DEPTH DOWN THE MIDDLE

Will Ryan Nugent-Hopkins be ready to start the season?

Now that Craig MacTavish has re-signed Sam Gagner, traded for David Perron and added some depth on the blueline, the health of Nugent-Hopkins is the biggest concern in Oilersnation.

Yesterday, during an interview with MacTavish on my radio show (we will have the entire interview up later this afternoon), I asked him about RNH’s health. 

Well, we’re hearing that everything is optimistic, but you don’t want to count on him being ready to start the season. The optimistic forecast would be that he could be potentially ready to start the season, but the pessimistic forecast would be that he would be ready November 1st, the end of October. We’ll leave it at that and let the medical staff decide. We’re certainly not going to rush him and hurry him into the lineup, that’s for sure.  

MacTavish’s last comment is the key. The Oilers will wisely not rush Nugent-Hopkins back, but if they realize he isn’t going to be ready what is the back up plan? I asked MacTavish if he’s looking to add a veteran centre? 

No, I think we’re good there. We’ve got some depth with Arcobello, we’ve got Will Acton. Andrew Miller is a guy who I’m expecting will have a very good training camp as well, until Nuge is ready to play. I mean, injuries are a part of it. You look at any other team’s depth chart; there are always gaps in their depth chart. Sometimes these gaps allow players and opportunity to step in and really establish themselves as NHL players. You need a chance if you’re a young guy on the outside looking in. This could potentially be that chance if Nuge isn’t ready to go October 1st, but I don’t anticipate doing much more. 

DEPTH CHART

If Nugent-Hopkins can’t start the season then Sam Gagner is the #1 centre. Boyd Gordon doesn’t have the offensive capabilities to play on the second line, so that means Mark Arcobello, Andrew Miller and Anton Lander will be battling for the opportunity to play in the top-six.

It would be a great opportunity for them, but it also is a risk by the Oilers.

Lander, 6′, 190 pounds, has the most NHL experience. He’s played 67 games and has 2 goals and 7 points. He was very good for OKC in the playoffs last year scoring 5 goals and 8 points in 8 games.

Arcobello, 5’9, 170, spent the past three seasons in OKC, and last season was his best tallying 22 goals and 68 points in 74 games. He centred Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle for almost a month in OKC last year, and both the wingers told me he’s a very smart player. He had 12 goals and 20 points in 17 playoff games, and he’s likely the best pure offensive centre of the three.

Andrew Miller, 5’10, 180, was signed as a free agent this summer after playing four years at Yale University. He scored 42 goals and 156 points in 141 ECAC games. This is how MacTavish described Miller.   

Andrew Miller is a lot like Mark Arcobello. He’s actually come out of the same program, they’re both Yale University. Andrew Miller is a strong guy on the puck. He’s a smaller guy, but he’s highly skilled with a real keen intellect to play the game. He scores big goals, he knows where to go, he knows when the opportunity is presenting itself, and he goes to the right positions. He’s going to look really good at camp, I can tell you that. It’s whether he can overcome the exhibition game hurdle. Then the later exhibition games present another hurdle as well as teams pair their roster down and the competition gets a little bet steeper. Then, of course, the ultimate hurdle of playing in a regular season game. We’ll see if he’s ready for that, but he’ll sure look good early.

MacTavish is clearly very high on Miller, and he expects him to play well early on.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN…

If Nugent-Hopkins is ready to go, it means little, but I’d be surprised if he is on the ice October 1st  vs. the Winnipeg Jets. The Oilers will not rush him, and Hall told me last year that the extra month rest (he didn’t play in the AHL until November 1st) allowed him to be much stronger and more confident.

It is definitely a risk going with Arcobello, Miller or Lander as your 2nd line centre, but MacTavish wants smart players who can move the puck, and he seems confident that these guys can fill the gap until Nugent-Hopkins returns.

I didn’t think the Oilers would get smaller down the middle, but it is very possible that their opening night roster will have Gagner, Gordon,  and one ofLander/Miller/Arcobello as the 2nd line centre and possibly Wil Acton as the 4th line centre.

If Nugent-Hopkins was going to be out long term, I’d bet MacTavish would have signed a veteran centre, and it is possible, albeit it slim, that he still does. The Oilers need to uncover a diamond in the rough at some point, and it seems like MacTavish is going to give Lander, Arcobello and Miller an opportunity of a lifetime.

When an opportunity arises it is up to the player to take advantage of it. Players, like most of us in everyday life, just want an opportunity to prove ourselves.

These three have two months to ensure they are in the best shape of their life and mentally ready to take advantage of a wonderful break.

While Landre, Arcobello and Miller prepare for training camp and the preseason, I suspect most Oilers fans will be extremely nervous when they compare the  Oilers C depth chart to the rest of the Pacific division.

YALE ALUMNI… 

Arcobello and Miller both attended Yale so you might want to listen to their fight song to get amped up for the season. Yale hasn’t produced many NHL players, but these four all played over 400 games.

Bob Kudelski: 1987-1996 with the Kings, Senators and Panthers.
Played 442 games and tallied 139 goals and 241 points.

Bob Brooke: 1983-1990 with Rangers, North Stars and Devils.
He played 447 games and scored 69 goals and 166 points.

Chris Higgins: He’s is still active. He broke in 2005 with the Canadiens then moved to the Rangers, Flames, Panthers and now he’s with the Canucks.
He’s played 523 games and scored 133 goals and 254 points.

Randy Wood: 1986-1997 with Islanders, Sabres, Leafs and Stars.
Played 741 games and scored 175 goals and 334 points.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR 

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Meh, I mean, it’s not like either the Nuge nor Gags used their size or face off prowess to their advantage. Replacing one small skilled centre who is bad at faceoffs and isn’t defensively responsible, with another small skilled centre who is bad at face offs and isn’t defensively responsible, really isn’t the worst thing in the world.

    Nuge is obviously a better 2 way guy than Gags, but if Gags is on a line with Hall, it might not matter since the puck is usually going one direction anyway.

    Thus, if Gagner is replaced by a guy like Arcabello, that is nearly a one for one in my mind. If he’s replaced by Lander, that might be best case scenario as Lander seems to excel when playing with skill guys, and he can win faceoffs and is listed as a two way guy. Pure offence, go Arcabello. A bit more balance, go Lander.

    I have a feeling one of those two guys is going to come up and make a huge case for staying.

  • 15w40

    Here is the Pacific Division Center Depth Charts according to Cap Geek.

    Flames:
    Stajan
    Backlund
    Jones
    Knight
    Monahan

    San Jose:
    Thornton
    Pavelski
    Couture
    Burish
    Hertl

    LA:
    Kopitar
    Richards
    Carter
    Stoll
    Lewis
    Tofolli

    Anaheim:
    Getzlaf
    Koivu
    Cogliano
    Holland
    Bonino

    Vancouver:
    Sedin
    Kesler
    Santorelli
    Gaunce
    Lain

    Phoenix:
    Riberio
    Vermette
    Hanzel
    Chipchura
    Klinkhammer
    Domi

    The only teams that’s not going to hand our ass to us (Nuge or no Nuge) is the flames!!! Get ready for another top 10 draft pick and no playoffs!!!

    • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

      L.A. and S.Jose 4 strong are tough to match . Rest are only 2 or less strong . We have possibly 3 in Gagner , Gordon and Hopkins .Oilers also have D.Perron who used to be a natural center they could possibly use early on and for injuries . Even Smyth has filled in occasionally . We could be better still , but we could also be weaker than we are currently . I would think they might look to Perron early on .

      • Connor Snipes

        Meh, Winger depth?

        Flames: Camellari-Stempniak, Tanguay-Jackman, Glencross-Bertchi

        SanJose: Havlat-Burns, Marleu-Burish, Torres-Galiardi? (I don’t even know who their wingers really are, but they need a bunch of guys to play wing who normally play things like defence and centre).

        LA: Wiliams-Brown, Richardson-Penner, Clifford (probably won’t be there)

        Anaheim: Perry, Selanee and then… nobody.

        Van: Sedin, Hansen, Kassian, Raymond, Higgins (this is probably the best winger depth of any team)

        Yotes: Verbatta, Doan, Bodecker, Moss,

        Edmonton: Hall, Eberle, Yak, Perron, Hemsky, Smyth.

        Point being our team is not built down the middle, it’s built on the wings. Maybe the only team in the NHL built like this, other than maybe Minnesota or Washington.

        • DSF

          winger depth is less important….the C comes down low on D the deepest to help out, and must be physically strong to be able to contain the Center’s the Oil will face repeatedly this year. as much as we hated Whorecough, he was stronger than both Gagnger and Nuge….so Gordon is going to have to be out-of-body all year? Arcobella? wtf….the Edm D is already not the most physically dominating..and now the C who is most centrally involved in limiting the counter-offensive traffic in front of the net is a weakling too? TERRIBLE situation

          • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

            It’s a good point for sure.

            What I’m saying is that we get beat in one area but are far and away the best in another. Sure the Oilers are going to have trouble moving guys out from in front of the net, but on the other side of things, how the hell do you stop the Oilers from coming down ice when there’s that much talent on the wings. Teams are going to have to be very weary of our counter attack. There’s not a lot of D pairings capable of corralling that much speed and skill. As long as we have defense that can retrieve the puck and make a smart quick first pass out of the zone, I bet you see more teams playing high instead of down low.

        • OilClog

          Really you think Vancouvers winger depth is better then Edmontons?!?! I look at your list and I see is Edmonton actually winning a area of strength for once.

          Hall, Ebs, Yak, Perron, Hemsky, Smyth, Jones.. That isn’t going to be beat by many teams at all as far as winger depth goes.

          • DSF

            Ah,

            Sorry, what I meant was it was the best winger depth of any team in our division not named the Oilers. Not for one minute do I think any team comes close to having deeper talent on the wings, especially in the top six as we do.

            This is how we’ll have to come back against other team’s depth at centre. Having said that, Gagner would have been second in points on Anaheim, and first on teams like Calgary, Phoenix, and Sanjose. So I mean yes they have more depth at centre, but as far as our top two go, we’re not as bad as everyone thinks.

            Where I think we take a step ahead this year is in Goal tending, defense, and coaching. I really think we could have won more of those one goal games and closed out more leads last year had Krueger not thrown out Smyth and Petrell on every freakin shift for the last 13 minutes of a game.

  • Spydyr

    From an asset management perspective, this is a wise and important decision for the Oilers. It signals to all the young guys working their asses off down in OKC that yes, there is a chance that they will be able to move up the depth chart and have a shot at the big team. Thanks to all the MacT moves there is no room on Defense and there is certainly no openings on the wings, so that leaves the Center position.

    Imagine all the young defensemen reacting to signing after signing of experienced players and watching their name slide further down the depth chart each time. It must seem that the climb to get to the top is impossible because each time they get close someone else is slotted in ahead of them. I suspect that for the players in OKC, the chance to play for the big club is the biggest motivator that there is.

    Every team needs to have young players fighting for a spot, and you can’t have that if all the holes are plugged with veterans.

    Now, of course, all of this goes out the freakin’ window if Nuge isn’t going to be back in a reasonable amount of time.

    • Rambelaya

      While I actually with most of what you say in principle, I disagree with part of the philosophy.

      A player shouldn’t be trying to prove himself to get an “open” spot, they should be trying to prove that they’re better than the NHL-level player who’s already in that spot.

      Not just “equivalent skill but younger” or “equivalent but I’m healthy and he’s not”. They should be thinking “I need to be better than him even when he’s healthy because that’s MY spot”

      The Oilers (and most teams, to be honest) rarely have the depth to do that, but we’re getting to the point with the D. I wish we were there with fwds and goaltending, but at least with our D, we know that if someone like Klefbom makes it, it’s because he’s TAKEN the spot from someone else including a few current NHLers, not just done good enough to fill up a hole.

      • Connor Snipes

        Yes, but how can a player prove that he is as good or better than an established NHL player if there is never a position on the roster that is available for competition? You can’t prove you’ve got NHL chops until you get the chance to play against NHL players in a meaningful situation.

        However, as I mentioned in my earlier post, this is a good move from an Asset Management viewpoint. It is not necessarily the best thing to do from a Competitive view. I think the fundamental difference is that MacT is not trying to build a team for this year only, but trying to rebuild an entire organization whose farm assets were poorly managed for the past 5 years. In my opinion, any good organization needs to leave some room for it’s young players to advance, otherwise a team is left with a log jam down on the farm.

  • LinkfromHyrule

    hey so isn’t our longest road trip of the season in October and the plan is to ice 2 unproven AHL centers? It’s gonna be the 9-game road trip without horcoff all over again….

  • OilersBrass

    If it were me I would put Hall at centre for the first month.

    Yak Hall Eberle
    Perron Gagner Hemsky
    Smyth Gordon Jones

    That’s still a good top 9. Thoughts?

    • OilersBrass

      That’s a nice looking line up.

      I’d put Smyth on the 4th line though, and put Joensuu on the third line. I love Smyth but the younger bigger faster Joensuu should be more effective.

      • OilersBrass

        I’m not saying you put him there for the whole year just for the first month and then move him back to the wing once Nuge is back. Then you know if Hall is able to play centre if he’s needed.

        • OilersBrass

          I think they should definitely try Hall at centre for a couple pre season games at least, just to see how he fits. I mean what’s the worst that could happen? He doesn’t play the position well so he just goes back on the wing, no big deal

        • Spydyr

          How did Smyth do at the center last year?

          So you want to start the year with your best player and probable captain playing out of position in a spot he does not want to be in.

          You might want to rethink that.

          If they wanted to try Hall at the center it should have been done last year in the AHL.

          Not at the start of the most promising season since 2006.

          • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

            Are you seriously comparing Hall with Smyth? Hall has played centre before until being asked to play wing in Junior. What I am saying is that I would rather start the year with Hall at centre then having Lander, Arcobello or Miller as your 1st line centre to start the year, that as you have stated is the most promising since 2006. Do you want to throw away the first month of the season which could be the difference from making the playoffs and missing them?

          • If you’ve listen to Gregor, the Oilers, plus Hall, you would know that Hall at centre is a non starter! It ain’t happening!!

            MacTavish interview on Gregors show the other day made me realize that MacTavish reminds me of Tambellini.

            If MacTavish starts the season with the centre depth he has now, by the time RNH comes back the Oilers could be dead last and already out of the playoffs……..for the year!

            Those that think MacTavish is doing some kind of Kansas City shuffle, listen to the interview, MacTavish is dead serious about the centre depth.

          • Spydyr

            No I’m comparing a winger playing out of position in a spot he does not want to be.

            Mac-T has made all the right moves with what he has had to work with. I’m confident he is aware of the lack of center depth. I’m guessing there will be more moves in late August when the GM’S get back from their cottages.

          • OilersBrass

            Haha man, he’s just saying hypothetically. Don’t have to take his idea and completely kill it.

            Most promising season hey? Just like 2010, 2011, 2012/2013?

          • Spydyr

            When your team has been out of the playoffs for seven long years. You have to do anything to stay as positive as possible. So yeah most promising season since 2006.

            As for completely killing his idea sorry if the truth hurts.

  • OilersBrass

    I’d like to see one last signing, of a guy who you can move around the lineup for situations just like these. Nik Antropov seems like the right guy for that – a decent 2C fill-in option who is far enough along in his career that he could also play the wing on the 3rd line. He would also continue our Russian Summer. A 1- or 2-year deal at around 3MM sounds about right.

    Pre-Nuge return that would give you:
    Hall-Gags-Eberle
    Perron-Antropov-Yakupov
    Jones-Gordon-Hemsky
    Smyth/Joensuu-Lander-Brown
    Joensuu/Smyth

    Post-Nuge return:
    Hall-Nuge-Eberle
    Perron-Gagner-Yakupov
    Antropov-Gordon-Hemsky
    Jones-Lander-Brown
    Smyth/Joensuu

    The beauty of these lines is the complete lack of rookies. When is the last time we’ve been able to say that?

    • wiseguy

      That’s because we didn’t have the #1 overall this year. Do you not think our lineup would look better with McKinnon on it?
      Now that Jagr signed in Jersey, maybe there’s a trade for Hemsky there to finally unite him with his idol?

      • OilersBrass

        Actually I spoke with my ass instead of my mouth. I just realized just because Jagr wants to play with Hemsky, doesn’t mean that NJ wants them to play together. Hemsky is undervalued by other teams and overvalued by us. He will never be traded. He will walk via UFA status.

  • OilersBrass

    Loss of Horcoff early will be a major concern , and will not adequately be filled by other three . It was the one decision I felt MacT. did prematurely .

  • Ducey

    There are quite a few “Smithson” types still out there. Given that many teams don’t need another center, have capped out, or have reached their internal budgets, there are going to be a bunch of options come training camp. The waiver wire is also going to be busy.

    MacT is smart not to use up the little cap space he has now. He needs it in case a deal comes up over the summer.

    If its late September and Nuge isn’t ready and the other options are not working out (they would need 2 of Lander, Miller, Acton, and Arcobello to make it) they can always add someone cheap.

  • Souby

    I think a Hemsky for Zack Smith (Ottawa)trade might be in order???? With Ottawa’s internal cap set at around 50MM though, I doubt this would happen. Maybe send a 3rd rounder to Philly for Talbot? Another option is Johansen in Columbus but I think his price tag would be too high….thoughts?

  • Muji

    I’m okay with Arcobello, Miller and Lander fighting for 1 spot (either 2C or 4C). I don’t think it’s a good bet for those 3 to be fighting for 2 spots (2C AND 4C).

    Our center depth has arguably regressed since last year. Tambellini’s biggest mistake last year was probably not addressing center depth (especially when Horc and Belanger went down) and it’s worrying that MacT may be doing the same thing.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    I’m more excited than nervous. I think they’ll have a luke-warm season start but (barring injury) believe they’ll finish strong. The key will be learning to consistently win against the other pacific teams down the stretch

  • Rob...

    I don’t like this one bit. Why make such decent moves (Ference, Perron, re-sign Gagner) and then leave a lack of veteran NHL presence down the middle.

    This is particularly disturbing as we’ve learned this lesson recently (Stoll, even Reasoner).
    If this is our lineup going into the season, I’ll bet we hear a lot of the Horcoff haters professing how badly he’s missed.

    • Connor Snipes

      Horcoff will never be missed. I would rather have a orange cone in the middle marked ” danger”, as a centreman than Horcoff any day.

      I hope that Mac T signs Gilbert Brule as the insurance centreman that we so desperately need.

      I hope that the multitude of AHL signings at least yields one player. In my books they are already better than Belenger and that waste of a draft pick Smithson!

    • 15w40

      How much worse can we be without Horcoff? I’m not blaming him for all this team’s woes, but we have been an embarrassment the last few seasons. I’m sure we can replace the 7 goals he produced last season and last time I looked, he has had 4 consecutive seasons under 50% in the faceoff department.

  • Spydyr

    I would really like to see Brule offered a PTO in order to encourage a little more depth/competition with the centre position. It may not amount to anything other than pushing the other centres at camp, but it may be the 2C position if Nuge is not ready to go and Brule blows the doors off at camp.

    almost no risk and a lot of reward.

    • Rob...

      Completely agree with this. A PTO to Brule or any other center with a bit of
      Offensive experience in the NHL would provide no risk whatsoever and a lot of assurance in case no one is able to jump the hurdles MacT provides. Basically they’re banking on 4 guys with almost zilch NHL experience to take on 2 NHL roles (2 and 4 C). There’s no guarantee any of these guys will even be able to be a good 4C, so I think a PTO would be very prudent if they don’t want someone signed.

  • toprightcorner

    How do we know your not lying and pretending to have a ‘smart’ side and a stupid side? Everytime ‘you’ say something stupid you can claim someone is impersonating you. Sounds pretty sketchy and too convenient.

  • toprightcorner

    Okay…..how do you feel about what Mac T has done so far? All the talk about being done in acquiring players is hog dodo!

    Mac T is pretending to be Mr. Dithers…….and people are really buying it…..LOL.