A Competitive Advantage

If the NHL starts up again in January, the Edmonton Oilers might be one of the league’s most improved teams. The shorter season means that low probability events – things like Nikolai Khabibulin’s red hot start to 2011-12 or Jeff Deslauriers’ five consecutive road wins back in 2009-10 – will have more impact than they would over an 82-game schedule. More than that, however, the Oilers have a competitive advantage.

That advantage is the Oklahoma City Barons. Robin Brownlee wrote briefly yesterday about the impact guys hitting the ground running could have and I’m in complete agreement on that score.

The fact that three of the Oilers’ top-six players – Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – will have 20+ games under their belt by the time the league is back in session is almost certainly a good thing. This isn’t the 1970’s, so “mid-season shape” doesn’t mean what it used to, but it seems entirely reasonable that a 20-year old who has been skating regularly in game situations is going to outperform a 30-year old who has not been playing competitive hockey all year.

For Hall in particular, starting in the minors is a positive. It was obvious that he was at less than 100 percent coming off shoulder surgery; he did not excel in his first few games with the Barons. He’s been exceptional since, though, rivaling Jordan Eberle as the team’s best forward.

The advantage goes beyond that, however.

On defence, Justin Schultz has been a revelation. I had high expectations, given what scouts and hockey men I respect have had to say about him over the years, but he’s blown those expectations out of the water. This summer, I posited that the Oilers needed a backup plan on the blue line just in case Schultz had difficulty adjusting to the majors. I still think the team could use some help on the back end but those concerns are gone: Justin Schultz is and was NHL-ready.

There is some fear that Schultz – as with many college players before him – hits a wall at the mid-season mark. But this is a guy who has been the AHL’s best player in the early going, a guy who on playmaking ability alone is probably the Oilers best offensive rearguard already. He should get top-four minutes in the first NHL game he plays.

Other Barons players either should or could play a key role in Edmonton.

Teemu Hartikainen appears to have won a job; he fit well on a line with Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins but at least as importantly has continued to be a factor when separated from the elite talent. I am still dubious about his offensive upside, but he looks to me like a guy who can be a decent complementary player on a skill line and given his size and willingness to play a physical game he is a good fit for team need. He is particularly adept at the cycle game in the offensive zone, something valuable regardless of which line he ends up on.

Magnus Paajarvi may or may not get a job immediately once hockey starts up, but there’s virtually no chance he isn’t on the Oilers’ roster at some point this year if hockey is played. He lacks the finishing ability of an elite player, but what he has a real knack for is puck possession – he is both a capable distributer and a great option for skating the puck up ice. Combine that with his penchant to cheat for defense, and he’s a guy who can fill in anywhere.

Yann Danis is the other guy who might crack the Oilers’ roster relatively early in the year. Nikolai Khabibulin was hurt this fall, and though it seems like he’s ready to go he also turns 40 in January; maybe the time off helps him, but there should be no tolerance for early season struggles. Danis has been excellent for the Barons after a lousy October, he has NHL experience, and he’s a capable backup if Khabibulin falters and/or is hurt again.

If the season starts in January, these guys – along with players who have played in Europe, like Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner and Ladislav Smid – will give the Oilers an advantage other teams don’t have: a strong core of players who don’t need to adjust to playing hockey again. It’s the exact sort of advantage that could propel the Oilers up the Western Conference standings, and cause individual players to surpass expectations.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow
    @DSF
    “How would you like to be in Burke’s shoes with Gardiner, Rielly, Finn, Blacker and Percy all under 25?”

    In what bizarre world would anyone want to be in Brian Burkes Shoes… Please dont respond with how the leafs have better prospect depth and are going to finish higher than the Oilers every year due to their vast Depth on D. Please Dont. Save yourself the time.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    @DSF “How would you like to be in Burke’s shoes with Gardiner, Rielly, Finn, Blacker and Percy all under 25?”

    “How would you like to be in Tambellini’s shoes with Hall, Hopkins, Yakupov, Eberle and Gagner all under 25?”

    Furthermore to indulge another one of your useless comments.

    http://www.hockeysfuture.com/teams/toronto_maple_leafs/

    http://www.hockeysfuture.com/teams/edmonton_oilers/

    Our defensive prospects are ranked much better than Torontos. Only you would want to be in Burkes shoes.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    Petry.Gardiner – Shultz.Rielly – Klefbom.Blacker – Marincin.Finn – Musil.Percy -Gernat.Mikus

    Our 25 and under D is just as good or better than the shoes you dream of. Wake up buddy. No Need to be Negative just for the sake of being Negative. We have 6 guys above 7.5 Leafs have 3.

    Furthermore Oilers are Ranked 3rd in the Entire NHL while the Leafs are ranked 20th.
    http://www.hockeysfuture.com/team-rankings

    Your cherry Picking again, kind of like the post you put under Sniper Hemsky where you put Zetterberg on your useless list, but failed to include teammate Linus Omark who should have been NUMBER TWO overall on there.

    Sad.

  • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

    Oilertown, DSF is smarter than you. He is also more informed about hockey than you, and just about everyone on this site. Quit whining.

  • nuge2drai

    Also, the Oilers defense is terrible. The arena deal proposed by Katz is a scam if there ever was one, and will not help the city of edmonton in any way, shape, or form.

    One last tangent for you Oilersnation morons: the owners of the NHL franchisees are not losing money. Even the terrible southern state based ones. Misleading information from Forbes magazine does not prove otherwise.

    Stupid idiots on this site. Especially these morons Book!e and David S. I think one is a realtor and the other writes superficial articles ad nauseum.

    • GVBlackhawk

      Thank you for enlightening us with your unbelievable insight. I would be willing to pay big money to glean the knowledge that you have stored in that superhuman brain of yours. Please let me know.

      That is, IF you have the time when you are not working on the Origins of the Universe…

    • I can’t speak for Book!e (other than he seems like a decent, well informed guy), but I can tell you I don’t “write superficial articles ad nauseum”.

      The person you’re referring to is David Staples. You may not agree with his journalistic direction, but I’m fairly sure he researches the crap outta pretty much everything he writes as he is a paid, award-winning career professional journalist. Anyone who is a regular reader of his column or Cult of Hockey blog would have to agree. I’d also mention that being a professional, he doesn’t stoop to name calling and website trolling to forward an ill-informed agenda.

      Hate less and pay attention more. It’ll make you look a whole lot less dumb.

  • Kodiak

    DSF, I’m still trying to find in the article where Willis said the Oilers will be or could be a top tier team this year? All I got out of it was that the shorter season may be an advantage for the Oil to sneak into the playoffs, and all you seem to do is compare them to one of the top teams and say, nope, they aren’t good enough. We don’t give a rats @ss about the Canucks and no one with any brains around here is suggesting the Oilers=Canucks. Give it up already. At least follow the theme of the article and compare the Oil to the 7/8/9 teams and tell us why the Oil suck too much to be in that mix.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    DSF wrote:

    1. Damien Brunner RW Zug NLA 27 23 25 48 2. Jaromir Jagr RW HC Kladno Czech 27 18 25 43 3. Tomas Plekanec C HC Kladno Czech 28 20 22 42 4. Evgeni Malkin C Metallurg Magnitogorsk KHL 29 13 28 41 5. Nick Bonino C Neumarkt/Egna Italy2 13 17 21 38 6. Tyler Seguin C/RW Biel NLA 24 23 14 37 7. Jan Mursak RW Olimpija Ljubljana Austria 21 12 24 36 8. John Tavares C Bern NLA 22 14 21 35 9. Erik Condra W SC Riessersee Germany2 16 18 16 34 10. Henrik Zetterberg C Zug ET 18 14 17 31 11. Ales Hemsky RW HC Pardubice Czech 25 14 17 31 12. Pavel Datsyuk C CSKA Moskva KHL 25 9 22 31 13. Alex Ovechkin LW Dynamo Moskva KHL 24 13 17 30 14. Ilya Kovalchuk LW SKA St. Petersburg KHL 24 12 18 30 15. Joe Thornton C Davos NLA 27 7 22 29 16. Patrice Bergeron C Lugano NLA 18 11 17 28 17. Patrik Berglund C Vasteras Allsvenskan 25 18 9 27 18. Mikael Backlund C Vasteras Allsvenskan 20 11 16 27 19. Sergei Kostitsyn LW Avangard Omsk KHL 21 9 18 27 20. Anze Kopitar C Mora Allsvenskan 25 9 18 27 21. Daniel Briere C Eisbaren Berlin DEL 17 6 21 27 22. Jason Spezza C Rapperswil NLA 25 8 18 26 23. David Krejci C HC Pardubice Czech 22 14 11 25 24. Drew Miller LW Braehead Clan EIHL 17 13 12 25 25. Marek Zidlicky D HC Kladno Czech 25 3 22 25

    Linus Omark 29 12 31 43 Zug ET … Should be Second on this list ahead of teammate star winger Zetterberg. Also ahead of other league players such as Tavarez, Thorton, Seguin, Bergeron and Spezza.

    The problem with DSF is not only does he cherry pick with his stats, but he also manipulates made-up stats and is selective in posting these useless stats when the Oilers are involved. Its sad and pathetic to try to dishearten fans and make stuff up- also to be so negative all the time.

    • Oilertown

      Completely agree, its very sad when an old man has nothing better to do with his life then berate the Oilers all the time by digging up useless stats which he cherry picks from to try and make himself look like he knows what he is talking about. I think 99.8% of people on this site would agree with that.