Number 11 is Mark Messier. Of all the factors that have turned the Oilers around in the last few weeks, none has been more important than Mark’s decision to apply himself. The reckless abandon of the early months had now turned into a controlled fury on the ice, and in many games he has been the Oilers most exciting player.
He kills penalties and adds zest to the powerplay. Although he has been converted from centre to left wing on Matti (Hagman’s) line (with Glenn Anderson), Sather still sends him out for crucial faceoffs. It is a favorite play for Sather to send him out with veteran center Stan Weir, then have Stan deliberately mix it up with the opposing center, get waved off and then hand the faceoff duties to the kid.
No one knows for sure what has turned Messier around, although it appears more than coincidence that he began his new dedicated approach at about the same time as his cousin (Donny Murdoch) was banished to the minors. So many of the other youngsters take their moods from him that there are those who believe he will one day be the captain of the Oilers.
Peter Gzowski, “The Game of Our Lives” McLelland and Stewart 1981.
By the end of the 1980-81 season (Gzowski’s book–a must-own for the Oiler fan), Mark Messier was 20 years old and had played 199 games of regular season NHL hockey. He was a combined -32 and his point totals had risen from 11 to 33 to 63.
There are no Mark Messier’s on the Edmonton Oilers and frankly none on the draft horizon either. The Messier’s of the world don’t come along everyday, and the early 1980′s Oilers had Gretzky too, so the comparisons end quickly when discussing the Boys on the Bus.
Sam Gagner is 20 years old and has played 223 NHL games (Messier played a WHA season in that group of 199 games, but I’m not sure the Oilers have played 246 NHL games in the last three seasons so we’ll call it a wash). He is a combined -30 in his three seasons and his point totals are 49, 41, 41.
Despite the downward trend in offensive production, Gagner is improving and appears ready to take on a larger role with this team in 2010-11. I quoted the Murdoch item from the Gzowski book because I think part of the process for the current young Oilers is/was flushing the “Weight-Guerin” group that had ownership of the team. The Craig MacTavish generals (Moreau, Staios, Pisani, Souray) are half gone with the rest on the way this summer (one imagines).
The Oilers don’t have many actual NHL players. I’d rank Khabibulin, Gilbert, Whitney, Horcoff, Penner, Hemsky and we’ll called Ladislav Smid “in the range” plus the player the Oilers get back for Souray. So, we’re up to 8. We could hold an expansion draft tomorrow and get that many (although clearly not the same quality), so the next question is “how close are some of the kids?”
- Sam Gagner: I think he is very close to being able to take on real responsibility; in fact, if you can promise Dustin Penner as his LW in 2010-11 I’ll move 89′s name over to the “actual NHL player” list right now.
- Andrew Cogliano: I don’t know what to say about him. I’m tempted to blame Quinn, because frankly the offense wasn’t even the big concern this past season. Cogliano looked lost in every zone on the ice much of the time, and this shouldn’t happen at age 22 after 2 years of college and a bunch of NHL games. He’s no dummy and he shouldn’t be playing like one. I’d be tempted to grab him a veteran winger this summer and do the identical thing MacT did with Pisani (for Stoll, Torres and others). There’s an NHL player in there somewhere.
- Gilbert Brule: You need to see this again, and then you need to see him play well without the puck. Brule has a scorer’s touch and grit, but he’s not going to help you win until he can play his position a little better. He could be a very good 2line RW behind Hemsky if he starts to do all those little things well, but desire might be an issue in that area (as it is with most of these kids. Donny Murdoch too).
- Marc Pouliot: He needs to be more physical and stay healthy, but lordy there’s a player here and I think he might be ready to help. He played in the dungeon (tough qual of comp) but his Corsi and plus minus were fine. I don’t know that it will be here, but it is looking like he’ll have an NHL career.
I don’t rate any goalies or defenders in the range (Dubnyk had a nice run and Peckham has talent but they’re not ready to make a difference and probably won’t be this time next season). These are the young men I think might become actual NHL players in the next 12 months. It isn’t a huge list and young hockey players never develop in a straight line. However, if those 2 of those 4 forwards can be added to Horcoff, Penner and Hemsky then there are 2 lines worth who can help (plus Hall/Seguin, MPS and others will begin the process and those are very promising talents).
There are good days ahead, but it is still about having more players who do the things that help you win than the other guy. And a coach who can develop young talent would help a lot.