Taylor Hall’s injury last night was a blow to all of Oilers Nation. The young guns have been feeling their oats all fall, and Hall–who was perhaps just a step behind RNH & Eberle–had "that look" of late. Oiler fans know that a goal scoring rampage often follows Hall’s shifts into overdrive. Now, we wait. For the MRI and then the news of how long Hall will be out. One thing to remember: this bad news also brings opportunity.
THE NHL CANDIDATES
This fan was a couple wobbly pops in Saturday night when #4 was felled (Robin Brownlee has an excellent article on the Hall injury and last night’s game here at ON. My only quibble would be that the Oilers were clearly gassed in period 3, so it was a game they were in tough to win no matter the circumstances) and the profanity around the LT house was not for the meek.
However, as day breaks (well, as midday breaks) it gives one a chance to think about current roster players who might benefit from Hall’s bad fortune. If Taylor misses four weeks, which NHL forward will benefit the most?
- Magnus Paajarvi: Buddy has been in a funk all year, and some of that is due to playing with less skilled men. Still, some of this is on the player, and he certainly lacks confidence at this time. I could see coach Renney moving Paajarvi up to the top 6, possibly slotting him in with Horcoff and Hemsky. That’s a soft landing for a struggling youngster, although Hemsky’s ad-libbing can be a nightmare for youth (you may recall Hall’s comments on playing with 83). If MP gets the opportunity, he needs to post some crooked numbers a-sap. That top 6 chance won’t last long if the puck doesn’t get past the goal line.
- Sam Gagner: Samwise has been doing some good things of late, finally coming alive after an injury filled and ineffective early fall. The problem: Gagner hasn’t been effective at Hall’s position (LW) in the past. It’s unlikely coach Renney will move the RW’s (Eberle and Hemsky) or the C’s (RNH and Horcoff) so Hall’s injury could in fact weaken Gagner’s position in the short term.
- Ryan Jones: This might be the option that coach Renney goes with, as Jones has shown exceptional adaptability and is in fact becoming what Fernando Pisani used to be for the Oilers. By that I mean, Jones is the guy that coach Renney can put on a line and see good things happen. If Renney puts him with Horcoff and Smyth, that’s a line that could do some heavy lifting. Jones is a definite possibility.
There are some other options, but those would be the three that I’d see as being likely. Ben Eager has in the past slipped up a line or two, but his subpar season so far makes him a distant option. Coach Renney clearly trusts Anton Lander, and the young Swede may also get a few spins at the position.
With the move up the depth chart for one of the bottom sixers, there’s a chance Steve Tambellini reaches down to OKC and calls up a forward. Although that player is extremely unlikely to take Hall’s place, a couple of weeks in the NHL and some 3rd or 4th line time could be in the offing. Here are some of the candidates.
- Phil Cornet leads the AHL in goals (15 goals in 19 games) and has to at least be on the radar. He’s a fascinating prospect, in that the Oilers haven’t used him or talked about him as someone they see as a legit NHL option. Still, he’s ripping up a damn good league, and someone has noticed and that’s for sure.
- Teemu Hartikainen has 8 goals and what’s more is having some impact on the OKC powerplay. He’s a big body and showed well during a cup of coffee last spring. Hartikainen would be my choice for recall, based on his nice range of skills and the fact that he shouldn’t look out of place on the 4line. He might deliver more pep than someone like Eager, who still looks a little tentative after the pre-season concussion.
- Gilbert Brule took his medicine and has played well in the AHL. The organization might prefer to keep him in the minors (waiver concerns, or a longer term approach to his career recovery) but he is a player who could step in and play at a certain level for the Oilers.
- Hunter Tremblay leads the AHL in shorthanded goals (3) and has impressed his coach this season. You never know, he may never play in an NHL game. But there’s a player here, and rewarding him with a recall might be an option.
Those who follow my "reasonable expectations" series know I’m rarely wrong. In this case, my bet would be on the youngster Paajarvi getting the first at-bats. Coach Renney might feel this is a chance to get the young man some confidence and a goal or two.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Taylor Hall’s injury is extremely bad news. The young man has 30 goal power and no NHL team has the kind of depth required to plug and play that level of talent. The Edmonton Oilers do have some nice options, a reflection of their improved depth across the board. Stu MacGregor really is a magnificent bastard.