Now that Craig MacTavish has announced his happiness with the Oilers’ third and fourth lines, and his comfort level with the current centre depth chart, it appears that Edmonton is likely done overhauling their roster.
Now the question is what Dallas Eakins will do with it.
Given the Oilers’ depth on defence, it seems likely that the team will carry 13 forwards and eight defencemen; the depth chart above is my best guess as to what the team looks like out of the gate given its current makeup. There are alternatives – Ryan Smyth at third-line left wing, swapping Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to balance the forward lines a little bit, etc. – but this is my guess.
Whichever line Taylor Hall is on is getting the power-vs.-power assignment. This trio drove results a year ago in a difficult role and given their age there’s every reason to expect they’re only going to get better at it. The Oilers have some problems but the first line is ready to go head-to-head with the best in the league. In that role, they’re likely to get roughly equal amounts of time in the offensive and defensive zones.
The second line, as currently constructed, depends a great deal on Nail Yakupov. David Perron and Sam Gagner are fine players, but if Yakupov can take a Hall- or Eberle-like jump in year two of his NHL career then all of a sudden the potential of this team dramatically improves. This should be seen as a primarily offensive line; likely they’ll face either the opposition’s second or third line and start more shifts in the opposition end of the rink.
Ales Hemsky’s presence on line three is going to irritate the ‘checking lines should be made up entirely of 6’3” Canadians’ crowd, but he’s actually a reasonably good fit there because a) he has experience against good players and b) he’s a whiz at moving the puck out of the defensive end, which is going to be a big deal for this line. Boyd Gordon centres the line both literally and figuratively and given his skill-set this should be a primarily defensive line, one that starts in the Oilers’ end of the rink most often and generally faces the opposition’s second and third lines.
Line four is also a reasonable bet to outperform opposition fourth lines. Anton Lander’s primarily a defensive force, and given the Oilers’ makeup and general level of ability it isn’t a bad bet that this line sees mostly defensive minutes. Ryan Smyth doesn’t always get the credit he deserves these days as a two-way winger; on the fourth line I think he’s an extremely reasonable bet. Jesse Joensuu, like Nail Yakupov, is a wild card; if he’s mostly here because he’s big this line should be okay but if his point-per-game performance in Finland is something other than a mirage this is a group that theoretically should put the boots to most fourth lines in the league.
Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry reprise their role of the last two half-seasons, and hope for results more in line with the latter half of 2011-12 than with the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. They’ll likely be the Oilers’ shutdown pair of choice, playing against the best opponents at either end of the rink.
Andrew Ference and Justin Schultz are penciled in as the second pairing here; Ference could swap spots with Smid or Schultz could drop to the third pairing in favour of virtually any of the defencemen below him. As currently constructed, the presence of Schultz makes this pairing a natural fit for the Gagner line – a duo that will mostly see top-nine forwards on the other team but that should get offensive minutes.
Denis Grebeshkov and Nick Schultz are my current third-pairing choice, predicated on Grebeshkov being a similar player to the one that we last saw in Oilers’ silks (something that may or may not turn out to be the case). In the best case scenario, this is a wicked all-round third pairing, with Schultz providing a safe defensive partner perfectly capable against the lower half of the opposition lineup and Grebeshkov offering a little chaos but also ability to generate offence and drive the puck in the right direction.
There’s lots of room for fluctuation on the blue line, as was hinted above, and much is going to depend on Anton Belov’s ability to immediately translate his game to the NHL level. A 6’4” puck-moving defenceman could dramatically alter the picture if he can play a capable two-way game. Corey Potter and Oscar Klefbom also both stand some chance of making the team, though I expect we’ll see young veteran Philip Larsen snag the final spot.
I don’t mind the forward group. The second line in particular could use a little more heft, and I’m much less comfortable with the depth at centre than Craig MacTavish seems to be, but this is a group that should be able to compete with most NHL teams and for the first time in a while has some potential for a plus performance from its third and fourth lines.
On defence, there’s potential but it’s a group that’s thin at the top end. Two of the 10 players seriously vying for a spot on the roster need to form a capable top pairing; if that happens, this is a team that could do some serious damage but if it doesn’t there are going to be some long nights this season.
Recently around the Nation Network
The Canucks had their "Summer Summit" on Tuesday, and there’s lots of interesting stuff to come out of it. Seriously read the review – there is a ton of stuff. What struck me, because it’s Oilers-related, was Mike Gillis denying he could have landed more than the ninth overall pick for Cory Schneider:
Well, according to those guys at TSN we were trying to get less (*scoffs*). Throughout this entire process we explored every opportunity we could explore. What was written, mostly outside of Vancouver, was about 95% untrue. Completely untrue. Our objective was to move into the Top 10 picks, and that was the best we could do given the circumstances. We were trying to design a trade to pick that player (Horvat) – whether it was earlier, or later – but we didn’t think he would slide past the 9th pick. We were actually worried that he wouldn’t slip past the 5th pick, so we were pleased to get him.
And if you buy all that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Email me at email@example.com, or read some of my other pieces: