Building A Power Play

The Edmonton Oilers haven’t had a competent power play for a long time. They’ve rotated through coaches and point men alike, without finding success. They’ve added some intriguing options to the line-up: both young players still developing, and established veterans like Ryan Smyth and Eric Belanger. Who should the team use on the power play this year?

Let’s start by considering the options. My list of realistic possibilities includes the majority of players likely to get power play minutes, along with their power play minutes per game last season and PTS/60 in 5-on-4 situations (numbers courtesy NHL.com and behindthenet.ca). Players are divided by position, and ranked by scoring rates.

Forwards

  • Shawn Horcoff – 2:43 TOI – 4.99 PTS/60
  • Jordan Eberle – 2:32 TOI – 3.92 PTS/60
  • Ales Hemsky – 3:13 TOI – 3.47 PTS/60
  • Magnus Paajarvi – 1:50 TOI – 3.45 PTS/60
  • Ryan Smyth – 2:57 TOI – 3.37 PTS/60
  • Linus Omark – 2:38 TOI – 3.35 PTS/60
  • Taylor Hall – 2:43 TOI – 3.27 PTS/60
  • Sam Gagner – 2:56 TOI – 2.51 PTS/60
  • Eric Belanger – 1:30 TOI – 2.05 PTS/60
  • Gilbert Brule – 1:16 TOI – 1.17 PTS/60
  • Teemu Hartikainen – Less than 20 NHL games
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Played in WHL

Defensemen

  • Ryan Whitney – 4:19 TOI – 2.91 PTS/60
  • Tom Gilbert – 2:59 TOI – 2.63 PTS/60
  • Cam Barker – 1:22 TOI – 1.68 PTS/60
  • Jeff Petry – 2:11 TOI – 1.67 PTS/60
  • Taylor Chorney – Less than 20 NHL games

What I Would Do

I’m very curious to see what the consensus is in the comments section, but I have a few suggestions of my own. First off, I wouldn’t place too much emphasis on last season’s scoring results – a single season is a dicey sample at the best of times, and power play results involve a relatively small number of minutes and are heavily dependent on both line-mates and team.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s start with the blue-line, where we have five options. It is likely that just one of Jeff Petry/Taylor Chorney will make the opening night roster (barring an injury setback for Ryan Whitney) but it’s almost a moot point – the Oilers have a bunch of iffy offensive defensemen and some superb extra wingers, so I’d argue a four forwards/one defenseman setup is the way to go. Given that the Oilers have too many tough minutes on the blue-line for too few competent defenders, so this makes a certain sense from that angle as well.

Initially, I’d be tempted to leave Tom Gilbert in an entirely defensive role, and play Ryan Whitney on the first power play unit and Barker on the second power play unit. Despite Barker’s poor results last year, this is historically his greatest strength, so it only makes sense to use him on the power play.

There are three sets of wingers to mix-and-match: Smyth/Hemsky, Hall/Eberle and Paajarvi/Omark. Much will depend on how Tom Renney employs them at even-strength (presumably he’d like to keep the even-strength groups together) – whether he opts to keep the kids together or splits them up, giving one to each veteran. My guess is that Smyth and Hemsky play with Gagner, while Eberle and Hall play with Horcoff – those would be my first and second power play forward combinations, while I’d employ both Omark and Paajarvi in the spare point position. Omark looked good their last season, while Paajarvi plays like a defenseman anyway.

If Nugent-Hopkins makes the team beyond the nine game mark, I’d like to see he and Horcoff alternate on the second unit, or even possibly have Nugent-Hopkins supplant Horcoff entirely – with Horcoff picking up extra minutes on the penalty kill and at even-strength.

What units does the Nation want to see?

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Play the wheels off of Smyth,Hemsky and Horcoff, followed up by Hall Hopkins and Eberle. If at first we don’t succeed, repeat this process.

    As for D’men, put anyone out there who can raise the puck.

  • Craig1981

    I hope they play Omark a lot on the pp this year. Great set up guy off the half wall and surprisingly hard to knock off the puck. When his linemates stop being taken of guard by his outrageous passes through everything ( often off the backhand while being checked ), they’ll likely score quite a few goals. If not atleast the pure entertainment factor will be enjoyable.

  • YFC Prez

    I would try to get Barker out on the Ice with the Smyth Gagner Hemsky line as much as possible. His odds of finding sucess and regaining some form of confidence should greatly increase with the combination of his booming shot and having a player with the net presence of Smyth standing in front the goalie. I agree that the reclamation project that is Cam Barker is best started on the Power play.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      I agree completely.. I grew up as a child watching Barker play for the med hat Tigers and one things about him was that every shot he took at the blueline found the net.. Very similar to Phaneuf in his teen years. Throw Smyth in front and you’ll have alot of luck

  • Quicksilver ballet

    1st unit Horcoff, Hall and Hemsky with Whitney and Omark on the point.

    I don’t think people realize just how important the faceoff is on the PP. You lose the faceoff and they have already killed 20-30 seconds. Gagner just isn’t that good on the faceoff so I think he goes on the 2nd unit.

    2nd unit Gagner, Eberle, Smyth with Barker
    and MP on the point.

    I might even try Belanger on the 2nd unit if Gagner doesn’t work out. With Gagner being our best offensive centre it’s hard not to see him on one of the PP units though.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      “I might even try Belanger on the 2nd unit if Gagner doesn’t work out. With Gagner being our best offensive centre it’s hard not to see him on one of the PP units though.”

      Shawn Horcoff – 2:43 TOI – 4.99 PTS/60
      Sam Gagner – 2:56 TOI – 2.51 PTS/60
      Eric Belanger – 1:30 TOI – 2.05 PTS/60
      Gilbert Brule – 1:16 TOI – 1.17 PTS/60

      Looks to me like Belanger and Horcoff are better PP centres than Gagner based on TOI, and Brule is equally as productive. Plus, as you said, puck possesion is key on PP, and H and B are of course much better on the dot.

      Gagner should not be coddled anymore on PP, he isn’t a rookie, and he’s not really that “young” either, given he’s in his 5th year. Think of it this way, if he’s lucky enough to have a 20 year career, he’s coming up to 25% of the way through it.

      It’s sink or swim time for Sam. He should have to earn PP time now, particularly to send the right message to the young centres in the system. We don’t want another Cogliano situation where a guy gets the short end based on Gagner’s unrealised potential. It creates negative energy on the team, and I don’t think it is good for the player either.

      To me if a PP doesn’t work well it’s on the coach, unless you have pathetic players. The only feather in most of our top player’s caps right now is talent, so that shouldn’t be the problem.

      A PP has to run based on a series of set pieces, unless a team has very special players. The Canucks have the Sedins and it looks to me like they use them. By having a plan to follow, players can focus on looking for seams or open players, instead of being focused on deciding who to pass to. It is apparent to me in how slowly the Oilers move the puck around that this is a big part of the problem, and it gives opponents too much time to get into position and into lanes.

      Well, I guess the Oilers do have one set piece, but I think the other teams may have figured it out.

      I also like the idea of 4 forwards. Players really only need to be good passers to be good on the PP. It’s about quick decisions that draw the opponent out of position or rebounds from shots that create goals. Shots get blocked if the puck movement is too slow or too predictable, or the D is trying to tee up the “cannonading drive” that takes too long to get off.

      Pronger prides himself on having a low shot that he gets on net consistently. Lidstrom also gets a lot of points and he isn’t a big shooter. Being quick and putting the puck to the right place is what matters. If we don’t have enough D that are naturally good at passing, don’t use them.

      Smyth should be able to show the young guys what it takes to create enough disturbance to get the D out of position and the goalie distracted or screened. Both Whitney and Petry have good enough shots, and maybe Barker does. If they actually had a lane to shoot along some point shots would get through and create some rebounds.

  • First unit would be

    Smyth-Gagner-Hemsky with MPS and Whitney

    Omark-Hall (try him at center)-Eberle with Barker and Gilbert

    I dont have Horcoff on here cause I think Belanger would be a better option anyways. Also I dont have Nugget Hopkins cause I dont think he will make the team. If Hall doesnt work at center put Belanger on there and move Omark in for Gilbert or leave him off.

    Since the Oil are going with 3 scoring lines, why dont they have 3 PowerPlay units. With Hall, Eberle, Hemsky and Gagner getting the brunt of the minutes and having MPS Omark and Smyth filling in here and there?

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    It all depends on what PP system Renney uses, if any. But assuming they employ some standard PP positions…

    1st unit:
    QB: Whitney
    Cannon: Barker
    Half-Board Setup: Horcoff or Hemsky
    Screener/Rebounder: Smyth
    Off-Wing: Hall

    2nd unit:
    QB: Gilbert
    Cannon: Paajarvi, Petry?
    Half-Board Setup: RNH, Horcoff/Hemsky, Gagner
    Screener/Rebounder: Jones, Hartakainen, Eager?
    Off-Wing: Eberle, Omark

    As talented as Belanger is, I think Renney will save him for the PK.

    This team has more strength at forward, so the PP may focus on more play down low, with both point-men taking a peripheral QB role. But you’ve got to have a legit cannon back there to keep the opposing PK honest. Otherwise, they’ll pressure your forwards more aggressively knowing the point is nothing to worry about, and take the puck back easily.

    Based on last year’s play, no one will go to the front of the net, thereby allowing the opposing goalie to make lots of easy saves. If that’s the case, then Smyth won’t get much PP time, but let’s hope that changes this year. Oh man that really has to change.

  • Oilers4ever

    Sorry.. I’d be done with some of the past players involved in this like the Horcoff’s because frankly they have not done a damn thing… keep in mind that my suggestion will be based on RNH making the team. I do agree with the four forward and one dman philosophy.. PROVIDED that you aren’t making bonehead plays as the only dman at the blueline causing odd-man rushes the other way… So here goes nothing..

    1st PP Line: RNH centering Ebs and Hall with Smyth in front of the net for the garbage goals and Whitney on the point. RNH has eyes in the back of his head and can find guys on the ice no matter where they are. He’s proven that in Red Deer time and again… and yes that’s not against NHL players.. but vision is vision.. and if you can see and create the play in your head before the play develops that’s half the battle. I watched RNH a ton last year living just outside of Red Deer and the quotes about Gretzkyesque vision is no BS. The kids got brains. Put Hall out there with his sniper shot and Ebs ability to find the holes and Smytty banging in the garbage and you have a sure fire #1 unit. Whitney has a good shot and doesn’t make too many of those “bonehead” moves at the blue line.

    2nd PP Unit: Gagner centering Omark and Hemsky and MPS as well, with Barker as the lone D… I’m scared with this combo because either Omark or MPS at the point could be a defensive nightmare if the puck gets turned over and we just don’t know how Barker is going to do…however.. the creativeness on this line would be phenomenal…

    If Gagner doesn’t do well winning the faceoffs then you put Belanger there. Horcs has had his chances and unless he gets a one-time feeder from Hemmer he doesn’t do much in my mind. Save him penalty killing along with Belanger to center the other penalty killing line.

    If you can’t get goals with those two lines on this team with that level of talent then nothing is going to work.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I don’t like the idea of Gagner and Hemsky together.

    From what I have seen in the past (no advanced stats to back this up); the two of them don’t mesh well together on the ice.

    If RNH is here – let him play with Hall and Hemsky on the pp.

    If not, move Hall to the middle (on atleast the pp) and throw Smyth with them. Actually, even if RNH is here – the Hall, Hemsky, Smyth trio would still be a good idea.

    Smyth has taken draws before and Hall is capable.

    And please….

    NO HORCOFF ON THE PP!

    We have enough offensively minded players (regardless if they are centermen or not), that Horcoff need not be anywhere in the top two PP units.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Any PP that includes Horcoff, Gagner or Paajarvi will be junk.

    Smyth-Hall-Hemsky (Smyth takes faceoffs)

    Omark-Belanger-Eberle

    The defensive pairings are too horrid to consider with Whitney likely on IR.

  • You took the combos right out of my mind. Horc starts to get fewer PP minutes and the Nuge gets a little more. The other possibility is that after Horc comes off of a special team shift RNH takes his spot for a shift between Hall and Eberle.

  • RE: Horcoff

    I’m a fan of reducing Horcoff’s PP role – I think he’s a pretty average player in that situation, historically – but he’s not the black death.

    He was the best point-producer on the club 5-on-4 last season.

    • Little Buttcheeks

      Being the best point producer on an injury riddled, pathetic PP is kind of like seeing your hot sister naked…SO WHAT???

      I truly believe this team has the pieces to have a very effective PP (Horcoff, not being one of them). They just need to work on moving around and having a variety of set plays to get the puck on net.

      Hemsky on the left half boards should be ONE option…not the only option.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    I actually really liked Paajarvi on the point on the PP last season. That would be how I would use him. Then I think that Hall, Eberle, Hemsky, Smyth, Omark and Nuge-Hop (if he makes the team should all be up front. I would go:
    Hall – Smyth – Hemsky – Whitney – Barker
    Omark – RNH – Eberle – Petry/Gilbert – Paajarvi

    My only issue is that second unit has no net presence. If RNH doesn’t make the team I would sub in Belanger for him. Enough of Horcoff on the PK. Let him anchor the PK and take key defensive faceoffs.

  • Smyth infront. Hall in the R faceoff-circle (Horcoff whiff zone), Eberle to the left side of the net, Barker at the top playing an umbrella/rightish zone, and Hemsky sitting left half-boards looking at his options (Barker bomb, Hall one-timer, down to Eberle to Smyth backdoor or Eberle’s sick short side snipe)

    RNH/Horcoff/Gilbert, Omark, Paajarvi, Gagner, Whitney fill the other squad.

    • The fans have been right to scream SHOOOOOOOT. The Oiler PP has produced an incredibly poor result in terms of actual shots on net. Hard to get garbage goals and rebounds if the puck never leaves the stick of the guy on the point.

        • The club cant create enough shots. The fans are aware. If they don’t want to hear 20,000 shouting SHOOOOOT they should shoot more. It’s not like their game plan of holding onto the puck until the penalty killers can take it away from them is working.

          They don’t shoot enough. Don’t move the puck quick enough. Don’t support the puck at all. And they don’t force penalty killers to block enough shots.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Remember last year when all these young kids were going to make the PP better? How’d that work out?

    Adding another kid isn’t going to help. Rookies (18 year olds in particular), have been historically poor on the power play throughout NHL history.

    There is a mixture of some decent vets with a history of producing on the PP and some kids learning… let’s just make sure we mix them in enough.

  • I would like to take a single word from this article and then use it to continue to argue whatever completely unrelated point I had previously decided was correct and beyond question. I would like to do this while completely ignoring all relevant statistics and evidence to the contrary. In this way I hope to reinforce my already set mind as to the veracity of my ‘a priori’ly true statements, thus achieving my goal of proving to myself that I am right.

    Thank you, and good afternoon.

    P.S. See I knew it!

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I think the PP choices will become clearer not too long after the season starts. Of course, it will be because injuries make the options abundantly clear.

    But until then, it might factor in the coach’s decision to have Belanger’s line on the ice after a failed PP. If so, then Horcoff may still be one of the best two C options, and he does gain the zone well.

    It makes sense to see if Nuge goes Skinner on the PP on his 9 game trial. If so, then Gagner is really in tough unless they’re going with 4 forwards. With Paajarvi on point it should be damn rare for anyone to get a really clean shot off on a break the wrong way.

    If they put Hall Horcoff Hemsky or Smyth Horcoff Hemsky as a regular ES line it may be tough for the coach to resist rolling them on the PP.