Before any of us can try to figure out what the Edmonton Oilers are going to do as a team in the second half of the season, it makes sense to try to get a handle on how individual players might fare.
Can the Oilers improve on the 16-22-3 record for 35 points they managed in the first 41 games? That obviously rests heavily on what happens with Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall. Will they be as good in the next 41 games as they were in the first 41?
Likewise, it’ll take better second halves from Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner, Shawn Horcoff, Ben Eager, Ryan Whitney and Eric Belanger if the Oilers are going to make gains down the stretch, especially factoring in injuries to Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and blue line stalwart Tom Gilbert.
In the context of comparing performance in the first half to the second, who will make the biggest gains? Who’ll likely see the most significant declines? Who will stay about the same? And, of course, what will it mean to a record that today finds the Oilers a lottery team again, sitting in 26th place.
Here’s how I see it . . .
TAYLOR HALL – As good as Hall has been, especially on the last road trip, to hit the halfway mark with 14-15-29, he’s done it in just 33 games. Barring injury, I can see him being 5-10 points better down the stretch.
SHAWN HORCOFF – I don’t know if Horcoff is going to put up many more points than the 22 he had in the first 41, but if can get completely healthy I can see him improving on his 48.2 face-off percentage.
SAM GAGNER – After a difficult start to the season, Gagner is rolling and has 5-15-20 in 34 games. Set to play between Hall and Hemsky and with opportunity knocking, I can see Gagner easily surpassing those totals.
ALES HEMSKY – Rounding into form after shoulder surgery, Hemsky is playing for a contract — somewhere. After managing just 3-11-14 in 28 games, I can see him doubling that total in the next 41.
ERIC BELANGER – I wouldn’t be surprised to see his 57.4 face-off percentage drop, but he couldn’t possibly put up more modest offensive numbers than the 1-9-10 he had in the first half. Could he?
COREY POTTER – Potter provided spark on the power play before he got injured. He’ll get an opportunity to do it again with Tom Gilbert out until after the all-star break. He’ll be the team’s leading blue line scorer.
MAGNUS PAAJARVI – Back from a 10-game stint in OKC, Paajarvi sounds invigorated and he’ll get ice time and opportunity while Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins are out. He’ll better the 0-3-3 he had before they get back.
ANDY SUTTON – Assuming he isn’t suspended by Brendan Shanahan for a third time this season, expect better numbers than the 2-4-6 Sutton had in 21 games and more much-needed physical play.
RYAN WHITNEY – Assuming Whitney heals up and the team doesn’t shut him down for the season, he can’t help but be more effective and produce more points than the 0-3-3 he had in the first 41. What could go wrong?
CAM BARKER – He played just 12 games and managed just one goal in the first half. He’ll be better than that by default or he’ll fall off the NHL map with a repeat of the first 41. Oilers will need some minutes from him.
DUE TO DECLINE
JORDAN EBERLE – Nobody expected Eberle to finish with 86 points this season, but that’s the pace he was on with 17-26-43. He’ll miss the next eight games with a sprained knee, so what will he get in the remaining 33?
RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS – The leading candidate for the Calder Trophy with 13-22-35 when he hurt his shoulder, RNH is out the rest of the month. If he manages 25 points in the second half, that’s still a helluva year.
RYAN SMYTH – With a hot start and then a long drought, Smyth exceeded expectations with 15-17-32 and played 20:05 a game. Don’t see 30 goals in the cards for him at age 35. I expect him to wear down unless his time is cut.
RYAN JONES – He’s on pace for 24 goals and 40 points, but I simply don’t see it. While I don’t expect a drop-off in his hustle and effectiveness from Jones as a penalty killer, he’ll be hard-pressed to duplicate those totals.
TOM GILBERT – He was playing the best hockey of his career when he got steamrolled by Daniel Carcillo. Aside from 3-12-15, he was logging 23:41 a game. Ankles, even sprained ones, can take a long time to come around.
LADISLAV SMID – Relatively speaking, he’s been an offensive dynamo with 3-4-7, but he’s benefited big-time by being paired with Gilbert because their styles complement each other. Tough act to follow without him.
NIKOLAI KHABIBULIN – Back to earth after a ridiculous first dozen games, I’m not picking Khabibulin to fold up, but maintaining his .921 saves percentage is highly unlikely. Finishing above .910 overall will be a victory.
HOLD THE LINE
JEFF PETRY – Logged a lot of minutes (20:07) when pressed into duty and performed well. Can see minutes cut back when Whitney and Barker ready.
BEN EAGER – Didn’t get much of anything done in his first 20 games but he showed more in the last month or so. Hasn’t been a physical force.
ANTON LANDER – I still think he should be in OKC and that averaging just 10:40 in 37 games hasn’t helped him.
THEO PECKHAM – Offense isn’t a real consideration with Peckham, so his 1-2-3 is an afterthought. Can be pushed beyond the 16:20 he’s at now.
DARCY HORDICHUK – He’s delivered as advertised when Renney has chosen to use him, which hasn’t been enough. Functional toughness?
COLTEN TEUBERT – He belongs in OKC but that’s not his fault. I’d expect him to be back there when Whitney and Barker are healthy again.
RYAN O’MARRA – He’ll try to make hay in a limited role as he always does with Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle out.
DEVAN DUBNYK – People were screaming for Dubnyk to get more of the workload when the season began, but he’s taken a backseat and will again.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.