This post begins my annual "reasonable expectations" series. Since there are several wrtiers on Oilers Nation, I’m going to condense all of the players into 5 articles. We begin with the sensational rookies.
I’ll post my projected boxcars, but it is more important to discuss possible roles for each player. If a prospect has only one role (Schremp skillset) then there’s every chance said player will have a season filled with stops and starts. It’s like a freeway at rush hour: 120 clicks one minute, dead stop the next. It is also important to factor in draft position, age, and the previous level for each player. The heralded rookies (Hall, Pääjärvi, Eberle) give us a nice range of age and experience (or lack thereof), and we’ll have to see which of them responds to specific roles.
A note about "reasonable" expectations. Below, you will read my estimates on what is reasoonable for each player to deliver. Every year I’ve done this, there are a few comments that go like this: "you’re a dummy, (X player) is way better than that and I talked to Kevin Lowe at Costco and he said that he’s a strong candidate for the top line." Okay, deep breath. This is not an attempt to find the outer marker, this is not an attempt to ruin your day or your summer; it is an attempt to draw a line in the sand that we can agree is reasonable in terms of role, approx. minutes and boxcars. Why do it? Well, sometimes a player exceeds expectations and it is nice to have a starting point to refer to after the fact. And sometimes, a player delivers exactly what you think he will and still gets bought out, leaving you wondering about life.
- L Taylor Hall: All of his arrows are pointing in the right direction. 1st overall pick means he’s going to get a major boost from the hockey club (Hall isn’t going to Team Canada’s world junior camp this summer, making him ineligible for the Christmas team. How would it look for Hall to be playing in Windsor and not attending the World Juniors? He’s an NHL player now on paper, and only because the games haven’t started yet). I think we can reasonably expect him to see more minutes than Steven Stamkos did as a rookie (15 minues a night) because the Oilers are so weak on LW. Hall’s Desjardins’ NHLE projections are in lock step with Stamkos, but I’ve nicked him a little. Why? He’ll probably end up with lesser numbers (9 PP markers for the Lightning star as a rookie). I believe the last Oiler rookie to score 9 powerplay goals in a season was David Oliver (10 in half a season, 95-96), and although Hall is obviously the best Oiler prospect in ages it isn’t likely he’s going to spend the season on the 1PP. If he does, then bump this projection. As it is, I suspect he’ll play on the 1line, 2line, 3line, 4line and even spend a night or two in the pressbox. It takes time. Reasonable boxcars: 74gp, 20-20-40, 16 minutes a night and he plays on every line. He will get more PP minutes than the other two rookies and because of it will lead the group on scoring. Confidence is a huge deal for any #1 pick, and this kid seems to have a lot of it. He’ll need it.
- W Magnus Pääjärvi. He has some advantages over the other two high end prospects. He played in the SEL at age 18 (17:25 a night), took 160 shots and enjoyed a +14 (38-24) plus minus. Before last season, defenseman Victor Hedmann said of him: "He can play physical, he’s big and strong. I don’t see anything that can stop him from playing on the smaller rinks." His splits are interesting (first 25gp: 7-9-16 -1; last 24gp, 5-8-13 +15) and he is often mentioned as being a "man" already in terms of physical development. Redline Report suggested he might have been ready a year ago, I think he not only makes the team but spends extended time on the top 2 lines and even gets some PP minutes. Reasonable boxcars: 66gp, 13-18-31 on 14 minutes per game. Although he is more physically mature than Hall, there’s going to be a gap in terms of where he should be on the ice and where he’ll be drawn to; I think he might earn the trust of the coaching staff down the line, but this season will be a learning curve much like the one described above (in regard to Hall). I don’t think he’ll approach Hall’s boxcars, but should say most of the shortfall will come due to different opportunities. Hall is extremely likely to get the push.
- C-R Jordan Eberle. I confess: when Craig MacTavish speaks, I listen. MacT: "he’s just a playmaking machine, and he’s going to be very good." For his part Eberle flourished when given yet another chance on the world stage (WHC’s). He’s 20 years old and arriving in the NHL with a lot of hype (a tremendous amount considering draft pedigree). He has an advantage over the other fine prospects in terms of age and leadership role. He’s also a cerebral offensive talent, you can see it pretty much every time he’s on the ice. 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. For now, he’ll be on the same NHL rollercoaster as Hall and Pääjärvi, although it is possible he sees extended time on the PK (depending on whether or not ST signs someone in August or September).
- D Theo Peckham. Wreckum is waiver eligible, and on a rebuilding team that needs grit and a mean spirited sort, he should find an NHL home if he performs well in camp. Injuries are a concern, and all rookie defensemen look overwhelmed at times. Peckham has those issues, but I think there’s a player here. This should be his season to make the grade. Reasonable boxcars: 51gp, 0-8-8 with 5-6D minutes. With most defensemen the boxcars don’t tell half of the story, and in Peckham’s case it wll be less than that. If he’s reading plays and reacting at speed by Valentine’s Day, we’ll have a player.
- L Linus Omark. He’ll play in the NHL this season (is my guess), but it is hard to get him onto the opening night roster. Omark’s age and skills suggest he’s probably close to being able to help at the NHL level, but his skill range means a top 6 role on the big club is the goal (and the only real role). Tough to do. If he makes it, Omark could trump the kids offensively. He looks unreal. Reasonable boxcars: 46gp, 10-8-18. He could win the Calder. Seriously.
- C Ryan O’Marra. I wouldn’t have him on the list, but the Oilers remain high on him. He has size and has expressed a willingness to play a checking role, but I don’t see him bringing enough offense to the NHL. I doubt he’ll survive, but do believe O’Marra will be given a chance this season. Reasonable boxcars: 30gp, 2-2-4. Lots of time on the penalty-kill and plenty of minutes in his own zone. Anton Lander can’t get here fast enough.
- G Devan Dubnyk. In his final 10 NHL games last season, Devan Dubnyk’s save percentage was .912. The Oilers goaltending situation is up in the air currently and Dubnyk is well positioned to take advantage of it. Lacking JDD’s acrobatic (and inconsistent) style, Dubnyk showed very well in those final 10 games and a strong training camp may move him up the depth chart. Reasonable boxcars: 20gp, 3.12 .901, and if Khabibulin’s case blows up then double the starts.
- D Alex Plante. Plante begins a group of 5 names on this list who should be "cup of coffee/injury callup" options. Plante looked good in his brief appearance last season and that probably earned him another look sometime in 2010-11. Reasonable boxcars: 10gp, 0-1-1. I like his progress and his calm feet, and he is the one defender who could arrive quickly on the rookie list.
- C Chris Vande Velde. A nice range of skills married to size make Vande Velde a candidate for NHL playing time. He is also a little older than most on the list and will be an everyday player in Oklahoma City. His position (Center) is among the weakest on the big league roster, so the tumblers could break right for him Reasonable boxcars: 6gp, 0-1-1 and it’ll be interesting to see how much PK time he gets in pre-season.
- D Jeff Petry. I may have him too low on the list, but the train wreck that has been Taylor Chorney’s adjustment to pro hockey serves as fair warning to the organization. Petry does have a wider range of skills and the Oilers have always been very high on him. Reasonable boxcars: 4gp, 0-1-1, and if he has a strong training camp you never know.
- L Teemu Hartikainen. Big Finn has progressed very well, and should he continue to do so I can see him getting some time in the NHL. Is unique on this list due to size and grit, and his ability to drive to high traffic areas will show well with the coaches. Reasonable boxcars: 1gp, 0-0-0 and a strong season in Oklahoma City.
- R Colin McDonald. Not strictly speaking an Oiler player at this time (he signed a minor league deal), I can see the Oilers calling him up because they don’t have a lot of players with his skills (checking). Should they sign a Pisani type then McDonald’s door to the NHL closes (barring injury). Reasonable boxcars: 1gp, 0-0-0 and he’ll need to improve offensively to avoid a European vacation in 2011-12.
So, to reiterate, I’m not saying Jordan Eberle won’t score 20 goals in 2010-11. I’m saying it is reasonable to expect–considering all things including the competition both old and new–that he will play most of the season in the NHL and score one dozen goals. If he passes that total, we can agree that Jordan Eberle exceeded expectations. Again.