Tonight’s post is impressions of those players, some bubbling under and a few who are no longer “prospects.” And Robert Nilsson, who is becoming the hockey equivalent of the Little Engine that Could.
SAM GAGNER: I think you know a player has arrived when a hardass coach like MacT is just making up stuff about him in terms of praise. My paper the other day had some quote about Samwise “winning battlings” or some such and while there may have been a “lucky bounce” win I haven’t seen any that left me with the impression he was going to be useful along the boards. Gagner’s a fine young player but he’s not going to compete physically for some time. Beauty passer, he can stickhandle in a phone booth and has that uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time (the Steve Shutt syndrome). However, claiming he’s “winning battles” is like saying Elvis Presley choreographed the Jailhouse Rock dance segments: it isn’t true and since he was Elvis freaking Presley why bother to embellish? The guy was good enough to be impressive with the straight truth. Same with Sam.
ANDREW COGLIANO: I’m disappointed. Sure he has as many points as Gagner and is among the top 10 rookie scorers this year but he doesn’t have the hands to deliver on the multiple chances that appear each game. You never want to bury a kid and he’s going to be supreme value for where they picked him but the Oilers quote “Marchant with hands” is probably going to be shortened soon. A very useful role player and a personal favorite, but his hands tell us 25 goals may be the outer marker.
ROBERT NILSSON: Remember that children’s book The Little Engine that Could? That’s Nilsson. He’s a guy who has been sent out, healthy scratched and may have hobbling in his future if he can’t become more consistent. However, he’s also a guy who can score a goal in a heartbeat and has shown more jam that I thought he had (and done it a few times) in his efforts to become an NHL regular. Has all kinds of good arrows, including a franchise that would like very much to point to him for 10 years and say “that’s 1/3 of the Smyth trade, folks” and plays for a coach who found value in Anson Carter. A fun player to watch.
ZACK STORTINI: I have a friend who sees the good in everyone. Not in a pansy way, just a very positive person who will find the silver lining. I think you would have to have been that kind of person to see the value in Stortini early on. Reason? He isn’t really “as advertised” in that there’s no enforcer here, in fact he’s not a tremendously effective agitator unless you play defense for Calgary. No, Zack Stortini’s value comes in playing a smart, physical and simple game (Scott Ferguson as a forward) and for showing every other roster player that listening to exactly what the coach tells you to do gets you TOI. His GA/60 number is a mindbender.
TOM GILBERT: Even with the bloom off the rose a little lately you can see a guy with a bright future. His recent downturn can actually help Edmonton as his RFA price is going down by the minus. They used to call guys like this “heady players” and his 14 even strength points stand out on this roster among defenders.
KYLE BRODZIAK: One of the best ways to see how much MacT trusts rookies and young players trying to estbablish themselves is to see how much EV and PK time they actually get. Among forwards, there are 4 rookies in the top 9 in terms of EV bulk minutes (5th-Gagner, 7th-Cogliano, 8th-Brodziak, 9th-Nilsson) and it’s interesting to look at the order they are in. Brodziak plays 9:33 a game at EVs and he plays in pretty much every game. Among PKers he’s 4th in bulk minutes (behind Reasoner, Stoll and Horcoff) and looks like he has a future as a role player in and around Moreau, Reasoner, Pisani in the pecking order.
DENIS GREBESHKOV: I suspect he hasn’t shown enough to stay. His problem may be that he’s not offensive enough to be a strong PP option and he’s not good enough defensively to be a better man than Smid or Greene. I think the Oilers like him a lot but the results have been porridge and they have lots of other options.
LADISLAV SMID: He’s been +1 since January 3rd and +3 in his last three games. In fact his plus minus by month is very interesting: October (+1), November (-3), December (-8), January (-3), February (+2). Take out December and he’s just south of even for the year. I like Smid, have from the start. He isn’t quite the player I thought he’d be based on scouting reports but there are some things to like and he has a unique set of skills (although the offense isn’t there, he can carry the puck through the land mines, and he’s a finesse defender in that he thinks position first and reacts to the puck like a cat to a ball of wool but he also turns into a mean one when the whistle stops play. Go figure) that imply there’s more there than is hitting the scoresheet currently. I still think he’ll have a long, productive career.
Everyone else is still trying to get out of the ditch and onto the highway (among the youngsters).