Last season, Taylor Hall started at centre, and that left the Oilers’ left wing an ugly mess. Ryan Smyth was penciled in on the first line, David Perron slid in behind him and after that it was utter chaos.
Help is needed, but the position looks significantly stronger now than it did out of training camp last season.
Taylor Hall is the best player on the team, a legitimate No. 1 left wing in the NHL, and the player right now who looks like he’ll end up being the most significant Oiler for the next decade.
David Perron – who can also play right wing and may find himself over there – is a really nice fit on the second line. He adds an element of sandpaper the Oilers haven’t often had, he combines scoring touch with defensive ability, and all of it comes on a bargain contract.
Matt Hendricks, despite his impressive contract, is not a third-line player because he’s a where-offence-goes-to-die winger. But watching him late last season it was easy to understand why the Oilers added him – he brings a physical conscience and defensive play and he’s an excellent option for a tough-ish minutes fourth line (i.e. a line that starts shift after shift in the defensive end of the rink).
There is a need for a third-line left wing, ideally somebody who could add some size and defensive awareness to a scoring line playing somewhat protected minutes. Looking at Oilers past, Magnus Paajarvi wouldn’t be a terrible fit for the job; for that matter, Dustin Penner wouldn’t be an awful choice either (and of course there are plenty of others who haven’t played for the Oilers who might fit the bill). This is a player that Craig MacTavish needs to add via either trade or free agency, because there really isn’t an internal candidate.
I’ve put Luke Gazdic in this category because if the Oilers are going to run a fourth line with any kind of real responsibility, his place is difficult to determine. He’s big and he can skate and he can hit and he fights, but he’s a one-dimensional player. He’s bad in the defensive zone, prone to poor coverage and giveaways, and he’s bad in the offensive zone, too. If the team wants to employ a fighter, he can do that job, and everything anyone’s ever said publicly suggests he’s a great guy to have around the team. He just shouldn’t be playing regular shifts, and this is especially true if the fourth line is expected to contribute more than “energy.”
So What Happens?
My bet is that the Oilers add a useful winger during the offseason for third-line duty, bump Gazdic down into the spare forward role (plugging him in when injuries hit/when they feel they need an enforcer) and otherwise maintain the status quo. Hall/Perron is a really nice one/two punch, Hendricks brings some nice points to the fourth line and with one more guy this collection could be excellent. .