With this weekend’s additions, the Edmonton Oilers now have 16 forwards for 14 available spots. Someone is leaving town.
Steve Tambellini has made some very nice moves since the entry draft, but there’s more work to do. The NHL team has 16 forwards and that’s too many. Here’s a look at the keepers, the suspects and the possible line combinations. The list goes from most likely to make the roster to least likely.
- L Taylor Hall: The franchise has a roster spot secured for the next decade, and the big question here is who will play on his line. If RNH makes the team, I’d expect Hall and Eberle to be the wingers on the ultimate Kid Line. That might not last the pre-season if the line struggles from the pressure, so expect Horcoff to slide into the middle between Hall and Eberle should that happen.
- R Jordan Eberle: Led his team in points as a rookie and showed impressive growth over the year (although that first NHL goal will live forever). I believe Eberle’s immediate future is tied to Hall’s–they were successful linemates a year ago, why mess with success? RNH and Horcoff are the likely centers.
- L Magnus Paajarvi: Fleet Swede had a solid rookie season (34 points) and displayed some impressive play away from the puck. Found chem after Christmas with Omark and I think that duo will continue, albeit with a different center than a year ago (Gagner). We’ve talked about all of the ’10 rookie wingers moving to center, and I think MP might be the best candidate. For now, I think the best option for them at center is either newcomer Belanger or Horcoff (should RNH make the team on the Kid Line).
- L Ryan Smyth: Huge acquisition for the Oilers. I think Smyth will team up with Hemsky no matter the center, and further believe the first candidate for the role should be Sam Gagner. He has chem with Hemsky and if things roll well that line could either play the tougher minutes or scald the soft parade.
- C Shawn Horcoff: Despite age and not possessing the foot speed he had in 2006 spring, Horcoff will once again play an important role on the team. I think there’s a strong possibility he gets MP/Omark if Nugent-Hopkins grabs the 1line job. The Oilers could also go with a designated veteran line and reuniting him with Smyth and Hemsky. That’s a tough call, though. Still too much youth on the other lines to leave them alone.
- R Ales Hemsky: Gifted winger is apparently healthy and ready to roll in 11-12. The Oilers will attempt to sign him and then put him in a position to succeed before shopping 83 at the deadline. My guess is that he’s tied to Smyth for the regular season, with center’s Gagner and Horcoff getting time between them.
- C Sam Gagner: Young center has made progress at the NHL level despite point totals in the low 40’s. Very intelligent player who can riff off veterans extremely well, I’d hope coach Renney gives him veteran linemates Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky in an effort to have a 1line that can protect the Kid Line. I don’t see Gagner centering MP and Omark again, he never did figure out the two Swedes imo.
- C Eric Belanger: An absolute Godsend for this forward group. He can play up and down the lineup and I’d guess that he will do just that over the season. Most likely linemates would be MP/Omark and Eager/Jones on the third unit.
- R Linus Omark: I can’t think of a line combination that has him playing apart from Paajarvi, so it’s a matter of which center they line up with most nights. My guess is that Shawn Horcoff or Eric Belanger and their 2-way skills will be best used between the gifted Swedish wingers.
- L Ben Eager: I see lots of people saying he’s a 4line crash and banger, but I think Eager may end up playing higher on the depth chart. A designated 2-way line of Belanger-Eager-Jones is possible and he could also play 4line minutes with Cogliano at center and Hordichuk on the wing. I also believe there will be times he’ll take a spin with the kids just to keep everyone honest.
- R Ryan Jones: I believe Jones will play with Belanger and Eager on the 4line, but could also see times where he’s patrolling the 4line with Hordichuk and Cogliano.
- C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: Makes the list this late because there’s just no way RNH plays a secondary role. He either makes it as a member of the top 2 skill lines or he’s going back. Most believe (as do I) that he’s going to get those 9 games to succeed. I think he’ll stay. Wingmen options include Hall-Eberle and Smyth-Hemsky. I don’t like the RNH-Hemsky fit because Hemsky is all reaction and feel and RNH is all vision and thinking the game. I don’t like the match, we’ll see.
- C Andrew Cogliano: Coach Renney said several times last season that he felt Cogliano was making progress as a two way player. I think Cogs may continue that role, this time with physical Ben Eager and energy guy Ryan Jones on his wings. A secondary possibility would be sliding Cogliano between the two Swedes, but that could be chaotic in the Oilers zone.
- R Darcy Hordichuk: I think some may be getting the wrong idea about Hordichuk. I see him as a huge upgrade over Steve MacIntyre as a player, but don’t believe he’s going to play 80 games and see 6 minutes a night. Hordichuk will enter the season as the 14th man and be utilized in a depth role. That’s how I see it, anyway.
- L Teemu Hartikainen: He starts TC as the last guy sent out/first call up from my point of view. He could make the big club if one of the incumbents shows up at least than 100% in terms of conditioning, but I can’t see a way for him to make it straight up at this time.
- R Gilbert Brule: I think his NHL career is at a crossroads. The unfortunate circumstances surrounding the LAK deal for Ryan Smyth made Brule a quesiton mark across the league. I can’t imagine an NHL team trading for him now, there’s a clear medical reason for the deal to have been turned away. My guess is LTIR until he can get things back together again.
With all of that as a backdrop, here’s how I see the lines breaking down:
- Extras: Cogliano-Hordichuk
- Minors: Hartikainen
- LTIR: Brule
One of the centermen, either Cogliano, Gagner or Horcoff. Hopefully the club will acquire a top 4 shutdown defender in the deal. After that, I believe they’ll either send down Hartikainen or LTIR Brule to set the roster.