I say this every year but the Edmonton Oilers lack balance. Credit to Steve Tambellini for adding some of the dire needs over the summer (I’d suggest Smyth and Belanger were strong moves and that Danis could be a key transaction) and you can see what he was trying to do with some of the other moves (Barker, Eager).
This fall we can guess the opening night roster but there’s going to be a lot of fluidity to the final cuts. There’s every chance the Oilers make a late pre-season deal to offload a prospect or two before exposing them to waivers.
In the first training camp item for 2011 on this blog, I’ll post the 23 names “most likely” to break camp with the big club for 2011-12.
- G Devan Dubnyk: Big man played well in his rookie season and has earned the chance to be the starter. Coach Renney has stated that Khabibulin enters TC as the starter, but it’s a matter of DD’s consistency versus NK’s age and injuries. My guess is Dubnyk plays 40-50 games.
- G Nikolai Khabibulin: He’s coming off a pretty bad year in every way and one suspects NK will arrive determined. The problem is that he hasn’t been terribly effective even when healthy and the veteran has a lot of miles on him. He’s at the stage of his career where relying on him is not a good idea, but sometimes old goalies surprise. My guess is that he suffers an injury sometime before Christmas.
- D Ryan Whitney: Despite the recent rut issue and re-tweaking of the injury let’s place him on the opening night roster (mostly because the alternative is depressing). Whitney is an actual NHL defenseman, and though we can’t expect a half-season like 10-11 he should be a quality player for this team when able.
- D Tom Gilbert: Despite much of the fanbase wishing he would go away, Gilbert is a key member of the blue. He’ll play heavy minutes at evens, powerplay and penalty-kill, and probably with a partner who has fewer than 150 games NHL experience.
- D Cam Barker: New hire should get a good opportunity to show his stuff, especially early in the season. Hopefully we’ll read stories in training camp about Barker arriving in great shape, being among the most fit players on the roster and see a determined defender through pre-season. He was a draft day star, so this isn’t his last chance Texaco but it is probably his last good chance and last big contract (should he fail).
- D Ladislav Smid: Smid is now at a point where NHL experience becomes a major plus and has in fact shown some nice things in the last two seasons. He’ll be a key player on defense this season, if he can stay healthy and become just a little more consistent it will make a difference to the GA total.
- D Theo Peckham: It could be a big year for the roughian. Peckham played quite a bit in elevated air this past season and survived. He’s miles from flourishing but if thrust into the role again it’ll be interesting to see if there’s improvement. Many have suggested he’s merely a depth defender, but if he can play evens and penalty-kill in important situations we’re talking about something else again.
- D Andy Sutton: I have him in a 5-6 role, but also wonder if coach Renney might put the two new hires (Sutton-Barker) together in hopes of seeing them develop as a top 4 pairing. It’s possible, and we know Sutton will be a major PK player for the Oilers based on past seasons.
- D Taylor Chorney: We know the Oilers value this player and we know he is eligible for waivers. A guess would be that if Jeff Petry outperforms during pre-season (certainly possible) the Oilers see if they can make a deal. It could go the way of Rob Schremp (exposure and losing player) or Theo Peckham (keeping player on roster) and we have to allow for injury to one of the starting 6 too.
- C Sam Gagner: This is a season for Gagner to establish himself as a center who can post offense while also playing against tougher competition. I can’t see a scenario where Gagner doesn’t get quality linemates and am looking forward to seeing how things turn out for him.
- C Shawn Horcoff: He finally has some help and that should mean improved boxcars and overall performance. He’s now at an age where injuries become more of a factor and I think his PP career is likely over.
- C Eric Belanger: A wonderful addition. Belanger can play in all situations and will make himself useful even if he’s getting 4line EV minutes. My guess is that through injury and slumps he emerges as a player who the coach relies on in all situations.
- C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: RNH is a strong candidate to at least break camp with the Oilers and I think he’ll perform well enough to stay all year. Should he stumble, the list of possible replacements is long and impressive. Anton Lander, Chris VandeVelde, Ryan O’Marra, Tanner House and others wait in the wings.
- L Taylor Hall: I’ve projected Hall to lead the Oilers in goals and checking around the internet it looks like most feel he’ll have a strong year. Hall is the franchise.
- L Magnus Paajarvi: Swede has some competition for playing time on the portside both at evens and PP. A good thing–he should earn his minutes–but he’ll slot into the top 9 somehow and should improve in year 2 (he’ll get more playing time and better linemates).
- L Ryan Smyth: Man it feels good to place his name back onto the Oiler lineup. Smyth’s PP time has decreased in recent years and I think the club will need him badly at evens and PK. Either way, he was much needed and most welcome.
- L Ben Eager: Back in the olden days, NHL enforcers were also hockey players (probably because 9 forwards played regular shifts and two were for injury replacement and PK). Eager is a player who from time to time may move up the depth chart. Perhaps more than any new forward this side of Ryan Smyth, Eager will change the tone and attitude of the Oilers.
- L Darcy Hordichuk: A welcome addition from my pov because he’s an extreme improvement in the hockey disciplines over the previous enforcer. He’s not going to score 10 goals, or even 2, but Hordichuk can make and take a pass.
- R Ales Hemsky: Heading into his walk year and very unlikely to finish 11-12 as an Oiler. We haven’t heard a word about contract talks and he’s well older than the cluster. I still hold out hope that Edmonton will sign him as “the Oilers Alfredsson” but it’s a distant bell for the organization. They’re just waiting for everyone to see him healthy before pulling the trigger.
- R Jordan Eberle: Emerging talent who had a wonderful rookie season. Eberle is a smart player who should become a 2-way talent on the top 2 lines of a very good NHL team. Jordan Eberle as the new Ryan Smyth? He’s a heart and soul guy and already a fan favorite.
- R Linus Omark: Oh doctor. This young man is to the Oilers what Cliff Johnson and John Mayberry were to the Houston Astros in the early 1970′s. The lesson is you better know what you have before flushing it or 5 years from now you’re going to have Art Howe at first base while the guys you drafted are beating hell out of the ball in other towns. Omark is a huge test for the Oilers and Steve Tambellini. Here’s hoping the organization gives him a complete season in a suitable role.
- R Ryan Jones: He’s in tough, he really is. Jones not only has Hemsky, Eberle and Omark ahead of him (it’s worse on LW), but Hartikainen is going to do impressive things in camp and the coach is going to notice. I think he’ll find a role on the 4line as an energy player and be used as a penalty-killer. He’s about to get lost in the flood of prospects.
- R Gilbert Brule: He’s in a terrible spot. Brule’s health issues make him unlikely to be traded, and yet the coach is probably going to want to hit the ice with people he can count on. Even if he arrives at camp in great shape and performs well in pre-season finding a role may be difficult, and we don’t know how the organization feels about how the trade didn’t go down. At the very least there are huge questions regarding Brule’s future.
I think that’s the most likely opening night lineup, but there’s so many things we don’t know. More than most seasons, there are opportunities. Should Whitney not be available, Petry makes the grade. Brule on IR? Hartikainen would surely be on the team. RNH struggles? Lander Ho!
Can’t wait for training camp.
Nation Radio is back today at noon and it’s a jam packed episode. Scheduled to appear:
- Julian from Pension Plan Puppets. We’ll discuss Wade Belak’s career and his impact on teammates, fans and the communities he played in. We’ll try to discuss the issue of depression without getting ahead of the story (as it is still developing).
- Ted Wyman from the Winnipeg Sun. We’ll discuss the Dustin Byfuglien’s boating career, the city of Winnipeg and building excitement there and ask about Zack Bogosian’s availability.
- Cam Moon from the Red Deer Rebels. We’ll talk about RNH and his chances of making the Oilers, and I’ll also ask about rookie camp invite Brett Ferguson.
- Corey Graham from the Edmonton Oil Kings: PBP man will give us an update on the Oil Kings and specifically young Oiler pick Martin Gernat. There’s a buzz about him and Corey will fill us in.
- Rob Soria from Oil Drop. During the first 26 or show Nation Radio shows I’ve tried to feature many of the established Oiler blogs. Rob is the first of the “newer” blogs we’ll profile and if we have time (Rob’s a busy guy) we’ll talk about Oil Drop.
Questions and comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org and the show goes noon to 2pm Edmonton Time on Team 1260 radio (prompt to the right).