the coach puts the 18 year old kid on the top line to start the year though.

  • Low expectations are easy to make . Can’t believe what little most of you expect this season from the Oilers and especially the youth . A.Kimellman on is far more optimistic than most of you are . ” If the kids get off to good start and their confidence grows , then anything is possible ” !!

    Kimmellman goes on to say Eberle and Hall were elite scoring talents in junior (like we didn’t know that ), and Svensson and OMark have already played against men for 3 years now .

    In a nutshell , we go with youth (live and die with the youth movement ) or we remain in the basement . Nothing more unappealing or unattractive than staying in the basement, and wasting another season with AHL fill ins .

    • A year with the kids in important roles should probably guarantee the Oilers will be in the basement, and that would be the best thing the Oilers can do.

      I think I saw you calling for the big 3 rookies all hitting 60+ points. That isnt even a high expectation, that is a miraculous expectation.

      • Lowetide

        @ARCH . Super elite talent is not like normal talent, so don’t treat them as such . Inmost cases they have been on an EXPEDITED coarse all their years . These kids learn and grow fast more than the norm , but only if given the opportunity by their coaches to do so . You stunt their expedited growth cycle and phyche and destroy a lot of them bringing them along to slowly . They learn, and learn fast, and don’t lose the expedited path they are on . In other words they flourish much faster than you would normally expect of most athletes .

        Going with thoroughbred type young talent is the route to go – growing pains and all , for if they are elite athletes they will not flourish going to minors and watching less talented players that have so called payed their dues ahead of them ( slap in face ) . It takes a special type coach to bring these kids up and understand them . They’ll all flourish in first year if given the opportunity to do so and learning curve will be faster than you realize .

  • GSC

    “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.”

    Yep, it’s never Horcoff’s fault. Ever.

  • Lowetide

    GSC: I think most of us cut him some slack because the Oilers don’t have (other) available options. Had Jarret Stoll stuck around the equation would be completely different, but as it is now the Oilers don’t have a lot of people who can play those minutes.

    Would you agree?

    • GSC

      Sure, but to imply that Horcoff’s linemates are the source of the problem with his +/- and drop in production (for the 2nd season in a row) rather than #10’s own shortcomings is failing to hold the player accountable.

      • magisterrex

        Yet, that’s the first excuse trotted out for Cogliano when discussing his shortcomings as a player. If extra rope is given to Cogliano then that same rope needs to be given to Horcoff.

        (Not saying that you have argued that point in the past, just pointing out some logic problems with how Horcoff gets treated on this and other boards.)

  • Lowetide

    GSC: I think its both. Horcoff was not close to his best and the team didn’t have enough actual players to fill 4 lines. So Horcoff was awarded JF Jacques.

    Would you agree that JF Jacques had an impact on that plus minus number?

    • GSC

      Who’s to say that Horcoff didn’t have an impact on one of his linemate’s +/- rating?

      As long as we can agree that both factors are to blame, I have no objections.

  • Lowetide

    GSC: I’m sure he did have an impact on his linemates plus minus. He most certainly didn’t carry the mail offensively when Hemsky went down (and then Penner moved to another line).

    Horcoff was most effective late on the designated checking line, when the coaching staff hard matched 5 players against the other team’s best.

    Horcoff, Moreau, Pisani, Gilbert, Whitney. They played a lot agains the Sedins and the other top lines in the last stretch there. If the Oilers can find someone to help in that role (on the wings) from this group then I think that’s where Horcoff will play in 10-11.

  • GSC,

    Here is a chart of all of the Oilers player’s scoring chances playing with and playing without Horcoff:

    This was put together by poster Quain at LT’s using Vic Ferrari’s script.

    EDIT: Read it wrong

    Interestingly both Penner and Hemsky do worse with Horcoff. How much of it is due to tougher opposition and how much is to do with Horcoff’s terrible offensive season is up for debate.

    • GSC

      Unless I’m reading those stats wrong, it would seem Penner and Hemsky both have a better percentage without Horcoff.

      Not to mention, several other players on that list are better without Horcoff. Why would you pick only Hemsky and Penner? Why not include all?

  • Hemmertime

    Leelee is a younger more attractive Helen Hunt. Since Helen Hunt wasnt that attractive (unless you were above 30 in the 90s) I don’t know that that means. When I first saw the picture I saw boobs, when I 2nd saw it I thought she was holding a beer bong in her hand. Knowing she’s not cheapens it a little