When we last left the 4line discussion, we’d identified the suspects and wondered how the team could get improved play from the same group. Perhaps an addition from the farm? Or a change in philosophy?
The first look at the 4line is here. We identified the players and their minutes, and agreed it was a little surprising that the management seemed to be making every effort to bring the players back (specifically Petrell). Let’s review last season’s group and what the bring to the dance:
- Eric Belanger: Best faceoff man on the club, he brought with him a reputation as a 2-way player. Although he was far from delivering on same, veterans often play better in year two with their new team. Oilers may be hoping this happens with Belanger.
- Lennart Petrell: Big Finn offers some size and is a hitter. Petrell also played some PK and is an aggressive forechecker.
- Anton Lander: One of the players who is generally regarded as a big part of the future, Lander was overmatched and outchanced despite playing most of the season on the big club. Among the things we might list as reasons for coach Renney’s dismissal, surely Lander’s presence deep into the season is one of them.
- Ben Eager: Tough winger brought in to bring sandpaper to the everyday lineup, and as with Belanger the results were found wanting. His performance may have been impacted by a training camp hit from Kirill Tulupov that slowed him. Oilers have stated they want to be physical, Eager has the size (and speed) to be intimidating when he chooses to do it.
- Darcy Hordichuk: Re-signed with the Oilers and plans on having a greater impact. Hordichuk: "I think that you don’t have to be an idiot out there, or be a donkey but as the season goes on and guys are starting to get run a little more you have to kind of draw the line somewhere early in the season so that guys know this is what you’re up against if it happens. If that means taking a suspension then I’m willing to do that.”
- Magnus Paajarvi: Used up and down the lineup when he was in town, Paajarvi was the lone member of last season’s group whose overall performance was north on .500 on the chance clock.
It is possible that Taylor Hall will be unready at the start of the season (although I’d never count him out), so the top 6F might need another winger. Nuge-Gagner should be the C’s, and the 4 wingers should be Hall, Eberle, Yakupov and Hemsky when all hands are on deck.
Teemu Hartikainen–not listed above–would appear to be the obvious candidate for the role until Taylor Hall gets back, and I think he might end up being a key player for the 4th line too. Once Hall is healthy, the Oilers might be able to run the following top 9F:
Which means that Hartikainen can join the group above for 4line duty. Beyond Hartikainen, the minor league roster does in fact have some candidates but I’m not certain any of them will make a push for NHL duty this season.The most promising is Tyler Pitlick but he’s a year way. Pitlick has size, speed and can hit. We’re not certain how much offense he’ll bring, but Pitlick has many of the elements Oilers fans (and apparently management) feel the team is missing. He won’t be an enforcer, and is unlikely to be a disturber as an NHL player. However, he’s big and physical with speed. What should make the difference for Pitlick over a player like Eager is his ability to take and make a pass. If he can do that at speed, Pitlick is going to have a career far beyond the 4line.
WHO ON THE WHAT NOW?
I was listening to Jason Strudwick on the Team 1260 morning show on the trip into work this morning. Jason is a bright guy and a former NHL player, so when he’s talking it is a good idea for fans like me to listen. Strudwick (and host Will Fraser) were discussing Colin Fraser and his success in LA.
Strudwick talked about the role Fraser played down the stretch after coach Sutter clearly defined his role. That takes teamwork–a coach with the vision to put someone in a spot where they can succeed, along with a player willing to buy in–and the result can be outstanding even in the middle of an NHL season.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Perhaps that is one reason why coach Krueger and the Oilers signed Lennart Petrell and Darcy Hordichuk, and appear to be returning Eric Belanger, Ben Eager and possibly Magnus Paajarvi. Maybe a clearly defined role will make that line roll.
SERIOUSLY, WHAT DOES IT REALLY MEAN?
At the very least this is a chance for us to see what the Oilers are going to do in an area that offers tremendous opportunity for growth. Will they:
- Make Paajarvi a bigger part of the 4line
- Use Hartikainen as part of the energy/size line
- Run Belanger, Eager, Hordichuk and Petrell out there again in the hopes that dropping Lander from the mix is the solution?
- Does Ralph Krueger–as referenced by Mr. Strudwick today–change the equation and ask the same men to provide energy, forechecking and grit without spending hours in the sin bin?
Much of what we’re sitting around waiting for with this team is the maturation of the kids. When Hall, Ebs, Nuge and Yak start going rocknrolla there’s going to be more hell than a little bit. One of the things I’m hoping for this fall is some clarity and accountability for that 4th line.
I’m a fan of effective 4lines, that Jim Dowd trio that played here a dozen years ago was sublime. Let’s hope one of Ralph Krueger’s first chores is to find three guys who can rip it up on the 4line every night.