Tonight is a big night for Shawn Belle. In the middle of a tight race for the final blueline spot with AHL veteran Richard Petiot and prospect Theo Peckham, this is a “last chance Texaco” for all three. Belle is a former first rounder who has developed by sundial, but the physical attributes that made him the #30 pick in 2003 are still there. Here are the lines tonight, courtesy Joanne Ireland of the EJ:
Among the things I’ll be watching for: Cogliano’s performance in the faceoff circle; Gagner’s chemistry with Giroux; Jones and Fraser, and any positive impact they can have on the game. So far its been crickets; O’Marra and Ondrus and how well they play against what should be a strong lineup. From the blue: how well does Peckham play away from the puck off the rush? Do those calm feet owned by Petioit outflank the size and speed of Belle? And the G: can Deslauriers outperform Dubnyk and will it make any difference.
A plethora of questions. I think the final roster will have some surprises. At the beginning of TC, this was my roster projection for opening night:
- Dustin Penner 81gp, 35-35-70
- Ales Hemsky 60gp, 18-48-66
- Sam Gagner 80gp, 16-37-53
- Shawn Horcoff 68gp, 13-29-42
- Taylor Hall 74gp, 20-20-40*
- Gilbert Brule 75gp, 18-22-40
- Magnus Pääjärvi 66gp, 12-18-30*
- Andrew Cogliano 82gp, 10-20-30
- Jordan Eberle 72gp, 12-17-29*
- Ryan Jones 69gp, 10-12-22
- Colin Fraser 75gp, 8-14-22
- Zack Stortini 66gp, 4-7-11
- Steve MacIntyre 36gp, 0-2-2
Still in contention are O’Marra, Omark, Giroux, Ondrus and Vande Velde. The fact that Vande Velde isn’t playing today is (I think) a tell, and I think the only players among this group with a chance to crack the top 13 (above) are Reddox and Omark. JF Jacques is likely headed for IR.
Now, here’s the top 7 blue I projected for opening night in my reasonable expectations series:
- Tom Gilbert 80gp, 9-33-42
- Ryan Whitney 70gp, 8-26-34
- Kurtis Foster 64gp, 9-18-27
- Ladislav Smid 53gp, 0-9-9
- Jim Vandermeer 60gp, 1-3-4
- Theo Peckham 50gp, 1-1-2
- Jason Strudwick 42gp, 0-1-1
Still in contention (and that is understated) are Richard Petiot and Shawn Belle. I have wondered throughout the fall about Jason Strudwick. He is most certainly a respected veteran and a very small cap hit. However, if the Oilers are deciding between the three on the bubble, is Strudwick’s spot so solidified that there is no risk?
I don’t know. I do know his defense partner from last season is in the minors. I suspect the winner of the Peckham-Petiot-Belle competition will be third pairing with Vandermeer or Smid. I think the Oilers will use Strudwick less this season than last year. I think the Oilers might be considering taking 8 defensemen with them to opening night. I strongly believe keeping Strudwick and losing Peckham via waivers would be terrible asset management.
Finally, the goalies:
- Devan Dubnyk 30gp, 3.21 .902
- Nikolai Khabibulin 24gp, 3.00 .906
I’m still not certain they’ll cut Deslauriers. The Oilers would seem to have some trade options here, and Gerber’s being safely tucked in the minors gives the club insurance. I can see them dealing Deslauriers but can also see them keeping him until things settle down around the league in terms of backups.
The Oilers of the 00′s were famous for not making decisions. The Renney era would get off to a nice start by finding a way to get down to 14F, 7D and 2G. We wait.