The Skill Positions

The Edmonton Oilers future is fast, furious and spectacular. At this point it’s not a matter of "if" they’ll contend for a spot near the top of the conference, but "when" they’ll put it together. The gathering of jacks and kings has given Edmonton a tremendous amount of skill. Do they have enough high end talent? Do they have enough room for another elite winger?

The answer is "yes." The Edmonton Oilers have enough room to add another elite level winger like Nail Yakupov. Even though Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have grand careers ahead of them and are in their entry level deals, even though Ales Hemsky is an outstanding talent–there’s still room.

THE GIFTED KIDS ON THE POWERPLAY

The skilled men on an NHL team get the gravy minutes–powerplay time on ice. Last season, the PP TOI went like this for the Oilers:

  1. Taylor Hall 3:03
  2. Jordan Eberle 3:00
  3. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 3:00
  4. Shawn Horcoff 2:52
  5. Ryan Smyth 2:28
  6. Sam Gagner 2:27
  7. Alex Hemsky 2:08

I’d argue that Hemsky should have been playing much bigger minutes but coach Renney had his wizard in the Nuge so it’s hard to argue with success. Still, if the procurement department adds Nail Yakupov and the new coach wants to use the rookie on the 2nd PP there’s plenty of talent beyond the three amigo’s at the top of this list. Gagner, Hemmer and Yakupov or Smyth sounds pretty damn good.

I sincerely believe that Shawn Horcoff’s time as a PP option should be over, and although EDM got a lot out of Eric Belanger’s 1 minute a night it is perhaps best to leave him off the list as well. The big offensive stars on the powerplay were Hall (13 goals), Eberle (10 goals) and the Nuge (20 assists). I wonder if the new coach might use RNH more on the PP? Mats Sundin used to play over 4.5 minutes a game on the PP and with these whiz kids stomping the guts out of the opposition maybe extra minutes 5×4 as they mature will produce more offense.

Based on the minutes given to Horcoff and Ryan Smyth noted above, one would think there will be a way for Yakupov to earn his way onto the PP sometime in 2012-13. Rookies are rarely PP monsters like the Nuge was this season, but we’re dealing in truly gifted teenagers here so a strong rookie season 5×4 from Yakupov is possible.

EVEN STRENGTH AND ZONE STARTS

Edmonton’s weakness last season had a lot to do with protecting the gifted youths Nuge, Eberle and Hall. Punishing zone starts for Shawn Horcoff, Eric Belanger and Ryan Jones meant the kids got a major zone start push. Coach Renney also tried to protect the trio qual comp although all three ended up playing the 2nd toughest minutes overall (all information via behind the net).

All of the tough zone starts for Horcoff ruined his offense, but the club placed a large number of players in the NHL’s top 180 forwards in 5×5/60 minutes. That’s the "line in the sand" for top 6 forwards (again courtesy behind the net). An average NHL team would have 6 forwards in the group–3 in the top 90 and 3 listed 91-180.

  • 2nd overall Jordan Eberle 3.08/60minutes
  • 69th overall Taylor Hall: 2.07/60 minutes
  • 88th overall Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: 1.98/60 minutes
  • 91st overall Sam Gagner: 1.96/60 minutes
  • 95th overall Ryan Smyth: 1.93/60 minutes
  • 175th overall Ales Hemsky: 1.57/60 minutes
  • 193rd overall Ryan Jones: 1.46/60 minutes
  • 193rd overall Ben Eager: 1.46/60 minutes

Oilers had 5 men in the top 100 scorers 5×5/60 this past season, which obviously is above average (average would be 3.33). The offense fell off badly after the men listed here, and Horcoff’s 1.04/60 ranks 280th among NHL forwards playing more than 50 games. Horcoff did play the toughs and defensive zone starts, so his overall numbers are badly skewed (although CorsiRel suggests he was getting the job done).

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

There’s room for Nail Yakupov on the 2nd PP unit and an NHL coach can find him plenty of offensive zone starts and the soft parade opposition. If the new Oilers coach does that, some of the other youngsters are going to be forced into roles they haven’t seen before.

A player like Jordan Eberle is probably vulnerable to a major downturn in fortunes based on Yakupov’s presence on the roster. You cannot protect this many kids and have them develop in a straight line. Surely the Oilers have proven that much over these last seasons.

  • Clyde Frog

    @billylikestodrinksoda

    Sorry Billy, that is their measurable production. Right there all in black and white.

    If you want to dream of a fantasy world where Staal on a different team will be a measurably different player is a joke. Staal will be Staal, a 40-50 pt player who is big and committed to 2-way play. He won’t magically become a Powerplay powerhouse, its not as if he didn’t get plenty of time this year and still only managed 5 goals.

    Staring at his height and dreaming of a different player, is what leads to terrible hockey trades.

    Also don’t straw-man me, Gagner is not Richards but they are similar in size. To say Gagner cannot be a 2nd line centre in this league because of his size is to say Richard’s couldn’t either.

    That’s the point, right there. When Oiler fans get size focused, that is how ridiculous we all sound.

    If you want to attack on comparables and production, fine but size is a low hanging fruit that holds no real weight.

    Staal is an amazing 3rd line centre, a middle of the road 2nd production wise. Same as Gagner, Staal brings intangibles but in no way is it guarunteed that he will come here and post 60+ pt seasons.

    He has managed 40-50 pts with increased and lessened top 6 ice time over his career, to sell the farm to aquire that is a quick way to stay in the back of the pack.

    If you want to make a hockey trade to upgrade with him, fine… But trade’s involving the 1st overall, Gagner +++++, or other reams of futures won’t net us enough return production wise.

    • billylikestodrinksoda

      Yeah that stuff is measurable absolutely. But you also have to take into account the situation and environment that the player is playing in.

      As an example Carey price’s numbers this year in save pct (price .916, dubnyk .916) and GAA (price 2.43, dubnyk 2.67). Very similar. Black and white measurements. But to any hockey fan, we both know that price is exceptionally better then dubnyk. I just think you have to take into account how a player is used and the situations they are put in. Thats what good managemnt does anyways. You cant base everything off numbers.

      And my big issue isnt size. It’s the type of game the player brings. Sam is a skilled center which we already have in Nuge. His 2way game is lacking. Lets say in their primes both he and Staal are 60 point guys, i still take staal anyday of the week for the intangibles he brings.

      Id even take Stephen Weiss over Sam who is a 55-65 point player and is small. He just has a great 2 way game and to me your top 6 should contain one skilled center with a bit of 2 way in his game (nuge) and one 2 way center who could chip in offense. Staal fits that bill for me over Gagner any day of the week.

      And yeah i wouldnt give up Gagner plus the farm but I’d definitely be willing to part with Gagner and lets say Hemsky for Staal and Joe morrow. Dunno if PIT would do that but they would think about it for sure IMO

  • Clyde Frog

    @Dman09

    Sorry to nitpick, but the things Staal brings are amazing for a 3rd line centre… In the top 6 I am more focused on the production possibilities a player has, where their ceiling is.

    If you want to run the 2nd line as a shutdown, Staal would give us the flexibility and would be very well fitted for that role. But honestly a decent 3rd and 4th line centre should be filling those roles well already.

    Staal is an AMAZING 3rd line centre, offense, defense, YAY! As a 2nd line, he is middle of the road production wise and has an extra defensive dimension.

    I am not selling the Oiler farm to get extra dimensions on the 2nd line, I would love to make a good hockey trade to get it… But not a giant futures dump. Staal simply does not have enough offence in his game to justify that.

    As for Staal’s increased Pts via the Powerplay, they would have found room for him if he had the skills to demand it. Increased time this season netted him 5 goals… It’s not like the Penguins depth on the wings would have kept him off the 1st unit if he was that good.

    • Clyde Frog

      If you look at some of the best teams and ones that win championships, the best players are the ones killing penalties and scoring. Thats what makes them so good. And so far there isn’t any indication that gags can get any better likewise there is nothing saying Staal will stay on par. I think forget that these two only have a year difference between them. Its likely that both will improve. Its also interesting that if you consider that if Gags didn’t have that 8 point night and say only got one point this season would have been his worse offensive season yet. Just something to think about.

  • Clyde Frog

    @Dman09

    Lol, why would we ignore his production in one game? I didn’t see anyone else doing it..

    Also, yes Crosby was injured and he still didn’t produce on the powerplay… What I’m saying is there is a reason you don’t see him on the 1st unit, especially with the Penguins lack of wing depth.

    I’m saying when you pay for Staal in a trade you can’t expect him to increase his production 10 fold, you can expect him to keep on producing as he has.

    It just isn’t enough to justify a huge payment via trade when you have Gagner. If you can get him in a swap of Gagner and a minor pick, thats fine. But Gagner ++++, Staal is not enough of a upgrade, plain and simple.

    Lastly what makes good teams good is depth. Players who kill penalties and muck it up AND contribute offensively are amazing if they are up and down your line-up. Getting Staal for Gagner and more doesn’t increase the Depth it just adds a new dimension to the 2nd line. Especially if you are piling on futures to make the deal work, as we will give up our future depth..

    The issue with the Oilers is finding depth that can contribute, we haven’t found that and so we wallow in the bottom 5. Once we build depth, we will fly up the standings.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    @Dman09

    “Crosby was injured most of the season remember. If he wasn’t that time would be a lot lower.”

    So what? The poster I was quoting said you have to look at things like PP time when comparing stats… I did, and they played very similar PP time.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    You need scoring depth. The LA Kings have shut down Ilya Kovalchuk and you see DeBoer scrambling to find a way to get his offence going. Breaking up Parise and Kovalchuk, then putting them back together, etc. All in an effort to get away from Doughty and Scuderi, although Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene have been great as well.

    So if you’re the Oilers and you have a chance to add another shooter, I say take him. Hall and Eberle will have to face guys like Shea Weber in the first PK unit, it’d be nice to have a guy or two on the 2nd PP unit that can put the puck on the net while facing the opponent’s 2nd PK unit. Gotta have scoring depth. The teams that are successful in the playoffs always get goals from multiple sources.

  • Clyde Frog

    Firstly Carey Price has history to his numbers, Devan does not. So you really can’t straw-man me there, but good try. It doesn’t prove anything because you are appling to orange.

    Also your and my top 6 are different… In my world the 2nd line is offensively focused and its job is to make it difficult to run the shutdwon pairings against only your 1st line, they step up when others can’t. It should be sheltered and a position for kids to blossom production wise.

    So you run what a #1 2 way scoring line, 2 shutdown lines (Or what is your 3rd line for) and a energy line?

    But then we agree in principle Staal has more 2-way to his game, but won’t produce significantly better than Gagner therefor he isn’t worth a significant payment of prospects/picks just to replace Gagner.