A lot has been written about the death of the enforcer. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I do find it pretty interesting that after a pair of games against the Oilers two most hated rivals injured heavyweight Luke Gazdic hasn’t really been missed.
It’s also not at all clear where he slides into the lineup if and when the Oilers decide they do want to insert him.
The Forward Depth Chart
- Taylor Hall – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Jordan Eberle
- David Perron – Mark Arcobello – Teddy Purcell
- Matt Hendricks – Boyd Gordon – Jesse Joensuu
- Benoit Pouliot – Leon Draisaitl – Nail Yakupov
We can quibble about the order of the lines – the Draisaitl unit has had a touch less even-strength ice time than the Gordon line – but what we can’t argue about is that for the first time in forever the Oilers have four lines with designated roles and all four directly help the team win hockey games.
We’ll doubtless see some changes in the units over time, but we’re looking at three scoring lines and what has been an extremely effective defensive zone unit over a short season so far.
Who does Gazdic replace in that lineup? The logical candidate is Joensuu, except that Joensuu is playing like the guy we saw in training camp at evens. More than that, Joensuu is averaging more than 2:00 per game on the penalty kill, and did this the other night:
Who else could come out of the lineup for Gazdic? Not Hendricks, who is one of the team’s top penalty killers and the second faceoff man on the defensive zone line. Yakupov has been very good through two games and is showing solid progress; it’s pretty unlikely that we’ll see him scratched. Everybody else is a bona fide NHL veteran.
No. 13/14 Forward
It looks to me like Gazdic is going to have to wait for injury or a run of poor play to get an opportunity. And even then, it isn’t clear where he should play.
I argued in the summer that the Oilers could use him with Gordon and Hendricks, the way Chicago used Brandon Bollig on its defensive zone unit. If there’s an injury, that’s probably where he fits, with Joensuu perhaps getting a bump on to one of the scoring lines.
But there’s a real risk that Gazdic will drag down Gordon and Hendricks, who have done fine work at even-strength so far. The alternative is to stick him on the Draisaitl line, but that sort of defeats the point.
The other thing working against Gazdic is that Dallas Eakins likely isn’t going to want to use him on the penalty kill. That means if a guy like Joensuu or Hendricks gets hurt, it’s going to be Will Acton filling in rather than Edmonton’s pugilist.
It’s going to be an interesting situation to watch this season. It could be that we’ll see other teams start dressing enforcers of their own, in which case the Oilers will likely be more tempted to put Gazdic in the lineup. But until that happens, there’s no sense messing with what looks like a pretty sound four-line strategy. On the other hand, if we continue to see the role of the enforcer diminish as the season progresses, Edmonton might just decide that a guy like Steve Pinizzotto – a middleweight who can also score a bit, kill penalties, and slot in on any line – is a better fit for the team.
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