The position of center for Edmonton features a ridiculous teenager, an early 20s enigma, two old goats and several plough horses. This isn’t your Daddy’s Oilers at center.
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: After an exceptional rookie season, the Nuge will get more attention from the opposition in 12-13. Coach Krueger has already identified Jordan Eberle as a ‘pairing’ and it probably makes sense to have Taylor Hall on the other wing. That’s a ‘feature’ role by any measure.
- Sam Gagner: Oiler fans are often divided on players deep into their career, and Sam Gagner is this generation’s Poti. A solid young player with terrific playmaking skills, he is not 6.05 and does not run over people. Coach Krueger suggested Ales Hemsky as the partner for Samwise, leaving Yakupov or Smyth as the likely third on the line.
- Shawn Horcoff: Speaking of a divided fanbase, Horcoff fits the description too. Another season of tough zone starts and heavy lifting awaits #10, although with advanced age we should expect fewer points and less success in such a difficult role.
- Eric Belanger: Free agents often perform better in year two, so the Oilers might have a stronger depth chart by standing pat (which they have done). Belanger is a good faceoff man, can PK and should be good for 10 goals in a 3-4C role Jon Willis (in the article linked to above) suggested an interesting idea–having Belanger AND Horcoff on the checking line. Interesting.
- Mark Arcobello: A strong AHL season should have him knocking at the NHL door, but his weakness is size and the Oilers are looking to add size at center. He led the Barons at even strength scoring (14-22-36). A little surprising he didn’t get a cup of coffee in the NHL based on performance.
- Anton Lander: Tough season for the young Swede but the organization believes in him and Lander is extremely likely to joing Nuge and Gags as NHL centermen when this thing turns around. A good chance he’ll spend time in OKC in 12-13 even if the teams play 82 games in the NHL, but we shouldn’t discount the Oilers management group and their opinion of this player.
- Chris VandeVelde: We have to look beyond (a lack of) offense in order to see what the Oilers value in him. VV’s even strength totals (68, 5-13-18) were the worst among regular centers on the team. Having said that, coach Nelson relied on him and there is still a small window (Lander looks unready) of opportunity. I think he slightly improved his NHL chances this season. A a big center (6.02, 205) who can check and PK, his 6 post-season goals were a nice bonus.
- Antti Tyrvainein: Interesting player, often plays wing. Coach Nelson: “From the start of the season, we knew he (Tyrvainen) had the skills. He plays an abrasive style. He’s playing with confidence now and has good chemistry with his linemates (Lander and House).” Has one more year left on his contract, there is some urgency. He did have a nice stretch in late March/early April (this is the period Nelson refers to above) in which he went 7, 3-4-7 +7.
- Tanner House: College man like VandeVelde, seems to be a better offensive player but the organization likes VandeVelde better. House went 68, 8-12-20 at even strength this past season, and also played some wing. I would guess that he would have to show a tremendous amount this season in order to earn another contract.
- Ryan Martindale: A very poor first year pro, but I think you could also make a case that the organization didn’t handle him very well. Martindale did show well at rookie camp and early in main camp one year ago, and it’s always a good idea to give him a full season–at whatever level–in the role he’s suited to play: skill forward.
MINOR LEAGUE CONTRACTS
- Josh Green: A fine C with size and grit, Green will no doubt pivot the #1 line with the Barons. Played some with the big club in 11-12, will need to have his contract purchased this season (1-way, AHL only deal) if he is to play with the Oilers in 12-13.
IN THE SYSTEM
- Travis Ewanyk: Tough as nails centermen missed most of the season in 11-12 to injury, but did play in the post-season and will be healthy to start 12-13. Oilers are likely to sign him in the spring, as their depth at C doesn’t suggest a wealth of options.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
The Oilers have already shown us the future at center in Ryan Nugent Hopkins, Sam Gagner and Anton Lander. Beyond that, they boast two NHL veterans on the back 9, a couple of interesting prospects in the AHL and a long shot in Ewanyk. There’s some work to do, but the big items are covered.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be the face of the Oilers at center for a long, long time. He’s a helluva building block, and that’s for sure.