Prior to yesterday’s 2-1 victory over the Jets, Dallas Eakins stated the players will decide who makes this team, based on how they play. He admitted the final cuts will be difficult, but in most cases the players will play their way off, or on, the team.
In certain cases a veteran on a one-way deal might get the benefit of the doubt over a young player on a two-way contract, but the majority of the players who are here next week will have earned their spot.
I’d say 16 of the final 23 roster spots are locks, while the rest look pretty clear.
Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, David Perron, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Smyth, Boyd Gordon, Jesse Joensuu and Steve MacIntyre.
Joensuu’s play in the preseason has guaranteed he’ll start the season here, but he’ll need to continue his strong play when the games count to stay a regular in the lineup. By adding MacIntyre the Oilers told the league they were sick of teams taking liberties with their players, if he isn’t in the opening night lineup, then claiming him on waivers was pointless.
Justin Schultz, Andrew Ference, Jeff Petry, Ladislav Smid and Nick Schultz.
Devan Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera
That leaves seven roster spots, four for opening night and three extra skaters.
The battle for the seven remaining spots, won’t be as suspenseful as some thought a few weeks ago.
Three forward positions: two centres and one winger.
Marc Arcobello benefits from Sam Gagner’s injury and unless the Oiles make a waiver claim on a centre, he’ll be in the opening lineup. Neither he, nor Anton Lander has played exceptionally well thus far, but he’s been the best of the two. He’ll need to play better than he has to be a factor in the regular season.
Will Acton played well last night, and he’s done more than Lander, but it’s almost like he will win the 4th line job by default. Acton will need to play much better to remain in the lineup when Gagner returns.
Acton and Arcobello’s biggest challenge will come from the waiver wire. If a veteran centre is exposed, I think Craig MacTavish will seriously consider claiming him.
Lander hasn’t had a strong camp. He hasn’t stood out in any game and I think he’s destined for OKC. I doubt any Oiler fan thought the Oilers would enter the season with a weaker centre depth than they did last year, but today that’s how it looks.
Mike Brown, Ryan Jones, Ben Eager, Ryan Hamilton and Tyler Pitlick are battling for the 12th forward spot on opening night.
Pitlick has played well his last two games, but you have to consider the opposition when grading him. The lineups he played against weren’t NHL caliber, and that is a factor. He’ll need to be incredible tonight to be here next week. I’d rather see him play top-line minutes in the AHL than be the 12th, 13th or 14th forward.
Brown has been the most consistent of the remaining four. He isn’t going to bring much offence, but he knows his role and he’ll crash and bang every shift.
Jones started well, but he’s been average the past week. Eakins said he’s been happy with Jones intensity, but he’d like to see him produce some more points.
Eager had a good game in Vancouver, but he didn’t do much last night. Eakins likes his speed, while his size and ability to play physical will get him another game. He needs to make an impression or he will be in the pressbox on opening night.
Hamilton started well, but hasn’t done much the past few games. I think his two-way deal will have him starting the season in the AHL.
My guess is Brown, Jones and Eager make the final roster, and who is the 12th forward will depend on the next two games.
Denis Grebeshkov is out with a groin injury, so that means Anton Belov, Philip Larsen and Darnell Nurse will battle for sixth spot. Belov has looked good, although he’ll need to move the puck quicker. It will take him a few more games to get accustomed to the speed of the NHL. Everything happens faster on the smaller ice than it does in the KHL, but he’s a smart player and he’s got the potential to become a solid NHL D-man.
Nurse was great in Vancouver, and okay at home. Unless he plays incredible tonight and Friday, if he’s dressed, I think the Oilers will let him continue to develop in junior. Fedun only has one year of pro experience, he needs more seasoning.
Larsen has been up and down thus far. He struggled in Calgary, was great in Winnipeg and he was solid again last night. He moves the puck very well, and I think the next two games will decide if he or Belov will start against the Winnipeg Jets on opening night.
The Rangers aren’t dressing many of their skilled forwards, but they are dressing three guys who can fight: Aaron Asham, Derrick Dorsett and Mike Haley.
If the Oilers are serious about wanting to protect their players, then they should dress Eager and Steve MacIntyre. MacIntyre arrives in Edmonton this afternoon, and you know he’ll be pumped to play. In all my years covering the NHL I’ve never met a player who was more excited an appreciative to be in the NHL. MacIntyre knows his limitations and I still remember talking to him after his first NHL game. He almost cried he was so overwhelmed, especially because his father got the chance to watch him live. I know MacIntyre would love to dress tonight.
If the Oilers, and specifically Eakins, are serious about protecting their stars and being more aggressive, then tonight is the game they need to dress both Eager and MacIntyre.
Belov and Larsen are in a great battle for the 6th spot, and tonight’s play will impact who starts next Tuesday and who is in the pressbox.
LaBarbera will start in goal.
- Eakins said the 94-4-83 line has been his best line thus far and he has no intention of breaking them up. He’d like to have a scoring threat on his top-three lines, and that’s why we will likely see Jesse Joensuu-Boyd Gordon-Nail Yakupov as the 3rd line on opening night. All of those who wrote of Ryan Smyth, might need to retract their obituary.
- Linus Omark was put on waivers today, and if he isn’t claimed he’ll fly with the team to OKC tomorrow. The Oilers will spend three days in OKC. Eakins feels the team needs some time outside of Edmonton to bond and get focused for the season.
- Omark didn’t so much in preseason, and according to Eakins he tried to do too much on his own. Not in a selfish way, but Eakins suggested Omark needed to use his teammates more.
- Final thought… David Clarkson gets a 10-game suspension for leaving the bench. He didn’t throw a punch when he entered the melee and basically played peacemaker, but he received a ten-game suspension. Meanwhile Zack Kassian broke Sam Gagner’s jaw with a careless and gutless slash, but he only got five games.
I don’t have an issue with the NHL having a set suspension for leaving the bench. You do the crime, you do the time. But is it possible they could look at implementing similar minimums for stick infractions. If you slash a guy in the face it is 10 games. The end result shouldn’t matter. If you chicken wing/elbow a guy in the head it is an automatic five-game suspension.
I know the end result is different, and some slashes or elbows are worse than others, but if Clarkson had thrown five punches he’d still be sitting out ten games. He threw none, yet he’s out 10 games.
Why not just set a guaranteed suspension for other infractions?