The Edmonton Oilers Forward Depth

How many forwards does the average NHL team need in a season? Which prospects in the system have the best chance of being called up? Do the Oilers have enough quality guys in their minor-league system, or is it something they need to strengthen?


In 2011-12, the average NHL team used 20 different forwards over the course of the season. Only 12 players per team appeared in 40 or more games; 14 players per team appeared in at least 25 contests. The other six forwards on the average team only got spot duty.

This suggests that forward depth is less of a concern than defensive depth. An NHL team that starts the year with 14 forwards – assuming those 14 skaters are the best 14 forwards in the system – can be reasonably confident that the guys on the farm will only be needed for spot work.

The Oilers

Last season the Oilers were in the ballpark of the average, but a little off. Here’s how their forward roster broke down in terms of games played:

  • 40+ games (14 players): Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Jones, Jordan Eberle, Eric Belanger, Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky, Ben Eager, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Lennart Petrell, Anton Lander, Darcy Hordichuk, Magnus Paajarvi
  • 25+ games (0 players)
  • 1+ games (6 players): Teemu Hartikainen, Linus Omark, Josh Green, Chris VandeVelde, Philippe Cornet, Milan Kytnar

With the exception of Linus Omark, every forward on the opening night roster played 40+ games, and given that opening night saw Sam Gagner and Ben Eager on injured reserve, it seems fair to say that the Oilers were in the same situation as our average NHL team: the top-14 guys on opening night were the only 14 to play regularly in the NHL.

In terms of AHL depth, the Oilers were close to golden last year. Hartikainen and Omark were both solid recall options. Green was a veteran with tons of NHL experience; Chris VandeVelde a guy with past experience who might be in the mix for an NHL job this year if the Oilers make a move. Cornet had an outrageous start to the season and earned his call-up by scoring goals; Milan Kytnar was a fluke due to scheduling but also showed the team’s depth by putting in a solid performance the same day he was recalled from the ECHL.

The NHL roster was less impressive, unsurprisingly so given the Oilers’ 29th-place finish.

What does the depth chart look like right now? Imagining a full NHL season ahead, here’s how we would likely slot the Oilers by games played:

  • 40+ games (12 players): Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Smyth, Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky, Nail Yakupov, Shawn Horcoff, Teemu Hartikainen, Ben Eager, Eric Belanger, Ryan Jones
  • 25+ games (2 players): Darcy Hordichuk, Lennart Petrell
  • 1+ games (6 players): Magnus Paajarvi, Chris VandeVelde, Anton Lander, Mark Arcobello, Dane Byers, Tyler Pitlick

I don’t actually think Lennart Petrell is a better player than Magnus Paajarvi, but he is a better healthy scratch and that’s likely to make the difference until he’s moved on down the line (personally, axing Petrell and keeping eight defencemen on the NHL roster would be fine with me). The roster is awfully young and plenty of the veterans are coming off tough years, so there will be problems but development of the young stars should ease a lot of them (and at this point, the long-term future of the group trumps present concerns).

What happens if we project ahead to 2013-14 (assuming no new lottery picks between now and then)?

  • 40+ games (12 players): Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff, Teemu Hartikainen, Magnus Paajarvi, Eric Belanger, Ryan Jones
  • 25+ games (2 players): Ben Eager, Darcy Hordichuk
  • 1+ games (6 players): Anton Lander, Chris VandeVelde, Mark Arcobello, Tyler Pitlick, Dane Byers, Curtis Hamilton

There’s lots more room to play around with the depth here than there was when we considered the defence; the status of individual prospects and the turnover of veterans in the minors will change the picture considerably.

For the most part, depth is not the problem for the Oilers’ forward crops. Underachieving veterans and still-callow youth are the primary areas of concern, as is the potential for pressure from the salary cap. But these are one-for-one type trades; the team might need to trade Shawn Horcoff, for example, but all they need to get in return is another version of Shawn Horcoff (slightly better, or slightly cheaper, or whatever). They don’t need to infuse depth and maturation should take care of talent issues.

Depth is just less of a concern up front than on the back end, and the Oilers are faring pretty well.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • yawto

    With all the first overall picks and Jordan Eberle the depth of the forwards on this team should be the one area we don’t have to worry about. Maybe a bit more in the bottom six but for now we seem to be OK.

  • slopitch

    JW: I think your right RE the Oilers depth. With that in mind, would you consider

    Yakapov for a stud dman
    Gagner or Hemsky for a top 3D
    MPS+say Kelfbom for a top 3D

    I think the Oilers will need to buy out Horcoff if the cap goes to 60 million. Would they be allowed to resign him at $1 mill?

  • paul wodehouse

    does this embarrassment of riches @ forward equal the WOW trade? do we get a starting goalie? is there a veteran Dman to be had?

    how many parts are we away from being a playoff team … two? three? four or five…

      • paul wodehouse

        …I’m “Not giving up on Dubey yet” either Cappy…but please, I coulda looked pretty good at the Spengler Cup…that’s an old timers tournament where the likes of Ryan Smith take the whole famn damily for a Christmas vacation…I’m still needing a starting goaltender on my Edmonton Oiler playoff team…

  • stevezie

    Fully agree, they’re looking to too bad at forward. Probably not cup contenders, and as DSF points out buying out Horcoff means they would NEED another centre, but this is the forward corps of a playoff team.

    *You cannot sign a player you buyout, but they could trade Horcoff to a team they know would buy him out and then resign him. Perhaps they could swap for a more expensive buyout, or maybe they could include a draft pick to a team with money to spare.

  • Klima's Mullet

    have now watched yakupov through the subway super series and world juniors and Im really not sure how good he is he plays like he dosent have a brain

    • Klima's Mullet

      This whole Russian team has been critized by past great Russian players as playing an individual game with no strong team concept.

      I suspect Yakapov falls into this camp but playing like this at the NHL level will require some de-programming and then some re-programming. We already have a end-to-end guy named Hemsky and watching him go end to end and lose the puck when it most countsis very frustrating……..we do not need two of these players.

      • stevezie

        The object of the game is to score while preventing the other team to score. If Yakupov is proficient at this it doesn’t matter if he does it in a similar manner as Hemsky (who is clearly proficient at this. Stop asking “how?”, focus on “how many?”)

        More weapons is a very very good thing. The idea that we could have redundant offence doesn’t make sense.

        That said, he could be no good, or he could be too expensive,or we could need a D-man even more and have to trade him…

    • GVBlackhawk

      Don’t put too much stock into a few games. The Subway Series was played with very little time to adjust to the change in time zones (two days if I’m not mistaken). Last time I flew across the Pacific, I was falling asleep at the dinner table — couldn’t keep my eyes open to save my life. For anyone who has not crossed that many time zones, it is extremely difficult to adjust the body that quickly.

      The other point that you should take away is the poor coaching (same guy who coached in the Super Series). The entire Russian team looks unorganized and individual play has reflected that. Players like Yakupov, Grigorenko, and Slepyshev are all playing ‘sub-par’, whereas they have all shined in the past.

      Let Krueger spend some time with Yakupov and teach him how to properly engage the puck in the defensive zone (i.e. stop cheating for offense) and he will be markedly better. Additionally, he will have guys like Hall, Eberle, and RNH to work with in practice to sort out his offensive game. In time, and surrounded by top caliber talent, Nail will realize that he doesn’t have to try and do it all himself.

      His skills are undeniable. With the proper structure, he will look like a completely different player.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    overall forward depth isn’t really a problem down the road… but the key areas of concern ought to be:

    1) replacing hangers on (HOrdy; Petrell; Eager) with reliable nhlers. a calming 2-way vet presence would look good on the 3rd and 4th lines.

    2) sorting out the future at C. more depth needed and a decision looms on Gagner, Belanger and Horcoff’s future (each for different reasons)

    3) getting the development of the bubble and long shot players (Harti; MP; Lander; VDV; Pitlick; Moroz; Khaira; Zharkov; etc) right.

    4) trading forwards for defensive depth without giving away the farm.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      don’t be so dramatic.

      this is an area of concern, as I noted. but it is hardly beyond remedy.

      horcoff could get bought out and replaced.

      gagner could become what the fan-boys always hoped he would be.

      belanger could right the shooting % ship.

      and they could make a trade… shuffle some of that winger depth for a c…

      the state of things isn’t static.

  • Time Travelling Sean

    The LA Kings traded for Stoll, Richards, and Carter. They drafted their 1st line center, as we did, and they have Doughty who is like our Schultz, hopefully.

    It isn’t impossible to trade for a quality center without destroying your farm.

    • DSF

      Let’s examine those trade more closely:

      1) They traded an elite offensive defenseman for Stoll (and Greene)

      2) They acquired Richards for Brayden Schenn (drafted 5th overall) and Wayne Simmonds (a big body 2nd line winger)

      3) They traded Jack Johnson (a former first round pick) and a first round pick for Jeff Carter.

      So, the Oilers would have to have the assets to do the same.

      1) Justin Schultz

      2) Gagner + Hemsky

      3) Jeff Petry + a first round pick.

      Doesn’t work, does it?

  • longbottom/P.Biglow

    Johnathon come on did you have to use advanced stats to figure that the Oilers are lacking depth?
    Instead on constantly ripping managment for their lack of vision, lets take a second here
    to figure out something that I would call comonality of bottom five teams in the NHL.
    1) gennerally over the last what 40 years they all shared a lack of talent to begin with.
    2) they all share a mix and match therory of trying to get out of the bottom of the league and trying to get younger players into their line-up way ahead of schedule.
    3) they all tend to be in the top 5-10 in man games lost. But then again you could fire the medical/training staff and get new ones to fix that problem(oh wait Tambo tried that year 2-3-4-5 whatever year of the rebuild)
    Check your advanced stats on those theorys and I bet you could write a blog on that.
    By the way even an illiterate homer such as myself figured out these problems the year they drafted Hall.
    You are starting to sound like Richard Cloutier with his trade Yaks and Gag theory because they are too small, over and over and over and over.