Absolutely no peeking. This is serious business. The quarterly report cards are in and we need to be very sensitive about how word gets out. So, open this but please don’t gossip about the contents inside. We want to make sure everyone gets their marks in the proper manner.
GRADE: A+ (91 to 100%): THE BARDOT MARK
- RYAN SMYTH: (19, 11-8-19 +1) It’s a dream. Ryan Smyth finesses a trade from LA for a load of hay, 12 dixie cups and 500 rusty nails in a Rogers Syrup can and then arrives as the 27-year old version of himself. From the opening whistle of game one to last night’s goal (I think he told Eberle is was a nice bleeping pass, but I’m not certain) he has been a Godsend. We should not question the hockey Gods, but rather enjoy the ride.
- RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS (19, 7-12-19 +2) He makes all those crazy nights in 30th worthwhile. A visionary, a sublime passer, he is miles beyond his years on a sheet of NHL ice. I’m not certain we should make any grand claims in these early days, but this kid is special. Very special.
GRADE A (85 to 90%): THE VERGERA LINE
- NIKOLAI KHABIBULIN (13, 1.76 .938) The proud Russian clearly felt a need to reclaim his reputation and has done it in less than 25% of the season. Stunning numbers and some vindication after a fall. The mocking chant of "MVP" (a reaction to GM Tambellini’s constant description of NK as the MVP of the team before this season) has taken on a different air this fall. Nikolai Khabibulin is too old, too busted, too spent to be this player at this time. And yet, here he is. There’s a book here.
- JORDAN EBERLE (19, 5-12-17 E) The man who may one day inspire Wanye to strip naked in public, but other than that it’s all good. Sublime passer, intelligent human, he looks 12 and acts 30 on the ice. Future captain material and a human highlight reel, the opening scene for the next decade was his first NHL goal. He’s the Oilers lucky penny, their inspiration and he’s so much more. An actual NHL player at 21. Lordy.
- TAYLOR HALL (18, 6-8-14 E) Hockey’s Joe Foreman won’t back down and he won’t stay down, he just keeps pushing. His performance last night was a summary of his gifts: takes a filthy hit from Duncan Keith and buries the puck seconds later. Scores a similar goal deep into the game and then snipes an all world thriller in the third period to inspire the hat parade. Then he’s trying for 10 on the night when his head meets the post and nearly breaks his neck. He’s a brutal, brilliant force. I’ll bet a 2-4 he scores the Stanley winning goal and then skates through the end boards and out into the night.
GRADE B 75 to 84%: THE JOHANSSON BUMPS
- SHAWN HORCOFF (19, 4-8-12 -2) The first dozen games were Grade A, but the captain has fallen off just a hair in the most recent games. A quality leader, his performance on After Hours last night gives us a clue about the kind of person Horcoff is and means the kids are in good hands (unless one of them is a Georges Laraque fan. Horcoff ripped BG a little last night in AH). His health is very important to the Oilers because #10 plays the toughs and his zone start is so severe (35.9% off zone). Very valuable.
- COREY POTTER (16, 2-6-8 -3) Another A that fell over the last half dozen games or so, Potter was splendid early in the season and perhaps playing above his head. No matter, even with his recent troubles reading plays and being in the right position Potter is easily one of the 4 best D on the club when everyone is healthy. Remains the most pleasant surprise this side of RNH for the 11-12 Oilers.
- RYAN JONES (19, 5-3-8 +2) Outstanding early season for the veteran winger. Terrific on the PK, he’s taken full advantage of his offensive opportunities and played much of the season on the tough minutes line. On pace for a 20-goal season.
- TOM GILBERT (19, 3-7-10 -7) Thrilled to see the Oiler fanbase cheering for him, Gilbert leads all Oilers in time on ice per game (edging close to 25 mins) and Gilbert/Smid face the toughest opponents every night. A fine NHL defenseman getting recognition for his play. It’s a good story this season.
- ALES HEMSKY (8, 1-4-5 -1) I wanted to rank him higher, but 83 hasn’t played enough to be an "A" so far this season. His terrific goal last night ignited the offense and he’s done that many nights over the years. I remain hopeful he is signed by Edmonton, but if not continued health and plays like last night’s back checking goal should increase his value league-wide.
- LADISLAV SMID (19, 0-0-0 -5) Long time readers will know this is a step up for Laddy, as I’ve never been a huge fan of his play. However, calm feet and good recognition have been staples of his game, and Smid’s facing the toughest opponents on a nightly basis. It took a long time, but he’s arrived as an NHL player.
GRADE C+ 71 to 74%: THE IRELAND GROUP
- ERIC BELANGER (19, 0-3-3 E): A solid FO and PK man, he’s added some offense but should be a little ahead of the current boxcars based on toughness of opponent. It’s difficult to grade how much of the offensive drain by the bottom 6 forwards is the fault of someone like Belanger, but he appears to be a complementary offensive player and is unlikely to post 40 points as the lead player on a line. Solid player, but average start offensively gets him this grade.
- DEVAN DUBNYK (7, 2.84 .903) Had a splendid start but has fallen off and clearly coach Renney doesn’t have the same confidence in him. Dubnyk will get at least one start this week and needs to impress, or he’s going to sit awhile and be rusty when injury arrives.
- JEFF PETRY (12, 0-4-4 +6) All those blue picks look like they’ve finally paid off with a legit top 4 option on the horizon. Petry’s been inconsistent (all young D not named Orr or Potvin are) but the quality is there, the opportunity is now and the other options are much less attractive. Welcome to the NHL, young man.
GRADE C 61 to 70%: THE AUGER DIVISION
- LENNART PETRELL (17, 1-2-3 -2) This grade is earned almost entirely because of his brilliant PK work early in the season. Petrell’s 5×5 CorsiRel is 2nd worst among regulars and the puck is not heading in a good direction when his line (4th line) is on the ice. Can the Oilers afford to employ a PK specialist in the forward position? Well, he didn’t dress last night and the Oilers gave up 2PP goals so he’s part of the solution until further notice.
- ANDY SUTTON (12, 1-0-1 E) Calm presence on the blue, Sutton’s suspension coincided with the losing streak and along with all the injuries (his included) leaves Edmonton in peril at the posiiton. He should be back by the end of November and has certainly earned his spot in the top 6D.
GRADE D 51 TO 60%: THE PHILLIPS SLACKERS
- THEO PECKHAM (15, 1-1-2 +5) Poor play for most of the season has been saved by solid PK work and a few good games here and there. Wildly inconsistent this year and that’s a concern, he was good to great last night and hopefully that bodes well for the rest of the season. Oilers badly need
- LINUS OMARK (5, 0-0-0 -2) Barely qualified and didn’t deliver much when he was around, but I think that has more to do with opportunity than ability. Omark is certainly skilled enough to play in the NHL, and coach Renney’s inability to find room for him in the lineup added to Omark’s recent injury serve once again to educate us about how costly missed opportunities can be when developing kids.
GRADE F 0 to 49%: THE GARLAND LOLLYGAGGERS
- SAM GAGNER (12, 0-2-2 +1) Young man has fought injury through the first portion of the season, but hasn’t delivered enough offense to be considered an integral part of the overall success. His CorsiRel is fine, but the coach is lining him up against softer opposition and the numbers aren’t here. I’m a fan, so would like to see the club stay with 89, but the rumors have him headed elsewhere and the logic behind it is sound. Center is covered.
- ANTON LANDER (18, 1-1-2 -1) It’s unfair to pick on him, but the coach has to send him down. Lander’s 5×5 CorsiRel is a team worst and he’s just not posting enough crooked numbers. Impressive early, the bloom is off the rose and a trip to the farm is overdue. No shame in that, he’s a big part of the future.
- BEN EAGER (15, 0-1-1 -1) A bitter disappointment so far this season. A physical specimen, he’s a freaking fridge and can skate like the wind! I’ve seen him take and make passes in other towns, why can he do it with the Oilers? I’m inclined to allow for the concussion having lingering effects, but he needs to be better.
- MAGNUS PAAJARVI (17, 0-1-1 -2): Anyone who has ever lost confidence (read: everyone) can relate to this young man’s current situation. 15 goals a year ago and he’s not spending any time in the scoring zones even when it’s the obvious move. Lost, lost, lost. Up until recently I was in favor of keeping him in Edmonton, but he needs to spend a few weeks in OKC to get the magic back. Not the player we saw a year ago.
- CAM BARKER (12, 1-0-1 +3): He’s been an interesting experiment, in that two NHL teams have found him wanting in a top 4D role and now Edmonton gets a chance to see him. The Desjardins Qual Comp results suggest coach Renney would prefer all of Smid, Gilbert, Petry, Potter, Peckham, Whitney and Sutton when given options. His footspeed looks like a major issue.
INCOMPLETE: THE MISERABLE WELCHES
- RYAN WHITNEY (4, 0-0-0 E): As tough as it’s been on Oiler fans, I can’t imagine how difficult these last two years have been for Whitney. At some point we need to ask if the Oilers can ever count on him, but as it is the next hope for the blue is a return of the big man. He is sorely missed.
- DARCY HORDICHUK (3, 0-0-0 E): Tough, rugged and willing winger hasn’t had a chance to play much this year and although it has its benefits (Petrell and others took advantage of the opportunity) it also means coach Renney has been less likely to rest Eager when he’s off his game.
- COLTEN TEUBERT (3, 0-1-1 +1) Looked good in limited ice in his first recall, but was more exposed last night by the Hawks brilliant forwards. He is not NHL ready but the Oilers clearly have him as the first callup option.
- TAYLOR CHORNEY (3, 0-0-0 E) Solid AHL player, he’s been in the NHL with Edmonton and St. Louis this year. Chorney’s speed and passing are not an issue, but his size means that reading the play and reacting quickly are vital parts of his game. So far at the NHL level he has been wanting.
- ALEX PLANTE (1, 0-1-1 +1) Moving down the depth chart again, this time Teubert has passed him. Plante is still in the mix, and reports from OKC have him enjoying a solid year in all areas.