It’s a famous scene even in Lego Land, a young man graduates into the complicated world of adulthood. For a few Oklahoma City Barons, graduation day came this spring and next stop is the NHL. How many kids will graduate this year? Maybe more than it would first appear.
The Edmonton Oilers may have more job openings at the NHL level than it would appear. Should the club pass on re-signing Ryan Smyth–and for the record I think that’s a very poor idea–the forward group will need a LW to add at least one player to the current group under contract (Taylor Hall, Ben Eager).
WHO COULD IT BE?
The Oilers will need a top 6L to play behind Hall and if they don’t sign Smyth then a 3rd line LW should also be on the shopping list. Ryan Jones can play the left side but is a RW based on how he’s been used in Edmonton. The club also has Nail Yakupov in its sights, but he’s a true RW as well. Jim Matheson suggested Ales Hemsky moving to LW in his Hockey World this morning, and that’s certainly possible.
Assuming the Oildrop decide to run Eberle-Hemsky-Yakupov-Jones on the right side this coming season,all the work will be done on the left side. Internal options do exist, and they come in a variety of skills and disciplines:
- Teemu Hartikainen: Scored 20 goals again this season (AHL, NHL, AHL playoffs) and based on reports from OKC this guy was terrific down the stretch. Coach Todd Nelson said he was disappointed at being sent down last fall, but progress was being made. The things Nelson identified as needing work were playing well away from the puck, stopping and starting, managing the puck. The things he brings–grit, size, tough in battles, good hands–make him somewhat unique as an "in house" solution on the wing.
- Magnus Paajarvi: Paajarvi’s best arrow this season was his attitude. Lost in the NHL shuffle and losing confidence, he embraced the demotion and played his best hockey in the final 10 games of the playoffs (10, 2-8-10). Very dangerous because of speed and with good passing skills, Paajarvi’s shot and release will need work if he’s going to play on a scoring line in the NHL.Paajarvi did have a solid CorsiRel and his ZS/finish was a nice number in the NHL, I think he may end up being best suited to the Pisani role. I don’t think he lacks courage, but is not a gritty player despite size and the new coach is going to have to pump his tires in order to get the confidence back.
WHAT HAS TO HAPPEN?
The key for Hartikainen and Paajarvi is to become more than a face in the crowd. In order for one or both to come in and win a job with the Oilers, they’re going to have to do something unusual, "different" to impress the NHL men who decide these things. A new coach is a fresh start, but dogged determination, max effort and hard work get you noticed in training camp and the pre-season.
Do you remember the fall Kyle Brodziak won an NHL job? He came into camp and by mid-September there were all kinds of tells. I think that’s what these two young men need to do: work hard in the off-season, come to camp and get noticed early. A guy like Paajarvi might get noticed with a big hit and Hartikainen’s style makes him impossible to ignore but he could help himself with further work on his skating.
It’s right there, but not promised to anyone. These young men have to earn it, and there may never be a better chance.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
The Oilers handling of the Smyth negotiations tells us that they believe there are options available to them and they can find a way to make it work without the veteran. They might have a trade or a free agent in their back pocket, but it’s more likely management believes that one or both of these young men have earned the right to compete for a big league job this fall.
If they don’t sign Ryan Smyth, it could well be less a competition and more a welcome to the show. For both.