It has been a lot of fun watching these playoffs. There has been everything I like about hockey….hitting, lots of net front and corner battles and intensity. The Cup final has been very good.
I watched Game five with some friends, and of course when a bunch of Oiler fans get together to watch the playoffs at some point the conversation comes back around to the Oilers. I really enjoy listening to the comments from Oiler fans about their team. This time the topics ranged from goaltending to coaching and everything in between.
I have heard this all before so nothing really new there until the topic of how the Oilers would do against the Bruins or the Hawks in a seven game series came up. This is where the inspiration for this article came from.
Two of my friends were going at it about how the Oilers would do. My one friend kept saying the Oilers would be fine, maybe not win, but fine because of all the skill they have acquired through the draft. The other said they would get run out of the building, most likely lose a seven game series in three games for the first time in history.
Finally the negative guy said this… ‘Yes they have skill but everyone has skill’.
Truer words have never been spoken.
Top teams in the NHL have skill in their top six forwards. That is why they are a top team. It is very rare for a team to have regular season and playoff success without a lot of talent. Here is the Oilers’ top-six compared to the same group on the Bruins and Blackhawks.
As of right now the Oilers top six:
- Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle
- Magnus Paajarvi, Sam Gagner, Nail Yakupov
The Bruins (healthy):
- Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Nathan Horton
- Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Jaromir Jagr
The Hawks (healthy):
- Bryan Bickell, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane
- Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus, Patrick Sharp
The Hawks and Bruins top six are a handful. They have everything you want in that group.
Super high end skill…Krejci/Jagr, Sharp/Kane.
Strong defensively…. Bergeron,Toews
Big Bodies/Battlers….. Lucic/Horton/Marchand, Bickell/Hossa/Handzus
We can all agree these are some of the best players at what they bring to a top six group. The only guy who is over his head is Handzus and that is because of age.
Here are the same skills sets broken down for the Oilers top six group right now.
Super high end skill… Hall/Nuge/Eberle/Yakupov/Gagner
How does the mix for the Oilers top six look now? Is the mix there to compete with the top teams in the league?
The Oilers are heavy in top-end skill but very light in other areas. This is no one’s fault in my opinion. It is just the way the draft classes have been the last few years. The challenge now is for MacT to get better balance in this group.
As time passes these guys will develop into more complete players. They will get stronger and heavier. They will have the chance to become more well-rounded players, especially on the defensive side of the puck. The goal would be for Dallas Eakins to feel comfortable putting them on the ice to protect a lead with a minute to go in the game. Learning that part of the game will take some time.
The issue for the Oilers in my opinion is this…who will be that big body and the battler in this group? Right now I don’t see a guy that fits the mold. I think Paajarvi has the size, but this needs to be developed as well as an edge to his game.
These types of players are so valuable in the playoffs that most teams will not part with them for free. Drafting is one option but then you must wait for them to develop. Adding this type of player is the biggest challenge for MacT and the Oilers brass.
It is clear that when you compare the Oilers to the two Stanley Cup finalist that the mix for the Oilers top six is not right. I have no doubts that all the players I listed for the Oilers are NHL players, just not on the same team and lines. The problem is they are all very similar. It is a recipe that will not produce success.
Moving forward MacT needs to evaluate what he already has, recognize what is needed and figure out a way to bring those skills in. This won’t happen in one summer, these thing take time.