The Edmonton Oilers have employed some very effective 4th lines over the years. Jim Dowd was just this side of a folk hero during his time in Edmonton, Shawn Horcoff got his start there and over the next several years Oiler fans will be seeing a lot of kids like Curtis Hamilton and Tyler Pitlick breaking in on the 4line. Quick question: how soon can they get here?
Eric Belanger was considered a key member of the Oilers bottom six this season. With Shawn Horcoff and Sam Gagner plus the phenom RNH on the C depth chart, it was assumed Belanger would give depth to the 4line while also helping on the penalty-kill.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. Sam Gagner got hurt, Anton Lander impressed and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins stomped the guts out of the available competition to emerge as a legit top 6 center as an 18-year old. Belanger then found a home (for the most part) on the 3line and has played significant PP minutes as well as PK time. What’s more, when Gagner finally returned to the lineup, 89 was moved to RW and the beat raged on at center ice.
The curious item here is the consistently poor performance of the 4th line and coach Renney’s decision to leave Belanger on the top 9F. Recently, Jonathan Willis counted Dennis King scoring chances for all Oiler forwards (article is here) and it gives us a tremendous look at the entire roster at forward. For the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on the 4line.
Oilers 4th liners this season include Anton Lander, Magnus Paajarvi, Ben Eager, Lennart Petrell, Darcy Hordichuk and Eric Belanger has played some on the 4line (most recently at Dallas). It’s easy to spot them, they are all at the bottom of the table.
I’m curious about a few things in regard to these players. With the performance of rookie Anton Lander, why not send him to OKC for a few weeks? Belanger isn’t delivering offense at even strength, why not attempt to construct a "veteran" 4line that can step in and do good things in short shifts? Belanger could still play a big part of special teams. If the struggles of the 4line continue, why not option Petrell to OKC and have a long look at Teemy Hartikainen?
Based on JW’s chart, I’d say that all of Lander, Petrell and Eager should be questionable options and Hordichuk (who doesn’t appear on the chart) is also in that category. Although the physical element represented by Eager and Hordichuk would be absent, new hire Colten Teubert has been doing more hitting than Eager since the minute he got here.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
The reason the Oilers offloaded Zack Stortini had little to do with toughness. He was not able (in the coach’s estimation) to keep up with the fast track NHL. That 4th line they’re sending out right now has some skating issues (Petrell), but they also have experience issues (Lander), coming off concussion issues (Eager) and new to town getting used to things issues (Belanger, Hordichuk).
The defense is holding together better than expected and the goaltending has been grade A. Patience is a virtue, but I don’t see one damn thing that’s good about a 4th line that bleeds deep red every night.
It should be the easiest fix in the world. Help is a phonecall away. It’s curious no phones are ringing.