Building

Kid Line-1

The Edmonton Oilers are a team with many problems, but there are some good things there, too. Number one with a bullet on that list is the line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

The Kids & the Hall

4-Hall-15

Hall’s a monster with any linemates, and watching him put the rest of his game together is incredible. He’s always been a hard-driving offensive difference-maker, but during the last lockout he added in a gift for playmaking that hadn’t really been part of his NHL skillset; we’re now at the point where he’s a first-rate setup man.

More than that, though, is his defensive game. I’ve always felt Hall got shortchanged reputation-wise because he drives results, but watching him the last month blocking shots and backchecking, it feels like there’s a dimension there that I hadn’t seen before, too. I’m not supporting this with numbers, but by eye it feels like somewhere around midseason he just found another level of defensive commitment.

Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle aren’t on the same level as Hall, but as a trio they’ve done some exceptional things together, both in the past and in this late season. Together, they’re a legitimate No. 1 line in the NHL.

The Rest of the Forwards

57-Perron-9

The Oilers, as they have for so many years, now need to find a way to support that top unit with 10-11 competent forwards behind them. Today, a healthy Oilers team looks something like this in those roles:

  • David Perron – Sam Gagner – Nail Yakupov
  • Matt Hendricks – Boyd Gordon – Ryan Jones
  • Luke Gazdic – Ryan Smyth – Jesse Joensuu
  • Anton Lander – Mark Arcobello – Tyler Pitlick

The second line is both awfully close and a mile off. An optimist sees a keeper on a great contract (Perron), a reliable scorer coming on after a terrible start (Gagner) and a potentially elite goal-scorer (Yakupov). The pessimist sees the same keeper, a black hole up the middle with awfully limited replacement options, and a winger who probably shouldn’t have spent the last two years in the NHL and has awfully high bust potential.

The rest doesn’t look much better than the Steve Tambellini editions of the team, and that (along with the defence) is a job for the general manager to tackle this summer. Gordon’s been very good, Hendricks was a nice addition, Arcobello’s done good things and one imagines they’ll hang on to Gazdic for pugilism.

89-Gagner-8

What represents enough improvement? Would moving Gagner for a third-line wing and adding a couple of free agent veterans do the trick? Is a depth chart that looks like the following good enough behind that top line?

  • David Perron – Mark Arcobello – Nail Yakupov
  • [Viktor Stalberg] – Boyd Gordon – [David Moss]
  • Matt Hendricks – Anton Lander – [Blake Comeau]
  • Two of: Luke Gazdic, Jesse Joensuu, Tyler Pitlick and Ryan Smyth

It’s a scenario that nicely highlights, for me, the difficult choices that need to be made on the second line next year. Yakupov’s a gamble – a gamble worth making, certainly, but a gamble all the same. At centre, the choice is even tougher, because finding an external candidate for the role is going to be very difficult, very expensive, or both, and the internal options are Gagner and Arcobello. It shouldn’t be too difficult to fill out the roster but that No. 2 line is going to be tough.

There’s also this summer’s draft, where the Oilers will likely hold the No. 3 overall selection. The idea of Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett or Leon Draisaitl starting next year between Perron and Yakupov is a little scary, but long-term might be the best solution. It’s also the kind of move that retaining Arcobello (a pretty good fallback option in the event of struggles) might hint at.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Starving Student

    Lots of talk of an Umberger buyout from cbj. What are odds of gagner+pick for umberger+nikitin. Lots of ties BTW edm and cbj, cbj is in east with need for offense (good fit for gags) and has an abundance of quality d. We pick up third line winger who can chip in depth scoring and can also play some centre (and help with pk) and a top 4 d in nikitin.
    1. Does Columbus make the trade?
    2. Does 89 agree to go?
    Thoughts?

  • You go with your strengths instead of trying to make players into something they’re genetically not capable of doing.

    Gagner and Yak showed moments of briliance this year. If the 1-2 lines were charged with bringing the scoring pain instead of worrying about D so much (something neither of Yak, Nuge, Eberle, Hall, and Gagner were drafted for) we might really have something. This all depends on putting a priority on making the bottom six legit defensive compliments who can score a bit (instead of hole fillers and face punchers – sorry Wonger) and adding some solid D pieces.

    I don’t think we’re far off. Bumping a couple of guys down the pecking order in D and bottom six might do a world of good. Maturity and health should do the rest.

  • I know Hiller is their starter but he is playing poorly. Anaheim probably would have won if Hiller was playing like he was before the Olympic break.

    Watch Anaheim play LA or SJ then you see their A game. Face it teams don’t try as hard against Edmonton because they are weak.

  • I think we will see what Edmonton has when they play meaningful games. Most teams take them lightly plat their 2nd goalie. Since Edmonton has been so bad most playoff type teams don’t take them seriously and as a result they bring a B game.

    Example Last night where Anaheim would have liked to win that game, they just couldn’t get up for it until late in 3rd. Edmonton got to play against a weak goalie last night.

    • A-Mc

      Uhh, Jonas Hiller was in net last night.. That’s thier “Guy” – he isn’t the weak option. Also, if you pvr your games, try playing an oilers game from a few months ago and then play the ANA game from last night. The game last night was fast paced and was good hockey. Normally i would agree with your sentiment, but in this instance i dont.

      I think the Oilers scored a legitimate win last night and i haven’t the heart to take it away from them.

  • mesa

    number 2c and 1D ,got those in the summer and 10 games in the season will have good idea about the team .but my worry is to get those MAC T had to give away a good piece.

  • Randaman

    Our lack of reliable goaltending and overwhelmed defensemen(They were not playing their proper minutes) cost us the playoffs early on. The rest of the year was about .500. Im not saying the final result is a pretty one; im just saying that we should look at what we started with and who we end with. On top of that, we should remember that many attempts were made to bolster our defense and forward positions(offseason and during the season) but did not work in our favor. Im proud of this team now. The first half of the season, I could pretty much sum up the game after watching 5 minutes of hockey. It was a “we are done” or “we are going to win” type of thing, with the former being more common. When you see wins against very good teams in the past month, you know things are turning around. Once we address our defense in the offseason, I can predict a playoff push or potential run. Remember, all it took was Pronger to put us in the finals. I believe.

  • There is very little C help in the UFA market, and unless MacT can pull a significant deal for a legit 2C which is not easy then the team will maybe have to look at a guy who is lower on the offense side, but could handle the d side of 2C which might OK with Yak and Perron.

    I wonder if you could pull Craig Smith out of Nash. That would give Smith, Arco, Gordon & Lander for the C depth behind RNH and then they could return whoever they take back to junior (assuming Ekblad is gone). Not ideal, but that may be the way to go and if they can improve the 3rd line wingers that could help carry them until top draft guy 2014 is ready in another year.

  • The Soup Fascist

    The Oilers look better without Ference because when he is dressed he is playing too many minutes (out of necessity) and his game suffers. If they can find an actual 1st pairing guy, knock “el Capitan” back by 4 or 5 minutes per game and give him a little softer matchup – voila – he is a serviceable defenseman again. Same with Petry I suspect.

    Also, I am trying to find a way to add what should be a marked down Evander Kane, but I am having a problem making it fit. With he and Hall as left wingers, my Grandma could be the 4th line LW for all it mattered. Despite the immense talent and useful chip on his shoulder, there are issues:

    1) He is not a center

    2) He is not a good guy – at all – period.

    3) Not sure we have the dressing room to straighten him out

    4) With Kane and Yak as your 2nd line you need a very good skilled center with a defensive conscience. Gagner makes it the donut line – no center. The Oilers have no one close IMO.

    5) Would this years 1st be an overpay for a guy with stupid talent but bad charachter, off the ice?

    • A-Mc

      Evander Kane. Definitely a name i’ve been hearing as falling out of favour in winnipeg these days. I am VERY curious what the cost might be to acquire him.

      I certainly would not offer the 1st rounder though. It’s basically a lock that the 1st rounder will be as good or better than Kane, IMO.

      It’s good to see some stuff coming together with the team. I hope they can sort some things out this summer. I am not counting on playoffs next year but i would certainly love to be battling with vancouver for a wildcard spot next season (Although i think vancouver is done. It’s my opinion that they are going to nose dive in the next couple years).

      • The Soup Fascist

        A close relative of mine played with him for 3 (edit: sorry, actually only 2 years) years in Vancouver. The PR guys in Vancouver had their hands full.

        By all accounts he has not changed in Winnipeg. I love the guys talent. Not sure if a leopard can change his spots, though.

        Please share your stories that refute all that has been reported. Honestly, I would love for him to be a stand up guy.

  • If they don’t have the chance to take Ekblad I would go with Draisaitl. Maybe Reinhart or Bennett are the more skilled players but Draisaitl has the body and his passing skills are amazing. Maybe he will need another year in junior (maybe not?) but then he would fit nicely into the middle of Perron and Yak to be the playmaker in that line.

    If Ekblad is still there, take him! Try to trade for a 2C and overpay for a top 2 D-man like Markov .

  • The idea of Stalberg is interesting but I don’t know if Mac-T can pan gold twice out of Nashville.

    In regards to the third line, I would take a serious run at Nikolai Kulemin and Brian Boyle in free agency with Arcobello acting as a plug and play on that line. With a fourth line of Hendricks, Gordon and any combination of Pitlick, Gazdic, Joensuu or Smyth the depth is immediately improved.

    And if it were me, I’d ask Philly for Brayden Schenn straight across for the lottery pick unless of course we win the bloody thing again and get first overall. I’d say Couturier but don’t think he’s going anywhere…

  • Yakupov is a the key piece in my opinion. If he excels (with Perron) the Oilers have a second line and all problems solved (regardless of the 2C if Perron and Yak score the 2nd line will look good). If Perron scores 23. Yakupov scores 25. And random center scores 10. That should be enough ?

    The defence on the other hand. Is waiting for rookies to emerge. How much patience is needed ? I don’t know. I’m not sure about Ekblad.

  • geoilersgist

    This is a great article that highlights that the team, especially in the top six, really doesn’t have a lot of moves to try and fix the balance issues.

    I do think Mac T should try and move heaven and earth to land any free agent centre that would be an upgrade on Gagner for the number 2 C role. Lagwand comes to mind simply because when healthy, Detroit has their one and two centres locked up, not to mention arguably their third and fourth.

    Stasny also looks like a guy without a job at his current club that I think would be an upgrade. Even if these guys end up getting more than our current top line kids, well I can’t really see them being mad if it makes the team better.

    With that solved, obviously the D needs to be addressed. With Ryan Whitney being so terrible last year and everyone expecting J Schultz to take another step, it looked like the D wasn’t in that much trouble last year. Again, we have some great prospects on the way, much like at the centre position, but for now, for next year, Mac T needs to make a spend on the free agent market.

    It’s not prospects that will make this team better, it’s veteran NHL talent.

  • paul wodehouse

    We won’t get the value with yak. Keep him and hope he has a better year with a fresh start. I see future chemistry with draisaitl. Draisaitl is excellent at protecting the puck in the corner and dishing it on the tape in the slot. If there is no move for a centre, draft him. 6’2 210lbs that will fill out to 225.

    I’d move gagner and a prospect like pitlick/lander for a gritty winger like bickell and a prospect like McNeill.

  • OilClog

    Yakimov will be coming over next season and will get some games under his belt.

    Lander is playing his finals days in OilCountry.

    The idea of 4/93/14 playing together and killing the opposition is something all fans have known for the last few years. Nice to see the coaching Staff catching on! Whew! Don’t forget over the summer please!

  • paul wodehouse

    I think MacT will have to trade some of the future for the now. Gagner for a quality 3rd line winger(e.g..Winnick) is a good step. Gagner is beyond horrible. What is it 5 years in the league and you don’t know to pick up the trailing player? Brutal. Maybe a stop gap measure will be needed until a better option becomes available? Grabovski might of fit the bill as he could of mentored Yak as well? Bennet/Draistl look like great prospects but need another year in Junior likely? Its hard to say what might come available but 2C absolutely needs an upgrade and an experienced player that can help Yak along would be advisable. And yes I know about the D. I put the priority at 1) 1st pairing D. 2) 2nd line Center.

    • Randaman

      It is sadly obvious judging from the amount of trashes to your comment that most people on here have no clue and want to be basement dwellers for the forseeable future.

      PEOPLE: Gagner is not going to lead us to the promiseland. He should not even be a secondary piece if you sincerely care about making the play-offs. Has this year or the last four actually not given you enough evidence to support thet FACT?
      Sheesh and we wonder why management just laughs off comments on here.

    • Fuhr4Life

      Totally agree. 1LD – Trade for Sekera, Volchenkov, or Free Agent Stuart, Hainsey
      2C – Trade for either Anisomov, Couterier, Dubinsky or Stastny
      Also need a Powerforward Winger who can hit, score and pay both ends (Iginla, Stalberg, Simmonds, C.Stewart)
      And another top 4 RD ( cause we’ll have traded Petry).
      My ideal line up would be:

      Hall-Nuge-Ebs
      Perron-Anisomov-Yakcity
      Stalberg-Gordon-Iginla/Simmonds
      Smitty-Lander-Gadzic/Joensuu

      Sekera/Volchenkov-Shultz
      Ference-Boychuck?
      Marincin/Klefbom-Ekblad/Belov

      So obviously very active in trading and would be willing to move Gags, Petry, Fedun, Khaira, Roy, 2014&2015 1st Rounder, Gernat, Arcobello, Horak and Marincin

      • Sevenseven

        Some interesting ideas, and definitely something significant needed. But, Iginla on the third line (or Simmonds for that matter…) ? That’s a joke, Iginla would be that line-up’s best RW by far.

  • Lowe But Now High Expectations

    Buffalo has for decent dmen going forward:
    Myers
    Erhoff
    Pysyk
    McBain?

    Florida has:
    Campbell
    Kulikov
    Gudbranson
    Gilbert?

    I still think and hope we have a chance at Ekblad at #3. Those teams need offense. Heres hoping.

  • Lowe But Now High Expectations

    I agree it looks like Hall really stepped up his defensive game about mid season. In the last bunch of games hes seemed like the hardest back checker on the team. Thankfully that stuff has gotta rub off on the rest of the guys and its nice to see Hall lead the way all around.

    If Nuge doesn’t have a breakout year this upcoming season Hall will be the captain sooner or later

  • Lowe But Now High Expectations

    There are good pieces moving forward. However, until this team can either develop or acquire that legitimate #1 dman real progress will be difficult.