The first Edmonton Oilers team—1979-80—featured 16 wingers, only one of those men drafted by the NHL team. Stray cats mostly, but that group scored enough and checked enough for the club to make the second season. Blair MacDonald and Brett Callighen were Gretzky’s linemates that season, they were a solid line—MacDonald scored 46 goals, we all thought he was a perfect fit. Dave Hunter and Dave Lumley were the checkers and gritty skilled men, Hunter was solid on the PK and Lumley got some PP time. Mark Messier and Cam Connor were also tough wingers, the rookie Messier got time in all three disciplines. Connor may have been the most famous of Edmonton’s wingers that season, he was a former Montreal Canadiens forward. Bobby Schmautz was famous, Don Murdoch too, and there was a time that season when both men looked like they might be here a long time. Dave Semenko was on that team, he was a giant then as now. Bill Flett was a personal favorite, but he was too old and slow to stay. Peter Driscoll and Dan Newman spent time with the Oilers that season, Kari Makkonen, Wayne Bianchin, Ron Carter, Alex Tidey did too, and that makes 16.
By 1982-83, just three years later, the only remaining members of the original 16 were Mark Messier, Dave Semenko, Dave Hunter and Dave Lumley. Newcomers Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Pat Hughes, Jaroslav Pouzar, Willy Lindstrom and others had moved in and set up shop.
WHY THE HISTORY LESSON?
Yesterday afternoon, the Oilers recalled Taylor Beck and sent down Anton Slepyshev, the kind of transaction an NHL team makes all the time. Slepyshev hung around for 15 games this season (11 a year ago) before demotion, and we will see about a recall. Beck is on his second callup and we will see how things go.
In the comments section yesterday, there was a lot of angst about Slepyshev getting sent out, the idea being that he didn’t get a chance. I would argue the young Russian forward has received two long auditions in the last two years (26 games is pretty long stretch). His totals this year (15gp, 2-2-4) are somewhat similar to those of Kari Makkonen (9gp, 2-2-4) back in the day. Makkonen only got one chance, Slepyshev has had two now, and I suspect he may get more.
Folks, the expectation of Anton Slepyshev is that he will not emerge as a five-year solution for the Oilers. That is also the expectation for Taylor Beck.
YOU KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW
Even though we could be wrong (things change daily), I think we can probably make a list of PC keepers on the wings and be fairly close to correct. Among current Oilers, I would say Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon and Jesse Puljujarvi are in the Mark Messier and the three Daves portion of the roster—they are going to be around for a time, or a long time.
Jordan Eberle could be Blair MacDonald—or he could hang around for the good times. Eberle already has the contract MacDonald could not shake loose from Glen Sather, so in a way the pressure point is gone. As long as Eberle delivers 60-point seasons, and no other winger exceeds him, Peter Chiarelli can either trade for a better option or run with No. 14.
Benoit Pouliot, Zack Kassian, Matt Hendricks, these men are in the journeyman (Schmautz, Weir) portion of the roster. They are here to provide veteran leadership until a replacement arrives. Candidates to replace them currently include Drake Caggiula and Tyler Pitlick, and more are on the way. Benoit Pouliot is kind of in the Stan Weir slot currently, valued for what he brings but also unlikely to be here when the winning should begin. I am no longer certain all of the big three Cs are part of the modern Mark Messier and the three Daves, by the way.
PROJECTED SCORING TOTALS, 2016-17
- Milan Lucic (82, 21-36-57); Connor McDavid (82, 31-69-100); Leon Draisaitl (82, 33-33-66).
- Benoit Pouliot (78, 14-6-20); RNH (82, 13-26-39); Jordan Eberle (82, 21-38-59).
- Patrick Maroon (82, 21-15-36); Mark Letestu (79, 16-19-35); Tyler Pitlick (79, 19-8-27)
- Zack Kassian (79, 5-14-19); Drake Caggiula (64, 5-18-23); Jesse Puljujarvi (73, 3-22-25).
- Source: The Hockey News.
Edmonton could have five 20-goal men this year, and a couple who hit 30. The core group, as I see it, are the 1line above, Maroon, Caggiula and Puljujarvi. I believe RNH, Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Eberle are in a little danger now. And some of that has changed (for me) since the beginning of the season—a campaign in which Edmonton has performed well enough to be in a playoff position this morning.
Photo by Mark Williams
Taylor Beck earned a recall, no matter the outcome. He is ripping up the California backtop and my guess is he gets a real shot at a roster spot in the coming weeks. One way to show just how dominant he has been this year is estimated 5×5 points-per-60 via Prospect-Stats. Here are the regular forwards:
- Taylor Beck 3.81
- Anton Lander 3.76 (in only six games)
- Jujhar Khaira 2.31
- Ryan Hamilton 2.30
- Mitch Moroz 1.41
- Josh Currie 1.33
- Scott Allen 1.24
- Kyle Platzer 0.90
- Joey Benik 0.90
- Greg Chase 0.67
- Patrick Russell 0.65
- Braden Christoffer 0.59
- Jere Sallinen 0.31
A few comments here. As hot as Anton Lander has been since getting sent down, Beck has been more productive all year long. In real terms, this recall was overdue. Second, we should not expect impact boxcars, but Beck should be able to contribute if the club puts him in a good spot in the batting order. As a righty shooter, power-play time may be in the offing, and that could benefit player and team.
Jujhar Khaira is posting some good numbers too, suspect we see him here after the deadline. Nice to see Mitch Moroz with a pulse this year offensively, hopefully he can push for more playing time as the season rolls.
- Number 11—Mark Messier. He is so young in many ways—only eight days older than Wayne Gretzky—and so old in others. He can be the best player on the ice, or the worst, and sometimes he is both in the same shift. Peter Gzowski, The Game of our Lives.
I post this not as an attempt to compare the two players, but rather as a reminder (Gzowski’s book remains a treasure) of youth and its incredible power and galling abundance of errors. A lot of people are saying (I suspect that phrase is the new at the end of the day) Puljujarvi needs to be sent away right damned now, in order to get some playing time. I agree he has to play, but suspect it is January. By the way, JP plays as a veteran in many situations (defensively, he seems to be a savant) and I do think the Oilers have a gem. If he plays 20 games in the AHL with talented linemates, suspect the boxcars will be impressive. I see no hurry to do so, January will be fine, then bring him up at the deadline.
If we can agree there was one opening on RW this fall (behind Eberle, Puljujarvi, Kassian and sometimes Leon), then the demotion of Anton Slepyshev signals that Tyler Pitlick won the war. If there is one thing the young Russian winger might want to add to his arsenal, it is shooting more. Here are the Oilers leaders (forwards) in 5×5 shots per 60:
- Tyler Pitlick 10.65
- RNH 9.33
- Zack Kassian 8.63
- Jordan Eberle 8.10
- Jesse Puljujarvi 8.02
- Anton Slepyshev 8.00
- Connor McDavid 7.72
- Patrick Maroon 7.38
- Milan Lucic 7.11
- Leon Draisaitl 6.04
- Benoit Pouliot 5.04
- Mark Letestu 5.02
- Drake Caggiula 3.41
- Anton Lander 3.02
I think Connor McDavid will score a bunch of goals the moment he gets a little more selfish in the danger zones, expect that will come soon (he is still a young player, but wicked smart). Beck shoots three times a game in the AHL, I expect he will post a solid number on this list.
If the Oilers are going to make the playoffs, McDavid winning the Art Ross and Cam Talbot stopping pucks at a rapid clip are vital. We know McDavid is No. 1 in scoring, how is Talbot doing in net?
- NHL average save percentage: .914
- Talbot save percentage .916 (tied for No. 14 among starters)
- Even-strength save percentage: .919 (tied for No. 18 among starters)
- Power-play save percentage: .901 (No. 8 among starters)
The most important number (imo) is his PP save percentage and it has been strong all season. Little doubt in my mind that he has played too much, do you agree? Talbot has played well for much of the season, I would still rank him as the second most valuable player on the team this season. My choice for No. 3 on the list? Andrej Sekera.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
At 10, TSN1260, a freezing Lowdown. Scheduled to appear:
- Steve Lansky, BigMouthSports. Gretzky on the Simpsons, WJs, McDavid v Crosby for scoring championship.
- Guy Flaming, The Pipeline Show. Guy and Taylor Medak called a Canada/Russia game in Bonnyville with about five minutes notice. The terror I would feel would be overwhelming. How did Guy react?
- Matt Iwanyk, TSN1260. Point-Counter Point focuses on the NFL (Eagles-Ravens) and how best to develop Jesse Puljujarvi.
- Paul Almeida, SSE. Paul is overwhelming twitter with polls! We will chat, plus discuss the Saturday Oilers game.
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. Friday!