The Top Nine

I have been impressed with the play of both Ryan Jones and Ben Eager. Right now we are talking about a very small sample size. Jones has just gotten started this year and Eager has had injury problems as well. Could it be that the answer to the Oilers issues of size and aggression has been on the IR for most of this season?

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At the skate today Jones was playing on a line with Sam Gagner and Hemsky. He brings what is needed to this line: physical play, net drive and defensive awareness. The question that needs to be answered is can Jones keep up and contribute with very offensive players?

He has scored close to twenty goals the past two seasons so he can clean up the garbage. It is different playing with highly skilled players. You need to read off of them. It is a challenge. Burrows has learned to do it well with the Sedin twins in Vancouver; Jones is a smart enough guy, if given a real chance maybe he can do the same for the Gagner line.

The way Ben Eager has played the last few games is exactly what was expected from him when he joined the Oilers. He is finishing all of his checks and getting in on the forecheck. The Oilers need him to do this for the whole season, not just a few games or a week. He is very noticeable during the game; can that be said for the whole Oilers lineup? Yes he takes penalties, and some are not good penalties at all. I can live with a few of those though for a while. He needs to learn to keep his stick on the ice and not take bad offensive zone penalties, they kill momentum!

When Horcoff gets back would the third line combo of Eager and Horcoff be a good start to a checking line? I think it would. The question becomes who joins them? Yakupov? Petrell? Paajarvi? Based on his recent play I would put Smyth in there. That spot could be rotated to different players depending on their play. With Smyth, the third line would be a veteran line, not sure how much offensive they would create but at least Ralph would know who to put out at the end of the game.

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My Lines

When everyone is healthy I would give these lines a hard look.

  • 4 – 93 – 14
  • 28 – 89 – 83
  • 55 – 10 – 94

Hall is the biggest of the skilled group of forwards the Oilers have. He drives the net hard and creates chaos in the offensive zone. Jones would be the garbage man on the second line. Could these lines be a start to adding some nuts and guts to the Oilers top nine? When Horcoff comes back I would like to find out. They aren’t scoring with the current makeup of the lines five on five so what has the team got to lose?

This leaves Yakupov out of the mix. He is learning the NHL game on the fly. Not an easy thing to do. With so little practice time I am sure the coaches are using video as the teaching method of choice. He is a very dangerous player in the offensive zone. It is a treat to watch him shoot the puck. He is much quicker than I expected.

In the neutral and defensive zones he needs to learn about puck management. There is a big difference between making a pass and making a hope pass. You have all played the game. You know the difference. When you make a pass that is tape to tape without any risk you feel good about it. You know the result before you pass the puck, the puck will get to your teammate.

A hope pass is when you PRAY the puck makes it to your team mate. You need to get lucky or have a fortunate bounce. Maybe the defensive player misses the puck or falls down. These passes are great in rec leagues but not in the NHL. All young skilled forwards go through this growing pain; he will figure it out. A perfect example is Nazem Kadri with the Leafs. He seems to have it figured out this year.

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This still leaves him on the fourth line but is that so bad? When was the last time the Oilers had a player this skilled on that line? Forever! I don’t believe he is being punished, there is just no room right now on the other lines. He will get his power play time and less even strength time. Not great for a young player but he needs to be patient.

If players in the top three lines struggle Ralph can move Yakupov into their spot. Internal competition! The team needs that. I guarantee the other players know he is there, waiting for his chance. It pushes them to go harder.

We can all agree that the Oilers need more grit in their top lines. Maybe just maybe, with Hall, Jones, Eager and a healthy Horcoff they are starting to get something that looks like a grittier top 9.

How to beat Dallas!

The Oilers got a point out of Chicago, something I did not expect. It is a bonus. They need to keep this point streak going through Dallas.

To beat Dallas they need to keep the pace very high. Out skate this team. After the game in Chicago, Ralph Kreuger mentioned that he was trying to get thirty shifts in the third period for his forwards. That is a lot of changing but it keeps the tempo of his team very quick. They should try to do this all game tomorrow, make Dallas try and keep up with them.

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They need to skate Dallas into the ground. The defence needs to get back for pucks quicker. Make the first pass they see. The forwards need to be skating and not once turn the puck over in the neutral zone. When in doubt, chip the puck by the Dallas ‘D’ and go get it. Think of the goal Eberle scored on Saturday.

If they go with short, quick shifts and don’t turn the puck over in the neutral zone they will overwhelm the Stars. If they choose to take longer shifts and skate east to west with the puck, they will lose for sure.

I hope you are reading this Ralph because I just gave you your game plan for victory!

  • Bi-Curious Gord

    Good Read Jason…so the HOPE (Hall Omark MPS Eberle) Draft Campaign have become the Hope Pass. I concur with the observation of the floppy air borne Hope passes that Nail dishes off periodically — those work in my rec hockey league (occassionally there too) but the are often just turnover death. What I do really like however about Yakupov is his ability to go get the puck out of the corner after dumping it in. He is one of the few Kids that does have that play in his repertoire.

  • At the risk of personal injury, Omark wouldn’t be a bad guy right about now on a line with Lander and Paajarvi. He’s turned his game around, having wiped the floor in the Swiss league. And it’s not like we’re brimming with secondary scoring or anything so wonderous.

    And to those numbnuts who scream for size and trulence, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

    BOOM! *DX crotch chop*

  • MarcusBillius

    The way Eberle has been playing so far (same old bag of tricks, poorer execution or something…), you wouldn’t think he’d know Yakupov is a right winger by trade.

  • Toro

    I don’t understand why they barely gave Yakupov a chance on the first line with Eberle and Nuge while Hall was suspended?? And sorry Struds but having Yakupov on the fourth line isn’t a good idea , he’s not a checker he’s a scorer plus it could kill his confidence maybe …

  • bwar

    I would really like to see Krueger break up his beloved pairs for a game. I would be interested to see how Eager and Jones would perform with Gagner or RNH centering them. Seems like they are a pair that can really turn the puck over and create some chances. Only problem is I don’t see Belanger or Horcoff pulling the trigger too often on those chances.

    I also feel that it doesn’t really matter who Hall plays with, he just has the feel of a guy who is going to create chances and put up some points. I’d to see Krueger show some creativity with the top two lines and maybe even plug Hall with Horcoff and Smyth. I just feel that out of all the guys who could play with those two he gives that line the best opportunity to be productive while still getting great production from the other two lines as well.

    Randomly plugging in player to play with Hemsky and Gagner doesn’t make me too optimistic that Krueger wants to solve the 5v5 scoring issues.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    With the Village idiots (Oiler Management) in Philly watching the Flyers and Capitals this evening. I hope they are looking at a Whitney for Hartnell type package between the two clubs. 6’2,210lbs left winger with an abrasive edge to his game. Throw in Alex Plante and Omark if you have to. Hartnell should be returning from a busted foot in the next week or so.

    2nd option, Hemsky and Paajarvi for Hartnell and Couturier. Even pick up some salary if you have to, give the Flyers some flexibility as we draw closer to the trade deadline.

    • Muji

      Whitney + Alex Plante for Hartnell?
      Hemsky + MPS for Hartnell and Couturier?


      While we’re at it, we might as well trade them Curtis Hamilton, Corey Potter, and Steve Tambellini for Claude Giroux.

      Also, I’d like to see MPS back with Hemsky and Gagner. He looked good there. He’s been more consistent this year. He deserves a shot to stay in the top 6 (or at the very least top 9)

      • OilLeak

        I agree with keeping Paajarvi on a line with Gagner and Hemsky for the time being. Paajarvi has been pushing the puck in the right direction so far this season and he should add stability to a line that has been bleeding shots against so far this season. Derek Zona at C&B put together an interesting line combo that looks alright when the Oilers get healthy:





        I don’t know about you, but that line-up doesn’t look half bad. The defense on the other hand is a mess and needs a major overhaul.

  • OilLeak

    I’m sorry but Yakupov as a rookie is still a far better player than Jones and Eager. One of the many problems with Edmonton is trying to play 4th liners(Like Jones & Eager) above their depth. Look at Chicago’s 3rd line, there’s some real skill there. In Edmonton we’re busy dressing Belanger(who has zero offense now) and Smyth(love him but he’s in the twilight of his career) one line above their current capability.

    • OilLeak

      ^This. Eager is a possession black hole along with Petrell. The one redeeming quality for Petrell is that he’s a great penalty killer. Ben Eager does nothing well apart from being a big body that “sometimes” skates fast.

  • Oh brother, Yakupov with Petrel and Vandevelde is just…………Stupid.

    Yakupov needs guidance, he’s got the offense down, he needs to learn HOW to play the overall game.

    Do you honestly believe he is going to learn anything playing 8 min a game with players that can be replaced by a waiver wire pick up?

    Talk about mismanaging an elite asset.






  • bwar

    So from what I’m reading, we should strip this team of all toughness and instead field the softest team possible.

    Makes total sense especially when a team like Toronto, who I would say has less talent then Edmonton, beefs up their lineup and suddenly jumps from being a lottery team to being in the playoff picture. And thats with subpar contributions from their “elite” players and coming into the season with a huge goaltending problem. Yeah we definitely need to run all the toughness out of our lineup. Heck, fighting shouldn’t even be allowed in the game.

    Teams win with less talent and more toughness.

    But screw that lets get smaller, softer and get ourselves a fourth straight 1st overall pick.

  • Question for you Jason (or anyone in the know)… why doesn’t Ben Eager drop the gloves anymore? It seems there have been a few good opportunities to do so, such as Yakupov or Petry being run. He’s received some invites too, and as much as I love the rough stuff, I’m glad he declines those.. but the situations where he could stand up for a teammate.. why isn’t he there?

    I’m guessing that he’s hesitant because of previous concussion history. Any idea if there’s truth to that? I don’t think Krueger has him on a tight leash or anything because interviews with him and with Hordichuk make it sound like he appreciates a fight in the right situation.

    So… theories?

  • Word to the Bird

    Move nuge down the depth chart, I love the guy but he isn’t cutting the mustard. Gags is clearly outplaying him, why not put him with our two best players? One creates scoring chances out of thin air (hall) and the other is the clutch king (ebs). Gagner’s sniper/playmaker hybrid style would be great with them. Also, nuge would correct the defensive problem on the second line. Seems like common sense to me

  • 2004Z06

    Nuges shoulder is way worse than we are being told. His aim is way off, passing and shooting. His shot is soft and he is hesitant to shoot. He is avoiding checks and avoiding going into tough areas and he still can’t win a face off. He is not helping himself or the team right now. I know we have 0 depth at center, but I would shut him down for the year and get that shoulder fixed. we aren’t making a run this year anyways.

  • 2004Z06

    Love these Philly trade proposals. Whitney’s value is at an all time low right now. He might get you a 3rd round pick at best. No way Hartnell comes back in that deal straight up. And Couturier for MPS and Hemsky? No way Philly lets this kid go.

  • 2004Z06

    Maybe trade hall for gervais and a 4th round pick. Philly fans agree to that as much as oiler fans agree to this hartnell dream. Whitney is the Harry Potter kid in elementary gym class everybody teams up on and eats alive on offense. Unless some serious ballsy management decisions happen we have to keep paying to watch 3rd period/OT losses. I see Philly management eating Edmonton management alive. Hope I’m wrong