There are some outstanding futures on the Edmonton Oilers roster. If you’re young enough to enjoy the next 15 years of Oilers hockey, this fall should be the beginning of something very special.
Every summer I spend some time looking at what "reasonable" might look like for the Edmonton Oilers. The idea of the exercise is to pull back the bias, deny your personal favorites, factor in things like injuries and sucktastic months ending in y. Reasonable is the midpoint between "they’re going to save most of the leg" and "where do you want your gold bricks stored, sir?"
The idea of reasonable expectations isn’t to pick favourites or push some obscure agenda, it is genuine attempt to find the reasonable expectation. If your player does better than expected, we can be more certain the player delivered a quality season.
Here are my reasonable expectations for the Oilers top 12 forwards. I only ask that you enter the numbers and notes with an open mind and understand that Rome wasn’t built in a day.
- Line One: Sam Gagner (70gp, 15-35-50); Taylor Hall (70gp, 32-28-60); Jordan Eberle (82gp, 22-30-52). The idea behind this line is that the Oilers will probably try to give their gifted youngsters a chance to romp through the easier opposition (especially at home). Gagner is the best (until RNH establishes himself) offensive center on the roster and this frees up Shawn Horcoff for the tough minutes. I’m estimating that this line scores 69 goals, and RNH is probably going to get some time later in the season with Hall-Eberle.
- Line Two: Shawn Horcoff (62gp, 13-18-31); Ryan Smyth (70gp, 18-19-37); Ales Hemsky (57gp, 17-37-54). I think coach Renney will default to a "tough opposition" line and this trio played well together during 94’s last swing through Edmonton. The numbers for Horcoff and especially Smyth may seem low, but I don’t see either playing much on the powerplay. Hemsky will definitely get huge PP time and that is reflected in his numbers.
- Line Three: Eric Belanger (68gp, 13-23-36); Magnus Paajarvi (82gp, 20-20-40); Linus Omark (70gp, 13-27-40). The one thing this team should be able to do is cobble together three lines capable of scoring goals. I don’t remember the last time the club had this kind of depth but it probably rhymes with 2006. I think all three will get PP time, and Belanger will be a key player on the PK as well.
- Line Four: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (63gp, 11-23-34); Ben Eager (69gp, 8-8-16); Ryan Jones (64gp, 5-11-16). My theory is that RNH will get time with all of the wingers on the top three lines plus PP time, but his overall TOI will rank 4th behind Gagner, Horcoff and Belanger. Eager and Jones will see very little time on the PP and their numbers also reflect that, although I do think Jones will play a lot on the penalty-kill.
Other forwards include Teemu Hartikainen (45gp, 7-8-15), Darcy Hordichuk (44gp, 0-3-3) and Gilbert Brule (10gp, 2-1-3). The 10-11 Oiler forwards scored 167 goals, I’m suggesting this edition scores an even 200 goals. A 33 goal improvement is a monster step in the right direction, but it pales in comparison to the improvement year over year for the Boys on the Bus forwards. In 80-81, the Gretzky Oilers posted 264 goals among forwards. In 81-82, the number increased to 351. I don’t think the Oilers current forwards will improve by 87 goals, but 33 is a tremendous increase for this era.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
The Oilers are going to score more goals and be even more exciting than they were a year ago. However, the improvement will fall shy of a playoff spot because the defense and goaltending is lagging behind the exceptional group of young forwards (and their now solid veteran support).
It’s a theme we’re likely to repeat one summer from now: this team needs a goaltender and defensemen. Badly.