RE 10-11: Skill Forwards

There are 6 slots for 7 skill forwards on the 10-11 Oilers depth chart. Penner, Hemsky, Gagner and Hall are a lock, but the rest of the group is a moving target. It is so fluid we may well be having the same conversation one year from now.

In a very real way, the Oilers could have made life much easier for themselves if they’d chosen Tyler Seguin #1 overall. I’m not arguing the pick (Taylor Hall is a solid #1 overall selection) but we’re left with a depth chart deep on both wings and soggy in the middle. In the previous look at reasonable expectations (the foot soldiers) I named Shawn Horcoff and Jordan Eberle among the group that will be asked to play a specific role outside the top 6F and 1PP. I’ll list the top 7 candidates for the two offensive lines below, but we should acknowledge that both Horcoff and Eberle could push their way onto the top 6F’s at any time before or during the season.

  • LW-C Dustin Penner: I think we should start by talking about the possibility of Penner playing center this coming season. His FO percentage wasn’t terrible (48%) compared to the rest of the group and he has had a season over 50% (in fewer sorties). My personal preference would be to keep Penner on LW (he’s very effective there) but from a roster point of view it makes sense. Penner is the straw that stirs the drink in the offensive zone, and an absolute giant of a man when he has the puck and a lane. He is the ultimate Coke Machine when he’s on his game and an extremely valuable hockey player who creates powerplay after powerplay just by maintaining possession in dangerous areas. It is a pure tragedy that the best hockey of his career is likely to be played deep in the NHL’s second division. Reasonable expectations: Outrageous minutes on the PP and a lot of work on the 1line at 5×5. This player is a stud and Renney has shown a willingnness to run those types ragged in the past. 81gp, 35-35-70. Dustin Penner is a big part of this hockey club.
  • RW Ales Hemsky: I believe Ales Hemsky is the best player on the Oilers hockey team. He’s a splendid talent, worth the price of admission all by his lonesome. Unlike a more cerebral player (like Sam Gagner, as a for instance) Hemsky is pure reaction, reflex and skill: he was touched by God. He is not a perfect player (turns the puck over at the blueline, needs to shoot more) but he’s got game, gumption and will crank it up no matter the opposition. That’s a lot to like. Hemsky’s injuries are a big concern, especially considering the huge number of games missed this past season. He is the most physical of Edmonton’s skill wingers (although Taylor Hall may give him some competion. NOTE: I’ve listed Brule as a center here) and he is outstanding on the PP. One imagines Hall (or MPS, or Eberle) cashing more of those butter goalmouth chances than Shawn Horcoff has in the past after 83 has delivered a wonderful pass. I think Renney will rely on Hemsky in all situations this season and would be shocked if this player gets less than 4.5 minutes a night on the powerplay. Reasonable expecations: 60gp, 18-48-66 and a steady diet of skilled rookies auditioning for the role of Hemsky’s wingman. 
  • C Sam Gagner:  On October 22, the Oilers played Gagner with Penner and Hemsky, with predictable results. Penner was the first star, Hemsky 2nd and the kid third star. The totals for that line: 4 goals, 9 assists, 13 points.
    Dustin Penner: "That would have to be the best game of my career, certainly statistically. The stars lined up for me and my linemates tonight. It feels really good. I don’t know the last time I was on a team that bounced back from down as much as we were. That’s one of the games where you know the true meaning of momentum." The game highlights are here. Gagner is a cerebral player with a wonderful imagination. His first three NHL seasons have been frustrating for some, but a closer view (Corsi) suggests a steady improvement in terms of moving the puck in the right direction. He’s worked very hard over the summer and recently signed a two-year deal that I suggest will be a bargain for the Edmonton organization. Injuries are a concern, but the arrows are strong and positive for Samwise. Reasonable expectations: 80gp, 16-37-53. If they can find a rookie winger to cash his passes–AND they can find a way to use them against the soft parade–Gagner could have a monster season at age 21.
  • L Taylor Hall: Taylor Hall scored 14-32-46 on the PP and 4-1-5 shorthanded last season in the OHL. Doing simple math, that makes his EV number last season 57gp, 22-33-55 (.965). That EV number is exceptional compared to other juniors with similar numbers. Let’s use Steven Stamkos (a nice comparable overall) as an example: 61gp, 23-23-46 on the PP (basically the same, Hall played 4 fewer games and had a lot more assists but the same point total); 5-3-8 on the PK and that makes his EV number in his draft year 61gp, 30-21-51 (.836). A lot of numbers, but bottom line is Hall did more damage at EVs than Stamkos and that remains true for several juniors in their draft year (Sam Gagner is another). That EV number is excellent. Hall has swagger and skill and you get the sense that he’s going to cut a wide swath as an NHL player. I would only caution that it is unlikely to come all at once: the last 18-year old to score 100 points for Edmonton was Wayne Gretzky for the WHA Oilers. Reasonable expectations: 74gp, 20-20-40 and much better if Renney can fix the PP with Hall an integral part of it.
  • C-R Gilbert Brule: Sometimes when a team is historically bad it is easy for fans to overlook real growth. Last season–in the middle of a monumental clusterbleep season–young Gilbert Brule ripped of the shackles that held him back and kicked out the jams at the NHL level. He’s still 5.10 and he’s not a complete player, but Brule brings some grit, skill and attitude. Plus he can win faceoffs (or at least he won 52.6% of 274 sorties last year). If Dustin Penner stays at wing, I suspect the top 2 centers on the team with be Sam Gagner and Gilbert Brule. Reasonable expecations: 75gp, 18-22-40. If Brule can deliver another season just like the last one, Oiler fans should start including him on that list of outstanding young players who could be here when the Stanley returns.
  • L Magnus Pääjärvi: I often talk about arrows and how many are pointed up or down. All of the arrows in his quiver are positive: speed to burn, pro experience, he’s a shooter on  a team with puckhandlers and he’s more physically mature than the other kids. PLUS he played defense as a kid ala Bengt Gustafsson so there might be some awareness of the overall game. I cannot wait to see him in pre-season. Reasonable expectations: 66gp, 12-18-30 and some breathtaking dashes into enemy territory. If he has some element of a two-way game, this guy could be a major part of the club within a couple of seasons. 
  • C-W Andrew Cogliano: I’ve listed him here because it makes sense that the organization will try him on the skill lines. He has three seasons of NHL experience and should be posting better numbers, but the organization should try him with some skilled men for half a season before sending him away for 10 cents on the dollar. If Cogliano can come to camp and find some chemistry with one or two of the kids, Edmonton`s 4th line might be a "kid line" that gets more minutes on nights when things are clicking. He was on that kid line that went supernova spring 2008. I see him as being more of a winger than center, but it seems he and the organization still hold out hope that he can play the center position. Reasonable expectations: 82gp, 10-20-30 and one final effort to find a role in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers.
  • Lowetide

    Kinger: Last season, how many NHL teams had three scoring lines? The Oilers can worry about a third scoring line the moment they find a second scoring line.

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    I find it interesting how the group-think top-6 forward language that has come out in the last few years, has totally distorted analysis. Whose to say you can’t have 3 scoring lines? It is so arbitrary to say top 6, bottom 6. How about the top line, a second line, a third line, and a grinder line. Why you wouldn’t want a third line that has skill is I guess a relflection of how over-coached, dumbed down, less skilled and boring NHL hockey has become.

    • Agreed !! The rest of you people seem to assume it will be a 6-6 split . It may be next season you see a 6-6 split , but not this year . It will be a year to assess and develop the top nine forwards . That’s our strength ( makes the most sense) this year , and we’ll play to a top nine . That’s the best way to develop and assess them for next season . Those of you trying to speculate what top 6 will look like should keep that in mind , instead of cutting off the skilled forward position at 6 !

      Think top 9 for this season and your reasoning and forward positioning is more in tune with what a lot of others expect . Offense is our strength , we need to play to it , and we’ll play to it this season at least !

      • Mouse

        A top nine is great, but one line still has to be really good defensively, like Chicago’s third line of byfuglien, bolland, versteeg. That would be a really good second line on pretty much every team in the NHL. IF you can get good offensive players to shut down the other top line, they will also score a fair margin because top lines aren’t usually the best defensely (they don’t have to be because they usually have the puck the whole time).

        And look where all that skill has landed Chicago this year – they had to trade away pretty much the whole “third” scoring line.

  • Lowetide

    I like the idea of moving Penner to a more permanent role at center. He has the size, vision and faceoff skills required to do the job, plus he has experience playing center in the past.

    I think Cogliano will have a turnaround season and take a major step forward like Brule did last season, if he plays like he did to end last season he should have a heck of a year in Edmonton in 10-11, assuming Tambi doesn’t decide to purge him.

  • gr8one

    What about Omark?

    He definitely fits into the “skill forward category”…do you see him make the club out of camp? A call up later on? A good solid season in OKC with high hopes for next year? Trade bait? A total fizzle?

  • Milli

    LT, that was a great read! Isn’t it funny how Penners contract does actualy look like a bargain now, just like Klo said it would? I mean, I didn’t believe him, but man did he bring it last year! Can’t freakin wait for hockey!

  • Hemsky @ RW1 is the only certainty, nothing else fits.

    Hall 26&29=55pts

    Penner @ center PP1&PK2 30-30 **play with more edge with rookies**

    “the Oilers could have made life much easier for themselves if they’d chosen Tyler Seguin #1”

    AMEN!!

  • Lowetide

    Shadi: The OHL site breaks down leaders by category. It takes a few minutes to find each player but it reveals some worthwhile things (like Hall’s impressive EV numbers). Here’s Seguin:

    PP: 63gp, 13-30-43; PK: 0-0-0; EV 63gp, 35-28-63 (1.00)

    • Milli

      Thank you very much, I had a hard time all year finding the assists and total points e.s. I am assuming they don’t keep icetime.

      I am not trying to re-open the debate, just a curious fan, but I will say when I was at the draft. I spoke to the entire Windsor org. except Bougner, and their asst coach told me that Hall is best suited on the wing because “he can conserve more energy there than at centre which allows him to focus more on offence”. That disapointed me.

      By the way Mike Babcock and Scotty Bowman were leaning towards Seguin. Thats what they told me personally.

      I do love the fact that Hall wants to be here.A friend told me he’s 90% sure he will wear #4, you heard it here first.

  • C-DOG

    I hope Penner never plays centre. He finaly had sucsess playing in his natural position. When carrying the puck he skates with his head down and he does not have the stamina to play a 200′ game which elite centres need to have.

    You cannot manufacture a #1 centre, you need to draft him.

    By the way where did you get the points breakdown for Hall p.p., e.s. and s.h. Any chance you can post what Seguin did, and what about icetime breakdown ( p.p.,s.h. and e.s)

    Thanks

    • Laughing Pug

      Shadi, your 4-hour-free-car-wash-blitz-on-draft-lottery-day bonanza was one of the best things to ever happen to the Oilers as a franchise. Dig deep and find another Oilers related reason to do it again.

      Besides, it was good luck…..right?

      • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

        Kind of, I wanted a franchise centremen, if they win the lottery next year I’ll do it again.( Couterier. Hopkins, Rask and maybe Larrson D)

        The people comparing Gagner to Datsuyk or that he will be a legit #1 C. Datsuyk is impossible to nock off the puck,plays a great 200′ game, he has amazing balance and is a great skater even if he does not have blazing straight away speed.

        Seperate your emotions for the team and think with your heads so you can be honest with your evaluations and you will regognize Gagner is a nice prospect with a huge heart but not a #1 C that will ever lead to a cup.

        Not Hating just realizing!

        • At 20 Datsyuk was not “impossible to (k)nock off the puck”. At 20 he was in Russia and was still 3 years away from a whopping 35 point season.

          I’m not saying Gagner is Datsyuk, that is pretty unlikely, but it is exceedingly unfair to compare the mature version of Datsyuk with young Gagner. Do you “realize” that?

          • Do you actually remember how Datsyuk’s skating and balance was or are you assuming that. If Gagne was in Detroit’s org. He would of yet to have “sniffed” the ice at the J.L.A.

            Remember when Datsyuk was a rookie he had a bunch of hall of famers ahead of him. Ever since the 50th game of Gagner’s career he has been given top 6 and p.p. min 95% of the time.

            If you agree he’s unlikely to be like Datsyuk,Which basically means he wont be a franchise #1 centreman than what’s your point.By the way his most impressive run was when he was 18 & on the right wing with Cog’s.

            Second line forward at best, thats not a horrible thing.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            I think the major issue is that most people (obviously you included) don’t know how much production you typically get from “1st/2nd liners” etc.

            Considering the “averge” 2nd line LW/C/RW (45th in scoring at their respective position) scored 37/48/42 points last year and the 31st highest scoring LW/C/RW put up 46/57/48 points, it’s flat out ridiculous to say Gagner will be a 2nd liner “at best”

            Dispite the delusions of the Oiler fan, not every “1st line” center puts up 80+ points. Heck, last year the 15th highest scoring center in the league only put up 70 points (who oddly enough was Datsyuk himself)….

            …But I suppose that’s a ceiling far too high for a guy with 3 40+ seasons by age 20.

          • Do you actually remember how Datsyuk’s skating and balance was or are you assuming that. If Gagne was in Detroit’s org. He would of yet to have “sniffed” the ice at the J.L.A.

            No I don’t remember and neither do you. This is precisely my point. You say Gagner wouldn’t have made Detroit’s team back then, but Datsyuk hadn’t “sniffed” the ice yet either at Gagner’s age. Datsyuk was a 6th round pick playing in Russia’s 2nd division at 20, who astoundingly developed into a top player.

            Remember when Datsyuk was a rookie he had a bunch of hall of famers ahead of him. Ever since the 50th game of Gagner’s career he has been given top 6 and p.p. min 95% of the time.

            Not sure what this has to do with my point that Datsyuk wasn’t as far along as Gagner at the age of 20.

            If you agree he’s unlikely to be like Datsyuk,Which basically means he wont be a franchise #1 centreman than what’s your point.By the way his most impressive run was when he was 18 & on the right wing with Cog’s.

            What’s my point? Are you serious? Let us look at my post again to see if we can decipher that mystery for you.

            I said:

            it is exceedingly unfair to compare the mature version of Datsyuk with young Gagner.

            Was that really not clear enough?

            Aside from that I’d like to point out that his most impressive run was not when he was 18. You could only believe that if you think goal and assist totals are the only things that matter. He was a vastly superior player this past year in comparison to his rookie year.

            Second line forward at best, thats not a horrible thing.

            Let me ask you this, Where do you think Datsyuk was projected at the age of 20 while playing in Russia? (where he was not even in the top division if I remember correctly)

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            One last point about Datsyuk, in his “Whopping 35 point Season”. Brett Hull predicted Datsyuk would become a superstar once given the chance, he was playing with an old Hull and the plugger Deveroux. That is why Detroit was not that concerned when Federov left after the 02-03 season. Check it out with a media member if you don’t beleive me.

            What is so wrong with making a prediction and putting yourself out there and calling your shot instead of being a “monday morning wait and see I told you so hind sight is 20/10 Quaterback”.
            It did not hurt me last year when I was the first guy to predict the Oil would end up with Hall or Seguin back in November when the team was at .500 and after the 5 game winning streak in December when they were 2 games over .500. The entire team 1260 can vouch for that.

          • Yes, and that season happened when he was 23. When he was 20 he was playing in Russia2.

            BTW, saying he isn’t going to be as good as Datsyuk is hardly “putting yourself out there”.

            it is unfare to compare them, not because of age but because of natural talent, Gagne will never be in the same statosphere as Datsyuk.

            I would love for you to find a single person who believed that Datsyk had as much natural talent as Gagner at the same age.

            Were you get drafted does not always matter

            It does when the topic of discussion is what expectations are held for players 18-20 years old.

            Now Gagne is a “Vastly superior player” WOW. Your expectations are way lower than mine

            This is the problem isn’t it. You seem to believe that to become a 1st line player Gagner should already be as good as other top line players were at a much older age. I believe Gagner should merely be as good as other top line centers were when they were 20 years old, and he actually fits in quite nicely so far.

            Try to seperate emotion when evaluating talent, that is what I have done

            I am the one asking you to make a logical comparison. You are the one comparing a player in his prime to a player still just starting out.

            You are the one making the leap that since Gagner cannot improve. He just finished his 20 year old season and now he can never get stronger? Why do you allow for improvement by Datsyk from 20-23 but none for Gagner?

            Will Gagner become a Datsyk? Not likely, because Datsyuk is a top 5 player in the league and almost nobody will become that good.

            However using Datsyuk as a comparable to demonstrate that Gagner still has a plenty of time to improve makes sense because it shows that Gagner is further along than some people want to believe.

          • I never said that he has peaked, just that his ceiling is not as high at both ends of the ice as people wearing rose colored glasses think.

            Hopeing someone is going to a 1st line centre for your favorite team that you are emotionally attached to is one thing, but reality is something else.

            That is something I learned from Brownlee a few years ago.

            He never grew up an Oilers fan and can seperate emotion when evaluating.

            But hey, you don’t have to do that because emotion is a part of being a fan. So I respect that.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            “I never said that he has peaked, just that his ceiling is not as high at both ends of the ice as people wearing rose colored glasses think.”

            I’m sorry but you are flat out guessing.

          • Now Gagne is a “Vastly superior player” WOW. Your expectations are way lower than mine,Just were do you project him because we are going in a sensless circle.

            Were you get drafted does not always matter. I guess improvement means something different to you than me.

            I don’t think you were the one to first compare the 2, and it is unfare to compare them, not because of age but because of natural talent, Gagne will never be in the same statosphere as Datsyuk.

            Remember the amazing line in London Gagne,Kostytsan and Kane. Maybe 2 of those guy’s # were proped up little.

            Try to seperate emotion when evaluating talent, that is what I have done. I hope to be wrong on this point because there is not a bigger fan than myself, only time will tell.

          • Jerk Store

            I don’t doubt Gagner will put up points considering he has the best group of established and younng winger prospects in the N.H.L.

            Until he can improve his skating like a young Jaret Stoll did, I am not fully buying in. Remember the way the game is now played your top centres have to be as good in the d- zone as they are in O-zone.

            Take a look at the centremen in their division, Stasney,Dushene, O’reily,Sedin, Kessler,Koivu and young guys like Grandland and Hodgsen.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Still a pretty baseless statement considering almost all of his fellow top 15 picks from 2007 are just now even getting their feet wet in the NHL.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Of the players that have played more than 1 year in the league from that draft (Kane,Voracheck,Sutter and Peron) have all improved from their 1st year more than Gagne.I understand players develop at different paces. Just my opinion

            I worry that he projects into a Comrie more than a 1st line centre. Remember all the buzz about the undersized Slower skating centre( Comrie) after his second year with the Oil and his first year with the Coyotes.

            Again just my opinion.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Ya their are some guys that get substantially worse through their early to mid twenties. I’d have to guess they are in the minority though.

          • Let's Rebuild

            You should read Gregor’s article recently about his interview with Gagner. He lost weight over the summer so he could gain a little more speed. As Lowetide indicated, “Arrows pointed the the right directions”

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            I beleive for the most part being a great skater has a lot to do with genetics, you either have it or you don’t, again for the most part!

            I did read the article, and still beleive he’s a 2nd line C at best. But hey I have been wrong before, and it is just my opinion, although strong, but just my opinion.

  • I have a sneaking suspicion one – or possibly multiple – rookies will have a big game in Episode 1 of the 2010-11 season.

    This will leading to predictions of Calder Trophies, Rocket Richard Trophies and Hart Trophies littering the mantle at RX1.

    The unreasonable expectation begins as soon as game 1 comes to an end, with your ol’ pal Wanye Grand Marshalling the parade.

    • I will take this prediction one step further. A 3-0 start will have people believing in a division title, Taylor Hall will be voted ‘Rookie of the Year’ winning the calder after only 3 games, and subsequently he will marry Taylor Swift.

      The Taylor Taylor wedding will be televised on Sportsnet One, and will be the highest rated television event since the invention of television. Gene Principe will say it was a Tailor (Taylor) made match.

      The Eskimos will then go on to win more than 2 games, as a result, make the jump to the NFL. Followed by Super Bowl and Grey Cup wins in the same season. Ricky Ray will celebrate by treating himself to a birthday party hosted by Bill Matheson on the Santa Maria in West Edmonton Mall, and an order of honey garlic wings at the Pint. Bill will give blame the looming “Idaho High” for the terrible weather and lack of party guests.

      Mike Comrie will make his return to Edmonton as a mayoral write in candidate, and win the popular vote but not the election. Tambellini will back the election results by saying the city was, “looking to go younger.”

      Oilers Nation will continue to dominate the Interwebs, while jeanshortsandbaggedmilk.com with retain, for the second consecutive year, “37th Best Oilers Site on the Internet” as voted by David Staples. Dan Tencer will continue to look as though he’s wearing blush in every single photo.

      It has been written…