CAMP PRIMER: THE WAY I SEE IT

Aside from when, exactly, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be ready to return to action from shoulder surgery, there isn’t a whole of intrigue to contemplate going into 2013 edition of training camp for the Edmonton Oilers, is there?

Really, aside from the exact date RNH is ready to roll, be it in the pre-season or once the Oilers start playing for points, Edmonton’s roster looks pretty set from where I sit, give or take a few spots on the line-up card of new coach Dallas Eakins.

For me, the questions aren’t so much about who the pieces will be on the 2013-14 edition of the Oilers, but how Eakins will put those pieces together in the form of forward lines, defense pairings and special teams.

We’ll see about that through the pre-season schedule, of course, but as far as the roster goes, I think I can pretty much pick it right now – and so can you. Please tell me if I’m wrong. I’m sure you will.

HOW IT LOOKS TO ME

Assuming Eakins chooses to open with 13 forwards, I see 11 of those spots already filled by Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Jones, David Perron, Ryan Smyth, Boyd Gordon and Mike Brown.

The last two spots will be contested by Ben Eager, Will Acton, who has a bit of an inside track because he’s familiar to Eakins and associate coach Keith Acton, his father, Anton Lander and Jesse Joensuu. There’s another spot there to start the season, of course, if RNH isn’t ready to go.

If Eakins goes with eight defensemen, I expect the first six – stop the presses – to be Andrew Ference, Ladislav Smid, Justin Schultz, Jeff Petry, Nick Schultz and reclamation project Denis Grebeshkov. Oscar Klefbom, given his SEL experience, is the best bet to grab the seventh spot and could push for a spot in the third pairing, platooning with Grebeshkov.

Beyond Klefbom, I think it’s a stretch to expect Anton Belov, who’ll miss the start of camp because of visa problems, or Taylor Fedun to push for a roster spot for opening night Oct. 1. Corey Potter is the most likely insurance policy, and the most experienced, outside the top six.

Goal? There is nobody in camp capable of pushing Devan Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera for the starting and cheerleading (aside from 15-17 games) spots.

FROM THE INSIDE (OR NOT)

For what it’s worth, the Oilers website staff has the following depth chart posted (with a caveat at the top the chart is unofficial) as of right now. By position and in order, it reads as follows:

  • LW – Hall, Perron, Jones, Smyth.
  • C – RNH, Gagner, Gordon, Lander.
  • RW – Eberle, Yakupov, Hemsky, Brown.
  • LD – Smid, Ference, N. Schultz, Belov.
  • RD – Petry, J. Schultz, Potter, Philip Larsen, Grebeshkov.
  • G – Dubnyk, LaBarbera.

A FEW QUESTIONS

Jason Gregor posed seven questions in an item he posted earlier today. I have a few of my own, although they’re a bit more frivolous than his.

  • 1. On what date will Eakins expose Wanye to untold ridicule for his story that Gagner will be named the next captain by announcing that Ference will wear the C this season?
  • 2. Will Yakupov begin this season on the same torrid pace he ended his rookie campaign? More important, which team will be the first to piss and moan about one of this 25 goal celebrations this season?
  • 3. How many minutes into his first game will Grebeshkov have a monumental brain fart in his own end that has fans recalling the reasons the Oilers bid farewell to him in the first place?
  • 4. Ken Hitchcock had his hands full with the talented Perron in St. Louis in terms of getting him to play within the system he wanted. If Hitch couldn’t do it, what makes Eakins think he can?
  • 5. Will Hemsky script an epic SIUTBOHC in a third-line role to start the season or will reporters be scribbling "Hemsky Wants Out" pieces six weeks into the season? Both?
  • 6. How many points for Justin Schultz this season? And, after running out of gas during his rookie campaign, can he play the point on both power play units this season?
  • 7. Playoffs this season? After last season’s spasm of optimism, mark me down for a definite "no."

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Sorry but your way off so keep this for reference . On your forwards Brown is out and Lander , Joensuu and Omark make the cut . If he carries 14 add Acton . Re the “D” Belov in & Klefbom to AHL .Potter & Larsen go on injury list . Ference & Petry ,J Schultz & Smid ; N.Schultz & Belov with Grebs the #7 . If there is a chance for a decent return N.Schultz is traded .

    • Those of you who put Belov ahead of Klefbom might be right — I haven’t seen either of them enough to know for sure how, or if, they’ll pan out. Camp and pre-season will tell in the short term.

      I see Belov’s delay in arriving — we still haven’t heard when he will be here — as a negative. If he’s as good as many of you feel he is, he could overcome that before the season is a month old, but that has to play out.

      In any case, if either one makes this team out of camp it’ll be in the 6-7 spot.

  • striker777

    Klefbom will rightfully start on the farm, with Belov starting the season in Edmonton. Where these 2 players end up in February is up to them.
    Oilers will finish somewhere between 16-20 this season, if Dubnik has the same or better save%.

    I think most people underestimate Ferrence’s influence from Player Development stand point. I would pair him up with J.Schultz and watch this kid flourish.

  • The Oilers Shot Clock

    Haven’t had a season with this many variables and wild cards for as long as I can remember. With so many unknown factors playing a role, it’s easy to lean on either end of the spectrum of optimism and pesimism when in all probability, like every thing else, the season will probably fall some where in the middle.
    Optimistic view: Oilers grab that eight spot.
    Pessimistic view: They go back to the lottery.
    My middle ground is an improvement on last year with important and meaningful games played right to the end of the year.

    • pkam

      Sensible assessment at this point in the season, as there are too many variables i.e. new coach, probable injuries, player additions and etc to get a good grip on the full season. Any group of players can win if they are committed and work together as a TEAM, and there’s many examples going way back. Its not only talent that wins… I’m guessing your new coach will be able to instil that in your young players. As a Flames fan, I would agree Oilers trending upwards and hopefully will continue with a strong season and push for a playoff spot right to the end. Believe a strong Oilers will add incentive for Calgary to keep pace so here’s cheering for you guys!

      What I can’t figure out is how Oilers were looking so good last year at the trade deadline, then went on that 10 game losing streak. Hopefully the team/leaders have learned something in the process, or new ones have arrived to instil a different mindset for the future. Flames have similar issues, i.e. dealing with a little success without a let-down and hopefully each can learn to grow through it to be able to stay on an even keel and work through the issues. I would guess the addition of your new 2-3 vets will help considerably in that regard.

      All the best on the season, let’s see what you’ve got come Saturday…

  • Bi-Curious Gord

    Klefbom ahead of Belov? You’re dreaming in Technicolour, Brownlee. The kid needs some seasoning in OKC before throwing him into the deep end. Guess you didn’t catch the Rookie Tournament…

      • @woodguy

        This is it exactly in my mind. I think it all comes down to when he gets here.

        Belov has a lot to take in when he arrives, and if he gets here to late it makes a lot of sense to send him down until he gets his bearings. Something similar in theory to a conditioning stint.

        If he doesn’t miss much or adjusts quickly then things could change.

      • RexLibris

        I’m really curious to see more on Belov’s immigration delay issue.

        Certainly there was enough lead up time to get papers straightened out, but I know enough to know that I don’t know very much about immigration and work visas.

        I’m left wondering what factors are at play here in this delay: agent, player dragging his feet, fallout from previous suspensions, KHL paperwork “technicalities”, etc.

        • Spydyr

          This is just a guess nothing more. I bet his immigration delay is fixed by main camp. Perhaps something to do with not wanting to go through rookie camp. Again 100% conjecture.

          • RexLibris

            Could be. I just find it baffling that in the modern international sports business, and given a lead time of approximately two and half months, that this wasn’t sorted out earlier.

            And if you don’t want to go through rookie camp, just say so. Don’t screw around with immigration papers on the grounds that you don’t want to bag-skate with the newbies. That kind of prioritization is on par with putting your shoes on before your pants in the morning.

          • The Oilers Shot Clock

            Office space, and the jump to conclusions mat. I’ve been working and living overseas offshore for ten years now. There’s always someone on a hitch that suffers visa, immigration, work permit issues and that’s with the company doing all the leg work. It happens.

    • Gordie Wayne

      I thought I heard Belov was this big as well, but any idea why in the H-E double hockey sticks does the official Oilers website list him as 6’3 185 lbs.?

  • Every year over the past 7 we have seen the training camp line up and salivated over the ‘potential’ to succeed. I agree with Brownlee that we aren’t quite there yet. I hope we can gel very quickly and we can overcome our deficits (i.e. depth at centre, size on the boards) but just can’t quite squint hard enough to see this team getting into the post season. Maybe a move or two early in the season will change the makeup enough but it is impossible to predict. Sometimes the smallest changes can make tremendous impact but usually it is dependent upon having a stable/efficient core. We don’t have that just yet.

  • CaptainLander

    I think the the D-man that can work well on the powerplay will find himself with a permanent roster spot. I know the Oil ran 4 forwards last year on the first line but there was a lack on the back end from the D on the second line. For my money I quess this as being Grebs and/or Belov. Depending on Schultz “can he play the point on both power play units this season?” I this case I still see Belov as the player on the opposite wing. A couple youtube videos show he has a decent point shot.

    PP
    Hall Nuge Yak
    EBS Schultz

    Perron Gags Smyth
    Grebs Belov

  • Today is the day before the start of main caqmp and yet, there are still some of the pessimistic ones advising there’s no hope for the Oilers…

    IMO, I believe that the 4th line won’t be too bad and over-all, this team will find its way under Eakins faster and a bit better…than under what Krueger tried to do last year.

    I can see the following type forwards’line-up starting the reg season (based on no trades or TC injuries):

    1st: Hall-RNH-Yakupov.
    2nd: Perron-Gagner-Eberle.
    3rd: Smyth-Gordon-Hemsky.
    4th: Hamilton-Lander-Jones.
    Extras: Joensuu, Brown.
    Waived: Eager, Omark.

    Note that if RNH misses the 1st month, then I see Omark staying for the 3rd line with Hall trying centre, Hemsky moving up and Yak switching wings on top line. Omark should get a good look too because the kid can score pts but, against him for now…. the Oilers like Jones for his extra PK skills/duties and that he can put up to 18-20 goals per year in a good season…and that Smyth deserves that warrio respect for his years of service.

    IMO, the 7 man Oilers’ defence will be :

    Ference-J.Schultz…Smid-Petry…N.Schultz-Belov….with the extra guy being either Potter or Klefbom. Potter stays if Klefbom goes down to OKC.

    Belov is more valuable by being a very good skater, offensive & defensive minded, he is bigger and rugged/loves to hit, etc, and because of this I see Grebeshkov, Larsen, to even Potter being waived/let go.

    I believe the biggest issue for defence thru TC – will be whether Klefbom can stay up with the big club and …who is clearly better of the two: Grebs or Belov. The only way Grebeshkov stays is that maybe N.Schultz is traded. Schultz is a UFA this coming summer and he should be moved soon.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    I think MacT has stacked the left side with players with actual NHL experience in order to force the team to not fall in love with Klefbom out of camp.

    MacT has repeatedly said: AHL is good for you. Eat your AHL.

    Also, I think Potter and Larson have a better shot here than is indicated to make the roster in the 7 or 8 spot. Both are RD, which the team is short of.

    Unless the visa issue drags on well into the camp, I can’t see it affecting Belov. But if he’s like a month late… yes… for sure he’ll have to sit and wait probably.

    Any word on why there is an issue. The team has had all summer to sort it out, right?

  • G Money

    Point-counterpoint:

    – Can’t agree with putting Klefbom ahead of Potter. I know it’s fun to hate on Harry, but for the most part he held his own last year as a 3rd pairing guy – he may not have been the solution, but he wasn’t the problem either. Klefbom hasn’t played a game of N American pro hockey, and his rust was practically littering the ice in the Rookie Tourney.

    – Isn’t the “Perron is a problem” just a continuation of the “Perron’s attitude sucks because he wore white skates to practice” concept. i.e. almost certainly bullcrap? “White skates” has become a meme over at C&B.

    – Playoffs? In order for that to happen: Joensuu has be to be a capable 3L (pushing Jones/Smyth down to fourth line where they will also be capable), Lander has to be a capable 4C i.e. can hold his own defensively and even put up a few points now and then, and RNH has to be healthy when he comes back and the Oilers can’t lose too many games with him gone. Too much to ask for all that to happen. No playoffs this year.

    – Bar sarcasm? The only thing that would make the entire interwebs blog world crash faster than that would be requiring a grammar and/or intelligence test before posting.

  • StHenriOilBomb

    I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but I love seeing RB put posters in their place. He may go overboard kicking people off for minor infractions, but he’s pretty damn witty and I find it quite funny when he slams posters for idiotic ideas and/or specious information.

    Keep it up, RB!

    • Rob...

      I think the only reason Robin banned him from posting was that he couldn’t ban him from drinking Red Bull. The dude was more wired than intentionally obstinate.

    • It’s not about putting anybody in their place. We have some sharp people commenting here and many of them have disagreed with how I see things over the years.

      I don’t ban anybody because they say I’m wrong or that their take is different than mine.

      I have a problem when they say I’m wrong because “You’re not an Oiler fan” or “You’re stupid” or “You don’t have a clue” etc. Pick your insult. Not acceptable.

  • Dan 1919

    The Oilers LOST 9 of 10 games near the end of last season and still finished 12th in the West (10pts out).

    If they turned that loosing streak into .500 hockey, they battle for the 8th spot until the last game.

    I’ve said every year thus far in the rebuild the Oilers will not make the playoffs and are a weak team, largely because Tambi refused to help the team in any way.

    Oilers make the playoffs… or just loose out in late season dog-fight.

  • Spydyr

    My two cents:

    The Hall’s point total drops a bit this year but he becomes a more complete player.

    Nuge has a slow start when he gets back.

    Yak scores even more points but struggles without the puck and in his own end.

    Smyth starts good but burns out after a couple months.

    Gagner still cannot play in his own end.

    Dubnyk provides the adequate goaltending his concentration level still falters and the bad goals continue.

    Hemsky hates being 3RH but he wants an Olympic spot so he competes.

    Eberle has a better year point wise still playing a sound game.

    Smid continues along steady Smid.

    Ference is named captain and provides leadership. Showing what it takes to win.

    Schultz the younger starts great but hits a wall late in the season.

    Petry picks it up a bit.

    That’s not everyone just some main players.

    The Oil fight down to the last few games but sadly just miss out on the playoffs.Hope I’m wrong but there are to many holes in the bottom six and no true top pairing on defense,

  • French Toast Mafia

    We are now bashing writers for not spinning everything positively?

    I am just as big a Oil fan as anyone but I’m not going to go the Flames fan route and say my favourite team is one player away from hoisting the cup.

    This team still has big question marks on left wing, top 2d, and absolutely zero center depth. Because RB sees these holes and thinks the Oil won’t make the playoffs he is a Nucks fan or a bad writer? cmon now, what happened to all these knowledgable Oilers fans?

    I definitely like the Perron move and bringing in multiple guys on the back end to compete for jobs but I just don’t see the Oil having a good enough forward group to compete with Anaheim, San Jose, LA, and Vancouver.

    These statements, by the way, don’t make me any less of an Oilers fan……..

  • Dan 1919

    My favourite over-hype of this offseason is how big and invincible Ana, SJ, and Van are. They Oilers team is pretty much hovering around 6′ in the front.

    That’s plenty enough size to compete with these teams if the Oilers can gel their game (speed, possession, and skill). Useable size is always a great thing, but it’s certainly not as big of a concern as it’s being made out to be.

    • its not the size of the dog…

      and the oil is very much the underdog physically.

      maybe eakins conditioning demands will alleviate some of the teams weakness in this regard, but it likely wont eliminate it and i wonder if a side effect could be burn out late in the season.

  • 916oiler

    Not sure how you have Grebs above Belov. Sure Mac T LOVES Grebs, but he’s also the reason Belov is coming over and it’s no secret who has been better recently. The visa issues are going to hurt Belov, true. However, Grebs is going to need to have a magical transformation to slot above the “…best defenseman in the KHL last year…”.

    Also, after that rookie tourney how do you have Klefbom anywhere but OKC to start the season? Seriously?? Ya he hasn’t played in a long time, but that’s just it – he hasn’t played in a LONG time. Let him work out the kinks in his game where it won’t hurt the Oilers! When he proves himself, trade N. Shultz and bring him on up!

    With RNH on the shelf for at least a decent chunk of games, I’d speculate Omark could pencil in at 2L LW with Perron up top. It’s going to be tricky with Omark and waivers, as far as if he gets returned to OKC sooner or later. I’m personally rooting for him – undeniable skill, sounds like he’s going to listen to the coaches this time around. If he sucks, throw him to the dogs. What’s not to like?

  • pkam

    With RNH out for at least a month and reading the contract negotiation of Kadri, I wonder if the Oilers should offer sheet Kadri.

    I believe Kadri would be an adequate top 6 centre and worth gamble the 1st and 3rd round pick. 7.5M 2 year would put a lot of pressure on the Leafs. At the moment we have 24 players and 1.35M cap space left. We should be able to save at least 2M cap space from cutting 2 players and RNH LTIR will save a little more cap space to make up the 3.75M.

    The immediate benefit is this addresses our need in centre when RNH is out. It will also add depth to our weak centre position. We will have 3 very good scoring line when RNH returns.

    And we have more option moving forward with 3 top 6 centres. If we choose to trade any one of them away, I believe the return will be more than the 1st and 3rd round pick we give up for him.

    What is your thought?

  • 916oiler

    I think for the most part your assessment is bang on! I do wonder if Ryan Hamilton may be a better forward option for Eakins than maybe Josseneu and Brown?

    He is bigger and more skilled than either one……as far as I can tell? I’m not sure how tough he is?

    • pkam

      Not sure how you arrive at that conclusion. According to capgeek, we have 24 players signed and 1,348,333 in cap space.

      If RNH can’t start on Oct 1, it will give us over 5M cap space when the season starts.

      Assuming RNH will start Oct 1, we still have to cut one player which will at least free up at least 775,000 (Potter who is the second cheapest) cause I don’t think we will cut Brown (736,667) so we have about 2M.

      If we offer sheet a player, we have to cut another player. The next cheapest will be Lander at 900K. So we will have at least 2.9M for offer sheet if we want to.

      And if we can trade N. Schultz, we will free up 3.5M and have tons of cap space to work with.