For the most part, the Edmonton Oilers’ forward line combinations at their first full Olympic practice were what one would expect. The first overall picks were kept together, as they had been before the Olympic break. The bottom-nine skaters were exactly the same too, except for one switch: Ales Hemsky took David Perron’s role as second line left wing, while Perron took Hemsky’s spot on the checking line.
Oilers practice: Hall-RNH-Yakupov, Hemsky-Gagner-Eberle, Hendricks-Gordon-Perron, Gazdic-Smyth-Jones/Joensuu
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) February 24, 2014
What This Isn’t
Perron, stylistically, is probably a slightly better fit for the third line than the second line but for lots of reasons that isn’t what’s driving this. Perron has history at left wing; Hemsky’s only played a few games there. The top six needs Perron’s chippy play in a worse way than the third line does. Hemsky’s actually been pretty good in a third line role this season.
I’m guessing it also isn’t a desire to try Hemsky at left wing that’s driving this decision. Moving Hemsky to left wing doesn’t really make it much easier to keep him than playing him at right wing does; it just switches the competition from Eberle and Yakupov to Hall and Perron. Unless the Oilers have another destination in mind for Perron (which may be possible depending on return) that move doesn’t help.
What This Is
So what is driving this? There’s an obvious answer: trade value.
Ales Hemsky showed at the Olympics that he’s still capable of impacting the game in an offensive way. For the Czechs, he worked his way up the lineup after starting as the 13th forward, and by the end of the tournament was the most efficient scorer on a team boasting a bunch of NHL’ers. Two goals against Team USA in a quarterfinal game where much of the Czech team neglected to show up were a fine (personal) end to the tournament, and it’s hard not to wonder what Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was thinking as he saw Hemsky’s performance – especially since Pittsburgh is in need of help at right wing.
Hemsky likely caught a lot of eyes with his Olympic play, and the Oilers can best take advantage of it by ensuring he gets opportunities to keep on rolling. The coaching staff won’t want to disrupt a top line that was looking good, so that leaves two wing positions open and it makes more sense to swap Hemsky with Perron than with Jordan Eberle.
There’s an opportunity here for Hemsky to make a good impression on someone. The Oilers play three games before the NHL trade deadline, all of them at home and all of them against beatable opposition (Minnesota, Calgary, Ottawa). Hemsky’s playing out of position, but he’s playing with good players and a couple of good games in a row here could do wonders for the return Edmonton gets.
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