Oilers welcome back Gagner, Potter and Grebeshkov

Reinforcements, such as they are, are on the way and that’s good news for the Edmonton Oilers.

There is, of course, a difference between practicing with the team and playing in the games. Denis Grebeshkov is game-ready; he was able to shake off the rust down on the farm and at some point shortly should draw into the lineup.

Jim Matheson wrote an update on Potter’s situation a week ago; given where he slots in on the depth chart and the severity of the injury I wonder if he is sent down on a conditioning stint before he gets a chance to get back in the lineup. Gagner, meanwhile, sounded eager to get on the ice in a Joanne Ireland piece yesterday; there seems little doubt that he’ll slot in at the NHL level as soon as he possibly can.

Lineup Changes

The Oilers have a bit of a conundrum up front when Gagner is ready to go (assuming no injuries in the meantime). Mark Arcobello has been too good to come out of the lineup entirely, but with Gagner back it’s hard to see where he fits in the top-nine. If and when everybody’s healthy, I wonder if the forward lineup doesn’t look something like this:

  • Taylor Hall – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Jordan Eberle
  • David Perron – Boyd Gordon – Ales Hemsky
  • Jesse Joensuu – Sam Gagner – Nail Yakupov
  • Ryan Smyth – Mark Arcobello – Ryan Jones
  • Spares: Will Acton, Luke Gazdic

The coach has shown a preference for a crash-and-bang fourth line, and the lineup above excludes both Steve MacIntyre and Mike Brown. I just don’t see a way to demote Arcobello given his play, and it seems a waste to stick him on a line with Will Acton and Mike Brown. With that said, this is all likely moot; Joensuu is hurt and there are bound to be more injuries before long.

Defensively, Denis Grebeshkov slotting in immediately makes a certain amount of sense. That is not so much a case of Grebeshkov being unbelievably good during preseason or his conditioning assignment, but more a situation where there are two or three guys in the current group that could use a night off.

My choice for healthy scratch would be Nick Schultz, who has been bizarrely used this season – I get the idea behind a shutdown pairing, but sticking a guy with limited puck skills with Andrew Ference (forcing him to be the primary passer) and worse Ladislav Smid makes no sense to me. I’m also open to arguments that Justin Schultz and Anton Belov could use a night in the pressbox; really the trouble is that there is no shortage of candidates for a night off.

Assuming Nick Schultz was the scratch, something like this might be the way to go:

  • Andrew Ference – Jeff Petry
  • Ladislav Smid – Justin Schultz
  • Denis Grebeshkov – Anton Belov
  • Spare: Nick Schultz

The idea there is to put the two best defencemen on the team in the early going together (Petry, to my eye, has been far and away the best blueliner on the team) and throw them to the wolves – quality opposition, lots of defensive zone work, etc. That leaves the team’s most pure defensive defenceman on a pairing with their most pure offensive defenceman; the idea there being that Smid’s near-total inability to move the puck can be compensated for by Schultz’s sublime skills in that area, while Schultz’s laissez faire approach to defence can be covered by Smid’s complete focus on that side of the game.

Regardless, once Grebeshkov and Gagner get back Edmonton will have some options they have not had the last little while. 

  • A-Mc

    I’ve said this before and I”ll say it again. The Oilers made a big mistake sending Nurse down without the 9 game audition. Belov has been bad, Schultz(es) makes a ton of mistakes, why not give a shot to Nurse, or Fedun or Klefbom who they’ve been so hot on for a couple of years? We throw our 18 year old forwards in there, at some point we have to get one of these young D-men in there. I think Nurse could have done really well this year. That said, glad to see Gagner back. I would keep Arco up with Hall and Ebs and slide RNH down but we will only get better with Gagner back in the lineup and dressing room.

  • 916oiler

    How come no one is talking about the horrible play of Smid? don’t get me wrong I want Smid to do well as much as the next guy but he has had 3 or 4 awful games in a row now including last night being our worst defenceman. Whats worse is that Smid is supposed to be the sand paper on the back end? We have ZERO grit back there and as a result our d zone is bad right now as opposition players are able to free wheel into the slot for goal after goal unchecked. We have no toughness back there, other teams laugh at Smid when he tries to push back but whats worse is that no one else does it.

    Yak played another brutal game, albeit better than vs PIT, he was still awfully bad. Im hoping he can find his game amidst the trade rumors. Hopefully someone can pull him aside and let him know that its just part of being a pro and he can get back to scoring.

    Dubnyk played well and will need to keep it up for the oilers to have a shot at winning as they will need a huge run of wins to get back into the hunt. Its crazy that they could be buried by Halloween.

    Lastly, Arcobello has proven he can pass and Arcobello has proven he cannot shoot worth a damn. This kid muffs the puck a ton and even when he has all day to shoot it he scares no goalie as they make every save look routine.

    With Gags back, here are my line combo’s as I would run them:

    Hall – Arco – Eberle
    Perron – Nuge – Yakupov
    Joesnuu/Smtyh – Gagner – Hemsky
    Jones – Gordon – Gazdic/Brown

    On the back end:

    J.Schultz – Ferrence
    Belov – N.Schultz
    Petry – Smid/Grebeshkov

  • A-Mc

    Petry, to my eye, has been far and away the best blueliner on the team

    WHAT?! I don’t get it.. I really don’t. Petry has a few followers that must be watching him with rose colored glasses on. This comment makes absolutely no sense to me.

    It’s not even close in my opinion: Ference is #1 for sure. I’m not sure I’d even have Petry in the top 3 in order of importance or Impact made.

    • That’s interesting. I couldn’t disagree more.

      Jeff Petry is absolutely the only guy on the team who combines defensive responsibility with a high-end ability to get the puck out of his own end. Ference has one but isn’t nearly the puck-mover, Justin Schultz is constantly cheating for offence, Smid and Nick Schultz can’t handle the puck at all, and Belov’s raw.

      It’s not even a matter of stats – though the shot numbers back up the view that Petry is number one with a bullet. Just watching these guys play I don’t know how anybody else gets slotted in front of Petry right now.

      And look at it this way: how has Smid looked with Petry vs. anybody else?

      • pkam

        No doubt Petry has been the best D,but unfortunately, Oilers don’t have a legit 1-2 D-combo in their line up at this time.Most of these guys are 3-4 at best on a good team.Smid has been terrible this year, call him a 5 depth on a good team.
        But I guess you got a dance with whom you brought.

        Anyone think that once there is some upgrading and prospect maturing, that J. Schultz could be converted to a forward, ala. Burns in SJ.?

      • Oiler63

        Petry does have the skills. Just wish he could be more gritty and play more aggressive in his zone, like Duncan Keith. Never saw Petry throwing a bad ass play toward opponent. Sometimes you have to do that to deliver the message and set the ground rule. Last oiler player throwing a nasty borderline play was Andy Sutton. Haven’t seen any since, not even from Smid.

      • Tikkanese

        I couldn’t disagree more either, but with you JW not A-Mc.

        Petry is not the worst on the team, but I’ve witnessed him making a plethora of defensive mistakes and has had some bad turnovers this year. I wouldn’t call anything Petry does “high-end”. He’s “Joe Average” at best at everything.

        Also pairing Grebeshkov with Belov, I believe, is a nightmare waiting to happen. I’m thinking the likes of the 90’s duo of Slegr and Kravchuk. Both of them would pinch at the same time amounting to many breakaways for the opposition. Belov, even though is technically to old to be a rookie, is still an NHL rookie, learning the North American game and the smaller ice. Grebeshkov, it could be argued has never learned the North American game.

      • A-Mc

        I’d have Smid ranked higher than Petry based on grit and defensive play. Smid staples guys to the boards and waits for help – as he should. In contrast, Petry will do a fly by and give a guy a nudge, but he certainly doesn’t take the opposition out of the play in the defensive zone. The point in sending a solid check or stapling a guy to the boards is to remove him from the play and separate him from the puck; Petry fails at this. He’s a nudger and a chaser and that’s of little value when his PRIMARY purpose is to defend.

        If you are celebrating Petry for mediocrity in a number of columns, then i will let you have that. But he doesn’t do any 1 thing especially well and that is why he’s low and trade bait IMO.

        • You’re putting a guy who treats the puck like a grenade ahead of a guy capable of moving it out of the zone.

          As Dave Tippett put it once:

          We had a player that was supposed to be a great, shut-down defenseman. He was supposedly the be-all, end-all of defensemen. But when you did a 10-game analysis of him, you found out he was defending all the time because he can’t move the puck. Then we had another guy, who supposedly couldn’t defend a lick. Well, he was defending only 20 percent of the time because he’s making good plays out of our end. He may not be the strongest defender, but he’s only doing it 20 percent of the time. So the equation works out better the other way. I ended up trading the other defenseman.

          I’ll take the guy who gets the play out of the zone over the guy who can’t move the puck.

          • 2004Z06

            I Agree with you for the most part JW. However with the way Arcobello plays(he plays like hes 6’1″) and how he is currently doing there is no way I move him at all. I like the idea of three scoring lines so

            Hall – Acro – Eberle

            Perron – RNH – Yakupov

            Gagner – Gordon – Hemsky

            Smyth/Jones/Brown – Acton – Gazdic

            I have more concern about the Defense, I have always thought that Smid shouldn’t be anything more than a 5th defenseman and I think this team will continue to struggle with him in the top 4. Petry has been good from what I’ve seen but if Petry and Ference are your top pairing your in trouble. Ference should only be a #4 on a good team and that shows just how weak the Edmonton defense is.

            They have Smid, N.Schultz, Belov, Grebs,and Potter all bottom pairing guys (Belov will likely be a top 4 with some more experience). I would have Ference and J. Schultz as the second pairing and Petry needs to have another all around Dman to be on the top pairing.

            Goaltending I think will be fine I have confidence in Dubnyk

            I see Yakupov, Hesmky, and any number of the bottom defenseman, likely Smid or N Schultz, as trade bait to try getting some more size, grit and offensive ability in the top 6 as well as looking for a more physical all around defenseman for the top pairing. I have a feeling Nurse is going to force his way onto this team next season as I get the feeling he could end up being a Pronger type player with more nasty and a little less offense.

          • A-Mc

            PS: That quote is of little value as neither player mentioned are the players we’re discussing.

            Everyone has strengths and weaknesses to varying degrees. In 1 instance Mr. Tippett made the call to go with the passer.. but that’s only applicable to that 1 instance.

          • A-Mc

            Yea Smid is a flubber for sure, but that’s why he should be with someone who can move it once he’s separated the puck from the opposition. Hence why Petry and Smid were a decent duo.

            The first stage of of defensive zone play should be to regain possession. This stage is the most important and IMO Petry is very ineffective at this. As previously stated, i would have Ference #1 for this stage and i would put Smid as #2 for this stage. Now the 2nd stage is to get the puck out via chip or pass. Petry is pretty good at this but i still think there are others better at it (JSchultz). For second stage i would rank #1 JSchultz and #2 Petry.

            Because Stage #2 is more of an offensive skill, even if you say these 2 i mentioned are a wash in the defensive zone, in the offensive zone i would definitely give the edge to JSchultz. He is more dangerous on a consistent basis.

            This is how i conclude my top 3 to be #1: Ference #2: Smid #3: Jschultz

            If Smid looks out of place as a #2 for this team, i would also remind people that he’s the first guy into a scrum and the last guy pulled out of it. He’s also an instigator more often than any other defensive option. This is something the oilers lack almost entirely, and so i put big value on that.

            Call me crazy but i think we’ll have to agree to disagree!

          • Romanus

            You are crazy. 😉

            Seriously, though, Ference is a bottom pairing d-man on a good team, and a second pairing d-man on the Oilers. He reminds me of Jason Smith, Vandermeer, Staios, etc. (insert any other downside of their career d-men that the Oilers have brought in over the past decade and a half as a stop-gap). Isn’t his role what Nick Schultz was supposed to provide two years ago (even though he was the #6 ot #7 d-man on the Wild)?

            Right now Petry is the best d-man on the team by a wide margin. I have said it before and I will say it again – Smid is overrated/valued by Oiler fans for the single reason that he tries to play physical. Don’t get me wrong, he has the tools to be a solid #4 or #5 d-man, but his lack of hockey sense has been apparent all along. This is why MacT has never been a big fan – watch how often he makes the wrong read or is out of position due to his limited hockey sense.

            Justin Schultz as #3 on your list is hilarious. He needs to either sit a game or two and watch how the opponent’s D plays, or, better yet, go down to OKC for a stint to work on his defensive game. He makes a nice pass and is always jumping up in the play, but he is lost in his own end and cannot win puck battles (unless he poke checks the opponent into submission). If you can’t win the puck battle, it does not matter how fast you skate or how pretty your passes are…….

            On a good team, Petry is a #4 second pairing d-man. Right now, he is the best the team has which is an indictment of the drafting and development of the team during the Prendergast years………..

          • Tikkanese

            I almost agree with most things.

            First, Ference was 2nd pairing on Boston, not 3rd pairing. Boston is also not a good team, they are a very good team.

            I do agree that Smid has been overrated. I disagree that Petry is our best. Ference currently is our best.

            I’ve been saying for awhile now that Smid and Petry would be a bottom pairing tandem on a good team. So we almost agree there.

  • Acumen

    Your bottom 5 is exactly the way I would set it up when Gagner returns (potential offensive output from the 4th line!), and I’ve been wanting them to pair up Smid and Justin since the beginning of last season.

    I approve of this message.

  • Acumen

    Jonathan, I wonder why everybody is so high on Grebs. His camp was not really good, IMO. Does he really improve the defense?

    Why not giving Larsson, who played well, or Fedun a chance on the backend?

    Dallas Eakins is not walking the talk regarding the defense. He benched Smyth and Yak but stayed passive after Smith or the Schultzes played badly.

    • I actually do get the concern. It’s not so much that I’m high on Grebeshkov as I want to see the Oilers make some changes on the blue line – and like it or not, the contract situation means that Grebeshkov is the option right now.

      The Oilers have tons of options if injury hits – in order right now I’d probably say Larsen, Fedun, Klefbom, Davidson, Marincin – and I particularly like the idea of slotting Larsen in on the third pairing. It’s just a matter of NHL contracts and waiver eligibility.

      • Randaman

        Mr. Willis, If you would like to see some changes on the back end then what about sitting Smid and Schultz as they have both played beyond poor, especially Smid. Call up Fedun and give him a shot. He deserves it. We need someone that can skate and pass and Smid fails in both those categories. He does excel at giving the puck away and taking stupid penalties though.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I really like the look of those mock lines. with gagner and yak on the 3rd line. so sick. maybe if we can pull together a full 60min we can go on a bit of a tear and stack some “W”s together.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    The way Arco’s been playing, if (ha ha) all the forwards get healthy, maybe it makes the most sense to leave him where he is having success and slide Gagner over to the wing to start.


    • A-Mc

      I know there has been some Yak hate lately and i don’t want to add fuel to the fire, but IMO I’d rather keep Arco at center and give Yak’s spot to Gagner.

      I mean seriously: Arcobello is tied for top pts on the team with 8 and has a +5 (PLUS FREAKING 5! ON A TEAM THAT HAS LET IN MORE GOALS THAN ANY OTHER TEAM); compare this to Taylor halls 8pts and MINUS 6. Lets also mention Arco’s FO% is through the roof. The only game he was Sub 50% was vs PIT, who just happens to have a few of the best Centermen in the league.

      If this kid was a few inches taller, he’d be making big bucks in the NHL.. We can’t send him down after this performance. He’s making a stand.

      Is Yak able to be sent to OKC? I’d entertain that…

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Are you serious??? Putting Grebeshkov in would make this team more of a circus than it already is. He should have never been signed, mistake one, mistake two putting him in the lineup. He can pass the puck for sure but anyone can pass it 9 out of 10 times to the wrong team. The idea is to move the puck safely and manage it neither of those is a skill that Grebeshkov has.

    • He has looked quite strong in that department here in Oklahoma. If anything, my biggest complaint is that his offence seems to have slid a little – he’s looked calmer now than he used to be.

      Then again, it’s only been a few games down here, so I can’t be definite in that opinion.