Yesterday’s Ryan Smyth rumours took OilersNation by storm: here and elsewhere, Oilers fans voiced overwhelming approval for the idea of Smyth’s return. As of this writing, the poll on the right shows somewhere in the neighborhood of 94% of Oilers fans favour some kind of trade with Los Angeles; only 3% dismissed the deal outright.
I’ve already explained why I think the Oilers should bring Smyth back. After the jump, I indulge myself by imagining what a lineup featuring Ryan Smyth might look like.
We all know what the Oilers’ depth chart looks like right now. Or at least, I thought we all did; judging by some of the comments I saw yesterday (‘left wing is locked’ or ‘Smyth would take a spot from a young player’) it could be that there are those who forget what kind of team the Oilers iced last season. In any case, let’s look at it one more time (please note: there is no effort made here to match line combinations; this is just a depth chart of current players based on ice-time and games played from last season).
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Taylor Hall||Shawn Horcoff||Ales Hemsky|
|Magnus Paajarvi||Sam Gagner||Jordan Eberle|
|Linus Omark||Andrew Cogliano||Ryan Jones|
|Jean-Francois Jacques||Colin Fraser||Gilbert Brule|
Since Linus Omark can play on either wing, the basic impact of adding another top-six left-winger to the lineup is just to knock Ryan Jones down to the fourth line (where he should be anyway) and Magnus Paajarvi down to the third line (where he spent the majority of last season). It also (presumably) knocks one of Jacques/Brule out of the lineup, which is a good thing because one of them has no business being in the lineup in the first place and the other has spent seemingly half of his NHL career on injured reserve.
The addition of Smyth actually (I would argue) helps a lot. Here’s how I would arrange the forwards to start game one (assuming the addition of Smyth but no trades and the selection and return to junior of Nugent-Hopkins), with the lines ordered by the quality of competition they would face:
|Line||Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|First||Taylor Hall||Shawn Horcoff||Ales Hemsky|
|Second||Ryan Smyth||Sam Gagner||Jordan Eberle|
|Third||Magnus Paajarvi||Andrew Cogliano||Linus Omark|
|Fourth||Ryan Jones||Colin Fraser||Gilbert Brule|
This lineup would require more line matching than Tom Renney did last year, but presumably the head coach will revert back to his New York form (matching lines and carefully controlling zone starts) once he’s trying to do more than simply develop players.
The first line would play the traditional power-vs.-power role: both Horcoff and Hemsky are old hands at this assignment and Taylor Hall looked ready to take on the world before he got hurt at the end of 2010-11, so this line could probably hold its own while giving Hall more experience fighting the head-to-head battle with the best players on Earth. This line would be used in both the offensive and defensive zones.
The second line would take on the next best players. Like Horcoff and Hemsky, Ryan Smyth has been handling a power-vs.-power role for years, so this shouldn’t be a challenge for him, but he’ll also be tasked with shepherding Gagner and Eberle as the only veteran on the line. Eberle’s defensive game was unexpectedly good last season, and Gagner’s shown flashes in the past, so this is a reasonable matchup. As with the first line, this line would be able to get the job done at either end of the rink.
In this scenario the third line would be used in the customary second-line role: laying offensive minutes against second-tier NHL players. Omark’s a natural fit for this role, and Paajarvi isn’t as far along in his development as Eberle and Hall, so this assignment would give both an opportunity to play some sheltered offensive minutes. It would also be a nice break for Andrew Cogliano, who has scoring ability but has seen his numbers drop off since his rookie season. This line would (ideally) get a lot of offensive zone starts.
The fourth line, as fourth lines always seem to, would take whatever is left. I’m not overly enamored with any of the players on the line, but all have shown flashes of ability and should at the least represent an upgrade over what the Oilers iced in this position last year.
Part of the reason I put this together, admittedly, is because I’m excited about the possibility of seeing Smyth in an Oilers’ jersey again. More than that, however, I wanted to demonstrate what the return of Smyth might look like, to make it abundantly clear that there is both room and a role for him on the 2011-12 Edmonton Oilers.