The Rookies (Vol 1)

A look at the overall NHL standings this morning has two unlikely teams at the top of each conference: The Edmonton Oilers are kings of the west and first place in the east belongs to the Big Smoke. Its early. For Edmonton Oiler fans, the W’s are fun. The serious business has little to do with W’s and a lot to do with three gifted kids making their NHL debuts. Here’s a very early glance at the results.

We don’t have enough at-bats to reach any conclusions, but as the three kids fill up each column with crooked numbers we can begin to see the picture clearly. Consider this exercise the first few minutes of a Thanksgiving jigsaw puzzle: we’re placing all the blue sky pieces at the top and trying to get a feel for the task at hand.

  • Jordan Eberle (2gp, 1-1-2 +2). The best boxcars of the group, Eberle has impressed both the "saw him good" group and the math people. His goal was a splendid shorthanded tally, he’s a shooter (averaging 2 shots a game) and a passer and the young man is being used in multiple roles. His 16:01 a night includes 12 at even strength and about 2 on the PK and PP. Tom Renney clearly sees him as a solid option in all areas, and Eberle’s intelligent decision making reflects it. The Desjardins numbers are up for the first game but don’t give us a feel (yet) for how things are going. Dennis King is tracking scoring chances and so far Eberle (9-5) is well above .500 in his two games. I think we can reasonably rule out luck or onlooker status for #14, he really has been helping send the puck in the right direction. I suspect his Corsi will reflect that as we roll along. A very strong start for this player.
  • Taylor Hall (2gp, 0-1-1 +1). The only rookie in the group to score a point at even strength, Hall has impressed (4 shots) with his work in the offensive zone and his willingness to venture into high traffic areas. He is clearly the youngest of the group in terms of experience at higher levels, and that has shown itself from time to time. However, a lot of this season is about survival for these kids and I don’t think it is a stretch to say he’s doing way better than that after two games. His 16 minutes have been doled out by Renney like this: 14 at even-strength, 2 on the PP per night. It is a subtle tell, but I think it’ll likely hold all season long. His early RelCorsi (38, same as Eberle’s) is ridiculous but we don’t have enough sorties to consider it a legit number. Nice start, though. Hall’s scoring chance numbers (10-5) is a match for Eberle; they have been playing on the same line.
  • This is where we have to talk about context. Hall and Eberle are playing on the 2line with Shawn Horcoff. Now I know Horcoff is thought by many to be a horrible hockey player, but he is in fact a good one. I’m not trying to reduce the impact of what the two kids above have accomplished, but they’ve done it with calm seas and clear skies (relatively speaking). Some of that is their own doing, but some of it comes from playing with a calm, steady veteran in the middle. The third rookie has not had that kind of luxury, and as we’ll see (below) the results have been far different.
  • A quick note about injuries: We (hockey fans) have a tendency to forget about them. In baseball, the at-bat takes time and the announcer will inevitably say (during the at-bat) "Tommy was hit on the hand by pitcher Lightning McGee in July and it really cut back on his power. He hit 14 homers before July 10th, and none after getting plunked." We view that at-bat differently. We know that the batter will probably regain his power, but not this season. Years of observing (or playing) baseball have taught us that this is player who–while valuable–is not completely healthy. We temper our expectations.
  • In hockey, we forget all about it. We find out Gilbert Brule has been hurt and we wait for news about how long he’ll be out. If he’s in (as he was last night), we (as a group) expect him to perform at previous levels. Part of it (imo) is that hockey is such a fluid game and the announcer may mention it one time during a break in the action. It doesn’t have the same impact as it might during an at-bat. Brule’s injury may have had an impact on Pääjärvi’s game last night.
  • Even if it didn’t, Andrew Cogliano’s play did have an impact on that line. The late game shuffle by coach Renney saw both Cogliano and Brule spend some time on the bench (Coglaino spent 16 seconds on the ice between the 11 and 17 minutes mark of the third and Brule didn’t hit the ice at all during that time. The 4line replaced them and MPS moved up to the 1line) based on poor results. Injury or confusion, doesn’t matter. It wasn’t working. 
  • Magnus Pääjärvi (2gp, 0-0-0 -1). MPS has been noticed during these two games, often for being the first man back on his line and his tendency to get blown up on a hit (I don’t think he has any fear). He’s been shooting (3 shots in 2 games) but honestly his line hasn’t been in the offensive zone enough to have an impact. He’s getting a little less icetime (14 minutes) than the other two rookies but it isn’t a lot considering he is on the de facto 3line and that 14 minutes is still a nice total for a rookie (Renney is giving this group playing time, no one can complain). It breaks down like this: 12.5 at evens, 1.5 on the PP. Dennis scoring chance totals for the 2 games so far (5-6) reflect that the 3line is slightly below average overall (Brule is 3-5, Cogliano has had some golden chances and is 5-4). I don’t think the 3line will stay together long, unless Cogliano can figure things out in a hurry. Brule’s injury did seem to impact his performance; the benching of the two (young) veterans and the elevation of the kid in the third period offers us anecdotal evidence that there will be changes if things continue. It wasn’t all roses and sunshine after G1, either. Gabriel Desjardins’ RelCorsi had the line at -36 (Brule) -46 (MPS) and -58 (Cogs). I don’t think this line is going to stick.

All things considered I think the trio has had a nice start. It is (very) early but to my eye each of them has shown exceptional natural ability and a surprising amount of intelligence. That combined with some real courage in physical areas tells me their arrows are all pointing in a positive direction.

The rookies are doing well.

  • OilFan

    Cog’s has been better at the dot than other Oiler centers, any one notcie Hall is 100% at the dot ? Is Cog’s the new whipping boy ? Only one player played good Bulin. Hemsky had some bad give aways as did Eberle in the defensive end did you all miss them ? We better give up on Cog’s a 20 year old kid and give Sammy every chance we can

  • OilFan

    I seem to recall a couple people pointing out Jones’ offensive chops, even before his goal yesterday. He’s a pesky bugger with speed and seems defensively responsible, why not give him the promotion to the 3-line. Bump Brule to C with Paajarvi and Jones manning the wings and I think that line creates some chances.

    As the single remaining member of the card-carrying Cogliano fan club, he’s wearing out his welcome in Edmonton damn fast. His refusal to play wing last year and won’t be able to audition for the wing spots in the Top-6 this year. He’s getting lapped by the new kids and that race is almost over. I still think he’s not being used effectively as I think he could be an ace PKer due to his speed, but if he doesn’t have the trust of the coach at EV he’s surely not going to garner that trust a man down. Sad days, as my #13 road jersey looks like it’s going to be obsolete pretty soon.

  • OilFan

    If the lines are going to change, really the only changes I believe will be to the bottom 6. Cogs is ineffective at C, so move Brule to C (when healthy) and bring Jones up to the wing on the 3rd line. He has some hands and is one helluva forechecker which will probably result in more puck posession/retrieval in the offensive zone.

    It’s more difficult to showcase Cogs if he’s on the 4th line but I think that he’s showed all that he can show. He has ‘potential’ but I don’t think that it will come to fruition in Edmonton.

  • Rogue

    Nobody looked good last night, other than SBS. Lack of concentration? Hope Renney puts a quick stop to that or we will have a repeat of last year. Mind you, that would be great for the draft. Bad passing, and when the puck actually hit the stick, no one could handle it. Frasers miff was the typical play for the night. It will be interesting to see what this team looks like at the 20 game mark.

  • OilFan

    For a bit I thought it was the same team as last season. Unable to get a clean pass out of the defensive end. Then we won! Last season that would have been a blow out. Bulin has been great so far and stole the 2 points for the Oilers, we wouldn’t get those two points if Doobie or JDD play. Where is all the guys that wanted the Oilers to dump Boozin ?

  • Hmm.. am I the only one who’s impressed with MPS and his movement when defending? Sure, he haven’t been smoking upfront but defensively he’s been alright (that 2nd goal yesterday had nothing to do with MPS).

    I would really like to see Brule as centre, perhaps in between MPS and a player such as Omark as someone above me suggested – I really think that it would work out. But I don’t know about sending Cogs to the minors. I bet he’ll be grabbed of waivers and that’s something I rather not see. Bleh.

    2nd line is fine, even though I reckon MPS would do even better then Hall on that line. But keeping Hall and Eberle will be good for the future so stick with it.

    Perhaps MPS-Brule-Hemsky & Penner-Gagner-Cogliano. But on the other hand I would really like to see Penner-Brule-MPS again as they were vs. Canucks, looked great so why not try it again.

    Penner’s looked uninspired and lazy even though he scored yesterday. He needs to get his head up.

  • Schmidty

    Oilers serve up a Thanksgiving Day Turkey ,only to be rescued by Horcoff’s rendition of Wendy’s Kick To Win . Meanwhile , on the farm (OKC) rookie scoring sensation T.Hartikanen continues to score 100% of all their goals .

  • Schmidty

    Since the HEH line seems to be working/developing, I’m hoping to see MPS play with Hemmer and Gagner. MPS seemed to complete passes through small seams to Hemmer in the preseason and their ability to play at the same speed should be a big plus.

    I would also like to see Fraser take a shift or two on the third line, just to see if he could play there. Fraser-Penner-Brule? I’m not sure but would like to try it.

  • technomage500

    Can they send Cogliano to Oklahoma and bring up a Center ? Promote Fraser to the third line ? This issue has been with us since Stoll & Reasoner left.

  • technomage500

    What was up with Penner last night? Too much turkey before the game? Every time he got the puck he either had it taken away or just threw it away to the corner or gave it to Gagner or Hemsky.
    This was the 2nd game of the season and he has no energy???
    We don’t expect wins every night, but a little try will work wonders.

  • Lowetide

    Paajarvi has to learn how to bump the guy off the puck.Coming from euro hockey it will take time but he will come along.I dont think they can take Penner off the #1 line to help him .After he recovers from his injury Brule will show he is a better player than last night and should fit with MPS

  • Lowetide

    Oilfan: I don’t think we know that yet. Gagner has three years experience, but he’s 20. I’d certainly give him a full season to sink or swim, probably another. Gagner has some good arrows.

  • Death Metal Nightmare

    that third line needs to be broken up immediately and the Penner/Gagner/Hemsky line does also. they both looked very average regardless of the points they put together. the third line being too small, the other line just being out of sync. Paajarvi should be with Hemsky and Brule (shooter) or something and Gagner, Penner and Cogs should get a line. seems more balanced for physical play, or puck possession but of course the Gagner line “demands” more ice time cause widdle-baby Sammy cutie needs to be handed the reigns of success.

  • Lowetide

    The thing about Horcoff is that he’s perfect for that role. If Gagner can make hay with Penner-Hemsky (did in G1, not some much in G2) then I don’t think the Horcoff line changes.

    Why would it?

  • Lowetide

    LT points out the importance of having good centres, a big weakness for the Oilers.

    Acknowledging that a fit and healthy Horcoff is doing his job, what about Gagne, Cogliano and Fraser? This is going to be a make or break season for Gagne. Renney has certainly provided him the tools, Penner and Hemsky. Even though Renney has provided Cogliano Paarjavi and Brule, as LT notes, this isn’t working out very well. And then there is Fraser, who hasn’t impressed very much, however, it could be on account of limited ice time. We know he can’t score on an empty net.

    Is Brule better fitted to centre a line with Paarjarvi and say Omark? The club knows what Cogliano can and can’t do, why not reach down to OKC and bring up another young gun. What is there to lose?

      • OilFan

        They need to trade for a number one center. Making Horcoff second, Gagner third and Cog’s fourth. Fraser is by far the slowest skater I’ve seen and was he just dumping the puck in the corner to kill time in the end ? Jarret Stoll has had one good season and a bunch of half ass seasons shouldn’t be hard to replace oh wait never mind

  • Bryzarro World

    I am loving this season. As long as we stay reasonably healthy and protect our rookies we should have a very exciting next few years.

    Loved the bit on TSN too. They are finally having fun again. LOL… I just can’t see Moreau ever doing a bit like that… Good call as Horc as Captain.