Robert Nilsson is still in Edmonton, Rob Schremp is within driving distance of his hometown and Liam Reddox is in limbo. Having said that, there are still questions to be answered before opening night. These questions include Ales Hemsky’s health (groin), Fernando Pisani’s long term health (back) and Marc Pouliot’s unspeakable injury (don’t ask, don’t tell).
Anyway, the 23-man looks like this:
- Goal: Khabibulin, Deslauriers
- Defense: Souray, Visnovsky, Gilbert, Grebeshkov, Smid, Staios, Strudwick
- Center: Horcoff, Gagner, Comrie, Cogliano, Brule
- Left Wing: Penner, O’Sullivan, Moreau, Jacques
- Right Wing: Hemsky, Nilsson, Stone, Stortini, MacIntrye
- Disabled List: Pisani, Pouliot
The projected lines and pairings from coach Quinn are getting lots of attention. Here they are (C-L-R):
- Horcoff-Jacques-Hemsky: If Jacques can help the 1line and add a physical element it helps the team immensely. Coach Quinn is getting plenty of credit for the move and this is certainly well deserved, but we should remember Crazy Train is completely healthy for the first time in years. His emergence could be one of the top stories for the club this season. Hemsky seemed to sleep-walk through pre-season but if this team is going to win games he’ll be a major player. Shawn Horcoff is the most complete player on the team and his value is obvious to all hockey fans.
- Comrie-O’Sullivan-Stone: Comrie ate Gagner’s lunch, kicked Nilsson to the curb and stomped Schremps guts out. Not bad for two weeks work, and he’s shown a lot of chemistry with O’Sullivan this fall. Patio Lantern needs to have a good scoring season and is the smartest overall player on this line. Ryan Stone has feet of clay but can play the game when he’s near it and would be a tremendous help if he has sustain this year.
- Brule-Penner-Cogliano: Penner looks fabulous this fall and has some chem with Cogs offensively. He has not been worth the big contract but a season having an impact in all three zones would be a Godsend at this point. Brule gets the job early but owns an uneven resume and is the question mark on the line.
- Gagner-Moreau-Stortini: The only line with three NHL players is the 4line and I have to confess there’s things to like here. Moreau gets to impact the kid’s progress first hand and lead Gagner in a way that he perhaps did not one year ago. I think Sam Gagner will answer the challenge from his coach and move up the depth chart early in the season.
- Nilsson-MacIntyre: HS’s are an interesting bunch, I would have kept Reddox over MacIntyre but am content with Nilsson staying (for as long as it lasts).
- Forward Progress: Quinn appears to have married “qualified pairs” with hopefuls and also-rans as a way of improving the depth. My Mom used to add a potato and some noodles to stew in order to get an extra day out of it when I was a kid and it’s probably a good comparison for this combination. They’ll get out of the driveway and through town okay, but when they take it to the limit the engine will likely run out of time.
- Souray-Staios: I think Quinn may be protecting Lubo’s injury here, either that or he wants the two guys who can’t pass worth a tinker’s dam on the top pairing. I don’t think Staios is done, and I do like Souray in the defensive zone and when he unleashes the Bishop on offense but lordy this pairing is an errant pass waiting to happen.
- Grebeshkov-Gilbert: Nice pairing, skilled with intelligence and imagination. They draw outside the lines sometimes but the overall picture is art and effective overall. I suspect they’ll be the only current pairing to have sustain.
- Visnovsky-Smid: Lubo slumming it with “the learning curve” and that’s going to be interesting. Smid improved a lot last season and perhaps this pairing will unleash his inner offense but there are going to be some gap and coverage errors here.
- Indefensible: Quinn’s wrinkle for the blue is interesting but doomed as doomed can be. Expect them to deal a puck mover for a hatchet man in the season’s first 12 weeks.
- Nikolai Khabibulin-Jeff Deslauriers: I like the starter a lot, and should he remain healthy the Oilers should have a real chance at the second season (once they make a trade for an adult up front). Deslauriers has spent a career being “unproven” and this season there are no alternatives. He’ll play a lot, and those games will likely be the difference in terms of making the playoffs.
- Holes in Goal: Deslauriers could play as many as 30 games this season and is unlikely to finish above .500 in them. Even with the massive holes up front this could be the actual Achilles for the Oilers.