Way back in the summer of 2009, with the Oilers coming off a season that failed to live up to the expectations of the coach, the fans, and general manager Steve Tambellini, a need was identified. At the same press conference where Tambellini announced that the Oilers and Craig MacTavish had made a “mutual” decision to part ways, he made repeated statements about the team’s grit – how he wanted it to be better, how he wanted to see emotion, how he wanted the Oilers to be “hard to play against.”
It’s a quest that continues in the present. After the jump, we’ll look at three players – a rough and tumble NHL right wing and a nasty NHL depth player, as well as a WHL enforcer the Oilers might be looking at in this year’s draft.
Lowetide linked to a Michael Russo story in his “Rumours” article the other day, and one item in particular (beyond the Oilers’ stuff) jumped out at me: Russo’s claim that the Tampa Bay Lightning are shopping Ryan Malone.
Malone didn’t have a great playoffs, but he is a nasty, physical player who can score. Given his age he probably isn’t a good fit for the Oilers right now, but if the Oilers still want to focus on grit than this is the player-type they need to acquire: a guy who can actually play, rather than guys like Jean-Francois Jacques and Steve MacIntyre.
I haven’t seen anything solid linking the Oilers to Zenon Konopka, but his is a name that comes up often when the discussion turns to the Oilers fourth line. Not only is he tough, but he kills penalties and won 57.7% of his 1075 faceoffs last year.
Is he a good player at even-strength, though? I’ve seen it suggested that because his offensive numbers and some advanced statistics (Corsi, in particular) don’t look so good, he isn’t worth pursuing. I disagree – the reason Konopka’s possession numbers are so miserable is because he’s been used in a vicious role the last two seasons: defensive zone specialist. In 2009-10, he started 71.0% of his shifts in the defensive zone. Last season, that number was 69.8%. That’s a brutal, brutal role, and I think the 30-year old Konopka’s numbers shouldn’t be held against him as a result.
Finally, let’s finish with the junior player. Darren Kramer is an overage WHL enforcer who just finished his first season with Spokane. In 68 games he scored eight goals and 14 points while adding 306 PIM; in the playoffs his numbers improved, with five goals and eight points in 17 games. Originally from Peace River, Kramer played two seasons with the Grande Prairie Storm, where he hit triple digits in penalty minutes both times.
Kramer fits with the Oilers’ drafting pattern of the last few years, and nobody should be surprised if they select him – perhaps even relatively early in the draft.